CHAPEL HILL - Two alternatives to making Frank Porter Graham Elementary a magnet school emerged last week, when the school board met to discuss how to expand the Spanish-English dual language program.
Making Carrboro Elementary the district’s magnet school for the program was proposed by board member Greg McElveen, and a representative of the Carrboro Elementary School Improvement Team did not object.
“I continue to lean toward Carrboro (Elementary) as a magnet, with additional strands being added to Scroggs and FPG and another strand added in the northern sector of the district,” McElveen said.
Another plan, to continue the program at three schools where it is already offered and to add a fourth – and to offer the program to students in all school zones – was pursued by board members Mike Kelley and Annetta Streater.
“I would not consider FPG as a full magnet,” Streater said.
“It disrupts progress that has begun to get traction in that school,” said McElveen.
Other board members opposed or questioned a plan to keep Spanish-English dual language at four schools, citing cost concerns and difficulties faced by dual language instructors spread out among district schools.
A final vote on how to expand the program may be pushed back from its original June 7 target, while staffers respond to board members’ questions about the two alternate proposals to changing FPG.
“There is a significant cost factor in my mind … for me to flesh this out,” said board member James Barrett, who indicated willingness to consider the four-school model.
“Carrboro versus Frank Porter Graham, I could go either way on that,” Barrett added.
Closing Frank Porter Graham to all but those children in Spanish DL has drawn loud outcry from families and staff members at the school. A May 17 school board meeting filled Chapel Hill Town Hall.
The one thing everyone has seemed certain about at Tuesday night’s meeting – parents, board members, teachers and school administrators – is that the dual language program is more successful than traditional ESL and merits being expanded.
“I won’t support any plan that doesn’t make every seat in the Dual Language program equally accessible to everyone in the district,” Kelley said.
Spanish-English dual language instruction is currently offered at three elementary schools and closed to children outside those school zones. Board members agreed they wanted all children to have access to the program.
Chairwoman Mia Day Burroughs continued her support for a magnet school at FPG, based on the findings of the district study commissioned earlier this year.
Board Member Jamezetta Bedford questioned a four-school model, saying it would not solve some of the issues principals and teachers and the district’s own study’s have raised.
“You’re not consolidating and maximizing services,” Bedford said.
A decision date must be made soon, as a complicated redistricting of school zones is underway, and because enrollment figures are needed by July 9 to start creating bus routes. The redistricting could move between 1,000 and 1,300 children, staff member Kevin Morgenstein-Fuerst told the board.
“It’s certainly going to be very difficult, as any redistricting is very difficult,” said Morgenstein-Fuerst, coordinator of student enrollment for the school district.
Board members rejected making the forthcoming “Elementary No. 11” poised to open in the Northside neighborhood of Chapel Hill a magnet.
“There is the expectation in that community, that that would be a neighborhood school,” Bedford said. The school will bring together a neighborhood which is splintered between several elementary school zones.
During a public comment session at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, two Hispanic mothers of children in the program spoke through interpreter to state their support for how the dual language instruction has helped their children.
Anne Tomalin, an ESL teacher who has spent 15 years with the district and teaches at Chapel Hill High School, told the board that the dual-language model was vastly superior to ESL for kids who have limited English abilities.
Mary Faith Mount-Cors, who presented a statement prepared by the school improvement team at Carrboro Elementary supporting dual language, offered no objection to making that school a full magnet. She does not lead the school improvement team, and was presenting an earlier statement.
After the meeting, asked about the new proposal to make Carrboro Elementary a magnet, she said:
“We’ve been really thinking about this for a long time, and the SIT has had to really work to consider the recommendations.”
Naturally, people fell on both sides of the issue, Mount-Cors said. But with three of four first-grade classes already teaching in two languages, “Now going back to thinking about Carrboro as a magnet…in a sense, it’s already happening at Carrboro.”