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Gateway parents circulate Spanish Immersion petition

For past few weeks local parents have been advocating to save their neighborhood elementary schools from possible closure to make room for an expanded Spanish Immersion program.

However, one group - students at the Gateway gifted and talented program - has been mostly quiet until now.

A group of Gateway parents at Bailey Elementary, which houses the Gateway program, is circulating a petition requesting that no change be made to the schools.

The Spanish Immersion task force options include keeping Spanish Immersion as a program sharing space at Crestview Elementary; splitting the Spanish Immersion between Crestview and Bailey elementaries, which would require moving Gateway students to Royal Oaks Elementary; or relocating students at either Royal Oaks, Woodbury, Armstrong or Crestview elementaries to make room for a standalone Spanish Immersion school.

"That would be one of the worst options for us because Gateway gets displaced and Bailey gets overcrowded," Gateway parent Jane Sharer Maier said of Option 2, which would force Gateway to move. "There's no part in that scenario that works out well for anyone.

"Families are kind of upset that this is a choice program and it's disrupting all of the other programs -- I think it was set up to fail."

The District 833 School Board held two public hearings the last two weeks, which drew both opponents and proponents of Spanish Immersion expansion. The School Board is schedule to make a decision Dec. 16.

"It seems like it's pretty obvious that if (the School Board) just goes ahead with what the task force is recommending they are going to have a big problem on their hands," Sharer Maier said.

Advocating for gifted students

Sharer Maier said she decided to circulate a petition seeking Option -- keeping Spanish Immersion as it is - because it's a single statement that says what everyone feels. Plus, it was not known if all opponents would be allowed to speak during the public hearings.

"Parents in this community are invested in the education of their children, in their neighborhood schools or in their programs of choice," district communications director Barb Brown said. "A change to their existence or status can be unsettling and concerning.

"Their reaction is evidence of these families' investment in their children, their schools and their community."

Sharer Maier said they had generated signatures through circulating the petition during meetings and advertising the petition on the Bailey Elementary listserv, an electronic communication tool.

Sharer Maier said she has been very frustrated with how little attention the School Board, the task force and the community has paid to the effect a change would have on the Gateway students.

"I've been struck by how dismissed the program seems to be," she said. "There's a misconception about gifted children that they're just so smart that everything will go well in their life, but gifted kids often times have personality quirks and social issues -- they're not resilient as you would assume."

Gateway just underwent a change last year when the program moved from Royal Oaks Elementary to Bailey Elementary.

"I'm certain for many of the students and the staff, they'll be unhappy with this," Sharer Maier said. "It's going to be hard for everyone."

More review needed

Sharer Maier said she is not surprised at all in the outpouring of frustration and emotions coming from all corners of the district because the process was not handled well.

"I don't think they did a well enough job selling the program to the public before they pushed for its expansion," she said. "Plus there wasn't any time for parents to consider it and digest it and evaluate it -- I'm not surprised that people are just adamantly saying no."

Sharer Maier said she is hopeful that the School Board will take a step back to review the program in more depth and possible come up with additional options.

"The parents have really organized very well, they've made a strong case and there has been a lot f push back," she said. "I feel hopeful that they are going to make the right decision and look at this a little more."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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