With some amount of mistrust from parents still lingering, Peach Hill School parents, teachers and administrators agreed on a plan to focus on English-language development at an earlier age for Spanish-speaking students.
Peach Hill, which teaches kindergarten through third-grade students, has 465 students, about 170 of whom are what the school calls English Language Learners. The school’s test scores are traditionally lower than other primary schools, officials say, because of the high number of ELLs, and this has caused tension at the school.
Superintendent Frank DePasquale and Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services Tina Cantrell attended a three-hour school site council meeting Monday with more than 35 Peach Hill administrators, teachers and parents. The parents voted for a plan created by a committee of teachers that would, for example, begin Peach Hill’s after-school intervention program for students with poor reading skills in November instead of December. Students would also begin using test practice books in November instead of February.
Next year, the plan would provide a third option for parents of Spanish-speaking students — a structured English immersion class. This would mean all limited-language students would be put in a classroom and taught in English with primary language support, Cantrell said. Peach Hill has bilingual classes and classes where all students are in an English-speaking environment.
Though the plan was OK’d, parents still felt some frustration and resentment toward the administration and teachers at the school.
Donna Masek, who has a daughter at Peach Hill, said she is frustrated that the school has dealt with these issues for years and failed to resolve them. “I’m getting the feeling that I’m sitting through this meeting and they’re just waiting for my child to get through Peach Hill so another group of parents can come in and complain,” she said.
Masek said she worried that the Spanish-speaking parents present felt English speakers didn’t want the best for all students.
“We’re not trying to get rid of bilingual education,” Masek said. “We want (Spanish-speaking children) to come out with a good, firm English education, not just a mediocre bilingual education.”
Masek said she became uncomfortable when a parent expressing her view that children should all be taught in English with some bilingual support was told by a school site council member, who is also a teacher on the campus, that her views were “racist.”
Michelle Kay, a parent of twins at Peach Hill, said she was one of several parents whose views were labeled “racist” by the unidentified council member.
“Her behavior was unprofessional,” Kay said. “Pro-bilingual people for months have kind of thrown that gauntlet down to where people are afraid of saying what they want to say because they are afraid of being labeled a racist. Hispanic parents don’t worry about being called racist.”
Kay said racism is not the issue.
“The community is saying you can’t say to heck with the test scores anymore.”
DePasquale said the focus of this plan is to make sure students are learning English at an earlier age and that all students will be prepared to take the Stanford 9 test by the second grade.
“Ithink we’re working on gaining consensus with parents,” he said.
Peach Hill Principal Marilyn Eubanks believes the meeting went well. “Everybody talked freely, there was no anger or animosity at all,”she said, noting that both native English speakers and Spanish-speaking parents (who were assisted by a translator) were present.