July 1, 2008

Parents Will Lead Immersion Discussion

By Anna Kurth, The Daily Telegram, Superior, Wis.

Jul. 1--Superior school district administrators and curriculum committee members are ready to support a group of parents interested in pursuing an immersion school in the district.

Now they just need those parents.

Ten people met with the school board's curriculum committee Monday to share their thoughts on what went wrong and right during the district's winter investigation into starting a language immersion school.

They cited concerns with the school's location, staff opposition, community distrust, a lack of information and fear of young people leaving the area as some weak points of the district's effort.

They also thanked administrators and board members for their commitment to the concept in spite of sometimes heated opposition.

This April, the district sought to gauge parent interest in starting a foreign language immersion school, but did not receive enough interest to recommend moving forward.

Immersion schools are a form of simultaneously teaching a foreign language and core subjects. The classes are taught completely in the foreign language to ensure students fluently learn it. English is introduced into an immersion school's curriculum starting in the second grade and is phased in until the second language is limited to a few hours a week in high school.

Jonathan Asp said Monday he would like to see the program as an option for his young children, and he's willing to work toward it.

"I just think it's a great opportunity for educating our kids in a global economy," he said.

There was a lot of interest in the concept this winter. The main issue was location, he said.

"I just think it needs to be packaged better," he said.

After discussing the district's effort this winter, parents discussed how to help increase interest. They said they and other supporters felt intimidated at informational meetings the district held about the concept.

District administrators and board members held a series of meetings from January to March for parents of current 4-year-old kindergarten students to gauge their support for the program, including inviting immersion school experts from the Twin Cities to speak to the community about the concept. The meetings became heated after parents of Lake Superior Elementary School students learned their building was selected as the most logical site.

Monday night, parents asked the district to consider a strand option -- an immersion program operating within a building alongside regular English education rooms instead of converting one entire school. Superintendent Jay Mitchell said the strand option would present problems as the program grows, but there is room available at some elementary schools.

Asp suggested the group develop a Web site to answer people's questions about immersion education and dispel false information. Parents proposed developing a media package and speaking to teachers and business professionals to encourage them to support the concept.

Supporters need to bombard the community with information about parent support for the concept, Asp said.

The district will support parents interested in renewing talk about the concept, but the effort needs to be led by people from the community, Mitchell said.

"I think it's important for these people to really start taking ownership for it -- that's where it has to come from," he said.

Mitchell said it would be important to invite business professionals and leaders from the teachers union to future meetings. The teachers work for the community, and it's important for them to see the people behind this concept, he said.

"You have five people on the board right now who would support an immersion school," Mitchell said.

The board's support is a unique opportunity for parents interested in starting an immersion program; now they just need to convince the community, he said.

If parents in support of the concept organize and encourage others to speak in support of it, they'll see the opposite of what originally happened. Naysayers won't stand up to speak against the concept if the majority are in support of it, Mitchell told parents at the meeting.

Community members and parents at Monday's meeting are planning to contact the parents who previously indicated interest in the immersion school program to enlist their help in planning a campaign of support in the community. Their next meeting is planned for 6:30 p.m. July 21 at the Superior High School cafeteria.

Anyone interested in getting involved with the parent group may contact the district office at 394-8500 for more information.

Anna Kurth covers education. Call her at (715) 395-5019 or e-mail [email protected]


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Copyright (c) 2008, The Daily Telegram, Superior, Wis.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.