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?"