The administration of the Mountain View Whisman School District is going back to the drawing board after residents in the Castro and Whisman neighborhoods expressed significant opposition to moving the Dual Immersion program from its current home at Castro School to the Slater School campus.
In meetings with various community groups over the past few weeks, Superintendent Craig Goldman shared his proposal to move the popular bilingual program -- which provides instruction to children in both Spanish and English -- from Castro to Slater. Goldman presented his idea as a possible solution to a number of issues, including overcrowding at Castro, and community demand for a neighborhood school in the northeast quadrant of Mountain View.
The proposal fell flat, however, as Castro parents expressed serious reservations about losing Dual Immersion, and residents in the areas surrounding Slater balked at the idea of bringing a choice program into the community -- instead of a traditional neighborhood school.
Bob Weaver, a representative for the Whisman Neighborhood Association, said that while he and others living near him would welcome reopening a traditional neighborhood school at either the Slater or Whisman campus, the community would not be satisfied with the proposal Goldman had been shopping around.
In a large public meeting at Castro Elementary School on Feb. 5, parents turned out in force to object to moving the Dual Immersion program. At the end of that meeting Goldman said that he would not continue to pursue the idea. "We heard loud and clear that this was not a valuable proposal," he said of the meeting.
"We're very encouraged that Superintendent Goldman listened to the community," said Randi Ross, a Castro parent with children in the Dual Immersion program. "I did not think it was the best idea for our community to move to Slater."
Goldman said he doesn't view the community response as a rejection. Rather, he said, it is all part of the process.
"The process worked here," Goldman said. "Having gone through the process, we have a much better sense of what the community is looking for."
According to Goldman, one of the most illuminating points to emerge from the community was a clear picture of the synergy between Castro's two programs.
In a conversation with the Voice, Sarah Livnat, who serves as co-chair of Castro's Dual Immersion Advisory Board, said that there were many reasons not to move the program -- and that most of those reasons overlap.
"It's all very intertwined," she said of the Dual Immersion program and its relationship with the school's traditional program. "To remove the program from the school would have caused a lot of issues."
Speaking in Spanish, with the help of a translator, two parents who live within walking distance of Castro said that they were happy that Goldman was withdrawing his proposal to move the Dual Immersion program.
Blandina Diaz, a mother of two children in Castro's traditional school program, said that while her children would not have been directly impacted if the immersion program moved, there would have been plenty of indirect impacts.
"We don't have leaders like they do," Diaz said, referring to the Dual Immersion program's most involved parents -- whose work at the school helps children in both the immersion and traditional programs.
The neighborhood immediately surrounding Castro is one of the city's lower income areas and many residents of the traditional school's attendance area are not native English speakers. However, the school's population is greatly diversified by students whose parents have elected to send their children to the Dual Immersion program.
Diaz said she was concerned that if the Dual Immersion program was moved, the school would lose its diversity and its base of upwardly mobile parents.
Another Castro neighborhood parent, Azucena Castanon, said she was worried about how she would get her two children -- both of whom are in the immersion program -- to Slater. "Transportation" was a concern, she said in Spanish. "It's very difficult to take the children (out of the neighborhood). Many of the parents (in the Castro neighborhood) don't drive."
David Kessens has two children in the Dual Immersion program and shares many of the same concerns voiced by Diaz and Castanon. However, transportation isn't one of them. In fact, Kessens said it would probably be easier to get his kids to Slater than it would be to get them to Castro -- and it would certainly be safer on the days when the kids ride their bikes.
Kessens said his primary concern was that the program would suffer if it were moved to Slater. "The Castro neighborhood is really the capital -- the headquarters -- of Latino culture in Mountain View," he said. And, in his view, it only makes sense that the program stays put.
Call for better governance
While parents and community members have thanked Goldman for withdrawing his proposal, Steve Nelson, one of the district's trustees, said he believes the superintendent should have come to the community sooner, in a clearer manner and with more options.
While Goldman said that he never had a set plan to move the Dual Immersion program -- insisting that it was just an "idea" that he was shopping around -- Nelson said he felt the superintendent was resolved to move the program and that he only backed down after significant community backlash.
"I think he was trying to rush this through," Nelson said, echoing one of his common critiques of the superintendent.
"People shouldn't feel like this is the plan and there is only one plan," Nelson said.
Kessens offered a similar assessment, saying he would have rather had the superintendent come to the Castro community with a number of different possible scenarios and work toward a consensus, "instead of just coming to the table with one idea."
"To his credit, he reversed his plan," Kassens said of the superintendent. However, in the interim, "a lot of parents were concerned."
Nelson did give credit to Goldman for listening to the community and backing down. Still, he believes things could have gone more smoothly.
"There were dozens of really unhappy people," Nelson said. "I think we could do our governmental job better than that."
What's next for Whisman, Slater?
Now that Goldman's proposal to move the Dual Immersion program has been scrapped, the question remains as to whether the residents of the Whisman and Slater neighborhoods will get their own school.
Weaver said he never believed that Goldman's idea to move the Dual Immersion program was anything more than a bit of brainstorming. "I'm sure that his approach, in hindsight, might have been a little better," Weaver said. "But you have to start somewhere."
He said he was happy that Goldman had come up with the idea to move the Dual Immersion program, even if he didn't like the specifics of the proposal. "It's a tip of the hat to us," Weaver said -- an acknowledgement that his neighborhood needs its own school. "He made an honest effort to get something going and it just wasn't going to happen."
Weaver said he and others in his community will be working with the district to come up with a few proposals for getting a neighborhood school reopened in northeastern Mountain View.
He said he hopes that the district will conduct a survey of the communities surrounding the Whisman and Slater campuses in order to gauge demand for a traditional neighborhood school. "We need concrete information," he said.