Sunday, September 23, 2018

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EC school board lets Spanish dual immersion program move forward

Some board members voicecost concerns

  • asf

    The Eau Claire school district’s Administration Building, 500 Main St.

    File photo

Organizers behind a proposed Spanish dual immersion program have approval from the Eau Claire school board to forge ahead with curriculum planning despite budget concerns from some board members.

English learner coordinator Brianna Smit and director of academic services Dave Oldenberg requested approval for a total of $14,650 at Monday’s school board meeting to use for curriculum and staff professional development. That money would come from Title II funding — grant money to use for professional development — and a bilingual-bicultural grant, meaning it won’t add any burden to the district’s current budget.

However, some board members looked beyond Monday night’s request and to the three- or five-year budget implications of the proposed program, which the board hasn’t officially voted on yet. Organizers are hoping to begin the Spanish immersion program by the 2019-20 school year.

“I would be very much in favor of this,” board member Chris Hambuch-Boyle said. “But I sit in budget development and know that everything impacts the other. I think it would be a great conversation for us as a district to really put these pieces down and envision them ahead, and what the cost would be and what it would look like across the district.”

Board member Charles Vue echoed Hambuch-Boyle’s concern, adding that Monday night’s request was easily digestible but the program could hit budget roadblocks down the road.

Still, the board agreed that in order to present a fully fleshed-out program when  formally asking the board to approve it, organizers will need resources to develop a curriculum and prepare staff.

“Students are going to be learning how to read, write, speak and listen in a different language,” Smit said of the program, “whether it’s Spanish speakers learning English or English speakers learning Spanish. That would be a new curriculum for our district.”

The Spanish dual immersion program, if approved, would begin with one or two kindergarten classes with up to 25 students in each session at Longfellow or Locust Lane elementary schools. The program would then add one grade level each year until it operates from kindergarten to fifth grade. Classroom makeup would be half-and-half native Spanish speakers and native English speakers or 60 percent of one and 40 percent of the other.

Students would be admitted on a lottery basis.

At the Monday meeting, Smit and Oldenberg addressed questions board members had from the last time they gave an update on their progress, including how the lottery system would work and transportation.

Smit briefed the board on how three school districts in Wisconsin — Madison, Menasha and Verona — organize their language immersion program lottery system. The models include an application window, such as from January to February, and allowing siblings to follow students who are selected in order to keep families at the same school.

Transportation is hard to predict at this time, Smit said, because the program is still in a planning phase and organizers don’t know where specifically the students would be coming from.

Despite some long-term budget concerns, board members expressed excitement for the program.

“I think that the effort that has been invested through all the people involved in the process is ... already a huge investment,” said board member Eric Torres. “What they are requesting is a small investment that we can provide to further this project that will produce, I’m sure, very good results.”

In other action:

• The board conducted a first reading on a new policy regarding social media use, which outlines conduct for district-used social media outlets.

Contact: 715-830-5828,, @LaurenKFrench on Twitter

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