Published: Jun 09, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jun 09, 2012 12:23 PM
CHAPEL HILL - Despite months of public opposition, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board voted Thursday to turn Frank Porter Graham Elementary into a magnet school for Spanish-English dual language instruction.
By a 5-1 vote, with Annetta Streater dissenting and Greg McElveen absent, the board concluded that FPG offered the best site for expanding the successful Spanish-English program. Other options were less equitable or ran into hidden costs, according to administrative staff reports.
Jamezetta Bedford, who made the motion for the vote, said she knew the decision would be unpopular and would upset a lot of people. But she said she believed the transition for Frank Porter Graham, and for families of children who will move to different schools, could be achieved thoughtfully and with focus.
“I think in the long range and in the long term it’s our best option,” she said.
Frank Porter Graham will continue one more year as a neighborhood elementary school and begin as a magnet in the 2013-2014 school year; details are pending on whether some non-dual-language elementary students can stay there until the end of their 5th-grade year.
The board also voted 6-0 to continue Mandarin Chinese dual-language classes, with a long-term commitment to expanding the program.
Phasing out the Chinese language program was proposed in March, but public support for the program swayed the board and Superintendent Tom Forcella to reverse staff recommendations and keep Chinese classes.
Dual language programs are widely seen as a superior model to traditional ESL programs for children who do not speak English at home. Spanish-English dual-language instruction is currently offered at three elementary schools in the district, and consolidation into one school was described in the March administration report as a way to solve attrition and cost problems, and to make the program accessible to every child in the district.
Before her dissenting vote, Streater questioned the choice of Frank Porter Graham, the district’s most diverse elementary school, which faced sanctions several years ago under the No Child Left Behind Act, but has shown strong improvement in recent years.
“I don’t have full appreciation for dismantling a school that’s been so successful over the past few years at raising achievement and increasing parental involvement,” she said.
After the vote, Forcella spoke of his wish to “take the fear factor” out of the upcoming move to new elementary schools for many families in FPG’s school zone. He said other elementary schools have good programs in place, such as after-school and guidance officers, to help accommodate sensitive communities now at FPG, including the Karen Burmese group of immigrants.
“There is a little loss, for example with the Burmese families,” Bedford said.
As the meeting began, board member Mia Day Burroughs read a statement for the absent McElveen, who said he was out of town.
“As we consider the many alternatives that have been proposed for expanding access to Spanish Dual Language, I would urge my colleagues to use as a primary decision-making criterion the objective of promoting academic success and student well-being for the greatest number of children, and particularly for those who are the most fragile,” McElveen’s statement read.
McElveen proposed using Carrboro Elementary School as the district’s magnet for Spanish dual language, with expanded program offerings at three other elementary schools in the district.
Though similar four-school plans were advocated at a special Board of Education meeting last Tuesday, such plans retained little traction Thursday.
An administrative analysis pegged the incremental cost savings of switching to a dual- language magnet school at more than $300,000.