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Spanish immersion program is evolving


School board votes on changes to lottery and entry level, considers property study

by: VERN UYETAKE - Jake Khawaja, a sixth-grader, makes a tough shot while learning to play badminton during a PE class in the Uplands Elementary School building. While the building no longer operates as a school, it offers space for some school programs.by: VERN UYETAKE - Conor Nehaffey concentrates on the birdie while learning to play badminton.The admissions process for the Spanish immersion program in Lake Oswego public schools will have one less lottery and a new starting point.

Lake Oswego School Board on Monday voted 3-2 to move the entry level for the program from first grade to kindergarten, and the board unanimously supported eliminating the lottery for first-graders to get into the program.

Students will be selected from one lottery in kindergarten but not a second one in first grade if they already are in the program. Students in kindergarten this year will go into a lottery for first grade, and students in kindergarten in 2014-15 will not have a first-grade lottery.

“This is a positive change,” board member Sarah Howell said. “It will serve our students well.”

Since it began with kindergartners in 2010-11, the program has grown a great deal, and it was time to re-evaluate it, Director of Elementary Education Jonnie Shobaki said. Parents also have weighed in and said the first-grade lottery can lead to disappointment for their children if they don’t get in after taking the kindergarten class, Shobaki said.

“A double lottery was something that was difficult for them and kind of a hardship,” she said.

Shobaki said the state may mandate full-day kindergarten, in which case the kindergarten Spanish immersion classes would be as long as they are in later grades, providing program continuity.

Board chairwoman Patti Zebrowski and board member John Wendland said their “nay” votes on the entry level for the program were partly based on the history of board decisions.

Wendland said, “Maybe it’s right, maybe it’s not,” but he voted against changing the entry level because the board chose to keep it at first grade last year, and he doesn’t think there should be continual revisions of policy.

Lake Oswego resident John Wiltse, parent of a kindergartner in the Spanish immersion program, told the board during public testimony that families with children enrolled in the program do not consider the kindergarten portion of it to be exploratory. He said if his daughter, Piper, had to go through a lottery and didn’t make it in first grade, “I don’t know how I’d be able to explain it” to her.

The Spanish immersion program is for kindergarten to third grade, and the plan is to add fourth grade next school year and fifth grade in 2015-16, possibly expanding it to secondary grades in the future. There is also a tuition-based preschool immersion program through the Community School. Enrollment in the preschool program does not ensure placement in the lottery-based kindergarten class. Half of the time in Spanish immersion programs is in Spanish and half is in English, and classes follow the standard curriculum. The program is split between River Grove and Lake Grove elementary schools, and the plan is to move the entire program to River Grove, although that depends on a real estate and property value study the district is doing.

The board on Monday made decisions regarding the real estate and property study, which the board had discussed during a work session earlier in the day to offer administrators direction on the strategy and structure of the study. The board chose which questions will be asked in the request for proposals, covering issues such as the study’s effect on student transfers and enrollment.

The study will help determine the value of district-owned land and buildings, which will influence the board’s future decisions on which structures to keep and which to sell.

District officials plan to issue a request for proposals from firms by Tuesday. The board could make its final selection as soon as its Jan. 13 meeting.

The board has made major property decisions recently, choosing to close three of the district’s nine elementary schools — Bryant, Palisades and Uplands — within the past couple of years to address a budget shortfall. Sixth-graders moved from elementary school to junior high, which previously had seventh- and eighth-graders only.

Lake Oswego School District officials repurposed Bryant as a home for sixth-graders attending Lakeridge Junior High, which is next door. The Community School Lego Robotics program uses Uplands after school on Wednesdays, on weekends and on no-school days. Lake Oswego Junior High PE classes are held in the Uplands gym, said Nancy Duin, district communications director. The Lake Oswego rowing club practices at Palisades.

Also at the meeting, the board chose to hold off on a decision about open enrollment at the suggestion of Superintendent Bill Korach. The board had asked for more information on the issue at its Oct. 21 meeting, at which Korach gave the board similar advice: to wait a few weeks to see how other schools handle open enrollment and to see if the issue comes before the Legislature in February.

On Monday, Korach told board members they might want to reconsider renewing the open enrollment policy because of changes the policymakers made to laws regarding it in the last state legislative session.

Under the new state law, open enrollment can no longer be limited geographically, even if a student wishes to transfer from a district that is not nearby. District administrators could not be as selective with its students under open enrollment, Korach said.

Through the open enrollment option, students can apply to move to another district within a short period without paying tuition. The other option is for a student to apply for a transfer, and if their home school denies it, they do an interdistrict transfer but must pay tuition.

The school board votes on open enrollment annually.

Jillian Daley can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 109. Follow her on Twitter, @JillianDaley.