News

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.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by needless_agitation
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 27, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Dear Mandarin-Immersion-Obsessed Folks,

If you push this charter program against the wishes of the school board, you will be harming every child in the MPCSD. If you don't understand what I am saying, then you haven't done your homework.

Foreign language instruction is always good. My problem is that many (maybe most?) Mandarin-immersion program backers are doing so out of some misguided notion of a world where those who know Chinese languages will leverage this skill to great economic fortune. It's a ridiculous fad notion.

Push for language instruction courses in Mandarin if they do not exist. This other route you are going is destructive and constructed on a narcissistic foundation.


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Posted by Diane
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 27, 2014 at 9:01 pm

Perhaps if the school board had given their request to add a strand of mandarin immersion to the district any serious consideration last year, then they wouldn't be pushing for a charter school now! The school board created this situation and now they need to waste valuable district resources trying to fix it.


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Posted by mom
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 27, 2014 at 9:38 pm

Why does it have to be immersion? Can I request a German or French immersion that I want my son to have for his economic future?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by JustTheFacts
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 27, 2014 at 9:49 pm

needless_agitation, your comments are aggressive and misguided. It would be great if you can back up your strong statements with specific examples and/or data points. Otherwise, they certainly don't help move the discussion forward.

The fact is, our district is already behind and language immersion is certainly not a fad. These points were discussed in detail at the at the information session on the weekend. Dr. Tom Sudhof, a Nobel laureate in who lives in our district and appears to be one of the founding members of this initiative, even spoke about benefits of bilingualism on the brain and the importance of language immersion at a young age - it was fascinating!

As a parent in our district who want my children to become bilingual and bi-literate for reasons that certainly are not narcissistic, I've been following this closely and am encouraged to see the spirit of collaboration here. The group that is spearheading the Mandarin immersion initiative has been extremely transparent, and I think Diane is correct that there wasn't enough serious consideration given to adding Mandarin to the extremely popular (and oversubscribed) Spanish immersion program. That said, the Charter School vision they've put forward is quite impressive. Hopefully they'll post the presentations they shared on their website so others can learn the facts and keep some of the uninformed, aggressively negative commentary to a minimum.

Do the research and you'll quickly realize that language immersion is no fad. This is Silicon Valley - let's innovate and build for the future and not attack a group focused on driving positive change in our education system.


 +   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".


 +   Like this comment
Posted by repost
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Aug 28, 2014 at 1:25 pm

This is a aggressive push by a small minority of parents who were unhappy that the district didn't agree with the Mandarin immersion plan they put forward. Since these parents didn't get their way they are going the charter school route. Understand that if the School Board turns them down they will sue. This is the first step to a lawsuit which will cost our district time and money that would be better spent on our students. This is the same tactic used in Palo Alto and they forced the district to give in vs fight in court.

Our school board has done a great job of focusing on education for all, not just specialized education for a small select group. Language education is a great idea but why don't we offer it to all students? Keep our great schools equal and open not selective and closed this is a bad idea.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by needless_agitation
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 28, 2014 at 4:56 pm

I said:

"Foreign language instruction is always good. My problem is that many (maybe most?) Mandarin-immersion program backers are doing so out of some misguided notion of a world where those who know Chinese languages will leverage this skill to great economic fortune. It's a ridiculous fad notion.

Push for language instruction courses in Mandarin if they do not exist. This other route you are going is destructive and constructed on a narcissistic foundation."

Mandarin-Immersion-Obssessed-Faction characterizes this as "aggressive" and not supporting foreign language instruction.

What I can gather from this is that what our educational system is really lacking is English language reading comprehension ...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 29, 2014 at 12:45 pm

I love the "We clearly didn't get enough consideration from the School Board" argument. Isn't that just a way of saying "we didn't get our way" so we are going to use the legal system to force our minority demands on the many.

I hope the parents and board of this district will see through this attempt to hijack our district with narrow scope education initiatives. Despite what some will argue a charter school will take away from the broader district character and resources.

1) Where will the classroom space come from in our already very crowded district? Currently temporary classrooms are encroaching on playgrounds.

2) While funding may not impact the district general per student budget an immersion program will tax the schools resources in other ways. The library will need to be stocked with Mandarin books, new teachers will need to be hired, a middle school solution will need to be created etc. These are resources that will come from our other programs pockets.

3)We are a community based district but these separate schools/within a schools are not integrated. They keep to themselves and the kids do not integrate into the broader school programs.

