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February 04, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, February 04, 2005

Changes at Castro long discussed Changes at Castro long discussed (February 04, 2005)

School community unhappy with changes

By Julie O'Shea

Mountain View-Whisman Superintendent Eleanor Yick's recommendation to restructure Castro Elementary and move the school's Spanish-English immersion program to another campus caught many parents and teachers off guard last week.

Veronica Moreno-Davidson walks her children a block and a half to school in the mornings.

"If you move the program from Castro, I would have to move. I don't drive," she told district trustees in broken English at last week's board meeting.

She is not alone. Many of Castro's families live in nearby apartment complexes and walk their children to school because they don't have cars.

But district officials said the proposed changes have been in the works for some time.

"The decision to move [dual immersion] didn't come out of nowhere," said Alicia Henderson, principal of Landels School, where the program would move if the current plan is carried out. It has been something under consideration by district staff for at least two years, she said.

"I am looking forward to the challenge. We have a healthy mix here. Our demographics will really support the DI program," Henderson added.

This isn't the first time Castro's language program, which teaches students in varying amounts of Spanish and English, has faced considerable restructuring.

In September 2003, district officials attempted a major overhaul of the program to even out the number of native English-speakers and native Spanish-speakers. But those changes crumbled under intense pressure from the Castro community.

Although Castro continues to make steady progress on its state test scores, it is still the lowest-ranking school in the district and is near the bottom in Santa Clara County. A stinging independent audit in May 2003 accused the Castro staff of not holding "high academic expectations for all students."

More than 80 percent of Castro's student body is Latino, and the majority of those children are enrolled in the dual immersion program where they don't get an even balance of English to Spanish instruction until the third grade. Critics have said this setup is not preparing these students for high school and beyond.

Yick has made academic achievement her mantra since taking over as superintendent in August. In an interview this week, Yick said she wants to find a way to bring Castro's test scores up. She also wants to find a way to attract more native English-speaking families to the dual immersion program.

Yick said she is confident that the restructuring she proposed Jan. 25 will put Castro students on the track to success. The plan calls for implementing an intense English language academy in preschool classes through second grade. The dual-immersion program would be moved to Landels School, where Yick said she thinks it will attract more native English-speaking students. Asked what makes her plan more likely to succeed when so many others have failed, Yick said she has a lot more time to ease the school community into the proposed changes. The plan proposed in September 2003 by then-Superintendent Jim Negri was hurriedly put together and announced three weeks after the new school year had started.

If the school board approves Yick's plan on Feb. 10, the district will have six months to implement the changes.

"The DI program was out of balance. Jim (Negri) attempted to reconfigure classes while classes had already started," Yick said. "Transitions have to be planned."

But Melanie Ramirez, a teacher and parent at the school, said the focus being put on Castro is unfair.

"I believe that it is unjust to ... force Castro to break up their school," Ramirez said, adding that many students consider the campus to be their second home.

"These children should not be deprived of their home," she said. "All the children at Castro deserve their home."

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

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