CHCCS school board backs Mandarin magnet

jalexander@newsobserver.comJune 6, 2014 

— More than 30 parents and students signed up to speak to the school board Thursday night about the future of the Mandarin dual language program at Glenwood Elementary School.

Most in the audience, dressed in red shirts, supported it. So did the school board.

Others wanted it dismantled.

Glenwood has had an overcrowding problem the past two years. It is the smallest elementary school in the district and houses the dual-language program and traditional students.

District officials submitted two options to the board and asked for public feedback on both.

The first option would expand the Mandarin dual language program into a Mandarin immersion magnet school at Glenwood. It would require reassigning the traditional students and teachers at Glenwood to other schools and hiring more Mandarin teachers.

The original purpose of the program was to help native Mandarin speakers learn English.

In order to join the magnet program, students would have to enter a lottery, where 50 percent of the students would have to be native speakers. Board members who think the purpose of the program has gotten lost say this will help re-establish it.

The second option would make Mandarin one of three world languages in a program called Foreign Language at Elementary Schools (FLES), meaning a teacher of that particular language would come to a classroom twice a week to teach. The purpose would be to expose students to a language rather than immerse them in it.

Proponents of the Mandarin program supported the first option, saying that a full dual-language education will foster high achievement and make students more competitive globally. Most board members also supported this option.

“Mandarin is not a romance language and is based on the different sounds,” board Chairwoman Jamezetta Bedford said. “It’s much different for English-speaking people to learn, and FLES doesn't give them enough time to become fluent.”

But in a presentation to the board, Elaine Watson-Grant, the school system’s dual/world language coordinator, said that option would cost much more. She recommended the second option.

The higher costs include $5,000 per class added, $10,000 for curriculum development, $15,000 more for professional development, $20,000 for digital resources, and $50,000 for Mandarin books and materials into the media center.

Board members questioned the numbers, but Bedford said if they’re right the board may have to take the less expensive route.

“If the costs are accurate as administration reports, then the public and the board thinks that’s too much,” Bedford said. “That in this economic crisis, we have to make sure all of the children are getting the basis before we spend more money on Mandarin.”

Opponents say that in a budget-strapped year the school district doesn’t have enough money to continue to fund a “luxury program.” They also say that by making Glenwood a Mandarin immersion magnet will serve only a few in the district and will distract from the system’s long-range plan.

Eighty pages of public responses on the district website show most parents supported the second option of expanding Mandarin as one of the three world languages in the FLES program.

“Option 2 is more equitable for all children in the district. I support opportunity for exposure to many cultures and languages, and the data is quite clear that Chinese DL and Spanish DL serve different missions,” wrote one supporter from Carrboro Elementary. “Mandarin is truly an enrichment program and incredibly costly. The responsible and ethical decision for the district would be to move to the FLES model. Option 2.”

Bedford said it all depends on the state budget and whether the district has to make cuts.

In the meantime, the board will next hear a recommendation for a magnet-school lottery on Wednesday.

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

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