ELMHURST – Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205's Conrad Fischer Elementary School will begin offering a Spanish-English dual-language program for kindergarten starting with the 2018-19 school year, following the school board's approval of the plans at its Jan. 9 meeting.
The Board of Education voted 6-0 to approve the plans for the two-way immersion program. Board member Jim Collins, the school liaison for Fischer and York Community High School, was absent.
The dual-language program is a curriculum taught in both English and Spanish, where half the students would be native English speakers and the other half would be native Spanish speakers, District 205 English language/bilingual and world language coordinator Ariana Leonard had said at the Dec. 12, 2017, board meeting. Both sets of students would be learning both languages on a daily basis, she said.
"It's a phenomenal enrichment opportunity to truly allow all students the opportunity to graduate bilingual, bilerate, bicultural," Superintendent David Moyer said at the Jan. 9 board meeting.
He added other school districts have experienced more demand than capacity for the program after the first year or two.
"Some of the facility things that people have questioned, we do believe will be things that we have to work through maybe early on in the implementation but will not be something that is going to be a major issue in future years," Moyer said.
He added the number of classrooms needed for the program will be determined by interest across the district.
Fischer Principal Jane Bailey said the school is trying to plan for five kindergarten sections. Currently, there are two full-day and two half-day sections, which use three classroom spaces.
"A lot of those rooms that are allocated for resource service pull-out instruction are really nothing more than office space," Bailey said. "And so, the proposal to get to the five rooms [for] next year...would be to take away some of those resource rooms – a couple of them – and allocate those to kindergarten."
The resource personnel will be partnered with a classroom teacher where they typically assist students, she said.
"Yes, there's lots of moving parts to it. There's no implementation that's not without growing pains, and this will be the growing pain, but I think it's going to prove to be worth it at the end of the day," Bailey said. "By December, I think we'll see much more excitement than we have right this second as people settle into it."
Moyer said the challenges the district will have to "wrestle with" the first year or two will be "short-lived."
"If that does not prove to be true, we will take a look at how to refine the program and make sure that we continue to analyze our operations, and we are going to continue our efforts in this district to do program analysis work," he said.
Moyer said a back-up plan is to have two strands of dual-language programming at two different schools. He said they don't want to do that to start because that may increase costs.
Some Fischer parents have spoken out against the plans including Robin Petchul, Tanya Cummins and Tamica Stechschulte, who protested the change during public comment at the Jan. 9 board meeting.
Stechschulte said having one Fischer parent on the dual-language committee is "not representative of our voice," and she would have liked to see a long-term study showing success rates among English speakers completing the program compared to Spanish speakers completing the program.
"All that we want to have made clear to us was to make sure that the program was a benefit to all students and not just those who are native Spanish speakers," Stechschulte said.
The program will begin at Fischer and roll up one year at a time with full K-5 implementation in the 2023-24 school year, according to the board meeting agenda.
Informational sessions are scheduled for the third week of January, and a lottery for spots in the classrooms is supposed to be conducted by no later than the first week of March, according to the proposal made by Mary Henderson, the district's assistant superintendent for learning and leadership development, to the school board.