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Schools to keep dual language program-for now : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Schools to keep dual language program-for now
Audit to examine entire ELL program

by Natalie Stevens


The Oswego School District's popular dual language program will continue as normal for the 2014-15 school year with plans for the entire English Language Learners (ELL) program to undergo an audit later in the year.

Superintendent Dr. Matthew Wendt acknowledged there is a "lot of emotion and passion" for the dual language program during Monday evening's school board meeting.

The dual language program, which just finished its ninth year, serves 367 students by putting native English and Spanish speakers together in a classroom from kindergarten to eighth grade with the intention for them to become bilingual.

Over the last year and a half a school district administrative team completed a district academic audit that revealed that the district's curriculum was "so far out of alignment, kids were doomed for failure for state assessment."

"If that is our vision, we need to throw out 'world class' and compete with the schools in Kendall County," Wendt said.

ELL was one of the programs noted with deficiencies in the audit.

"If we pull out the simplistic version and ask the question 'Are students in our ELL program ... learning at high levels? Are they learning?' That's a question we would ask of any program. Dual language obviously has the most attention. The facts include we cannot accept the entire programs results,"_Wendt said. "The results are just simply unacceptable. That doesn't mean we have to throw it out."

Wendt shared several data points the audit revealed of the dual language program that were the reasons for concern.

According to Wendt, 75 percent of the district's native English speaking students enrolled in dual language met or exceeded the state reading standards and 91 percent met or exceeded math standards.

"That is outstanding," he said.

However, the numbers were not so good for native Spanish speakers. Only 50 percent of native Spanish speakers in the dual language program met or exceeded state math standards, and just 38 percent met or exceeded state reading standards, Wendt said.

"I don't believe that's grounds for throwing out a program, that's a conversation on what is happening or not happening," said Wendt.

But the point that caused the district "overall anxiety" was the data of the entire ELL program: 25 percent of students in ELL met or exceeded state math standards and 19 percent met or exceeded state reading standards.

Concerned parents and community members filled the board room Monday evening to ask the board to keep the dual language program.

Eduardo Andrade, a district parent and native Spanish speaker, told the board his daughter is enrolled in the dual language program. He said that, "We quickly found that her literacy skills in Spanish and English quickly surpassed what I experienced as an ELL student. It is clear that this program is setting high standards."

Andrade said that the entire ELL program should be looked at and the dual language program needs to expand, not be taken away.

"Moving forward, my family and the community members have faith you will do what is right for our children," said Andrade.

State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, told the board during public comment that, "You've created a very valuable program in dual language."

Chapa LaVia, who serves as the chairwoman of House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, said she has a lot of passion for education and thinks "it's extremely important the community works together to produce a phenomenal program. I respect the parents who have taken time out of their nights to come here with their children and voice their opinion. There's a lot of potential in this district."

Other parents touched on the issue of 'collaboration' and said they feel that the district has not been listening to their suggestions or feedback.

"There has been zero collaboration. Not even one percent," said Luis Perez, a district parent and leader in "World Class 308", an organization that provides information and education on language programs in the district. "To collaborate you work together, hear other people's ideas and offer feedback. We're not there yet. Am I hopeful we can get there? Absolutely, without a doubt."

"There was a lot of anxiety, a perception of secrecy," said board member Mike McDowell, addressing several concerns made during public comment about the 'killing' of the dual language program. "As a public body there shouldn't be that perception. I want public response. Maybe it might be better to channel that into a few couple people who have some developed thoughts."

He added that he never heard of the dual language program being 'killed,' "but they had."

Wendt said he accepted all responsibility for any staff communication that was poorly done.

"I don't feel [that] there has been a level of disrespect or unprofessionalism," he added.

Wendt agreed that the situation was "fixable" and had several suggestions to bring to the board.

The administration recommended that the dual language program continue as planned for the 2014-15 school year, including the new incoming kindergarten class.

Board member Brent Lightfoot expressed concern about the incoming kindergartners, asking if the district should "[pause] enrollment at the kindergarten level until we find out what is or is not working?"

Wendt said he had considered that, but then found the kindergartners had already been selected for the 2014-15 school year and didn't think canceling it would be the right decision for them. "I feel like we're taking the right steps tonight. Until we know more, it's not their fault," to silent hand-waving cheers from the assembled dual language supporters.

The other recommendation would be for an audit of the ELL program.

"The ELL auditor should an unbiased expert in the field of ELL studies," said Perez during public comment. "We were told point blank we would have zero voice in helping to select this auditor. I will leave that up to you to draw your conclusions. We are concerned." He suggested the board include the Bilingual Parent Advisory Council (BPAC) in their decision in finding an auditor.

Wendt said the district plans to listen to parent feedback, but the Illinois State Board of Education will ultimately assist in the process of hiring an auditor. The audit is to be conducted and results presented to the board in October 2014.

"We need the results. Education of kids is in the balance. We need to move quickly."

Wendt said he hoped the district would be as 'relentless and aggressive with those findings as we have been with other programs."

The audit would look at the possibility of students attending their home schools or other schools. Right now all students in the dual language program attend Hunt Club Elementary and Plank Junior High.

"Those kids will be able to move one [more] time, go to their own school. They can finally feel as a part of their home community," said Judy Minor, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.

The audit will also address the current lottery system used in the dual language program.

"As long as I'm superintendent, I will never recommend a program that has the word lottery in it. Ethically it is unacceptable for me to do that. The lottery system is not about public schools and public education," said Wendt.

McDowell questioned how the district would keep a 50/50 ratio of native Spanish and native English speakers in the program without the use of a lottery. Wendt said he felt "optimistic" that the audit would solve some of the problems of the lottery, but there would be no adjustments made for the 2014-15 school year.

For the upcoming school year, the district will seek to replace three junior high level teachers that left earlier this year.

Board member Matt Bauman asked if the district would consider hiring additional teachers - like a bilingual reading specialist at Hunt Club Elementary School in Aurora - or moving staff around, to which Minor said no.

"So we continue on status quo until the audit?" asked Bauman.

"I hope not," said Wendt. "Programs are great, effective teachers are better. There are some things we can implement before the audit."

The audit is scheduled to be brought before the board in October.

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