4)Currently the District has Tinsley students integrated into every grade level. Will this Charter school be open to Tinsley transfers?

If language immersion is important to you, enroll in the Spanish immersion program. I hear it is excellent.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by a (former) resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 29, 2014 at 10:56 pm

Why all the drama surrounding language immersion classes?

You want your kids to learn Chinese? Then pay for it yourself. Only a small portion of the district's population actually wants Mandarin immersion, and its unfair to make everybody else pay for it.

That being said, I still think that Mandarin immersion is a great idea. China is a rising power, and it would certainly make business sense to learn Chinese. Plus, when your children go to college, they'll be able to talk to all the foreign exchange students.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Janice
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 31, 2014 at 4:49 pm

We are talking about publicly funded education, aren't we? When our schools are helping all students achieve their best, then might be the time to consider a selective, language immersion charter school. Until then, I suggest we focus on ensuring that the least advantaged students get their fair share of economic opportunity.

A comment here implied that our Spanish classes are oversubscribed. For those who think so, take a look--and listen--around you. California is well on its way to being a bi-lingual English-Spanish speaking state. You might not like that, but the reality is that many employers are showing preference for bi-lingual (read Spanish) employees.

It is not the job of a publically funded school to cater to specialized preferences. If you want a private education meeting your preferences, pay for it yourself.

Now I'll relax and wait for the aggressive, pro-Mandarin insults.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Not enough space
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Sep 1, 2014 at 1:35 pm

There simply isn't enough space for a separate charter school, that can legally draw students from other districts for perpetuity, to occupy Menlo Park District classrooms.

While I wholeheartedly agree that learning multiple languages at a young age has numerous benefits, and have communicated to the district for years, as I imagine others have, that it would be great if ALL students in the district had exposure to a 2nd language from Kindergarten on, the bottom line is that the Menlo Park City School District, even with the addition of the new Laurel upper school, is and is projected to be, for a number of years, over populated and short on space.

Additionally, the charter should legally be denied as it's highly unlikely this Mandarin charter program will meet the 2nd key stated goal of the 1992 Charter Schools Act: "b)Increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils who are identified as academically low achieving". How many academically low achieving students will attend the proposed charter school - more than 50%?, 40%?, 30%?, 20%?, 15%?. I'm guessing less than 10% and even 5% is probably a stretch.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of another community
on Sep 1, 2014 at 4:19 pm

@not enough space - I don't think not having enough space or no providing opportunities for low achieving students is grounds for denying a charter - just ask the Los Altos School District. Bullis Charter was founded by Los Altos Hills parents (when Los Altos SD closed their local elementary). Los Alto Hills students are about as far from the intended charter school population as possible. In addition, the pro-Charter parents in Menlo Park have Grace Mah in their corner. The person who threatened PAUSD with a Charter when they said the exact same thing that Menlo Park is saying now, not in the best interests of the District, not something we should consider now, etc. But by threatening a Charter, Palo Alto now has a MI program, that interestingly enough, didn't have enough parent interest to support a 6th grade after school Mandarin class (6th grade in PAUSD don't have language classes). Since Ms. Mah is now on the Santa Clara County Board of Education, I'm sure she can provide a wealth of info for the MI-to-be parents.

@a (former) resident - as far as the "You want your kids to learn Chinese? Then pay for it yourself" I think that is just what the MI proponents are trying to avoid.


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Posted by Beth
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 2, 2014 at 8:24 pm

Do the taxes I pay go toward this MI charter school? Was this part of the agreement when I voted for educational funding many times in the past 10 years? I wonder if we voters have a say in this. I wonder if we can have our own lawsuit?


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Posted by needless_agitation
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 3, 2014 at 1:37 pm

@Beth,

That's a great question.

Let's say this was a MPAEF initiative and someone didn't like it. That person could choose to just withhold future donations to MPAEF. I cut my donations when a MPCSD school decided to use my foundation donations to put up an idiotic electronic sign at the front of the school that conveyed little to nothing of value.

We don't really have a choice with the MI initiative do we? I suppose we could vote board members out, but, frankly, they've got their back up against a wall - and I'm no big supporter of the decision making acumen or savvy or the MPCSD school board.

Spanish immersion makes sense because of the state, and quite frankly, the country and hemisphere we live in. Mandarin immersion is a fad. The next century will be China's century and that's an argument for Mandarin Immersion? Give me a break. When China stops choking on their own air, making their water undrinkable, and artificially suppressing local labor rates and currency to engineer a beneficial manufacturing cost margin, then we'll have this conversation in earnest.

