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Language immersion, down but not out

'I am irate,' said Heather Graham, Lake Oswego parent after Monday night's school board announcement that the district will not add a first grade Spanish immersion class next year.

'I can't believe all the time we've invested in this only to find out it's not going to happen now,' Lea Sturgis said.

'I'm just trying to hold back the tears,' Briana Bastian added.

After hearing months of testimony from language immersion supporters, and after scrutinizing the in-depth report presented by Jonnie Shobaki, director of elementary programs for the Lake Oswego School District, the board consensus was to continue the current language immersion classes as they are. This means pre-K and kindergarten Spanish will be offered, and pre-K Mandarin - and possibly Mandarin kindergarten - but there will be no expansion of the program into first grade.

'I see the merits of language immersion, and I see all the benefits, but I can't commit to a one to five total immersion right now. I am worried about the band with of the district,' said John Wendland, board member. 'Are we putting too much through the tube? I've heard that we lost sight of the (language immersion) program. Sorry, we had a district to reconfigure.'

Linda Brown, board member, agreed that the district 'had significant other issues that have to be dealt with.' She was a proponent of strengthening the world language classes in middle school, and offering more before-school language classes in elementary school.

Equity was an issue for board members Wendland and Brown, and Teri Oelrich added, 'There has to be access for everyone, equity for everyone. If we take a year to study this, and decide to add a first-second immersion class (in the fall of 2012), the kids that missed a year will catch right up.'

Superintendent Bill Korach reminded the board that a primary concern for expansion of the language immersion program is space.

By closing Palisades Elementary School this year, and Uplands and Bryant (which will be reconfigured) elementary schools in 2012-13, the school is losing one-third of its classrooms.

The board agreed that they did not want language immersion to be isolated at Bryant.

'The district is facing significant financial challenges, ' Korach said in his summary of the board's consensus. 'We need to know what the board wants us to pursue, and how those things relate to challenges.

'We can focus on the middle-level offerings and morning offerings, but saying it doesn't make it so. Parents want music, PE, language and core subjects, but we still have limited resources.'

The Spanish immersion program in the West Linn-Wilsonville School Cistrict was dropped last year because of the same conflicts faced in Lake Oswego: Money and equity.

However, several other districts in the area have successful language immersion programs with large waiting lists including North Clackamas, Forest Grove, Portland Public Schools, Beaverton and Oregon Trail.

'We are not giving up,' Korach said. 'We are positioning to see what the interest is. We think the kindergarten numbers are low for next year, and until that shakes out we don't want to be in a place where we are over-committed.'

'I am so upset, ' Graham said. 'I guess I am mostly upset with myself because I don't have a plan B.'