Rebuffed in their efforts to start a Mandarin-language immersion program within the Menlo Park City School District, a group of parents are working to instead start a new kindergarten-to-eighth-grade Mandarin immersion charer school, the Menlo Mandarin Immersion Charter School.
According to Carol Cunningham, who had led the effort to start the program as part of the Menlo Park district, the goal is to open the new charter school in the fall of 2015, with two classes of kindergartners and two classes of first-graders.
In the lower grades, up to 90 percent of classes will be taught in Mandarin, she said, with the percent gradually lessening in upper grade levels to an about 50-50 ratio by fourth or fifth grade.
"We want to equip our children with the 21st century skills that will be demanded by an increasingly competitive and global society," Ms. Cunningham said. The founding families want to "create innovative learning opportunities, based on sound educational models, because we believe that families should have a choice when it comes to public education."
The group has many hurdles to leap, according to the suggested schedule on the California Charter Schools Association website, an ambitious timetable. "The average team takes a total of 1-3 years to complete the entire process," the website says, "depending on whether they have an established team and vision at the outset, their authorization environment, and a number of other factors."
Ms. Cunningham said that because the group has been working with the district for so long, they have already done much of the background work needed to start a charter.
The group plans to present its petition to start the charter school to the Menlo Park City School District within four to six weeks, Ms. Cunningham said. The district will then have 30 days to hold a public hearing.
The petition must be signed by at least 80 district families interested in enrolling children in the kindergarten and first-grade classes for the 2015-16 school year, Ms. Cunningham said.
If the district turns down the charter school, the group can appeal to the San Mateo County Board of Education.
A meeting to provide information about the proposed charter school will be held on Sunday, Aug. 24. A second session, from 1 to 3 p.m., has been added in addition to the original 3 to 5 p.m. session. Both are at the Parents Place, 200 Channing Ave. in Palo Alto. Child care and activities for children will be provided.
Scheduled speakers are Grace Mah, member of the Santa Clara County Board of Education; Ling-Chi Wang, University of California at Berkeley professor; Thomas Sudhof, a biochemist and 2013 Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine and Stanford University professor; and Amado Padilla, a Stanford University professor whose research includes "studies involving second language learning and teaching, and strategies for achieving bilingual proficiency."
Those planning to attend are asked to send an email with the number attending and the name of their home school district to [email protected] by Aug. 15. Space is limited.
In April, the board of the Menlo Park City School District declined to take any action on a request to start a Mandarin immersion program by fall 2014. "I know it's simply not something that the district can do at this point in time," board member Terry Thygesen said then.
The planned charter school would eventually have classes for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It will, according to the school's website, "integrate the development of bilingual and biliteracy skills in English and Mandarin with a Common Core-aligned STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) curriculum, using an interdisciplinary, collaborative, and experiential approach that nurtures the whole child."
Among the details still to be worked out are what the class sizes would be and where the school would be located, although it would be within the district, according to Ms. Cunningham.
If children from within the school district do not fill all the available slots in the school, children from outside the district would be admitted, according to the charter organizers.
The school has 13 founding members, Ms. Cunningham said, who span a variety of disciplines, including education, high-tech, finance, legal, marketing and neuroscience.
A quote from founding member Thomas Sudhof is prominently featured on the charter school's website: "Immersing a child in multiple languages is more important for a child's development in the first 10 years than learning math or science because the structure and content of the languages a child speaks become part of the person's intellectual repertoire."