Eau Claire school district Administration Building

Eau Claire school district Administration Building, 500 Main St.

Amid increasing numbers of students in the Eau Claire school district whose first language is not English, school board members hope a new Spanish dual immersion program will provide more bilingual and bicultural learning opportunities.

At its Monday night meeting, the board heard updates regarding the Spanish dual immersion program slated to launch next academic year. Board members will vote Dec. 17 on the program’s application process, as well as its location, both of which may affect upcoming years’ budgets in unforeseen ways.

“We had a healthy discussion and discussed the power of programs like this in addressing the achievement gap,” board President Joe Luginbill said in a statement Tuesday. “If developed and sustained in the proper way, all students truly stand to benefit from this kind of programming — regardless of their native language.”

Dave Oldenberg, district director of academic services, said he is pleased with the progress he and the program committee have made after more than two years of research and planning.

“We hoped to develop a program that assures increased student performance and student achievement inside the program,” Oldenberg said. “I am highly confident that our team has done that work to make that happen.”

The program as proposed would begin for the 2019-20 academic year with one or two kindergarten classes, but one grade level will be added each year until it operates from kindergarten to fifth grade. Classrooms would comprise half-and-half or a ratio of 60-40 native Spanish speakers and native English speakers.

At the Monday meeting, Oldenberg and Brianna Smit, English learner coordinator, proposed an application process that would consist of five steps. First, parents would attend a mandatory family informational meeting and then submit an application.

After submitting an application, families would be contacted to schedule an appointment for student screening and parent one-on-one consultation. At that time, students would be assessed to determine their native language levels. Then, students would be selected by a lottery process, which the board will likely vote to approve in March.

Oldenberg and Smit also presented information for the board to use while determining which elementary school — Locust Lane or Longfellow — will host the program.

While Longfellow is more centrally located and would align with potential district boundary changes, Locust Lane has greater building capacity. Both principals have been involved with the planning and research progress.

The elementary schools also have different budget implications due to transportation. The program committee estimates transportation to Longfellow would cost anywhere between $18,258 and $73,032, while projecting the cost to be about $91,920 for Locust Lane.

Though the ultimate votes regarding the program’s implementation, transportation and budget are expected to be held in March, seeing expenses related to transportation caused concern for some school board members, who wonder how the program will affect future district budgeting in ways they cannot anticipate yet.

“When we look at our goals for our district with our need to up the level of learning and achievement for our ELL (English language learners) population of kiddos, this would certainly do that, along with getting other populations of kids that would get involved in speaking Spanish. It’s a win-win for everybody,” board member Chris Hambuch-Boyle said Tuesday. “But within the realm of big picture for school, it’s more complicated. ... We also have to be good stewards of our budget and our taxpayers’ dollars.”

Oldenberg said the program committee will continue its research of potential budget estimates for transportation, as well as finalize a proposal for the program’s lottery process.

Contact: 715-833-9206, samantha.west@ecpc.com, @SamanthaWest196 on Twitter