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AISD cautiously expands dual language program

Thursday, April 2, 2015 by Courtney Griffin

The Austin Independent School District board of trustees decided Monday to extend its dual English and Spanish language program to two additional middle schools, but not before criticizing the administration’s lack of evidence supporting the expansion and a faulty application process.

The board voted 6-3 at its regular meeting to have Lamar and Paredes join Burnet and Fulmore middle schools in offering dual language programs for the 2015-2016 school year.

District 5 Vice President Amber Elenz, At Large Position 9 Board Member Kendall Pace and District 7 Board Member Robert Schneider voted against the motion.

“It’s my understanding that Lamar didn’t apply,” Pace said. “The original two schools, Fulmore and Burnet, spent quite a bit of time preparing … for the program. We’ve seen how programs work when they are forced upon a school — they don’t really work.”

Chief Academic Officer Pauline Dow, who spearheads the program, said Paredes also did not apply for the dual language program. The district brought the expansion requests forward based on community interest, a need for vertical program research and student need, she said.

Board members voted to extend the district’s dual language program to Burnet and Fulmore middle schools in December. The program has been around since 2010 in the district’s elementary schools, offering 50/50 daily instruction in English and Spanish for those enrolled. Before December, no middle schools offered the program.

Pace said it felt as if the administration and district were “shooting from the hip,” and she was not certain how the expansion to Paredes and Lamar would work out, given the programs have not been implemented at the middle-school level yet. Board members also raised concerns about how the program would work with new enrollees at the middle schools.

Elenz echoed Pace, expressing her disapproval on how the district handled the expansion process for these two schools.

Elenz said she was “struggling mightily” with the missing application piece. The applicant process was in place because schools are required to implement the program for three years, commit to designating a portion of their own campus budget to the program and have the full support of administration, teachers, parents and students, she said.

Elenz said she did not understand why the district was rushing the expansion with no baseline numbers showing the programs’ merits from any middle schools yet.

Schneider questioned the fairness of the faulty application process and wondered how the district would say no to a school that wanted a dual language program.

Based on rising fifth graders in the program and voiced interest from the community, AISD expects 64 children to continue the program at Paredes Middle School, 53 at Fulmore, 47 at Burnet and 10 at Lamar.

District 4 Board Member Julie Cowan said she was concerned about the low potential enrollment rate at Lamar, but spoke with dual language community members at a conference recently.

“I guess that, if these fifth graders that are rising to sixth grade want to move on and are committed, then that’s what we need to offer them,” Cowan said, adding that AISD needs to take a larger look at school feeder patterns and program continuation now that the 2013 legislative graduation requirements are in full swing.

Looking at testing data, Board President Gina Hinojosa said Lamar’s English Language Learners STAAR program performance was something she was “not proud of,” so it might be time to try a different approach. According to the Texas Education Agency’s 2013-2014 Academic Performance Report, 53 percent of Lamar’s ELL students met the STAAR program’s reading standards. Thirty-one percent met writing standards, and 26 percent met standards in social studies.

“I’ve always been concerned that Burnet was over capacity and (wondered) where we are going to fit kids north of the river who were coming from elementary schools who needed dual language programs,” Hinojosa said. “So Lamar, I think, could potentially accommodate those students.”

AISD serves 23,204 English language learners, which represents 27.6 percent of its student population. According to the Texas Education Agency’s 2013-2014 Academic Performance Report, 55 percent of the district’s ELL students met the STAAR program’s reading standards, equivalent to the state average.

Both state and federal dollars fund the dual language program. Those funds, however, cover only enrolled Spanish speakers, and not English speakers.




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