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District considers Dual Immersion cutback

Options could reduce elementary enrollment by 12.4 percent

by TERRY SMITH

Blaine County School District Superintendent Lonnie Barber discusses proposed changes to the districtís two-language Dual Immersion program with parents Wednesday evening at Woodside Elementary School. At left is district Communications Director Heather Crocker and at right is Hailey Elementary School Principal Tom Bailey. Express photo by Jennifer Liebrum

The Blaine County School District is looking at two options that could reduce K-5 enrollment in the district’s two-language Dual Immersion program by 12.4 percent.

However, one option has a provision that could actually increase enrollment by 9.4 percent but would require building new classrooms. Funding for the classrooms could come from a 10-year $59.8 million plant facilities levy approved by Blaine County voters in 2009, district Superintendent Lonnie Barber said Wednesday.

Barber talked about the possibility of new classrooms at a Wednesday evening meeting at Woodside Elementary School in south Hailey where he and other district officials presented options for the program to about 60 parents of Dual Immersion students. The district board of trustees, which will ultimately make the decision regarding the future of the program, is seeking public comment on the issue.

District officials took questions from the audience, but no one offered comments.

The school board has already eliminated two other options—building an entirely new Dual Immersion-only school and leaving the program as is. In September, the board voted to either move all Bellevue and Hailey Dual Immersion elementary school students to Woodside Elementary or to have one class each for grades K-5 at the three schools.

Under either option, Hemingway Elementary School would have one class each for grades K-5 for north valley students.

Either option, unless new classrooms were to be installed at Woodside Elementary, would reduce K-5 enrollment in the district to 528 students, 12.4 percent less than the 603 currently enrolled.

Barber said the district’s preferred option would be to either construct a new wing at Woodside Elementary or install portable classrooms so that enrollment could be expanded to 660 students, a 9.4 percent increase over the current enrollment.

Barber and other district officials described the current arrangement, under which some schools have two classes of Dual Immersion students, as “unsustainable,” primarily because of the difficulty in finding enough certified bilingual teachers and because of uneven class sizes and programmatic conflicts at the schools.

Molly Michalec, the district’s Dual Immersion coordinator, explained that the program remains popular with parents and that enrollees are selected by lottery if too many students apply.

Now in its 12th year, the Dual Immersion program involves mixing native Spanish-speaking students with native English-speaking students and instructing the class in both Spanish and English, with the overall goal of make the students fluent in both languages.

Students start Dual Immersion classes as kindergartners and continue with the same Dual Immersion classmates throughout their school years.

Started in 2001, the original group of district Dual Immersion students is now in the 11th grade.

Barber said at the meeting that any changes made to the program might be implemented as early as the beginning of the next school year but that 2014 was a more realistic scenario.

“I’ve been an administrator for 15 years, and I’ve never had an issue as complicated as this one,” he said. “I do want you to know that we’re working hard for kids, but we’re not going to be able to satisfy every person with what we do with the program.”

If the school board ultimately decides to reduce enrollment by 12.4 percent, Barber and Michalec said, arrangements would be made so that no student now enrolled would be dropped from the program.


Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com



Another meeting

The Blaine County School District has scheduled a second public meeting to discuss options for its Dual Immersion program for 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 8, at the Community Campus in Hailey. In addition to explaining the options, the district board of trustees wants public input before any decisions are made. Anyone who can’t attend the meeting can comment through a survey on the district website at www.blaineschools.org under the tab “Your Voice.”



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