School District’s Compañeros Program is under review. What are the issues?

campaneros-image The Northfield Public School District is hosting public feedback sessions today and tomorrow (PDF of Supt. Chris Richardson’s memo) on the Compañeros Partial-Immersion Spanish Program currently offered at Bridgewater and Greenvale Park Elementary schools.

It’s hard to discern what the issues are. I thought the program was for English-speaking kids to learn Spanish but the 11/28 Nfld News story titled Public will opine on immersion program says:

When the program began, the district had only a handful of students with a limited proficiency in English. But as its Latino population has blossomed, Companeros has become a place where Spanish-speaking students have gained Spanish literacy skills and a proficiency in English.

Huh? The program has become a type of ESL (ELL) program? If so, how did that happen? And what have been the pros and cons of this development?


  1. Kathie Galotti said:

    First, I actually have to commend the school district (next up: hell freezes over). I was a skeptical attendee–had two friends flanking me with orders to clamp hands over my mouth when I lost patience—but—my fears were not realized. School officials actually, sincerely, seemed to be interested in parental feedback. Oh, there was some overcontrol (only THESE kind of questions could be asked in a large group; only STAFF could report back on group; everyone was asked to be OPEN to new ideas–except that one of the ideas was a really bad one–so how the heck do you do that?). But, quibbles aside, they actually did a very nice job. I hope they continue this practice for other major proposed changes–it turned out to be a very good and useful model. (Had they used it for the PLCs, they might have avoided a LOT of bitter feelings).

    As I understand it, Griff, this review grows partially out of a need to address a 2004 CARLA study of the program which was shelved due to budget cuts. I am suspicious that another driving force is a push by some teachers and some parents (both in the contemporary program) to kill Companeros all together.

    They presented three proposals, one of which makes absolutely no sense to me, given the data the district presented (option A–disband Companeros and have 2wice weekly 25-minute Spanish “exposure” (snide comment: why not just serve tacos on Tuesday, dress the kitchen staff in sombreros and serapes, and have them shout “ole!”–isn’t that enough Spanish for everyone?? [end snideness]. The data they presented show that you need 75 minutes/week MINIMUM for 2nd language instruction to have any beneficial effect. The teacher leading our small group readily acknowledged that this proposal has no research support and “is not best practice.” The only reason I can see for including it is political pandering.

    Proposal B is to pretty much keep the program as is, tweaking literacy in Spanish. Proposal C is to expand Companeros, placing ELL Spanish students and high-functioning/well grounded in English students into a more “full immersion” classroom. I’m not doing this one justice here, but I’m betting the school district will post more details after today.

    I actually thought C was incredibly bold. And, kinda cool. (My kid wouldn’t be eligible, so my reaction this time is divorced from what will happen to her).

    Seemed like most parents in attendance were much less enthusiastic about A than about either B or C. One parent in my small group raised a really great idea, I thought, which was to do some sort of a hybrid–offer option A at Sibley, so that those kids could get some Spanish exposure, but keep some form of Companeros at the other two schools. Parents opposed to Spanish instruction could stay in Contemporary at either BW or GVP. That hybrid seems to have some interesting win-win possibilities to me.

    I really hope this thread gets going, Griff. There are a lot of issues to discuss, and parents across the district who are concerned should get to have some sort of ongoing forum to brainstorm and react.

    December 1, 2009
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Wow, Kathie, that is one fantastic summary of last night’s meeting. Thanks so much. Was there anything said about the history of how the program became sort of an ESL/ELL option?

    December 1, 2009
  3. Steve Kennedy said:

    I was at the meeting at NHS last night (Monday) and Kathie’s summary is pretty much spot on. One thing she doesn’t say clearly enough is that we were told that research shows that full bilingual literacy leads to great educational gains for students. The Companeros program was originally designed to develop oral fluency with much less attention paid to reading and writing. There is, apparently, no research showing the benefits of such a program. (Not necessarily because this structure confers no benefits, more because this approach is unusual and has not been carefully studied. The data on Northfield’s Companeros show measurable gains for Spanish-speaking ESL students and a smaller benefit on non-ESL learners.) Proposals B and C are clearly designed in response to the research findings. They increase the literacy components of the program. This seems like a really good idea, i.e., find out which practices studies show are beneficial, and then implement those. Proposal C goes further than B, essentially it increases the level of Spanish immersion for two group of students: those whose English literacy is already well established and those Spanish-speaking ESL learners whose Spanish literacy is not yet strong. Again this seems to be a research-based response to real needs (and parent desires) in our district. I agree with Kathie that Proposal C is bold and I’d love to see the district adopt it.

    I share Kathie’s dismay over Proposal A. In fact, I do not understand why it is on the table at all. The task force presented evidence that this model (twice-weekly twenty-five minute “specials”) has been shown to have no educational benefit. Oh sure, I suppose there may be some cultural benefit to all of our kids learning to count to ten in Spanish. But to replace a program with demonstrated educational benefits and strong parent and student support (30% of current elementary kids participate) with educationally pointless dabbling seems absurd. I would be less concerned (because Proposal A is so obviously flawed) if it were not the case that this is the model currently enjoying majority support (53%) on the Northfield News online poll. Frankly this is shocking, the only possible explanation is that these folks were not at the meeting last night and were operating without full information.

