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Parents furious at possible loss of classes in Los Angeles Mandarin program

April 5, 2013

There’s trouble in Tinseltown. Mandarin trouble. And boy am I getting emails about it.

Here’s what’s up. Broadway Elementary School on Los Angels’ west side, is home to a wildly popular Mandarin immersion program, Launched in 2010 it’s proven so enticing that in the last two years they’ve enrolled FOUR classes of incoming Kindergarteners.

Which was a problem because Broadway doesn’t have 30 classrooms, which is what it would need to accommodate five classes per grade (four Mandarin immersion, one English) from Kindergarten to fifth grade.

So last year the Los Angeles Unified School District decided to move the whole program over to Marina Del Ray Middle School and create a K-8 Mandarin immersion school there.

Unfortunately, the LA school board may have made the decision but they didn’t do a good job of selling the idea to the Marina del Rey school community, creating a lot of anger, resentment and slowness. Due in part to that and in part who knows what, the district didn’t get to work making the facility “safe and operational” for a bunch of Kindergarteners in time, so the Mandarin program can’t move until 2014-2015.

Unfortunately LAUSD already promised to start a Spanish immersion program at Broadway, so they’ve got to make room for that.

Which means that for 2013-2014 Broadway is very likely to only be able to enroll TWO Mandarin immersion Kindergarten classes, rather than four. And because it’s such a popular program, one of those classes is already full of the younger brothers and sisters of current students.

Nothing’s been set in stone yet but that’s what seems to be going down. And that means that on LA’s West side there are only 22 open seats for Mandarin immersion next year. Parents who wanted them, some who’ve been waiting YEARS to get in and who helped the program start, didn’t get a place and they’re angry, frustrated and at wit’s end.

I talked to the ever-calm and reasonable Susan Wang, Broadway’s amazing principal, and she said that it’s only temporary and that for 2014-2015 they plan on having the Mandarin program back up to four Kindergartens. But that’s little comfort to the Kinder parents who had hoped for a seat.

It’s also little comfort to Wang, who’s got to find a way to keep her four precious Kindergarten teachers busy. They’re worth their weight in gold these days on the open market so she can’t afford to lose them. But moving two of her teachers to a higher grade for a year is asking an awful lot because they’d have to create an entirely new curriculum and teach it for a year before they went back to Kindergarten. That’s one of the bigger problem in Mandarin immersion programs, the leading edge teachers as each new grade is filled have to create an entirely new curriculum. Ask them to do that and you might find one of your trained and beloved teachers is suddenly poachable. So it’s not an ideal situation for Wang, either

And of course the parents, who have been calling the school and the school board for days, so much that the board is now no longer taking calls on the topic, I’m told. I’ll be keeping my ears open for updates and will post what I find out.

The only hope I can hold out is that it is possible to start Mandarin immersion in first grade. My oldest daughter did it and it worked out fine. It’s a bit of a rocky start, but hey, so is Kindergarten. So for parents who didn’t get in in Kindergarten, it’s not as if you have to give up dreams of Mandarin forever. It might mean waiting out the year at another school and then coming back for first grade. Not idea, but since when do we live in an ideal world?

Though this raises a larger issue. I wonder sometimes about how school districts treat Mandarin immersion programs. It’s as if they’re punished for failure, rewarded with punishment. Back in 2010 the Los Angeles Unified School District was looking at consolidating Broadway because of low enrollment and Wang suggested Mandarin immersion it succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

Great. You’d think LAUSD must be pleased as punch and will support the program and its principal to the hilt.

You’d be wrong. When LAUSD told the Mandarin program it was moving this fall, it also announced that it wasn’t sending Wang along with it. She was going to stay at Broadway to oversee a new Spanish immersion program.

The parents went crazy, made a lot of noise and LAUSD backed down. Thank goodness.

Who knows what will happen this time? Even frustrated parents can’t make classroom materialize out of thin air so it seems as if Broadway’s Mandarin program will take a hit for a year, leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

Having met Wang and talked to her on the phone, the one thing I know is that she’s an excellent leader and she’ll be able to calm those who can be calmed and make sure it doesn’t harm the overall Mandarin program. But to my friends-in-Mandarin in LA, I offer condolences. Building out a program is never an easy road. As someone who’s seen it warts and all in the San Francisco Unified School District, I feel your pain.

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FYI, here is the form letter LAUDS board member Steve Zimmer’s is sending out to parents who email him:

 

Good afternoon,

 

Thank you for reaching out to me with your concerns about next year’s Mandarin Immersion Program at Broadway.  I apologize for the stress and confusion that  has been caused by this unexpected delay.  Please know that we are working with Dr. Deasy and the LAUSD Executive Team daily to try and ensure there is a solution that allows for the enrollment of the maximum number of students possible in the Mandarin Immersion Program next  year.

 

Dr. Deasy is directly involved and doing everything he can to develop the best, creative solutions.  I want to remind  you that the conversation about enrollment for next year is about next year only. I remain committed to the Mandarin Immersion instructional design and continue to work with our Facilities Department to find a long term solution that supports the instructional design without displacing or disenfranchising the existing District programs.  I have read all of your emails.  I understand and appreciate your stress and concern.  I know that you want the best for your children and I know how much you have invested in this program.

 

Please know that it is the job of the School District to protect that investment but it also our role to ensure that all children have access to programs that are adequately supported and funded by the District.  I anticipate Dr. Deasy will communicate directly with parents of all affected programs at the beginning of next week.  There are many schools, programs and classrooms that will be affected by our decisions, both next year and for years to come.  I know it is difficult to be patient when it comes to your child’s education.  I appreciate your concern and dedication to this program.

 

I look forward to meeting with you soon as we continue to move forward together.

 

Steve

 

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