Uploaded: Wed, Aug 27, 2014, 7:22 am
Mandarin school backers seek district sponsorship
Backers plan to present charter and petition to school board on Sept. 9
Backers of the proposed Menlo Mandarin Immersion Charter School say they will officially ask the Menlo Park City School District to sponsor their school at the board's Sept. 9 meeting.
Nearly 150 people, including Menlo Park district Superintendent, Maurice Ghysels and the board President Joan Lambert, attended two informational meetings on the planned charter school on Aug. 24 in Palo Alto.
Once the proposed charter and a petition from parents supporting the school is presented, the district has 30 days to schedule a public hearing and 60 days to make its decision on the request.
Charter school backers say their goal is to open in the fall of 2015 with two classes each of kindergartners and first-graders, totaling at least 80 students.
If the district denies the request, it can be appealed to the San Mateo County Board of Education and ultimately to the California State Board of Education.
The district has scheduled a study session on charter school laws and process for Sept. 3, from 5 to 7 p.m. in the TERC building at the district offices, 181 Encinal Ave. in Atherton. They will not discuss any specifics of the proposal.
"This is all new to us," said Ms. Lambert. "We are really trying to do our homework and make sure we are doing everything correctly."
State law requires the petition contain signatures from district parents of at least half the number of students the school plans to have its first year.
Carol Cunningham, a Menlo Park district parent who has led the push for the school, said the backers of the school have the needed signatures. However, she said, they hope to get enough to ask the district to provide classrooms for the new school. Under state law, a charter school with 80 students must be provided facilities by the district in which it operates.
At the informational meeting, Ms. Cunningham and other speakers said the proposed school will not only teach most subjects in Mandarin, but will use other innovative educational methods, such as project-based learning in which children study academic subjects via broad-based projects; personalized learning, based on each child's ability level; and methods that emphasize critical thinking and problem-solving.
Children will learn to read, write and speak Mandarin. Several experts in the language education field presented statistics showing that students in local Mandarin immersion schools usually perform better than their same-school peers on standardized testing in math and English.
While the details of the school's operation will be contained in its proposed charter, speakers said that if more students apply to the school than it has room for, priority will be given to district residents and children of school staff or school founders, and then will be assigned via lottery.
If spaces are not filled, out-of-district students may attend. Grace Mah, a member of the Santa Clara County Board of Education, said funding for charter schools is set by the state at a per-pupil rate which is paid by the district they live in. Currently, she said, that base rate is $7,643 per student. "The funding follows the student," she said. Charter school may also accept donations.
"We're really looking forward to collaborating with the district to create a high quality charter school that will be a win-win solution for everyone, the district, the parents and the community," said Ms. Cunningham after the meeting.
1 person likes this
Posted by MMICS Supporter
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 28, 2014 at 2:42 am
To hopefully answer any questions, I copied my post from the earlier Almanac article below. Also, just to clarify, the charter school is seeking authorization from the district, not sponsorship.
There are a number of misconceptions with respect to 1) charter schools, 2) language immersion programs, 3) the value of Mandarin, and 4) cost/funding that I will attempt to clarify. It's extremely important that the community has this information in order to form an educated decision/opinion, instead of an emotional one based on assumptions. Also, please note that the school is not just based on Mandarin immersion. It integrates innovative curriculum with progressive teaching methods to develop 21st century skills for college and career readiness in our dynamic global society.
1)Charter schools provide families with a choice when it comes to public education and I think most people support having choices. Starting a charter school is also a *lot* of work and not some "crafty" ploy to circumvent the system.
The Charter Schools Act of 1992 states that:
It is the intent of the California Legislature…to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure, as a method to accomplish all of the following:
a)Improve pupil learning.
b)Increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils who are identified as academically low achieving.
c)Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods.
d)Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site.
e)Provide parents and pupils with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system.
f)Hold the schools established under this part accountable for meeting measurable pupil outcomes, and provide the schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems.
g)Provide vigorous competition within the public school system to stimulate continual improvements in all public schools.