Until then, everybody will be learning English because they know that's where the money is.

We, in turn, should learn other languages because simply learning a second language has cognitive, intellectual, and cultural benefits.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 3, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Perhaps an English immersion charter school would be much more beneficial to the community at large. Open to students in the Bell Haven area of the city and perhaps allowing students from EPA and northeast Menlo. As you know English is the main language of the nation.

If parents want to immerse their kids in another language then they should find a private school where they can pay and not take our tax dollars, facilities and other funds away from the district.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by family
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 3, 2014 at 2:15 pm

I suspect if the MI group does not a publicly funded private school, they will sue the district. This will force the School Board to the negotiating table or spend millions defending the decision.

Either way the other tax paying families in the district will lose. They will be forced to spend our district funds to defends against a small minority and be distracted from the current issues facing the district like crowded classrooms, changing state funding, implementing the common core. The list goes on, please lets keep our Board focused on the majority of children vs a small vocal minority.

If all else fails they will try and unseat the board via the electoral process. I suspect we will see several new candidates running on a pro-language immersion platform.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Educator
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on Sep 4, 2014 at 9:41 am

Educator is a registered user.

MMICS Supporter says:

>> "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."

My understanding and expectation is that these skills are already being implemented District-wide, and not just in a potential immersion program, so the one and only issue here is whether to develop an immersion program (charter or otherwise) or not.

Los Lomitas District added Mandarin to their foreign language mix several years ago, and have been quite successful with their students and with lobbying the Sequoia High School District to support Mandarin at the high school level. I don't really see the need for such a small district to build or support a mandarin immersion program.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by needless_agitation
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 4, 2014 at 12:45 pm

@Educator,

Exactly.

The immersion portion of MI is at issue -- not foreign language instruction in Mandarin.

For Spanish Immersion, there was a sizable population seeking this, it's acutely relevant to the United States as a whole and California in particular, and it was backed by the board for these reasons. End of story.

MI folks, if you can't get the school board to see your perspective, and I hope they do not, push for Mandarin classes. If you can't get that through, band together, and pay for private lessons. I know you can afford it.

All the rest of us ask is that you don't hold our public schools and kids hostage with your singular obsession.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Oak Knoll Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 4, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Alright, I'll bite. My family doesn't stand to benefit directly from this school--my son is too old--but I can see how it could be good for the district as a whole. Sure, it would be better if the district embraced it instead of having it be a charter. But either way, here are some advantages:

a) people here are interested in bilingual, dual immersion education. The Spanish program is oversubscribed--which means (contrary to someone's interpretation above) that there are way more families who want to participate than there are spots. It's particularly challenging for non-native speakers to get into the program--so logically there should be a large pool of families potentially interested in *some* sort of bilingual education, not necessarily Spanish. The benefits of this kind of education are well-documented elsewhere. By all means, let's add more foreign language immersion. I'll add that high school instruction wouldn't serve nearly the same purpose. Mandarin is notoriously challenging to learn, especially at older ages. Of all the languages we might reasonably want to have kids start early, this would (in my opinion) head the list.

b) Menlo Park rarely loses by innovating. Oak Knoll has done great with the multi-age classrooms and looping for older grades. Spanish immersion has been wildly popular. More creative/interesting options for our kids means more families will want to buy here, invest in the district and community, etc. How could that be bad?

I get that we are concerned about space, but many of the kids entering this program might have been taking up seats in the schools anyway. I think the hostility is really misplaced and I don't really see the "aggression" that others are describing--instead, I see the same entrepreneurial spirit and creativity that made this area so fantastically successful (and expensive).

Finally, I find it a bit rich that anyone could complain about overcrowding, lack of resources, or inability to serve low-income kids. Low-income kids make up less than 5% of our current district. It wouldn't be tough for the charter to double that percentage. My son is in a class of 19, with more parent volunteers and aids than you could shake a stick at. He works on an iPad and borrows a school violin, free of charge. The MP elementary schools are basically private schools, subsidized by the federal government tax exemptions afforded to already wealthy parents who contribute to the foundation. Our kids already get every conceivable advantage. What exactly is there to complain about?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2014 at 4:45 pm

Just curious - if Spanish Immersion is oversubscribed, why not just expand it instead of adding another immersion program?


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