Overcrowded Glenwood addressed for another year

Jan. 25, 2014 @ 09:52 AM

The board for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools voted on a measure to address the overcrowding at Glenwood Elementary but only for one year.

During their second regular meeting this month the board of education approved an option that will allow 76 Glenwood Elementary students to be transferred to other schools next year, close Glenwood to transfers including siblings and relocate the school’s Pre-K class to another elementary school, all in efforts to address the school’s overcrowding.
The option was approved with a 6-1 vote with board member James Barrett voting against the measure and the rest of the board only approving it after it was changed to keep the school’s Mandarin Dual Language program open to all students in the district, not just those in the Glenwood zone.
The board also agreed to discuss sibling preference in the Mandarin and Spanish Dual Language programs at a future meeting.
Superintendent Tom Forcella said that the Mandarin program has come into the overcrowding discussion primarily because it’s housed at a school that is above capacity.
“Even without the expansion of the [Mandarin Dual Language] program, some spot redistricting would be needed,” he said. “It’s a very complicated issue with a lot of different pieces to it.
“A potential long-term solution is another magnet school in the future,” Forcella said. “But that’s not as close as we thought because of other facilities work.”
Forcella said that another magnet school would call for large-scale redistricting but also reminded people to remember the purpose of the program.
“There’s nothing wrong with the purpose changing,” he said. “The original purpose of the program was for non-English speaking students to learn to speak English. The rules change if it’s an immersion program.”
The majority of parents and community members who spoke in favor of keeping and expanding the program were parents of native English speakers.
One family explained how the program helped them when they lived in China for six months and others commented on its positive effects on property values, while others touted it as a means of closing the district’s achievement gap and allowing students on all skill levels to take part in the lottery to join the program.
Others described the program as a luxury the district can’t afford, taking money from other areas to support a small group of students and exacerbating the overcrowding at one of the district’s oldest schools.
Board member Michelle Brownstein said, “We inherited this problem but we have to get off that and make a decision,” and suggested that older school renovations be prioritized to create capacity at the elementary level with the Mandarin Dual Language program in mind.
Board Vice Chairwoman Mia Burroughs said that the district continues to support the program because “we’ve got an 11-year investment in the district. We’ve put a lot into it. I consider it a gift to the county to have bi- and trilingual children.”
It’s important for our community to invest in our children’s ability to learn a second language,” board member Mike Kelley said. “I agree with Mia, this is a gift to everyone. It’s extremely impractical to pick another language and start again today.”
Board Chairwoman Jamezetta Bedford agrees with expanding the program to make it load bearing, noting that budgetary constraints are not justification for the district to become stagnant.
“We have to pursue excellence in the district,” she said.
Board member Annetta Streater said that the board has put bandages on a growing problem as the program shifted in focus.
“I’m disappointed that the support for the [English as a Second Language] students is no longer that,” she said. “Are we helping those students who need the ESL help? The students who would benefit still aren’t accessing it to help close the achievement gap,” she said. “Until we align our plan with the intent, we’re always going to have this issue come up.”