-California Education Code Section 47601(a)-(g)
2)Although counter-intuitive, language immersion programs are actually much more cost-effective than enrichment programs. The reason for this is because you are delivering the core curriculum/state standards in the target language (and you can only do this starting when kids are young), teacher and facility costs don't increase. Budget constraints were the reason why Spanish For All was eventually discontinued, but Spanish immersion survived. In fact, many school districts are able to run immersion programs cost-neutrally (or close to it), and even revenue positive as in Minnesota's case, and no, districts don't have to hire a separate administrator to run the program.
Also, immersion is *the* most effective method for developing advanced proficiency (bilingualism/biliteracy) and academic competency in both languages, whereas enrichment programs provide limited exposure only, so you don't gain the cognitive (and other) benefits. Developing true proficiency in other languages is actually a priority at all levels of our government, even in our own school district. You can refer to the State's and County's Seal of Biliteracy programs, as well as the MPCSD's strategic plan. Some educators even believe that immersion will become the norm for education in the future.
More information and research, including the cognitive benefits of bilingualism and academic achievement data (which I don't believe are "narcissistic"), are available in the white paper posted on the menlomandarin.org website, so I would encourage you to read this.
3)Learning any language is excellent for cognitive development and in fact, one of the charter school founders, who is a neuroscientist and 2013 Nobel Laureate in Medicine, believes it is more important for a child's development in the first 10 years than learning math or science (because learning multiple languages expands the brain's capacity and stimulates learning in all subject areas)!
However, there actually is an added benefit to learning Mandarin specifically, not only because of its tonal nature and characters, which builds connections between both hemispheres of the brain (English speakers are only using the left side), but because it is also the most widely spoken first language in the world and 3rd most widely spoken in the US. In addition, China has the second largest economy in the world and one of the fastest-growing, expected to surpass the US in the next 10 20 years.
According to our US government, Mandarin is 1 of only 2 critical languages, which means there is a strong demand, but limited supply. The challenge is that language takes many years to develop, so by the time you realize you need the skill, it's too late, and the US is trying to play catch up. Also, education has a long time horizon, so educators have to be progressive (forward-thinking, innovative, visionary) to anticipate the skills and needs 15+ years out. We know enough about China's rising economic and political influence to anticipate the practicality of Mandarin for many generations to come, so this isn't some "crap shoot". If others believe that the future language should be something else, then I highly encourage you to present your case (and supporters) to the school district, as the parents did with Mandarin.
4)Cost is a sensitive topic and understandably so. However, charter schools are unfairly targeted. As one commenter indicated, it is actually to the district's financial advantage to approve the charter school, which is probably a surprise for many people. The district actually retains a larger share of the property tax revenue than what the charter school will receive, so the charter school needs to educate these district children with less tax revenue than if they were to attend the district's schools. Also, the funding follows the student, so charter schools will receive the same ADA for out-of-district students and they aren't getting a free ride on the backs of Menlo Park taxpayers. Therefore, charter schools do not siphon money away from the district nor its programs. In fact, it's the opposite.
In terms of facilities, the charter school needs 80 in-district signatures of families who are meaningfully interested in enrolling in the school in the first year in order to receive classroom space. Even then, this space is usually leased to the charter school based on a couple of different methods, so again, there's no free ride here.
One final note, learning Mandarin doesn't threaten English or challenge its dominance in the world. Learning other languages actually improves English, and the academic achievement data consistently indicates that children in immersion programs outperform their non-immersion peers, even on tests of the English language. However, if history is any lesson, we should remember that there were many great civilizations and powerful countries that have risen and fallen, so what is clear is that nothing lasts forever and the US is not immune. If anything, we are already losing our competitiveness in many fields and if we keep denying the impact of globalization, we will be victim to our own "narcissism".