Bilingual school OK'd

Bilingual charter status to be sought by district

TEMECULA—A program that aims to make English- and Spanish-speaking children bilingual will be spared from Prop. 227 by becoming a charter school, the Temecula school board decided Tuesday.

Charter schools are not bound by the same regulations as other public schools. A spokeswoman for the California School Boards Association said last week that charter schools will not have to comply with Prop. 227.

The new charter school must get the blessing of the state Board of Education. That, however, should not be a problem, school officials say.

The unanimous vote came after board president Patti Smith and Trustee Jerry Hobbs questioned whether Spanish-speaking students are learning English fast enough.

The voluntary program sets up classrooms where half the students are English speaking and half speak Spanish. There are about 70 kindergarten and first-grade pupils in the program that started last year in kindergarten. The progressive program will continue to expand through fifth grade.

All students are taught in Spanish for 90 percent of the day in kindergarten and first grade. English is gradually introduced, with English being taught half the day by the time pupils reach fifth grade.

Hobbs noted that by passing Prop. 227, voters in the state indicated a desire to see students with limited English skills immersed in English. Moreover, he said Sparkman seems to set a double standard by saying English-speaking students are capable of being immersed in a second language but Spanish speakers are not.

Principal Frank Ohnesorgen said more Spanish is taught because students are exposed to English in mainstream culture. He also said that even though English is formally taught only 10 percent of the day early on, students usually speak to each other in English.

Board member Ed Elder said research shows that all students in two-way immersion programs achieve long-term success.

“I don’t like experimental programs,” he said. “This program has been tested.”

Smith said she was persuaded by Ohnesorgen’s arguments to vote for the charter school. Hobbs said he still has concerns but wants to give the program a chance to measure its progress.

The program will remain at Sparkman and become a school within a school.

Ohnesorgen has said it was always his intention to set up a charter school for the program to allow for more parent input and flexibility with the curriculum.

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