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Administration, teachers disagree on dual language program changes

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – The Green Bay school board received an update on the district’s dual language immersion program at its meeting Monday, Nov. 4, including changes administration made to the program for the 2019-20 school year.

After more than three hours of back-and-forth discussion, it was evident administration and bilingual teachers have different opinions on the need for changes.

At the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, administration changed the percentage of time spent teaching in each language to put a deeper focus on literacy.

“The reason for the change is to ensure our students learn literacy skills in one language and transfer and extend those skills into their second language,” said Georgina Cornu-Zacharias, associate director of Bilingual Programs.

Prior to this year, Cornu-Zacharias said the content allocation plan was a 90/10 split.

“Starting in 4K, 90 percent of the instruction was in Spanish and 10 percent of instruction was in English,” Cornu-Zacharias said. “Each year the percentage of language instruction in English increased. By fourth grade, the instruction time was 50 percent in Spanish and 50 percent in English.”

With the changes put forth by administration, teachers will now spend 70 percent of the day teaching in Spanish and 30 percent of the day teaching in English for students for kindergarten through second grade.

In grades third through fifth, 70 percent of instruction will be done in English and 30 percent is in Spanish.

Cornu-Zacharias said the shift addresses years of data showing students were not achieving literacy in either language, and literacy skills and strategies were not being taught in a scope and sequence in either English or Spanish.

“You have to know your population of your students and what their needs are,” said Nancy Chartier, executive director of Teaching and Learning. “We never forget who our learners are and we need to adapt to their individual needs.”

Parent Kelly Stollak said she enrolled her children into the district mainly because of the dual language immersion program and what it would provide her children.

But the changes to the program is causing her to rethink her decision.

“I chose to put my children in the district, even though I work here and I know there are pitfalls in the district,” Stollak said. “I know there are pros and cons. My gut in the beginning told me maybe I shouldn’t do it. I was happy with how things went last year when the kids were in kindergarten. Now with this change and now going through all these discussions, I feel like it is coming back to bite me. I think my kids will be OK. But I wanted something great for them, not just OK. I acted into one thing, but it has now become something different.”

Teachers expressed frustration with administration for making changes without discussing things with the teachers, and the administration’s lack of transparency.

Sarah Pamperin, sixth grade bilingual teacher at Edison Middle School, reiterated research which shows it takes four to seven years to become proficient in a bilingual program and making changes based on current test data is premature.

To continue the support of the bilingual program, an advisory council was created, holding its first meeting in October.

Many of the parents and teachers who spoke Monday night are a part of the council, but said it should have been created last year before any changes were implemented.

Chartier encouraged board members to keep in mind the changes to 70/30 were just implemented at the beginning of this school year.

“This is all new learning for everyone,” Chartier said. “To bring back information in January would be a nice point to give our teachers the curiosity of taking on this new learning. Its strength is difficult enough. It will take, as far as getting all of our teachers to learn to teach literacy, three or four years to get this down.”

Trustees encouraged further discussions between teachers and administration.

“I think we need that communication,” said board member Katie Maloney. “We need to listen to one another. We need to have teachers talking to administrators. We have administrators presenting and people throwing up their hands and shaking their heads. Clearly you have concerns and I think we need that communication.”

Administration said that is the purpose of the advisory council.

“There are lots of room for continued conversations,” said John Magas, superintendent of continuous improvement. “We are all passionate about this work and we all have committed a significant portion of our lives to serving kids – in particular bilingual students. That isn’t something we don’t take lightly. And I think that just the fact that there is so much passion around this it’s an important point that we take some additional time to make sure we are engaging in dialogue, having further conversations and moving forward.”

School board compensation policy

Board members also again discussed the school board compensation and expenses policy at its meeting.

“My concern is that this is probably the fourth time the board has brought this topic up,” said Board President Brenda Warren. “We never get to the point of actually doing something. We’ve talked about it as to limiting who could run and it’s hard for this elected body to raise the pay when we know it comes out of our students’ pockets. I feel like we need to do something.”

Board Member Kristina Shelton echoed Warren’s concern of the compensation amount limiting who is able to serve on the board.

“The fact that it hasn’t been updated in 18 years gives you pause to really think about how does that impact whats able to represent our community,” Shelton said. “Because there are potential and probable impacts on damaging the diversity and inclusion of voices that sit here. So I think it’s a bigger conversation.”

Lori Blakeslee, director of communication for the district, said currently all board members receive $4,800 per year of compensation.

Trustee Laura McCoy said if the board does decide to do something with the policy, the board could put in place a structure so there is an automatic, periodic increase.

Board member Eric Vanden Heuvel went one step further and suggested possibly delaying the effective date of the increase.

“If we do pass something, we could maybe have something that says it doesn’t take affect for three years so that everyone on this board would have to go through an election again before that takes place, so no one can accuse us of giving ourselves pay raises,” Vanden Heuvel said.

The board will discuss the topic again at its regular board meeting on Monday, Nov. 18, with possible action.

Warren will provide board members with comparison data from other boards, and staff will present ideas to aid the board in making a decision.

“Seriously, I don’t think any information is going to help us because what has prevented us from doing this is the fear of taking money out of people’s pocket and being criticized for giving ourselves a pay raise,” Warren said.

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