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April 02, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, April 02, 2004

Schools may offer more Schools may offer more (April 02, 2004)

MV-Whisman could add language, gifted programs

By Julie O'Shea

Instead of closing a campus this fall, Mountain View-Whisman Superintendent Jim Negri suggested school officials start looking into the possibility of adding more alternative programs -- such as Intensive English Academy and GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) -- to the district's curriculum offerings.

Negri also added that he would like his staff to explore the feasibility of creating a campus that is completely a dual-language immersion school, where students would speak a language other than English for a majority of the school day. Currently, Castro Elementary is the only one of the district's nine campuses that offers Spanish-English dual immersion classes. The school, which has a large Latino population, also has an English-only classroom strand.

The superintendent made these recommendations during a special school board meeting March 25. The date had been set aside to announce which of the district's campuses would be closed down next year as a result of the state's unpredictable budget crisis.

But after winning a $1.6 million education parcel tax on March 2, Negri said Mountain View-Whisman would not have to close one of its campuses this fall. However, Negri told the school board that closing a school could become necessary in the future.

The findings of the 24-member school closure task force, which spent roughly 1,500 hours studying the matter since last fall, will be the "starting point" for any future school closure-related discussions, trustees ruled.

"No one ever really wants to close a school. It's a daunting task," said Associate Superintendent Eleanor Yick. "We needed to form this committee to prepare for the worst."

"It would have been a tough decision," added Yick, who served on the task force along with 13 parents and 10 other district administrators and community members. "We could have come to a decision on two schools. I don't think it could have been just one."

The task force did not name any specific campus, but rather offered a set of criteria that board trustees could use if they ever need to close a campus. Some of the issues looked at by the group included academic achievement, cultural, ethnic and language diversity, alternative programs, and health and safety issues.

Negri said the school trustees need to look at how to attract more students to the district, which was formed from two districts in 2001. Enrollment presently sits at around 4,300 students. And right now, there is no one ethnic group that has a 50 percent majority in the district; however, Negri said he anticipates that by next year, English language learners could surge past all other groups.

The board voted last week to conduct a demographic study at least once every five years. Trustees also instructed Mountain View-Whisman officials to study the feasibility of adjusting school attendance areas for 2005-2006 "to achieve a more accurate reflection of the cultural, ethnic, language and socio-economic diversity in the district."

In addition to studying the possibility of expanding the dual immersion program, Negri told the school board that it needs to consider bringing more special programs to the Mountain View-Whisman district. One example Negri threw out during the board meeting last week was the gifted and talented program, which puts academically advanced children into more challenging classes.

Besides dual immersion, the school district also offers home schooling and two parent participation programs. At Slater School, parents can participate in PACT (Parent Child Teacher) and at Monta Loma Elementary, the program is called Community Enhanced Learning or CEL.

In these two programs, parents participate in classrooms on a regular basis in order to give teachers more time to spend with individual students.

E-mail Julie O'Shea at [email protected]

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