The school board for Albany County School District No. 1 approved a plan last week that will expand the dual-language immersion program to third, fourth and fifth grades at Spring Creek and Indian Paintbrush elementary schools.
The district began its dual-language immersion program at both schools in 2016. The program began with just kindergartners, and the school board has since approved expanding the programs to first and second grades as the original kindergarten class has moved up the grade levels.
Currently, about 19 percent of the district’s K-2 students are enrolled in the dual-language immersion program.
In the fall, school administrators began working on a long-term plan — one that would give the program greater structure so parents would have more information available when determining whether to enter their children into the lottery for the program. Superintendent Jubal Yennie said in the fall he wanted the board to make a decision on dual-language immersion expansion earlier in the spring than they have in previous years.
Ironically, that more comprehensive planning process, along with a cancelled school board meeting in March, delayed a board decision on next year’s program until mid-April.
That drew the ire of some parents, who had to decide by April 1 on whether to have their child enter the program’s lottery.
Since the program was created, the district has had a policy of giving “sibling preference,” meaning an incoming kindergartner is almost certain to be admitted into the dual-language immersion program if he or she has an older sibling who’s already enrolled. However, school board members have also discussed suspending that policy.
Until last week’s meeting, parents weren’t sure whether the sibling preference policy would continue into next year.
Chian Jones Ritten, who has a first-grader in the program, said she received mixed messages from school officials about whether sibling preference would end this year.
She said she entered her son, who will begin kindergarten this fall, into the dual-language immersion lottery with the hope, but no assurance, that he would have received sibling preference.
Had school board members made a decision on dual-language immersion earlier this spring, and had they opted to end sibling preference, Jones Ritten said she might have entered her son into a different lottery, like the one for the University of Wyoming’s Lab School.
Poor communication about the program’s future, she said, “stopped parents from being able to make the best decisions for their children.”
“The rules of the game should not change during the game,” Jones Ritten told school board members.
Yennie said those complaints about sibling preference have merit.
“I think they’re exactly right,” he said. “I’ll own that. … There was a miscommunication.”
Ultimately, the school board voted to have sibling preference continue through the 2019-2020 school year. However, Yennie said he’d like to end dual-language immersion’s sibling preference for the following year.
He did say he’d like to keep sibling preference for the school, meaning if students are enrolled in the dual-language immersion program at Spring Creek, their younger siblings would be guaranteed to attend Spring Creek, regardless of whether they’re also in dual-language immersion.
Under ACSD No. 1’s dual-language immersion program, students receive instruction in Spanish for half their day, then receive instruction in English from another teacher for the other half.
Since the program was created, it hasn’t increased costs at either Indian Paintbrush or Spring Creek. Earlier this year, administrators considered expanding the program to other schools as they realized Indian Paintbrush and Spring Creek might not have the space to house six grades of dual-language immersion.
However, the plan approved last week would keep the program contained at Indian Paintbrush and Spring Creek so the district can “prove these models out.”
“Next year is doable, and then we need to start stretching some different things,” Yennie said of the capacity issue.
To make space, Yennie said the Gifted and Talented Education program at Spring Creek will likely be moved out of the building over the next three years.
As the program has expanded, ACSD No. 1 hired Spanish-speaking teachers, who’ve replaced teachers that retired or otherwise left the district.
Yennie said he’s hopeful expansion of the program to third, fourth and fifth grades will also happen without forcing teachers to change schools or programs.
“We haven’t had to displace a teacher yet, and I hope to keep that track record,” Yennie said. “We don’t want to ‘volun-told’ anyone that they have to do the English side of DLI either.”
Under the plan, the program will continue serving kindergarten-second grade through a “two-track” program, meaning students have separate teachers for the English and Spanish portions of instruction.
Depending on enrollment, third-graders in the program next year would learn via “two-track” or “one-track” instruction, where one teacher teaches in both English and Spanish.
Beginning in 2020-2021, third, fourth and fifth grades will likely all be taught using the “one-track” model.