Bilingual education debated at meeting

Paul Thissen

Packed into a room with too few seats, more than 130 people catcalled, applauded and spoke their minds on the issue of relocating a bilingual education program at a Monday school board meeting.

At the meeting Tuesday Evanston/Skokie School District 65 School Board members discussed the future of the district’s two-way immersion program. The debate over the rearrangement of Two-Way Immersion classrooms, held at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center included 25 presentations by residents.

Although the discussion continued until 1 a.m. Wednesday, the board did not reach any decisions, and will continue to discuss the issue Monday.

In a TWI class made up of native English- and Spanish-speakers, students are instructed equally in both languages. The initiative aims to teach English to the Spanish-speakers while enriching the education of the English-speakers.

Administrators said more TWI classrooms will be needed next year after more Spanish-speaking students join the district. The superintendent’s proposal includes five “strands” spread across four schools. For example, a school with a single strand has one TWI class per grade, while all other classes follow a traditional format.

The district currently has three strands at Washington Elementary School and one at Dawes Elementary School. Under the new plan, Washington would retain two strands, while Dawes, Dewey and Oakton elementary schools would each have one.

“We believe we’re making the best recommendation educationally and administratively,” Superintendent Hardy Ray Murphy said.

Many parents, teachers and board members, however, said they oppose single strands of TWI, claiming that teachers and students in the only bilingual class in their grade are isolated from their school community.

“This proposal ignores what educators have said creates a successful learning environment,” said Jeff Singleton, co-chairman of the Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee.

“For TWI to be successful, it must be concentrated as much as possible,” Evanston resident Eva Martin said.

Martin and others said they think that the proposal was designed to ease administrative obstacles, not to provide the best education.

In addition, many of the meeting’s attendants said they were unsatisfied with the plan because it required that TWI support personnel be split across multiple schools.

“Bilingual-support staff need to be present at schools with this program at all times,” said Bob Carroll, president of the District Educators Council Union.

The TWI program began in the district in 2000. By the 2002-03 school year, the TWI program included two strands: one at Washington and one at Orrington. The board decided to consolidate the program at Washington for this year partly because of the benefit of multiple strands.

Families who were transferred from Orrington to Washington were promised that they would not switch schools again, but some would return to their neighborhood schools in the new proposal.

Although most public presentations supported the TWI program and condemned single strands, some parents of Timber Ridge and King Lab students stated their support of the current programs at those magnet schools. These programs could be eliminated if the board decided to relocate TWI to a magnet school.

“Timber Ridge does what it was set up to do and more,” Evanston resident Kate Spector said.

The board also passed a change in the magnet school policy which included the addition of a neighborhood preference at King Lab. Next year 20 percent of new admissions to the school will be reserved for students from that neighborhood. The change also removed from the mission statement the requirement that magnet schools pioneer innovative teaching strategies to eventually be used at other district schools.

The board will continue to discuss the TWI program 7p.m. Monday at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center, 1500 McDaniel Ave.