The Blaine County School District board of trustees voted 3-2 Tuesday in favor of transforming Woodside Elementary School in southern Hailey into a Dual Immersion “magnet school” where studies would be conducted exclusively in the district’s two-language, Spanish and English program.
The motion to approve was made by Trustee Shawn Bennion and seconded by Trustee Don Nurge. Trustees Kathryn Graves and Paul Bates voted no. Board Chair Steve Guthrie broke the tie by voting in the affirmative.
There was very little discussion before the vote, but the district has been kicking around the notion of changing the Dual Immersion program for the past two years. The main argument for change has been that the existing program is “unsustainable,” with the biggest problem being finding enough certified bilingual teachers.
As it now stands, formation of the magnet school would reduce the number of K-5 Dual Immersion students in the district by about 12 percent, from just over 600 to 528. With the plan, Dual Immersion students now enrolled at Woodside and at Hailey and Bellevue elementary schools will be consolidated into one school starting at the beginning of the 2014 school year at Woodside.
Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum will retain one strand of DI students. A strand refers to a group of students who start as a Dual Immersion class as kindergarteners and progress together through both elementary and secondary school.
Under the approved plan, Woodside elementary as a magnet school will have three strands of DI.
Still on the table and not yet voted on by the board of trustees is the possibility of adding portable classrooms or even an extension to Woodside Elementary School to allow for four strands of DI. However, adding to classroom space still means that the district would have to find additional bilingual teachers.
The option rejected by the board of trustees at Tuesday’s meeting was a plan to have one strand of DI students at each of the district’s four elementary schools, an option referred to as “the neighborhood option.”
Two other options, one to leave the program as is and the second to build a new elementary school exclusively for DI studies, were earlier eliminated by the board.
Nonetheless, before voting no, Graves explained that she did like either of the options that were still on the table.
“Right now we have a successful DI program,” she said. “I’m not convinced that either of these options is better for the Blaine County School District than what we have now.”
Bates did not elaborate on his reason for voting no, other than to say, “I think we need to make our decision based on what is best for every student in our school district.”
Some public comment on the issue prior to Tuesday claimed that non-DI students at some schools in the district were in the minority and that they received less teacher attention because their classes had more students than DI classes.
A typical Dual Immersion class consists of half native English-speaking students and half native Spanish-speaking students. Instruction is provided in both languages with the intent that students will become proficient in both Spanish and English.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, board Chair Guthrie plopped a binder filled with about 500 pages of presentation materials onto his desk, explaining that it represented about two years worth of work and outreach, mainly done by Molly Michalec, the district’s DI director, and district Superintendent Lonnie Barber.
Guthrie noted that there had been extensive outreach of the DI program proposals to the public, parents and teachers and to the school board
“This represents two years of very diligent hard work,” Guthrie said. “As far as the process goes, I don’t think you could have done a better job.”
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org