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The pushback from Woodstock has had an effect, but the Mandarin Immersion program is still at risk

DAVID F. ASHTON - Parents having students in the Woodstock Elementary Schools Mandarin Dual Language Immersion program say they hope their 2022 Lunar New Year program will still be held at their school. This photo was taken at that celebration in 2020 - just days before the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic lockdown. As the Portland Public Schools (PPS) administration pursues its "rebalancing" program – shuffling students from other area schools into the reconstructed Kellogg Middle School, scheduled to open later this year – the future of the Mandarin Dual Language Immersion (MDLI) programs currently at Woodstock Elementary School and Hosford Middle School is still unclear.

As brought out two months ago in a front page story in THE BEE, parent volunteers from both the Woodstock Elementary PTA and the nonprofit "Shu Ren of Portland" felt left out of the decision-making on this issue by PPS, as well as by the rebalancing group of parents and administrators that PPS calls their "Southeast Guiding Coalition".

November letter gets PPS Board's attention

"As one of the co-authors of the letter from Woodstock parents to the PPS Board in November, I do feel like we got the Board's attention," Woodstock Elementary PTA President Ehren Schwiebert told THE BEE. "In the subsequent PPS Board Meeting, the PPS Board did choose to narrow the scope of the Southeast Guiding Coalition's work for Phase 1 of the rebalancing."

Instead of making changes to co-located focus and language immersion programs, the Coalition's revised Phase 1 focus was simply to determine which elementary schools would feed into the newly-reconstructed Kellogg Middle School, he says.

"But, to be honest, it was not just the outcry from Woodstock's immersion program families that catalyzed the PPS Board's shift," he continued. "I believe that it also was the collective concern voiced by parents at a number of other Southeast schools' immersion programs (many of which were also subject to some drastic relocations and/or consolidations in early Guiding Coalition proposals). And also, the concern fromthose who also did not have a sufficient voice in the Guiding Coalition process. Both made the PPS Board 'pump the brakes'."

Thus, the final Phase 1 rebalancing plan that the PPS Board approved in January did figure out which kids would attend Kellogg – but not much else. However, the Southeast Guiding Coalition's Phase 2 discussions, which began in mid-February, are intended to consider boundary changes for all elementary schools, and it is expected that Woodstock will be in the mix for those changes.

Moving away from Woodstock 'destabilizing'

"Having fewer kids in our school's neighborhood program would potentially throw off the current balance that we have between the two programs (about 55% MDLI to 45% neighborhood), so that does concern me a bit," Schwiebert said. "I believe that what makes Woodstock's co-located programs such a success story is that we have such a strong balance between both programs – in which neither group feels under-served.

"Still, there remains a real possibility that Woodstock's Mandarin Immersion students will be relocated to another school farther east," mused Schwiebert. "I don't think we are out of the woods just yet."

As for whether PPS has been "responsively listening" to the concerns of the Woodstock PTA and of "Shu Ren", Schwiebert commented, "I will withhold judgment on that, and just say that I am optimistic that they are. To PPS's credit, they held back on breaking up Woodstock's Mandarin Immersion program, and have made numerous statements that they want all of the impacted communities to have a seat at the table."

'PPS isn't engaging Chinese community'

Once again speaking to THE BEE on behalf of the Directors of the nonprofit "?Shu Ren of Portland", Co-Chair Maggie Berg updated the story from her own group's point of view.

"One of the big concerns with [the rebalancing program] is that there continues to be a lack of concern by the 'Southeast Guiding Coalition' about the lack of outreach to the Chinese community," Berg revealed. "Another is that there are no International Baccalaureate Programs at either Madison or Franklin High Schools, should the boundary for the Mandarin Immersion programs change."

"We are hearing from many families there are too few SEGC members who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color); [making representation] too much for any one person to bear in a white-dominated coalition, [while] also, in itself, seemingly being racist," Berg said.

To that end, on December 17, "Shu Ren" sent a pointed letter to the PPS Board of Directors outlining their inclusion concerns. This letter can be read in its entirety online right here – tinyurl.com/1hc8xe65

"It seems like district administrative members are 'reading from a script'. . . but are not actually implementing what they are saying," Berg told THE BEE in mid-February.

Additionally, it appears that the rebalancing information is STILL not being sent out in languages other than English! "We've heard, as well, that some 'Southeast Guiding Coalition' members are currently looking to leave – due to the rigorous meeting schedule, the required time commitment, and because they don't get the meeting materials until just hours before the meeting."

Berg told us that she, and "Shu Ren" Co-Chair Kim McCarty, had an online meeting with PPS Dual Language Immersion Director Michael Bacon just before the Winter Break. "He had asked us to take on the task of finding members for a 'DLI Advisory Sub-committee' that he would like to form, to assist the Guiding Coalition; I have sent to him some contacts of parents who are interested in the committee, but so far none have heard anything more about it," Berg concluded.

Some online resources:

www.facebook.com/WoodstockSchoolPDX/

www.shurenofportland.org


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