Ashland elementary principals say no to immersion program

ASHLAND — Principals of all three of Ashland's traditional elementary schools say they don't want to implement a Spanish immersion program next academic year, because it would replace long-standing teachers and limit student choice.

The decision upset some School Board members, who have pushed for a program that would allow students to become fluent in Spanish through hearing it spoken daily in the classroom beginning in kindergarten.

"There's no way to move forward if I don't have a school that's interested," said Superintendent Juli Di Chiro.

Some board members had hoped Bellview, Helman or Walker elementary school would volunteer to begin the immersion program as early as next academic year, which would have required the district to hire at least one bilingual kindergarten teacher, which possibly would have resulted in the layoff of a current teacher.

"There are a couple of board members that really, really have very strong feelings about providing the immersion program, but we all understand that there's a limited amount of funds available," board Chairwoman Carol Davis said.

The principals spoke to the board during a Jan. 24 community meeting at Ashland Middle School.

They were primarily concerned that to create an immersion program, a school would have to get reconstituted with new, bilingual teachers, as the program progressed through the grade levels, requiring the laying off of the current teachers.

"There was a lot of concern with parents and the staff with that," Di Chiro said.

The principals were also worried that an immersion program would detract from the other elementary schools and would limit student choice by requiring all students in the school boundaries to learn Spanish while not giving students outside the boundaries the same opportunity, she said.

"There was a concern among all schools that if we had another magnet program in the district it might have a negative impact on the other schools," Di Chiro said.

The district already operates John Muir School, a science magnet program for elementary and middle school students, and Willow Wind Community Learning Center, an alternative elementary school.

All of the principals said they were interested, however, in having Spanish language teachers visit classrooms regularly so students could begin to learn the language in elementary school, Di Chiro said.

Instead of creating an immersion program next academic year, board members hope to extend Spanish classes to the sixth grade, allowing students to take the language for three years in middle school, Davis said.

"We already have Spanish language teachers at the middle school, so there may be an opportunity, with minimal costs to the district, to expand that program down to sixth grade," she said. "The earlier we can introduce a second language, the better off we are."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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