School board gives OK to new bilingual program

Nomaan Merchant

The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 School Board voted 4-3 Tuesday night to approve a new bilingual education program for middle school students.

Starting in the 2006-07 school year, elementary school students currently in the district’s Two-Way Immersion program can move to a transition program once they enter middle school if they are still not fully comfortable with English. In addition to regular classes, these students will get after-school English help.

Two-Way Immersion classes combine native English speakers and native Spanish speakers, and classes are conducted in both languages.

Spanish-speaking students entering middle school without English proficiency will move to a new in-school program with classes co-taught by a general education teacher and a bilingual teacher. Middle schools will keep English as a Second Language classes for students who speak a language other than Spanish.

Middle school students proficient in Spanish will now also be able to take a Spanish literature class for their Fine Arts requirement. An accelerated Spanish class will also be offered for seventh- and eighth-graders.

The program is projected to cost about $500,000 in addition to the cost of two new teachers, according to the proposal. The four board members supporting the proposal were Julie Chernoff, Marianne Kountoures, Jerome Summers and Mary Erickson. Jonathan Baum, Sharon Sheehan and Board President Mary Rita Luecke voted against the plan.

The proposal was developed to ease middle school students’ transition to Evanston Township High School, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Susan Schultz said.

“Students who enter (ETHS) in bilingual education cannot receive a diploma through bilingual education,” Schultz said.

But the proposal sparked debate among board members, many of whom criticized the program as having the same flaws as TWI. Baum said the proposal lacked approval from experts, including those originally consulted in its creation.

Sheehan wanted a more detailed proposal.

“We don’t really know what the staffing is under this plan,” Sheehan said. “I don’t think we have the access we need regarding cost projections.”

Middle school principals also said at the meeting that they lacked the additional classrooms the program requires.

“It’s just hard to find space,” said Jim McHolland, principal of Chute Middle School, 1400 Oakton St. “We’re teaching kids in offices right now.”

Erickson said District 65 must act to help prepare students for high school.

“I think it’s our moral imperative to get them accelerated in English,” Erickson said.

Luecke lauded the program for “maintaining the pace and content of the regular curriculum,” as well as for budgeting for additional training for current middle school teachers. She voted against the proposal because it would split up students who had gone to elementary school together and because it would keep students after-school.

Community members also spoke on both sides of the issue, with loud applause ringing through the room after many speeches. One community member, Rebecca Kass, said TWI leads to racial segregation.

“There are already concerns about student segregation in public schools, and TWI would enhance it,” Kass said.

But Superintendent Hardy Murphy said that minority students will not be stigmatized in the program.

“It’s not like a group of Latino students (will be) huddled in the back,” Murphy said.

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