U-46 to shift bilingual students in Bartlett

Bilingual students once again might be on the move in Elgin Area School District U-46.

District officials are crafting a plan that would permanently spread the high school bilingual program over at least two, but possibly three high schools – Bartlett, Streamwood and Larkin schools.

The move would bring many students closer to their neighborhoods, while at the same time, easing crowding at Bartlett High, which is more than 300 students over its capacity.

The issue is not moving the students out of Bartlett, but moving them closer to their homes, Area Superintendent Lalo Ponce said. However, he agreed it should ease congestion at the district’s newest high school.

“In the end, it would provide additional space at Bartlett for the growing enrollment next year,” he added.

Built to hold 2,500 students, the 3-year-old Bartlett High School today holds about 2,800 students. Next year Principal Rick Hoy expects enrollment will reach 3,000.

Four hundred of Bartlett’s students attend the bilingual program and the majority of those students are bused in from Elgin.

Many parents question the logic of Bartlett High School housing the bilingual program, especially when Elgin High is about 775 students under capacity.

At one time Elgin High School did house the district’s bilingual program, but when Bartlett opened, U-46 officials decided to ease crowding at Elgin and at the same time racially balance the district’s four high schools.

Had they not, U-46 could have been vulnerable to civil rights lawsuits, district officials said.

The decision angered parents of bilingual students who wanted their children to remain at Elgin High, their neighborhood school.

Under the new plan next year’s freshmen and sophomores would be reassigned to schools closer to their homes while juniors and seniors remain at Bartlett.

As a result, Bartlett’s student population could be reduced by 200 students, Hoy said.

“I don’t see in the first year it helping very much in terms of classroom space. You still have to run every class those kids take,” Hoy said.

It is possible Bartlett could offer fewer sections of those classes, and no doubt, the school would have less crowding in the halls and the lunchroom, Hoy said.

“We need every bit of help we can get,” Hoy said.

Streamwood and Larkin high schools would add juniors in 2001 then seniors in 2002, so that within three years, the schools would equally share U-46’s bilingual students.

The solution will provide relief for Bartlett and move many bilingual students closer to their neighborhoods, many agree, but many still do not view it as a perfect answer.

Bilingual parents are happy that there are going to be more high school bilingual centers, but they would prefer one of the programs return to Elgin High – their true neighborhood school, said David Dominguez, president of the Bilingual Parents Association.

Many of the students, who are assigned to Streamwood, still will have to be bused out of their neighborhoods, he added.

Bilingual parents also resent the fact that their children are being moved again, Dominguez said.

“When they moved this (program) to Bartlett, they wanted to make Bartlett not an all-white school,” he said.

Now, they are not moving the students to Elgin High School for the exact same reasons, he said.

“It always seems to be the bilingual kids who are moved around,” he added.

Earlier this year, some elementary bilingual students were moved to other schools because of lack of program space.

But moving the high school students back to Elgin High simply is not an option right now, Ponce said.

“We are not looking at Elgin because we still feel like we should not create high schools that are one-race or high minority schools,” he said.

In addition, if U-46 stretched the program over four schools, there would not be enough students to have a quality program, he added.

Officials are currently looking at enrollment and staffing next year to determine if three bilingual centers are feasible. If not, U-46 likely will add only one more, Ponce said.

He added that he did not know which other school, in addition to Bartlett, would be a center.

Principals at Streamwood and Larkin support the bilingual program, but space also is a concern at their schools.

With 1,865 students, Streamwood is 235 students under its capacity, but the high school has five mobile classrooms.

“Our issue is not with programs. The only issue we always have is space, because we are pretty much there (full) now,” Streamwood Principal Ron Kalicki said.

Larkin High School, which holds 2,059 students, has room for about 339 more students.

“Numbers certainly would have an impact on our school,” Larkin Principal Renate Matthaeus said. “Whatever the decision is, we will work with it.”

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