Published: Apr 21, 2012 05:00 PM
Modified: Apr 21, 2012 04:55 PM
Language changes draw SRO crowd
Parents fight plan to end Chinese, make FPG Spanish magnet school
CHAPEL HILL - School board members are mulling the conclusions of a months-long study after an animated crowd packed Thursdays Board of Education meeting to combat proposals to convert Frank Porter Graham into a magnet school and dissolve Chinese dual language education.Chairwoman Mia Day Burroughs paused outside the council chambers afterward to chat with the handful of people who remained from more than 230 that had crowded the room. She thanked the little group, which included some parents wearing red Save Mandarin DL T-shirts with a panda on the front.The same reports proposal to convert Frank Porter Graham Elementary from a neighborhood school to a magnet school for Spanish dual language classes also came under fire at Thursdays meeting from that schools parents, who included Karen immigrants from Myanmar.Zaw Zaw, a refugees father from Myanmar, was one of several members of that group who spoke of the hardships of leaving their homeland.Many Karen families live close to Frank Porter Graham, and their children would have to start at a new school if the magnet change is adopted.My family is scared, Zaw said.Of at least two dozen citizen speakers, none supported the recommendations.Supporters of keeping the Mandarin program were no less emphatic.Jiarong Fu, vice president of the Chinese American Friendship Association of North Carolina questioned the staff reports rationale for closing the Mandarin program and said the reports finding of a lack of interest among Asian Americans was a mischaracterization.We feel like the Asian American community has been unfairly portrayed by your staff and we ask for an apology, he said, to the applause of the standing-room crowd.Are you aware that our Asian population in this community has soared to almost 11 percent? asked Chris Russell, who has a second-grader in Glenwoods Mandarin program.Another argument against the recommendations came from Kyla Speizer, a fifth-grader in the dual language program at Glenwood Elementary. She takes general-subject classes like Math taught in Chinese. Kyla, who is not a native Chinese speaker, read her statement in fluent Mandarin that native speakers present said was well-spoken. When I grow up I want to go to China and design houses for Chinese people that have no home. Dual language will help me to accomplish this, her English translation read. She wrote the statement with some help from her school friends she said. Near the end of Thursdays meeting, Burroughs thanked the many people who had turned out. A lot of information has come out since parents organized to save the Mandarin program after the staff report suggested it be dissolved at the end of the school year, Burroughs told the small group after the meeting.Board member James Barrett said in an email Friday that he expects the final report, which be presented to the board on March 17, will reflect public feedback. The board will certainly have questions and there may be further modification of the recommendations even after that before we vote on it, he wrote.With regards to Frank Porter Graham, Barrett said the two main questions were: first, whether a magnet school is the best model for the Spanish dual language program; and second, where a magnet should be located.If that is in an existing school, careful consideration and planning needs to be given to how we mitigate the impact to existing students in that school, he wrote.Construction of Elementary School No. 11, a new school in Chapel Hills Northside neighborhood, is in its preliminary stages. Several parents suggested the new elementary school would be a better magnet candidate.Barrett was among several school board members that said costs from the Chinese program listed in the report were unexpected. Those same board members, including Barrett, praised the programs effectiveness.I think it is a great program to keep if we can find solutions for the cost issues, he wrote.