Glendale Unified says auf wiedersehen to German language program

It’s auf wiedersehen to German, and bonjour to French at Glendale Unified.

District officials this week outlined plans to phase out German from its dual-language program, while adding French starting next fall.

The district has struggled to attract families to fill its German classes at Franklin Elementary School, the hub of its Foreign Language Academies of Glendale, according to Deputy Supt. John Garcia.

It was the only dual-language offering, commonly known as the FLAG programs, that did not have a waiting list during the enrollment process last year, with parents opting for German only after they could not get a slot in Spanish or Italian classes, he said.

In addition, hiring fluent German speakers with California teaching credentials has been a challenge, Garcia said.

“[Our search] has yielded almost no candidates over the past few years,” Garcia said. “We have had some opportunities and some people we thought were coming, and that didn’t land and then we kind of found ourselves in a lurch.”

Meanwhile, the interest in French is strong, Garcia said. There are just two French language schools in the Los Angeles area, but both are private and include high tuition rates.

“Over 100 people have expressed interest,” Garcia said. “We have got as firm a commitment as you can get from well over one kindergarten class [worth of families].”

In plans detailed during the Glendale Unified school board meeting on Tuesday, Garcia said that starting in fall 2012 the district will accept one final class of German students, but only those whose older siblings are already enrolled in the program.

The German students will graduate through Franklin Elementary, until there are no more left at the school.

At the same time, the district will launch a French program at the school, Garcia said. The plan also includes making the site a K-5 school, rather than the current K-6 campus, starting in 2013-14.

Families have until Jan. 27 to apply for a spot at Franklin Elementary via the district’s magnet school application process.

Muriel Gassan, a native of France and the parent of two young children who had pushed the district to add French, said she was thrilled to learn that the program was becoming a reality.

“Having a French program in an American public school combines two really positive things,” Gassan said.

The German program families were aware it was struggling, said Gillian Bonacci, president of the Franklin Elementary School Foundation, adding that many of them enrolled in it only as a second and third choice.

“I think French is going to be really good for the school, a perfect fit,” Bonacci said.

While she was sorry to see the German program eliminated, if the district cannot offer a top-tier program it shouldn’t offer it at all, school board Vice President Christine Walters said.

“That to me is a bigger concern than the lowered interest we have had in it,” Walters said. “I do think it is the right thing to do.”

The first Glendale Unified FLAG class was launched in 2001 as an experiment, and enrolled fewer than 20 students. Ten years later, the program includes about 1,400 students studying six languages at nine Glendale campuses.

The dual-immersion initiative has not been without its growing pains. Its popularity has created staffing and space issues — Franklin Elementary is now reaching capacity.

Supt. Dick Sheehan said that the district is in the process of assembling a task force to address, among other things, how the FLAG programs will be continued at the secondary level, with a board discussion scheduled for spring.

“We want to make sure that we are well planned out because we have a lot of students in different languages,” Sheehan said.

-- Megan O'Neil, Times Community News

Twitter: @megankoneil

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