As the Menlo Park City School District struggles with a Mandarin immersion charter school proposal by district parents, the Redwood City School District has approved its own Mandarin immersion program, set to start next fall.
Redwood City district officials say students from the district, which includes parts of Atherton and Woodside as well as Redwood City, will be given first priority, but that out-of-district students will also be accepted as long as classrooms have space for them.
Parents in the Menlo Park district began pushing the district to start a Mandarin immersion program early in 2013. In April of this year, however, the district board declined to take any action on a program, saying it wanted to take a close look at the district's existing Spanish immersion program and had too many other things, such as building a new school, to focus on.
Immersion program backers then proposed the Menlo Mandarin Immersion Charter School, submitting a charter school petition on Sept. 12. The board will vote on whether to authorize the charter on Nov. 12.
In Redwood City, the Mandarin immersion program will start next fall at John Gill School, located north of Jefferson Avenue and east of Alameda de las Pulgas. Depending on the number of students interested in enrolling, the program could start with transitional kindergarten (for students turning 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2), kindergarten and first-grade classes, district officials say.
One grade will be added each year, and the Mandarin immersion model will continue at the Kennedy Middle School for sixth through eighth grade, according to Naomi Hunter, director of communications for the Redwood City School District.
A blog about the Redwood City program has more details. A kindergarten information night will be held at the school at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, followed by a tour for those interested in the Mandarin immersion program at 7 p.m. People can register in advance by calling the John Gill School office at 482-2406.
Parents who asked for the Mandarin immersion program in Redwood City said they first spoke to the district superintendent about the program in fall 2013. They were asked to come back with more information about the budget, the curriculum and parental interest. Parents said that once they had that information for the district, the program was unanimously approved by the district board.
Traffic that would be generated by parents bringing children to the program from outside the John Gill School neighborhood was one of the only concerns raised about the program, parents who were involved said.
A report to the Redwood City board before its Sept. 24 vote said the new program would have no financial impact on the district. Ms. Hunter said that is because the district's revenue limit funding, which is different from Menlo Park's basic aid funding, comes from the state and depends on the average number of students who attend each day. Menlo Park's funding is not based on attendance.
"The total funding for a classroom of students will cover the cost of a teacher, supplies and other costs associated with the program," she said. In addition, the state will give the Redwood City district the same amount of funding for a student who transfers from another district as it does for in-district students, she said.
Ms. Hunter said the Mandarin immersion program will teach 80 percent of kindergarten and first-grade classes in Mandarin and 20 percent in English. The ratio of Mandarin to English instruction slowly decreases until it is 20 percent Mandarin and 80 percent English by eighth grade.
New students will be admitted to the program after first grade only if they pass a Mandarin language proficiency test.
The report to the Redwood City board says the district's existing immersion programs "share the goal of developing bilingual/biliterate citizens capable of competing in a global economy." Further goals include "academic excellence and multicultural competence."