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Public voices concern over moving Spanish immersion


Proposal would move some of the program's classes to River Grove

A presentation on a proposed portable building at River Grove Elementary School stirred a maelstrom of debate about the Spanish immersion program and the closure of three elementary schools at the Monday Lake Oswego School Board meeting.

District staff delivered a proposal to lease one two-classroom portable building and put it at River Grove, on the south side of Oswego Lake. The proposed building would boost the school’s student capacity. Staff also recommended that the Spanish immersion kindergarten and pre-kindergarten classes be moved into the building. The classes now are at Lake Grove Elementary School and offer typical instruction in Spanish and English.

The board tabled the discussion to the next meeting after about an hour of discussion and community testimony.

Several members of the public said splitting the pre-K and kindergarten language immersion classes from the first- and second-grade Spanish classes would create a lack of continuity, upset children and inconvenience teachers and families.

“You’re not just splitting up a program,” parent Nayibe Donavan said. “You’re splitting up the teachers and the siblings who look forward to going to school together. But, the teachers also need each other to bounce ideas off, for support. They’re a huge support system.”

Yet, district officials say the pre-K immersion class is technically not part of the main immersion program and is funded through enrollment fees — not school district funds. Kindergarten Spanish immersion is paid for with school district funds. Both the pre-K and kindergarten years are considered exploratory.

School board members said they will weigh the public’s concerns about the potential effect of the classroom shift. Board member Linda Brown said the board should make a decision fast before other schools snatch up all available portables.

“I’m absolutely convinced that that location is correct, that we already have the city backing and that we need the space at River Grove,” Brown said.

Community member Mark Bachman said the district should open the three elementary schools it closed during the past two years instead of leasing a portable. Bachman said the portables would be a waste of money during a time when the schools are suffering from budget cuts.

“If the (Lake Oswego Review) really wants to write a headline ... it should read: ‘LOSD proposes teacher cuts to build portables,’” he said.

Superintendent Bill Korach said the district will officially decide which six elementary schools to keep next January, and portables are an interim strategy.

“You’re still money ahead with six elementary schools over nine,” Korach told board members during the meeting.

The elementary school consolidation saved the district more than $1 million in its first year and eventually will save $2 million annually, Korach said in a Tuesday interview. The closures began with Palisades Elementary School in 2011-12 and finished this year with the closures of Bryant and Uplands elementary schools. The total savings for this year is not yet certain. Sixth graders were moved to the junior high schools.

The district’s goal is to move the entire Spanish immersion program to the south side of Oswego Lake as soon as there is room and to eventually add middle and high school components to the program. The end date to move the program is not yet certain, Korach said. River Grove is one option with room for four two-classroom portable structures. The school already has one portable.

The district recently has spearheaded an effort to balance out enrollment because north-side schools typically have more students than south-side schools, said Jonnie Shobaki, director of elementary education at the school district.

“People living in the district used to have a great deal of choice around which school their children attend, but this has changed considerably based on a board-approved attempt to create an enrollment balance on the north and south sides,” Shobaki said in a Tuesday interview.