German program gets reprieve

Glendale Unified officials did an about-face Tuesday, announcing they would enroll a complete class of German-language kindergarten students at Franklin Elementary School in fall 2012 rather than initiating a drawdown of the program as previously planned.

Speaking to a standing-room only crowd of German program parents at the school Tuesday night, Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan said the district would also create a task force that includes “a selective group of parents…to show that the German program is a viable option.”

The task force will be responsible for studying all facets of the German dual-language immersion program, including enrollment numbers, staffing issues and resource needs, and will report its findings to the school community and Glendale Unified school board in the coming months, Sheehan said.

Many German program parents said they were relieved by the one-year reprieve, and were ready to work hard to ensure the longevity of the program.

“We want to be sure that the recommendations made last week are withdrawn, and we want it to be crystal clear that this community believes that there should be no change in the German program,” parent Janet Herold said while addressing the crowd.

Launched in 2008, German is one of six languages now offered within Glendale Unified’s burgeoning Foreign Languages Academies of Glendale, commonly referred to as the FLAG programs. It is one of three languages — including Spanish and Italian — taught at Franklin Elementary, a federally designated magnet school.

During a presentation to school board members on Dec. 13, Deputy Supt. John Garcia said the German program was facing serious challenges. The number of applicants lagged behind those of Glendale Unified’s other FLAG programs and teachers credentialed to teach German in California proved scarce.

He recommended that the district phase out the program, starting with a single additional kindergarten class in fall 2012 that would consist solely of siblings of current German enrollees. The plans also called for the inauguration of a French program at Franklin Elementary, and to convert the campus to only include kindergarten through fifth grade, instead of going up to sixth grade.

The plans sparked outrage from those who said the district was breaking its commitment to families who had invested in the program. In a flurry of emails and phone calls, and at the meeting Tuesday, they called on district officials to continue offering German.

They also criticized district leaders for failing to keep stakeholders abreast of issues and possible changes.

Sheehan apologized Tuesday for what he described as a “break in communication.”

“We understand this is an emotional topic, and we definitely hit a nerve,” Sheehan said. “I can tell you as superintendent I will make a commitment to do a better job that we include the parents in the decisions in the future.”  

Parent Brian Stoltz said promises by district officials to take a harder look at the options were reassuring, but he added that parents are going to be looking for more.

“Our opinion is that it is a good start, but there is much to do to secure the program for the long term,” Stoltz said. “The superintendent’s statements did much to calm the fire ignited in the parents of the German immersion community, but that fire is by no means extinguished.”

-- Megan O'Neil, Times Community News

Twitter: @megankoneil

Photo: Kindergarten parents cross a symbolic wall and enter a classroom where kindergartners and first-graders are enrolled in the German language immersion program. Credit: Raul Roa / Times Community News / Dec. 17, 2009

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