Management of the Dual Language program at Ochoco Elementary has upset teachers at the school

Crook County School District's approval of the extension of the Dual Language Program through grades four and five has met with significant opposition, primarily from a group of staff members at Ochoco Elementary School.

Superintendent Duane Yecha came to the April 21 school board meeting asking for approval to extend DLP to fifth grade.

“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.”

After a lengthy discussion, during which a group of Ochoco Elementary School staff and teachers asked the board to delay a vote pending more public discussion, the board gave the administration its unanimous approval for extending DLP.

Although no one has spoken out against the Dual Language Program itself, there have been significant issues raised regarding its expansion and management.

Grace Deboodt, the Crook County Education Association's teacher’s union representative, alluded to a growing rift between teachers involved with the program and those that are not, when she addressed the board on April 21.

“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.”

On behalf of the group, Deboodt presented the board with a document that outlined their concerns.

The document alleged that there had been a meeting held at a school board member's home to discuss the expansion of the dual language program; that a letter had been sent home to families of dual language programs, inviting them to the meeting; that the letter had not been cleared by the administration of Ochoco Elementary; and that a second school board member was present at the meeting.

The group's statement raised questions about the ethics of the board in regards to the above mentioned meeting. Quoting from the district's code of ethics, the statement noted that a board member should refuse to participate in unofficial meetings; that a board member should refuse to make individual commitments on matters that should, instead, come before the entire board and that board members should not use their membership for personal gain.

With regards to the dual language program, the group's submission cited a number of concerns about the management of the program, including that enrollment in the program has declined by 50 percent; that students are not allowed to enter the program other than at the kindergarten level; that the program receives special privileges; that dual language students are isolated from the regular school community and that nonSpanish-speaking teachers are being displaced.

Yecha understands that the Ochoco staff is divided on the status of DLP and is committed to bringing them together, sending an email to all members of the Ochoco community to that effect.

In part, the email states: “Given the number of staff concerns that have been raised regarding this decision (to extend DLP), I am directing Dave (Robinson, Ochoco Elementary School principal) to lead a process to review all of these staff concerns.”

The review will include Stacy Smith, the district's director of curriculum and instruction, Human Resource Manager Jayel Hayden and Yecha.

Yecha remains committed to the board's decision.

“There is an awakening on behalf of Oregon and the federal government that closing the education gap is becoming more important,” he said. “All of our sub groups must take part in the closing of that gap.”

Yecha went on to state that he believed DLP to be a program that has the highest potential for success, and that extending the program to fifth grade is essential.

“My obligation is to recommend the best program out there for our future,” he said. “I believe it to be DLP and I am not prepared to go back to any program that has not worked.”

Yecha cited current graduation rate data in support of his position.

For English Language Learners in the state of Oregon the graduation rate is 49.2 percent while the overall graduation rate is 68.4 percent. The graduation rate for Crook County is listed as 25 percent, although this figure is impacted by the school's fifth-year program.

“Our ELL students have been under-performing,” said Yecha, “And I believe DLP is the method that will give us success.”

Yecha hopes that the announced meetings with Ochoco staff helps resolve the issues.

“I think it will be healthy for Ochoco to have the conversation to resolve the issues,” he said. “I want them to sit across from each other and say what they mean and work it out.”

According to Ochoco Elementary Principal Dave Robinson, the school's enrollment stands at 396 students, with 88 students currently enrolled in DLP

Robinson is committed to using the board's decision to expand the program as a mandate to move the program forward.

“We now have an opportunity to set it right,” he said. “I hope that our upcoming meetings will reduce misconceptions and have a chance to build protocols and procedures transparently to minimize future misunderstandings.”

Robinson feels that the issues surrounding the program are to be expected whenever special programs, such as DLP, are involved, saying that different programs have different needs.

Acknowledging that the group in opposition to DLP expansion is clear in their concerns about use of school resources that appear to be unequally allocated, Robinson admitted that DLP does indeed require extra support and services.

“There is extra costs associated with building a Spanish curriculum and for teacher training, “ he said. “We also have our ELL teacher pulling out groups of students for learning specific English language skills.”

Robinson noted that the district receives 50 percent more funding for each ELL student in the district.

“This is not limited to only those enrolled in DLP,” he said. “And, that extra 50 percent yields $165,000 to the district.”

Robinson also explained that DLP is not limited to Ochoco.

“This is not a single school program, this is districtwide and open to anyone,” he said. “To me it is a wonderful jewel in the crown of the district.”

Robinson, along with Yecha, appears ready to listen.

“We really want to clearly understand what the issues are with DLP,” said Robinson. “We want to identify the main problems and issues and come up with constructive solutions to address them to achieve a better understanding of language, culture and ethnicity.”

Both Yecha and Robinson promise complete transparency about what takes place in upcoming meetings, producing reports to the district about their discussions.

“Our goal is to bring our staff together and create a strong learning environment for our students,” said Robinson.

Yecha wants that as well.

“As with any organization, we need to get people around the table,” he said. “By next year we need a plan that works best for the kids.”

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