Dual-immersion programs set to hit all Park City elementary schools by 2012

Douglas Greenwood, Of the Record Staff

The Park City School District dual-language immersion program is set to expand twice as quickly as district officials originally anticipated, according to Superintendent Ray Timothy. School board members and administrators initially anticipated expanding to a second school by fall 2012, Timothy said.

At a special regular meeting last Wednesday, the board approved to start a dual-language immersion program at each elementary school in the district by the beginning of the 2012-13 school year.

"Originally the board’s goal was to have half of our elementaries offering dual-language immersion by the fall of 2012," Timothy said at the meeting Wednesday. "This accomplishes having all four of our elementaries offering dual-language immersion by the fall of 2012."

Students participating in the program, currently in its second year at Parley’s Park Elementary, learn the same content as their counterparts, but spend half of their day speaking English and the other half entirely in Spanish. The Parley’s Park program is a two-way model, which means that at least 50 percent of the students speak Spanish natively.

In March, based on Timothy’s recommendations, the board decided to offer French to first-graders at Trailside Elementary this coming fall. The Trailside model will differ from that of Parley’s Park because fewer students speak French natively.

After approving the new program at Trailside, board members requested that Timothy prepare and recommend further expansion at another school in August. During Wednesday’s meeting, convened specifically to discuss dual-immersion, Timothy recommended that a second new program this fall would likely be too much to sustain.

"The reason for waiting until 2012 is to allow us to have adequate time to prepare staff, to do the planning that is necessary," Timothy said at the meeting Wednesday. "We need to make sure that we are using the appropriate instructional practices."

He also said he thought opening the program at three schools would leave the fourth behind, which could create an unintended and negative impact for students, teachers and administrators at that school.

"I’ve received a lot of input from concerned citizens, [who have said] ‘If you don’t pick this school, then families are going to try to transfer to the other schools,’ and I think there is a lot of validity to that," Timothy said. "As I talk to the administration at both schools, they are both supportive of dual-language immersion and neither one would want to be at the school that was left out."

According to the school board members’ decision, the 2012-13 school year will see a French dual-language immersion program at Jeremy ranch Elementary School and Spanish at McPolin Elementary School. At least 20 teachers fluent in at least one of the two languages will need to be hired before the program can be fully implemented in first-through-fifth grade at the four schools, according to Timothy. He also said he hopes to be able to fill those positions through attrition.

The decision to move forward with the new programs was passed with a vote of four-to-one. Board member Lisa Kirchenheiter offered the dissenting opinion, citing possible out-placement of quality teachers as her biggest concern for such a hasty rollout.

Kirchenheiter said she worried that the influx of dual-language immersion teachers might replace some of the district’s high-performing faculty members. She said she didn’t want to see a mediocre bi-lingual teacher replace a great teacher simply because he or she would qualify to teach dual-immersion classes.

Kirchenheiter’s concerns were not unfounded, according to Park City Education Association President Heidi Matthews. With more than 300 teachers in the district, 20 positions constitute about 7 percent of the teaching faculty. Matthews said avoiding any layoffs will be unlikely with such a proposed turnover in so short a timespan.

"We have not hired an elementary teacher in two years," Matthews said. "That’s a cost item. This isn’t just a wash. It costs money to train people in foreign languages."

The quickened expansion came as a result of the feedback Timothy received from many community members and residents with children who would benefit from the program, he said. Throughout the recent weeks, many residents piled into meetings to discuss dual immersion, even when the intended topic was entirely unrelated. Some residents brought it up nearly every chance they had.

Ten community members stood to make public comment during the meeting Wednesday. Every person expressed support for the expansion and stressed how important they felt it would be to see it move forward.

The board further decided to allow the administrators to determine how students would be selected to participate in the program. Timothy said he intended to keep the promises made to parents in the pilot program. These promises dealt primarily with giving priority to siblings of students already in the program.


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