Dual language program under fire


The Crook County School Board voted to offer the program through fifth grade, but some teachers raised concerns about the program

Crook County School District Superintendent Duane Yecha came to Monday night's school board meeting to ask that the board approve an extension to the district's Dual Language Program.

A group of Ochoco Elementary School teachers came to ask that they do not.

“I am asking the board to decide if DLP should be continued,” said Yecha, “Speaking for myself and the administration, I am asking that the current kindergarten through third grade program be extended through grade five.”

Started in the 2010-11 academic year, the program was introduced at the kindergarten level, offering native English speakers and native Spanish speakers instruction in both languages.

That initial class continued the program into the first, second and third grade years, and the initial design of the program mandated that only students that began the program in kindergarten would be allowed to continue into third grade — there would be no students introduced in interim grades.

As a former high school principal, in which over 30 percent of his students were English Language Learners, Yecha is convinced that students should learn to read and write in their native language first, at which point they can then become successful at a second language.

The district's Director of Curriculum and Instruction Stacy Smith agreed.

“The DLP is the most effective strategy for our ELL students to be successful,” he said. “It is also an opportunity to set ourselves apart in a good way.”

Speaking on behalf of the group of teachers that opposed the expansion of DLP, Ochoco Elementary School teacher Grace Deboodt, the Crook County Education Association's teacher’s union representative, said that a number of staff members at Ochoco felt deceived.

“Ochoco staff has yet to be made aware of any staffing changes for next year, nor have we been asked to be a party to any discussion about expanding the DLP into fourth grade,” she said. “I think it is imperative for you all to know that Ochoco feels like no one has been honest with us.”

Deboodt added that there was an understanding that the draft of next year's school budget did not account for any expansion of the program.

Deboodt told the board that additional Ochoco Elementary staff members were unable to attend the meeting, since it took place in Paulina, and that class size inequity caused by the DLP was creating a rift between program and nonprogram classes.”

“The Ochoco staff has been torn apart between the actual school and the dual language school,” she said. “Dual language students are becoming isolated from the larger school community.”

In acknowledging the issues raised by Deboodt, Yecha told the board that he has enlisted the consulting expertise of David Bautista, assistant superintendent at the Oregon Department of Education, who oversees ELL programs and its associated outcomes, statewide.

“The world is changing, and the Oregon Department of Education recognizes that our students need skills that will enable them to compete at a global level,” said Bautista. “I look forward to using my experience working with traditionally underserved populations to ensure all students will succeed academically and professionally.”

Board chair Patti Norris noted that the DLP should not be designed just for ELL students.

“It is a bi-lingual program for our English speaking students as well,” she said. “It is a magnet program for those families that want their kids to be bilingual.”

While the board, Yecha, and Smith agreed that the program can succeed, they all admitted to problems with the management of the program.

“I think that part of committing this program to go forward, is that the administration and board must say yes, this is what we want,” said Norris. “We need to address the issues to ensure the program functions districtwide.”

Board member Doug Smith agreed, adding that diminishing class size was, in his opinion, a significant problem.

“We can't start with 26 students in kindergarten, and end up with 13 by third grade,” he said. “We must be able to repopulate those classes.”

Yecha responded by saying that talks with Bautista had made that clear.

“He told us to expect that classes would start out big and then get smaller,” he said, “One of his suggestions was to blend the third- and fourth-graders together.”

Smith suggested that, at any time during the program, solid Spanish speakers should be able to enroll in the program at any grade.

“We should be able to add students to the program in the middle somehow,” he said. “We also need to make sure that our Spanish speaking students have an equal opportunity to get into the class.”

Yecha noted that the program currently enrolls 75 students across three grades, and agreed that students should be allowed to enter the program at any grade.

“With this change, I believe we can keep the numbers up,” he said. “But, the program needs to be strongly supported in all of our schools.”

Smith agreed, asking that the board approve the program as kindergarten through fourth grade for next year, and kindergarten through fifth grade the year after that.

“Given that, I do understand that there are concerns amongst the staff that are outside of the program,” said Smith, “There are those that feel the program gets preferential treatment.”

Deboodt responded to Smith by saying that other classrooms at Ochoco are overloaded, growing much larger than the dual language classes.

“These dual language kids begin in kindergarten and move on up, but the program can't take any new students that did not start in kindergarten,” she said. “So those students are put into a regular classroom.”

Deboodt listed a number of areas in which she felt resources had been impacted by the cost of the DLP.

She said that DLP classes were being taught by the school's academic coach and English as a Second Language teacher, taking them away from their regular duties. She also feels that the lack of school counselors at the school adversely impacts students who she says are at an age when they have the least amount of coping skills. Finally, she lamented the loss of the school's music program.

“It is time for the school board to critically examine the DLP before any expansion,” she said. “The program should not exist at the expense of the rest of the school.”

It was clear that Deboodt and others had come to Paulina to express their disapproval of the expansion of the DLP.

“The staff at Ochoco respectfully requests that a vote not be taken tonight to extend the dual language program to kindergarten through fifth grade until a discussion is held in a public meeting,” she said. “Public school funds should not be used on an elite group of students.”

Board member Doug Smith responded by reiterating his support of the program.

“Research shows that the program provides results,” he said. “But, I also think we need to provide an equitable solution to the class size issue.”

He was also emphatic in his belief that the district cannot revert to the old English language learner model.

“We need to get to a place where dual language serves our ELL problem,” he said. “We need the classes big enough to serve that population.”

Deboodt replied by asking the board to understand that dual language students were not the only students in the district.

“The district is adding teachers to only teach them,” she said. “The other classes are getting too big. There is only so much money in the district.”

Norris joined the conversation by saying that extending the program does not mean business as usual when it comes to managing the program, agreeing that class size issues must be addressed.

Deboodt feels the district has ignored the problem for four years and finds it hard to believe the district will start doing so now, saying that the board has not addressed the issue of the small class size in the dual language third grade.

“We have to look at all the children, not just one segment of the population,” she said.

Norris responded by assuring Deboodt that the district does, indeed, consider the entire population.

Board member Scott Cooper felt there were three issues that needed to be considered when expanding the program.

“We need to understand the difference between policy, as set by the board, and management of the program, as administered by district staff,” he said. “I agree that, over the past four years, management has gone off the rails.”

Cooper also felt the district had a legal, educational, and moral obligation to offer the program and that it was a means of presenting the English language to nonEnglish speaking students.

Deboodt countered by saying that she felt the district had an obligation to ensure equal costs, class size and recruitment for all students, not just for those in the DLP.

Despite the objections of Deboodt, Yecha asked the board to decide in favor of extending the program.

“I would prefer not to wait on the decision to extend the program to kindergarten through fifth grade,” he said. “The experts say six years is what makes the program successful.”

Norris, addressing other members of the board, seemed to think that the school administration was looking for a mandate from the board for extending the program.

And, Smith was willing to provide it.

“I will support the administration’s proposal, as long as it is based on equitable class size and equal opportunity,” he said. “It needs to be on a fair and equitable basis.”

He then proceeded to present a motion to extend the program as requested, and board member Gwen Carr seconded it.

The request passed on a four to zero vote. Board member Walt Wagner was not present.