Dual-language immersion to expand to Trailside Elementary next school year | ParkRecord.com

Dual-language immersion to expand to Trailside Elementary next school year

Douglas Greenwood, Of the Record Staff

Visitors to Trailside Elementary next school year may hear French phrases filling the hallways as first-graders will begin a dual-language immersion program this fall.

The Park City Board of Education received a recommendation from Superintendent Ray Timothy to not delay expanding the program during the regular school-board meeting last Tuesday. Students in the program will learn the same content as their counterparts, but will spend half their day speaking a second language.

After spending the last few months researching other programs throughout the state, assessing the interest level of the elementary principals and seeking community input, Timothy made his recommendation for French to be offered to first-graders at Trailside.

Timothy said French is currently the second most-spoken language in the world. He also pointed to the presence of district employees who are proficient enough to begin teaching the program. Offering French would also open up opportunities for foreign exchange programs, he said Tuesday. There has already been talk of setting up Sundance and Cannes film festival exchanges, he added.

Timothy was initially gathering information regarding how best to expand the program, currently in its second year at Parley’s Park Elementary, for the 2012-2013 school year. As he sought feedback from state leaders, district administrators and the community, he decided it would be best to not delay the program, he said at the board meeting.

Each elementary school principal supported the idea of offering the program at his or her respective school, Timothy said. Expanding it early also stemmed from community feedback.

"Parents are overwhelmingly supportive," Timothy said. From a community meeting held at Ecker Hill, Timothy gathered that most parents knew exactly what the program could mean for their students and the community, he said. Research shows that students who learn a second language early in life often score higher on standardized tests and show increased cognitive abilities, including improved memory, problem-solving skills and attention, according to the Utah State Office of Education.

Nearly 10 residents weighed in on the issue during public comment at the meeting Tuesday. Regardless of whether they had a student eligible for the program, each commenter expressed a deep-seated interest in supporting its expansion. Many expressed concerns that the selection process would not allow for equality in filling the limited number of available slots.

Applause rang through the audience twice before the decision was voted upon. The first was in response to board member Anne Bransford suggesting an additional roll-out next year. "I know it’s ambitious, but I think we should open it up to two new schools," Bransford said.

Timothy expressed concerns that such rapid expansion would put a stress on staffing and may require additional lay-offs. "I’m afraid we would be stretching ourselves too thin," Timothy said. "If we move too quickly, do we dilute the program so that it would be less effective than we would hope it would be?"

Park City High School Junior Skylar Goldman, who serves as the student representative on the board, agreed with Bransford. She said that as the district delays expansion, fewer students will be able to participate. "I think you should definitely expand the program at two schools," Goldman said as the audience applauded again.

Putting any further expansion on the back burner, the school board followed much of Timothy’s recommendation and unanimously voted to expand the dual-immersion program just to Trailside Elementary. The decision will allow administrators to move forward with filling the necessary positions. They also extended the program to kindergarten students at Parley’s Park for next year.

The school board now faces two important considerations: should the program be extended to an additional school next year; and how will the schools offer an equitable selection process for interested families throughout the district?

After the expansion was approved, board member Charles Cunningham requested that Timothy prepare a recommendation regarding another roll out next year. The board will convene during a special regular session at 1 p.m., Wednesday, April 6, to consider the matter.

Not everyone at the meeting was entirely enthused by the idea. Heidi Matthews, Treasure Mountain Librarian and president of the Park City Education Association, said a second new program next year was concerning.

"I think it’s going to be taxing enough on the school and communities," Matthews said. "If he [Superintendent Timothy] thought it was realistic to expand it to more, he would have recommended we roll it up to two schools."

Matthews said she is not opposed to the idea of expanding dual immersion, but wants to make sure it is feasible and sustainable before it is expanded too quickly. "I just wanted them to be a little more deliberate in terms of planning," she added.

Board members also discussed ways to offer fair enroll in the program. Timothy initially recommended a partial lottery, which would reserve half the available slots for students within the school boundaries before opening to other families.

Cunningham said he would rather see a full lottery available to all students within district boundaries. Timothy plans to research other districts’ lottery systems before the board decides how to organize registration during an upcoming board meeting.