Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board backs Mandarin program, will reassign 76 students

jalexander@newsobserver.comJanuary 17, 2014 

— After almost four hours of discussion, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board reaffirmed its commitment to a Mandarin program at a local elementary school and voted to remedy overcrowding there by reassigning 76 students to different schools this fall.

Nearly 150 people attended Thursday night’s school board meeting. Some advocated for the Mandarin Dual Language program at Glenwood Elementary School, while others spoke against the program as too costly at a time of tight budgets.

The meeting was much calmer than a November meeting, when Carborro Elementary parents came out concerned about the sudden news of possible redistricting. At that meeting, the board rejected a staff proposal to create a Spanish/Mandarin dual language magnet at a current school because it would mean moving either the Mandarin or Spanish program at the schools that house them in order to combine them. It would also have included a huge redistricting of schools in December or next school year.

According to fall statistics, Glenwood has 513 students, 90 above capacity. Glenwood is the smallest elementary school in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, yet it has the fifth-largest student population among the 11 elementary schools.

Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese attributed Glenwood’s growth to an additional dual-language track added to the school, transfers of older siblings of newly enrolled dual-language kindergarten students, students' enrollment into dual language at upper grades and growth of the school’s attendance zone.

District officials returned to Thursday’s meeting with new proposals.

“It’s important to know that this is an enrollment issue,” Superintendent Tom Forcella said. “The expansion of the dual language is just a part of the problem. It’s not an entire reason for the overcrowding problem at Glenwood.”

All board members agreed that the Mandarin Dual Language program should expand like proposed because it will make the program more efficient, decreasing the per-pupil spending for Mandarin Dual Language students. Currently the per-pupil spending for a Mandarin student is $700 more than a traditional-education student, according to LoFrese’s statistics.

“It’s important for our community to invest in our children to learn a second language,” board member Mike Kelley said.

Board chairwoman Jamezeta Bedford agreed.

“I think this is an incredibly valuable program,” she said.

The school board voted 6-1 to reassign 76 students from Glenwood to other schools next year. The district will reassign students on Roosevelt Drive and Gimghoul Road to Northside Elementary in the fall. Foxcroft, Milton Avenue and Franklin Grove will be reassigned to Estes Hills Elementary School. Finley Forest, Oakwood Drive and Rogerson Road will be assigned to Rashkis Elementary.

There wasn’t much chatter when the decision was made. By the time the board voted, more than three hours into the meeting, half of the crowd had left.

Next up

The district wants to figure out a long-range plan that would involve converting the dual-language program into a full immersion program. An immersion program would increase the number of predominantly English-speaking students in the program, and serve as tool to teach them a second language. Students from all over the district would be allowed to apply for the Mandarin program.

The original purpose of the Mandarin program 11 years ago was to teach non-English speaking students or LEP students English. Forcella said the program has evolved over time and does not serve its original purpose any longer.

“When we have programs like these, we need to be aware of the purpose,” he said.

Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1

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