Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools, our children, can’t afford Mandarin program expansion

Students learn Chinese calligraphy in this file photo taken at Glenwood Elementary School in Chapel Hill.
Students learn Chinese calligraphy in this file photo taken at Glenwood Elementary School in Chapel Hill. N&O file photo

If you have children in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district, they probably have selfless teachers like my wife, who buys many of her own school supplies because the district claims it can’t afford them.

Yet in September, the school board voted 4-3 to spend hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to expand the Mandarin Dual Language program at Glenwood Elementary School.

While this may seem like a parochial issue, look at your own school and ask yourself, could hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars be spent in a more sensible way?

I am the proud father of two Glenwood Elementary kids and the proud husband of Glenwood third- grade teacher Candace Crothers. I have volunteered at the school weekly for the last seven years, during which time I have seen our tax dollars thrown down a money pit.

The school has offered a Mandarin immersion program for 16 years and while well-intentioned, it is broken and unsustainable. Last year only 12 of the original 48 students who began the Mandarin program in kindergarten completed the program in fifth grade.

A comprehensive 2012 study recommended shutting down the program for its lack of financial viability, yet the school board has repeatedly voted to continue funding what can only be termed a vanity project.

Three of the school board’s “Yes” votes were cast by James Barrett, Amy Fowler and Margaret Samuels, all of whom made it clear on the night of the vote that they view Glenwood’s traditional track teachers — many of whom stand to lose their current jobs — as disposable. The deciding vote was cast by Pat Heinrich, whose daughter attends Glenwood in the Mandarin program. (A subsequent public records request has revealed multiple emails in which Heinrich passionately lobbies for the Mandarin program, though he is supposed to represent all of us.)

The morale at Glenwood in the wake of the board’s vote has been heartbreakingly low. This wonderful school is psychologically gutted. Many of Glenwood’s teachers, who have witnessed the Mandarin program floundering for years and only want what’s best for the Glenwood community, have taken to wearing black mourning clothes. Some refused to participate during the annual staff photo because they no longer feel a part of Glenwood.

A few weeks ago, CHCCS reached out to offer a potential compromise that would allow both the Mandarin and the traditional tracks at Glenwood to be maintained and taxpayer dollars saved. (Exactly how high into six figures the current plan would cost is something CHCCS has made it clear they would prefer the public not know.)

The Glenwood staff has been asked to help blueprint the new proposal, but a significant lack of trust in the district’s administration already exists. If CHCCS puts these dedicated teachers through the process of drafting a revised plan that would allow them to remain at the school they love and then turns around and rejects that plan, yet another betrayal would be inhumane and unconscionable.

My wife teaches her students critical thinking every day and yet her school board ignores its own data and approves a proposal that any of her third graders could tell you makes no financial sense. For the sake of everybody at Glenwood and everyone else who pays higher taxes to educate their children here, please join me in encouraging some adults at CHCCS to do some critical thinking.

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