School could drop charter

Leaders of the bilingual program favor making it a Temecula district magnet instead.

TEMECULA—Leaders of a bilingual charter school propose abandoning the school’s charter to become a magnet program within the Temecula Valley Unified School District.

The Language Acquisition Magnet Program became a charter school in 1998 to avoid the restrictions of a newly passed state law that essentially prohibited bilingual education. With the law no longer so rigid, leaders of the 157-student Temecula program said they could switch to school-district control.

The change would allow students from throughout the Temecula Valley Unified School District to enroll in the program,
administrator Irma Cobian said. Currently, the Language Acquisition Magnet Program admits students almost exclusively from the attendance boundaries of Sparkman Elementary School,
where it is housed, because the program is at capacity.

“Everybody who wants a bilingual education in Temecula could go to this program if we go to a magnet,” said Kim Baily, president of the school’s Board of Directors. “That excites me.”

As a magnet program, however, the school would lose some of its independence. Charter schools are free of most state and local education law. Unlike Temecula’s other two charter schools,
however, the Language Acquisition Magnet Program has been closely aligned with the school district.

According to the school’s model, kindergartners learn 90 percent in Spanish and 10 percent in English. More English is phased in at each grade level so that by fifth grade, teaching is done equally in both languages. By fifth grade, students are expected to be able to read and speak fluently in English and Spanish.

The program became a charter school in 1998, a year after it was founded, after the passage of state Prop. 227. At the time,
school leaders said they feared that the program had to become a charter school or close because of the restrictions of the new law.

That is no longer true, said Leroy Hamm, a bilingual consultant at the California Department of Education.

“They could continue any model that they want that’s an alternate to the (traditional) English model,” he said,
explaining that parents would simply have to apply for waivers from Prop. 227.

As a charter school, the Language Acquisition Magnet Program recently has split between a group of parents who accuse Cobian and the board of directors of ignoring the letter of the charter and parents who feel charter-related issues distract the school from its educational mission. Last month, the two groups clashed at a parents’ meeting held to elect two parents to the board. The results of the election were contested.

On Thursday, school leaders announced the results of the election after withholding them for a month to investigate unspecified allegations about the election process. David Alvarado, who has been critical of Cobian and the current board,
and Claudia Preciado-Arroyo, a supporter of the current leadership, will serve two-year terms.

Preciado-Arroyo said she supports studying the magnet-school concept before the charter expires in July 2001.

If the educational program “can be offered on a magnet level and the children will benefit in some way, then I support it,” she said.

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