Program changes in school district draws ire

Program changes in school district draws ire
More than 350 parents, staff and neighbors pack the auditorium at Capri Elementary school Tuesday to learn about possible changes to the dual language immersion programs at two district schools. Photo by Wehtahnah Tucker

ENCINITAS — An overflow crowd of more than 350 parents, staff and neighbors packed the auditorium at Capri Elementary school Tuesday to learn about possible changes to the dual language immersion programs at two schools in the district.The tension was palpable as Encinitas Union School District Superintendent Dr. Timothy Baird gave a power point presentation in an attempt to explain to the audience his report to the board of trustees two weeks earlier that suggested significant changes at both Capri and Paul Ecke Central’s English learner and dual immersion programs.

“I am aware that both schools are more than just the dual language program and this needs to be considered with any changes that may be recommended. I am also aware that even if changes are recommended, transition plans would need to be discussed in depth with families before any final decisions are made,” Baird wrote in an open letter to parents on March 9.

Dual immersion programs at the two schools combine native Spanish speakers and English speakers in order to obtain fluency by the end of their tenure. The program is so popular that entry is held by lottery and there is a substantial waiting list to enter the program, according to Baird. Both campuses also have traditional English learner instruction.
He told the audience that the “conversation” about possibly phasing out English learner instruction at Capri and consolidating the two dual immersion programs on one campus was “less than a week old,” in response to criticism from some parents that the process was moving too quickly without public input.

Baird implored parents to unite in the face of possible changes. “We need your support now more than ever,” he told the crowd.

Baird said that while the dual language immersion programs were a small slice of the overall school budget, all facets were being reviewed in the face of drastic education cuts at the state level. “If I put your kids into jail out here they’d get better funding,” Baird said. “We’ve got to get angry about this (budget cut).”

Preliminary cost savings would come from the elimination of two teaching positions Baird told the audience. One parent was not impressed with the savings compared with the negative impacts of relocating English learner students.

“I understand the schools are in a budget crisis,” said John Paulie. “What I don’t understand is how eliminating two teaching positions is going to even make a dent in the millions we are short, especially when doing that would be so chaotic for so many families.”

Parents seemed prepared to do whatever it takes to preserve the status quo at both schools. One question from the audience that elicited the most applause asked how much money would need to be raised to keep both existing programs. “Enough money to send Dr. Baird on a very nice vacation,” Baird quipped before admitting he didn’t know the amount. “There isn’t an easy answer,” he responded.

In fact, Baird said the report he would give to the trustees at May’s board meeting would be in part a summary of the opinions of parents at both schools gathered from surveys. “You will have plenty of opportunity to give your input,” he told the crowd.

While Baird said everything was “business as usual,” some parents left the meeting unsettled. Stephanie McEntee and Bethany Cox both have incoming kindergarteners in the English learners track.

As the April deadline looms for registration, the two parents are unsure of the impact of possible changes to their neighborhood school.

“There was a lack of information (at the meeting),” McEntee said. “We’re not walking away with many answers but just more questions,” she said.

“There’s just a lack of stability it seems,” Cox said. “We’re still asking ourselves where our kids will go to school next year. We’re basically in limbo.”

Intradistrict transfer applications were due by January 30. “What if Paul Ecke isn’t a good fit?” Cox asked. “I know (Baird) said something might be done for Capri parents if it’s a DLI (dual language immersion) only program but he didn’t have any specifics.”

“If anything, this made us feel more uneasy about the future of Encinitas schools,” McEntee said. “And that’s why a lot of people move here; it’s for the schools.”

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