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New Teacher Being Added to Junior High to Lower Class Sizes

The hire will likely be made over the summer.

Under attack from parents who accused her and St. Louis Park schools of undermining their children's educations, superintendent Debra Bowers announced that in the fall, the district would be adding an additional sixth grade teacher to . 

Many parents—predominantly those of children who attend or attended the neighborhood elementary schools—asserted during a Monday school board meeting that their children faced significantly higher class sizes than children who attended , many of whom are enrolled in the Junior High's Extended Spanish Program. The roots of the problem, said board member Jim Yarosh, stem from an incomplete transition plan implemented at the end of last school year.

"We didn't know if we had a K-8, or what it would look like," said Yarosh, a reference to the district closing a school and reorganizing its other schools after last school year. "We didn't have a lot of time to plan."

As a compromise solution, the district created what is essentially a "school within a school" for former PSI students in sixth grade—a grade that was taught at PSI in years past but is now taught at the junior high after the reorganization—called the Extended Spanish Program. These students spend most of their days with one teacher, as in an elementary school, while other middle school students use block schedules as seventh and eighth-graders do. In the sixth grade, there are currently four Spanish immersion classrooms, which dwindle to two in seventh and eighth grade.

Proposals had been floated prior to Monday night to trim the sixth grade ESP program down to two classrooms, or none at all, although on Monday night, the board and the administration pushed back notions of a firm proposal in favor of more study. 

Parents on both sides of the issue told the board that the issue was "tearing the community apart," with veiled allegations of class-ism flying between supporters of PSI and parents at other elementary schools.

In his presentation to the board Monday, junior high principal Les Bork said he and a transition team would study the issue, along with ways to bring the International Baccalaureate program to the school. He also said they would look at what changes need to be made over the next three to five years to complete the restructuring process. The team would report back to the school board by Dec. 1, Bork said.

"We want to make a rationally based decision," said Yarosh, voicing his support for the study plan.

As the meeting broke up, parent Dusti Kugler told St. Louis Park Patch that she was encouraged by the board's response. Kugler is one of the current immersion program's critics.

"We're going in the right direction, although I'm not completely satisfied," she said. "As a community, I suppose that's all we can ask for, right?"

Bill Levine October 31, 2011 at 02:06 PM
Yes Karen-------we need to meet the needs of all kids---but the way to do that is to implement successful interventions, not tear apart successful programs.
Karen Waters October 31, 2011 at 05:26 PM
Dear Bill: No one is asking anyone to tear apart a successful program. What we are asking for is that the lens of equity and scare resources be focused on the kids with the highest needs: clearly our Immersion students are more than holding their own on any number of academic measures (standardized tests and fluency ratings). Why is it taking so long for you to weigh in on this issue via this forum?
Mary Pat Shaffer November 01, 2011 at 10:16 PM
Bill-- Those of us with concerns about the impacts of the immersion program on 6th grade classrooms are not out to “tear apart” a successful program. And if you are really interested in being a leader in this district, you could start by moving past using such trite phrases to dismiss the valid concerns of a significant portion of SLP parents. One impact of the immersion program is that 6th grade non-immersion classrooms are larger—and contain a higher % of students with identifiable needs—than immersion classrooms. And to quote you (from the SLP Patch): “Those of us who are teachers and have taught for many years understand the complexity and difficulty of truly differentiating curriculum. Because in a classroom, with class sizes going up, (trying) to address the different ability levels (of students) is almost an impossibility.” And yet, you continue to pretend that the concerns raised by non-immersion parents are a red herring—that our real goal is to tear down a successful program because we’re angry and are lashing out at the closest “easy” target. I would encourage you to consider that we might actually be seeing impacts that you simply don’t see from your vantage point. It’s an insult to reduce the legitimate concerns of a significant portion of parents to some campaign scare tactic. While that might be enough to win an election, it certainly doesn’t show the leadership that is going to help our district in the months and years to come.
Jane Steck November 02, 2011 at 12:34 PM
In February 2010 the SLP School Board unanimously voted to reconfigure the SLP schools including moving the sixth grade from the elementary schools to the SLP Junior High. This reconfiguration has affected all students as they enter the SLP Junior High and considerations need to continue to be made by the district leadership and school board to strive to create the best middle school possible. Contrary to what you and many other parents in the immersion community may think Bill, many parents in the district have chosen the non-immersion elementary schools as their FIRST CHOICE schools. They believe their program deserves the same educational resources and opportunities as the immersion program at the elementary level and continuing at the Junior High. These parents expect our district leadership and school board members to give the non-immersion program; the program they have chosen and think is the best program for their family, the same consideration and prioritization as has been given the immersion program.
Jane Steck November 02, 2011 at 12:34 PM
Superintendent Dr. Bowers has created the Extended Spanish Program (ESP) Taskforce “to review information about immersion education and language acquisition while using the lens of equity for all students.” This is an opportunity for all community members to share their expectations for the future of the SLP Junior High as “an integrated 6-8 middle school model” which has been designated by the SLP Junior High Transition Committee as a primary goal. The email to send feedback to is 2011taskforce@slpschools.org The taskforce will present its findings to the School Board at their December 12, 2011, meeting at 7 p.m. Bill, this process should not be viewed as dismantling but rather an opportunity for building a strong middle school for the good of all the students (immersion and non immersion) in the St. Louis Park Public Schools.

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