Board approves dual-language charter school

By ESTHER K. SMITH

News staff writer

March 11, 2006

Hood River County Schools got the green light to proceed with plans to create a dual language charter school Wednesday evening when the school board passed the matter, at least in concept, by a unanimous vote.

The district plans to place the charter school at Westside Elementary School.

After learning that the response to the parent survey sent out in January was overwhelmingly positive and a location had been chosen, members of the board also listened to community members, both parents and teachers, before making their decision.

Marcia LaDuke, assistant superintendent and a member of the dual language administrative team, said that the survey had prompted nearly 500 families to express serious interest in such a school. The immersion school would be able to handle no more than 150 students initially.

Though no facility in the district could currently handle 100-150 additional students, the team decided that, with the installation of two more portable classrooms — in addition to the one soon to be installed — Westside would be the most feasible location for a charter school.

“We were already planning to bring a portable to Westside,” said Dr. Pat Evenson-Brady, school superintendent. “And we know we will need more later. We’re just buying them sooner than we would have.”

It isn’t just English-speaking families who want to see the dual language school become a reality. The positive survey responses were almost evenly divided between Hispanic and non-Hispanic families.

“The ability to learn a second language is tremendously enhanced if you are first proficient in your first language,” LaDuke said.

According to a letter sent to parents of elementary students, the charter program will include one class at each grade level from kindergarten through fifth grade. Students from any of the elementary schools in Hood River County are eligible to register to attend the bilingual charter school. If there is interest at any grade level of more than 25 students, a lottery will be held to determine class participation.

Official registration for the charter bilingual school will open on March 13 and will close on March 21. Registration forms have been sent to elementary parents and are also available at the local schools and at the District Office, located at 1011 Eugene Street in Hood River.

The lottery will be conducted on March 22 and parents will be notified within the next week whether or not their child or children will be able to attend the school. Students who do not make the first lottery will be placed on a waiting list and parents will be notified as openings occur.

Many of the details of the school can’t be worked out until it is known how many students actually apply and which schools they will be leaving. Schools which lose students to the charter school may have to make adjustments, such as blending classes.

“Several of our ELL teachers have said they’d be willing to teach at the charter school,” LaDuke said, “but we don’t want to rob schools of those teachers. We want to make as few changes as possible and keep the staff as intact as possible.”

According to Evenson-Brady, the addition of 100-150 students to Westside School would bring the need for more secretarial services, at least part-time, and possibly other staffing. But enrollment forecasts for Westside suggest that before long that will be necessary anyway, she said.

Mid Valley Elementary School is also interested in starting up a dual language program, and it is hoped that by next year it can have its own stream of classes that can operate in tandem with the Westside charter school.

“There may be initial costs, but there are 200 parents at Mid Valley who say they want to do this program,” said Principal Dennis McCauley. “To me, the cost of not doing it would be more than doing it now, when we have the grant money.”

LaDuke said that the $350,000 charter planning grant that has funded this project so far has paid for surveys and other start-up costs, and can be used to purchase textbooks and equipment, but it cannot be used for salaries.

The school district hopes to be able to expand the program over the next few years.

Those who have questions should contact the principal at their local school or call Marcia LaDuke at (541) 387-5015.

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Wednesday’s meeting also brought the announcement from Pat Echanis, principal at Parkdale Elementary, that he has accepted the position of Director of Elementary Education for the Bend-La Pine School District.

His wife, Janet, who teaches fifth grade at May Street Elementary, will also be leaving the district. Both will remain with Hood River schools through this school year.

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