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Spanish immersion expansion on the table

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Spanish immersion expansion on the table
Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

Two proposals are on the table if District 833 School Board members decide to expand the Spanish language immersion program.

The board met in a workshop session on Nov. 4 to hear the options from a task force that studied a plea from parents of Spanish Immersion students, and those aspiring to enroll their children, who want the program expanded by a minimum of two more classes beginning with next year's kindergarten.

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The program, begun in 2004 at Bailey Elementary School in Woodbury with the help of federal and state grant money, is not for students who already speak Spanish or those with limited English proficiency.

Students, whose parents want them to be bilingual, enter the program in kindergarten with core classes taught in Spanish and become fluent by the end of fifth-grade.

The boardroom was packed with parents who favor expanding Spanish Immersion but no comments from the public are allowed at workshop meetings.

Parents want expansion because the policy allowing enrollment preference for students with siblings already in the program has caused limited slots for new students.

This year, 18 slots were filled through a lottery, and 43 students were on a waiting list.

No students from outside the district were enrolled after the first year, according to Dave Bernhardson, assistant superintendent for elementary education.

The board plans to hold two meetings to hear public comments between Thanksgiving and Dec. 16, when a decision is expected.

Comments will also be accepted on the district's Website, at sowashco.k12.mn.us.

Two expansion options considered

One option is to keep Spanish Immersion, called Nuevas Frontaras, at Crestview Elementary School in Cottage Grove that also has traditional education classes.

The program for 360 students, including busing, costs $1.6 million a year but houses students who would otherwise be in traditional classes.

The advantages of keeping the status quo include that it would keep Crestview a neighborhood school. It would also allow all Spanish Immersion graduates to go to Cottage Grove Middle School, that is full, where they attend two classes taught in Spanish in addition to traditional classes.

Disadvantages include continued pressure on core facilities such as the gym and cafeteria, no Nuevas Frontaras kindergarten rooms designed for that grade level, two start and end times and limited space for teaching specialists.

No single district school could house the existing program other than Crestview, or an expanded Nuevas Frontaras program, without transferring students in traditional classes to other schools. The 1,000 available spaces are across 13 other elementary schools, according to Mike Vogel, assistant to the superintendent for operations.

The task force considered, but rejected, other choices, Vogel said, including leasing space where a cafeteria and gym would have to be built.

They also considered moving the program to schools shared with other districts such as Crosswinds and Valley Crossing, but state aid for those students would be lost to District 833.

The option for splitting an expanded program that would keep grades kindergarten through second grade at Crestview, and have grades three, four and five at Bailey Elementary would cost $4.1 million, more than twice the cost of keeping the existing program.

The additional cost includes more buses, more curriculum materials and duplicate administrative costs, but would allow enough space for traditional and Spanish Immersion classes, Vogel said.

Another option would have one school, with no additional cost over the existing program, with Spanish Immersion students only. Students in traditional classes would be moved to other schools.

Advantages include avoiding the cost of two sites and allowing for a more comprehensive immersion experience, something parents of immersion students have asked for in past discussions.

Disadvantages include closing a neighborhood school and disrupting the existing middle-school feeder system set up during attendance boundary changes because no single middle school could accommodate 300 more students from an expanded program.

Moving elementary school students to other schools would cause some schools to be at capacity with no room to accommodate future growth, Vogel said.

The district could also keep the program at the current level with three classes at each grade level from kindergarten through fifth-grade.

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Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600
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