City schools OK bilingual option

Board votes 4-3 to endorse controversial grant for 5-year offering

Denver’s school board gave its blessing Wednesday to a grant proposal that, if approved, would create a pilot program that increases the number of years some children are taught in Spanish.

The vote was 4-3.

The $ 3.3 million request has been on a desk in Washington, D.C., for more than a month, after University of Colorado education experts submitted it to the U.S. Education Department with the aid of Superintendent Chip Zullinger – but without the board’s input.

When asked their opinion two weeks later, several board members said they feared the plan would violate the district’s court-supervised curriculum because it allows Spanish-language instruction for five years before mainstreaming students, rather than three. The five-year concept is called ‘late exit.’

The resolution passed Wednesday says that while late exit will be available to students in four pilot schools, the last two years will be optional.

Board member Sue Edwards, who was among those voting no, said the resolution ‘does a regal tap dance’ around whether the district supports late exit or not.

But that compromise was precisely what reassured the majority. ‘If this was forcing a late exit on any particular student, I would not support it,’ said board President Elaine Gantz Berman. ‘I see this as enrichment over and above what we do in our English Language Acquisition program.’

The compromise was hailed by Estevan T. Flores, director of CU-Denver’s Latino/Research & Policy Center, which will help run the program along with a bilingual teacher-training facility at CU-Boulder.

‘What’s happened here is that some bridges have been built,’ Flores said, referring to Zullinger’s eagerness to reach out to Latinos.

Zullinger said Denver ‘has divided itself’ over the issue of how best to teach English to newcomers, and needs options. Some non-English-speaking parents want their children immersed immediately in English, and they should have that option, too, he said.

Board member the Rev. Lucia Guzman said she polled principals in heavily Hispanic northwest Denver about the proposal. ‘There were a few who said, ‘We need to continue to immerse our kids in English and it is working for us,” she reported. More, however, said they wanted to participate in the pilot if it gets approved, she said.

If the federal government gives Denver the grant, 80 teachers and 80 assistants will be trained in bilingual education. A quarter of Denver’s bilingual-education teachers lack the state’s ‘Teacher of the Linguistically Different’ credential, and another quarter don’t even have teaching licenses.

Some of the teachers would find employment in the crown jewel of Zullinger’s efforts to reach Hispanics: a dual-language Montessori school slated to open in 2001-02.

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