GUSD plan to increase enrollment and expand dual-language program ignites debate

A Glendale Unified School District plan to increase enrollment at La Crescenta-area elementary schools to allow for the expansion of dual-language immersion programs has ignited an intense debate among foothill neighbors regarding potential changes to their communities.

The GUSD plan would nearly double enrollment over a seven-year period at Dunsmore and Valley View elementary schools. Dunsmore will incorporate the expansion of the Japanese dual-language program currently held at Verdugo Woodlands Elementary School.

The board voted to approve the changes at its Dec. 17 meeting.

A community meeting last month to introduce the plan with parents and GUSD Supt. Dick Sheehan turned into a heated, emotional debate.

Parents voiced concerns over traffic congestion at drop-off and pick-up, citing unsafe conditions with no traffic monitors. Others opposed the Foreign Language Academies of Glendale program itself, saying children in the program tended to not integrate with the rest of the school.

Valley View parent Myra Goethals noted that the advantage La Crescenta area schools has is precisely the one GUSD wants to change — its small size.

“We shouldn’t be focusing our efforts on just how to increase enrollment… These are neighborhood community schools,” said Goethals, a former PTA president. “When you can keep it smaller — and quaint — you have a greater sense of community. The test scores are some of the highest up here for a reason. I fear them pushing our numbers so high will put that at risk.”

GUSD has said it will add trailers, or “bungalows,” to the campus for auxiliary classrooms as the need for more space arises. Any currently empty classrooms would be absorbed by the dual language classes.

Other parents expressed concern that the new student influx through the FLAG program will lead to decreased space in the traditional English classes, forcing families to enroll their children at schools further away from home.

“It’s hard to leave a school because you know all the staff and teachers. My children can walk to their school, and I don’t want to change that,” said Leslie Dickson, a parent with children at Monte Vista Elementary School.

Officials have said they will not switch children to another school against their parents’ desires, and will try to keep siblings together.

Monte Vista was chosen as the site for the extension of the Korean FLAG program three years ago, and in September that program was extended through sixth grade.

Sheehan said that GUSD has reasons to expand capacity in La Crescenta. With the city’s recent approval of large construction projects for multi-family apartment complexes, the district may run out of space at some Glendale area schools, he said.

In La Crescenta, by contrast, officials have struggled to maintain steady enrollment due to cycles of dwindling student populations. In the past, GUSD had to combine the Dunsmore and Valley View students, even shutting the Valley View facility for several years. Officials aim to keep enrollment at 600 to 800 students at each elementary.

School officials characterized the plan as good for students as well as keeping enrollment steady.

“It’s a great idea and it’s great for our children,” said Dunsmore Principal Karen Stegman. “The FLAG programs have proven successful … I see it as more of a long-term solution, and it will lead to many opportunities here.”

Currently 2,233 students are enrolled throughout GUSD’s seven language programs — Spanish, Korean, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Armenian — taught at 11 different elementary schools. There are often wait lists for applicants, and funding has thus far proven fruitful in the form of grants and donations from private associations and cultural groups.

Not all the FLAG programs are ready to move through the middle and high school level, but that is the ultimate goal if there is demand, and if the curriculum is ready, said Assistant Supt. Kelly King. The first students of the Spanish program are now in 10th grade at Hoover High School, and the first Korean students are at Toll Middle School.

The Japanese dual language program in La Crescenta would potentially move through Rosemont Middle School and then La Crescenta Valley High School, officials said. In seven years, the program would add about 60 to 70 students to Rosemont, taking into account that not all children stick with the curriculum past elementary school, King noted.

“Change is hard,” King said, addressing the emotional response at the community meeting. “But once you have a program in place, there are things that benefit the school as a whole.”

Those benefits, she said, include sharing a campus with active FLAG parents, many of whom are passionate about their children’s school and education.

“We are a part of all school activities and volunteering efforts,” said Azusa Kudo, the parent of a third grader at the Japanese program at Verdugo Woodlands. “We don’t want to destroy or take away any thing ; we want to make these children’s lives great.”

Mila Inukai, a parent of a fourth grader at Dunsmore Elementary, said she loves the idea of bringing in another culture to the school and the area.

“People who will cross the city to bring their kids to school — those are committed people who will donate time, money and experiences,” she said. “It’s always great to learn about other cultures. Even though it seems we live in a diverse area, there is not much real sharing between culture groups sometimes.”

That cultural transition between the FLAG programs and the school that incorporates it is not always easy, and the programs can be as different as the languages themselves, say those close to the process.

Allocation of funds can also be a sticky issue, parents say. FLAG classes often have resources not shared with the rest of the school.

But King notes that each elementary will have to forge its own cultural experiences.

“It can be difficult… My advice is to address the specific issue at hand and not turn it into an ‘us vs. them’ atmosphere.”

Dickson, the Monte Vista parent, said she dislikes GUSD’s plan of expanding the FLAG programs at all.

“I think foreign language immersion here is a terrible idea. We should be improving the current core curriculum and teaching children a computer language through technology courses. That is what our children need and will use to be competitive in the business world,” she noted.


Camila Castellanos is a freelance writer.

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