Young parents passionate about launching a Spanish immersion program for kindergartners at a Menlo Park school next August finally received the answer they have wanted for a long time.
Trustees of the Menlo Park City School District last week voted 3-2 to launch one kindergarten Spanish immersion class next August.
The decision at the Dec. 12 board meeting followed a two-and-a-half-hour discussion, which included a presentation by parent Tricia Barr in support of starting the program next year.
The immersion program will follow the school district's basic curriculum, but will be taught in Spanish.
At a special board session on Wednesday, Jan. 9, the board plans to choose the school where the Spanish immersion class will be taught. During the session, scheduled to start at 7 p.m., the superintendent will present options.
The meeting, which will also address proposed attendance boundary changes, is scheduled to be held at the district office, 181 Encinal Ave. in Atherton, but may be moved to the Encinal multi-use room.
The board's decision on Spanish immersion went against Superintendent Ken Ranella's recommendation. He suggested waiting a year before launching an immersion program because the district has "so much on its plate now."
He cited the challenges of reconfiguring the grades at Laurel (from K-2 to K-3) and Encinal (from grades 3-5 to K-5 in three years); shifting school attendance boundaries; continuing the district's $91.1 million facilities bond construction project; and implementing a newly approved non-immersion Spanish language program for grades 3-5 next year.
Trustees Terry Thygesen, Jeff Child and Bruce Ives voted for beginning the immersion program next year. By waiting, they said, the district could miss an opportunity to develop a program that has strong support from involved parents.
Trustees Laura Rich and Deborah Fitz voted no. They acknowledged that there is interest and sufficient parent demand to fill a kindergarten class, but they were against starting the program in August.
In a written statement to the Almanac, parents Tricia Barr, Elizabeth Ouren and Loren Gruner praised the decision to begin the immersion program next year, saying it will "develop crucial bilingualism and cultural literacy in our children.
"Such skills will be important to later success in the growing global economy, which increasingly relies upon an understanding of language and culture other than our own."
The parents noted that the program has significant support: "A recent survey conducted by the (school district) of district families showed that of those currently enrolled and who will have children in kindergarten or first grade in fall 2008, nearly 40 percent would enroll their children in a Spanish immersion program and make a multiyear commitment."
Superintendent Ranella suggested an alternative to beginning the program next year: Extend the grades 3-5 Spanish program approved last month to kindergarteners. "There are multiple ways of offering foreign language [instruction," he said.
The Spanish immersion debate emerged as part of the discussion of general guidelines for the new kindergarten program that starts at Encinal in August. It's up to Encinal Principal Allison Liner and the school's kindergarten teachers to develop the specifics of the kindergarten program.
Trustees unanimously agreed to two of the superintendent's recommendations: Provide a full-day instructional program at Encinal for kindergartners who can benefit from the extended day and offer that option for parents who believe their child can benefit from the program.
Currently, there are three kindergarten options in the district: a full-day at Oak Knoll; an extended day, also at Oak Knoll, when some students stay longer with the teacher for small group activities; and Laurel's staggered-schedule program, in which all students meet in small groups part of the day and for group instruction in the middle of the day, when all kindergartners are on campus.
Kindergarten classes have 20 students and receive state funding under the class size reduction program.
Registration of the next school year's kindergartners begins in February at Encinal, Laurel and Oak Knoll schools.