Metzger Elementary School is set to become the first school in the district with a bilingual student body.

On Monday, the Tigard-Tualatin School Board approved a plan to start a dual-language immersion program at the school, teaching kindergarteners in a combination of both English and Spanish.

The new program, which is set to launch this fall, is meant to help students become bilingual, and help the school's growing population of non-native English speakers perform better in the classroom.

Parents and school staff flooded Monday's school board meeting to show their support for the fledgling program, and ask that the district consider expanding it to other schools, such as Bridgeport Elementary in Tualatin, in future years.

Metzger staff plan to open two full-day Spanish immersion kindergarten classes at the school this September, and grow the program each year until every grade has a Spanish immersion option.

The plan has strong support from school staff, many of which were hired four years ago because they are bilingual.

Tigard-Tualatin is one of the few school districts in the area that doesn't already have at least one dual-language program, said Sloan Presidio, the district's director of coordinated education services.

Last year the Beaverton School District opened a Chinese-language charter school, to go along with its Spanish charter school.

Tigard-Tualatin tried to start a Spanish immersion program at the school four years ago, but changed it mind at the last minute, citing budgetary issues.

The immersion program's first year is expected to cost the district about $12,300 with additional funding coming form re-appropriated Title III funding and the district's bond for curriculum passed in May 2011.

Board member Jill Zurschmeide said that the district needs to make a commitment not to cut the program when times get tough.

'If we're going to do this, we need to make a commitment to keep this program rolling,' she said. 'Not if, but when budgets get tight, we need to say that this is a priority for us for several years. We aren't going to try it for a year or two; we have to give it a fair shot.'

The plan wasn't without opposition.

Board member Barry Albertson was the lone vote against the program, saying that the district should add back cut programs before it starts something new.

'Ten months ago we waded through budget issues and we cut some things,' he told his fellow Board members Monday night. 'My own bias is that I'd prefer not to add new programs at all because we don't have any new money to spend on them and we have cut things previously.'

The district has cut back on high school teachers and laid off its elementary school media specialists.

'That impacts every elementary school. With roughly 500 kids per school, that's 5,000 kids,' he said.

The program would initially be open only to families that live in the Metzger Elementary School boundary, north of Pacific Highway and Southwest Greenburg Road but if successful, the program is expected to spread to other schools in the district in coming years.

Metzger Elementary School, 10350 S.W. Lincoln St., is hosting a kindergarten roundup at the school on Tuesday, March 6 at 6:30 p.m.

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