Board downsizes Japanese dual-language program

[Note: This article was corrected. See details below.]

The Japanese dual-language immersion program at Verdugo Woodlands Elementary will be downsized rather than moved to another school, the Glendale Unified school board decided Tuesday.

The vote ended months of discussion among Glendale school officials, parents and residents over the future of that dual-language program, as well as the Korean program at Monte Vista Elementary, which will be expanded.

Much of the discussion centered on how the two schools would accommodate the programs that increased both schools' populations and added to neighborhood traffic congestion.

While some parents spoke in favor of keeping the Japanese program at Verdugo Woodlands, others hoped all of the program's 200 students could relocate to another school with greater capacity.

The school sits on 5.6 acres that is divided by Verdugo Wash, and currently has 815 students enrolled, which slightly exceeds Glendale Unified's 800-student capacity guideline for elementary schools.

School board member Christine Walters said she heard concerns from parents about children eating lunch on the ground outside because there wasn't enough room to eat at the tables inside the school.

Verdugo Woodlands Principal Kristina Provost countered, however, that there is “ample seating” during lunch.

School board member Armina Gharpetian, whose three children have attended Verdugo Woodlands at various times over the past nine years, choked up when she recounted tales of parents telling her they would remove their children from the school if the overcrowding continues there. 

“That broke my heart,” she said, after urging the board to postpone the vote to discuss additional options. However, fellow school board members opted to move forward.

Gharpetian cast the only dissenting vote to downsize the Japanese program at Verdugo Woodlands, where one new Japanese kindergarten class will enter each year instead of two beginning in the fall of 2014.

Walters said it was a tough decision.

“I know for a fact, no matter what the decision is today, there's going to be lots of unhappy people,” Walters said. “We have heard every iteration, ‘The program should stay.' ‘The program should go.'”

Parent Anna Hays, whose twin sons attend Verdugo Woodlands but aren't in the immersion program, said she supports the Japanese program there but felt “ignored in the final hour” by the school district's lack of consideration to move the program to another school.

“I have mixed emotions,” Hays said. “I'm happy I can see my (fellow parents) from [the Japanese dual-language program]. I'm sad my children have to endure overcrowding when there's an option.”

Parent Lisa Walker was pleased her son will remain in the Japanese program at the school.

“For me, it's a relief,” she said.

The school board unanimously approved keeping the Korean dual-language program at Monte Vista, where district officials will add two new bungalows to the 7-acre site to accommodate students next year.

In recent weeks, some residents have voiced concerns about the increased traffic the expanded program would bring to the neighborhood. By 2020, school officials estimate a little fewer than 800 students will attend the school, up from 661 currently.

La Crescenta resident Robbyn Battles, who also sits on the Crescenta Valley Town Council, said more cars would impact Monte Vista's neighborhood.

Following the school board's decision, Battles said she hopes parents will start carpooling or parking near the school instead of directly in front it, and walk their children, or let their children walk, to Monte Vista.

“What can each parent do to make it better?” she asked. “It's their responsibility.”

School board member Mary Boger said the growing number of people moving into the city will continue to impact the schools' populations, and that there is value in students being exposed to cultures shared on campuses where there are dual-language programs.

“You can make all of this work … or you will make it fail,” she said. “Your kids will be fine with all of this.... You are the ones who will have to rise to the occasion.”

[For the Record: An earlier version of this story stated that school board member Armina Gharpetian said parents told her they would remove their children from Verdugo Woodlands if the Japanese program continues there. However, she said parents would remove their children if the overcrowding continues at the school.]

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Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.

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