    If you’ve got the time (and you do if you’re wasting some reading this!), go to the meeting at Greenvale today. It will be informative, interesting and educational. (And then go home and write to a school board member or two.)

    (In the interests of full disclosure I should say that I have two children in Northfield Public schools: one in middle school, one in high school. Both participated in Companeros. They both report high satisfaction with the program — both still study Spanish. Their parents were thrilled to have the option of Spanish language immersion available and are strong supporters of maintaining that option.)

    December 1, 2009
  4. Jane Moline said:

    Our son was in the first class of Companeros (graduated 2005) and IT WAS ANTICIPATED that ESL students would participate from the very beginning. Spanish was chosen partly because of the “handful” (50) of ESL students back then were majority Spanish speaking. (We considered other languages including French and Chinese.) Spanish was also chosen as being an easier language than Chinese and because there were ready-available curriculum and text books that could follow exactly the curriculum of the Contemporary classes–so testing and statistical comparisons could be made.

    When recruited to consider Companeros as a choice, most Spanish-speaking parentsback then refused because they believed their children would learn English faster in an English-only class. As the program developed, Spanish-speaking parents became interested in chosing partly because of the ease of parent/teacher communications that helped the parents be more involved in their children’s homework.

    Our son had a friend in his class in 3rd or 4th grade who could not speak any English. This student would call Trip at home and they would have a somewhat difficult conversation–but they kept at it and remained friends for many years while this boy became fluent in English.

    The native-English speakers have had their experience enhanced by the native-Spanish speakers in their classes. This was anticipated, hoped-for and planned-for when Spanish was chosen as the immersion language.

    I too attended the meeting and was a bit shocked by the pandering of Proposal A, which basically suggests “dumbing down” our entire program. I can’t quite understand why people would choose to discard a benefical program so that the Northfield School System would be less attractive to parents.

    I liked the idea of having Spanish instruction as a special in the Contemporary program, but I am concerned that we continually sacrifice art, music, phy-ed and even recess–it was explained that if Spanish is offered, it would be instead of other specials–meaning students would have to give up art, music or phy-ed time to fit it in.

    I did not like the idea of an exclusive group in the 90/10 “full immersion” class–as explained, only strong native speakers (English or Spanish) would be allowed in this group. In my study of immersion programs, all students can benefit from full-immersion. To deny some of the native-Spanish speakers a spot because they are not able to read (Spanish) in Kindergarten would be elitist–and the same for the native-English speakers.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson is a full-Spanish immersion school (grades K-8) in the Minneapolis school district and it does not deny students the opportunity to attend based on fluency in their native language in Kindergarten. Proposal C appears to be modeled EXACTLY after this successful Spanish immersion program.

    I think Proposal C needs to be revised to reflect the idea that these programs should be choice programs–not elitism programs.

    After I turned in my feedback sheet I also thought that the school district should give preference to hiring teachers with a second language background. Their own statistics show that students with a second-language are more successful and do better in all subjects–we should be reflecting that in our hiring criteria for all new teachers–not just those in the Companeros program.

    Overall, at Mondays meeting, most were in favor of Proposal B or C (after having 3 offspring complete the Companeros progarm I am all for the additional Spanish literacy instructions)and dismissive of Proposal A–except for the steadfast few who continually want to dismantle any kind of choice programs.

    December 1, 2009
  5. Steve Kennedy said:


    One of us is misunderstanding the 90/10 section description. I heard the presenters say that the 90/10 section was for high literacy English-language speakers and low literacy Spanish-language speakers. The explanation given, I thought, was that the benefits of bilingual education are maximized for students strongly grounded in literacy in one language before beginning the second. I got the impression that there was research support for this claim. If this is so, then the design seems to make good sense, at least as a trial for parents who are interested and willing to try. I don’t think it’s about elitism, I think it’s about using strategies and curricula that reflect best pedagogical practices. I should say, I think that’s the intent—you are free to counter that the effect might be elitist.

    Oh, by the way, I absolutely agree with you that the native English speaking kids’ experience is enhanced by the presence of native Spanish-speaking kids. That was a great bonus for my kids, and me too (I volunteered in their classrooms every week and got to know lots of kids).

    Do you understand the motivation/arguments of “the steadfast few who want to dismantle any kind of choice program?” Who are they and why do they want to limit my childrens’ opportunities?

    December 1, 2009
  6. Jane Moline said:

    My understanding of the 90/10 is that all students–both native Spanish and native English speakers must be well grounded in their language to be eligible for the 90/10 thread of Proposal C. You even site their proof that you would have to be well-grounded in (either Spanish or) English to learn the second language. To claim that only the English-speaking kids need that advantage is a bit elitist on its own. I think they can prepare students for these classes with pre-school and kindergarten instruction.

    They gave reasons, but I disagree with the proposal because there are many successful immersion programs and they do not exclude students based on aptitude. I think excluding students based on aptitude is elitist–especially at the kindergarten level, when early reading does not necessarily indicate a student’s future ability.

    Emerson in Minneapolis is a successful immersion program of something like 20 years(it appears Proposal C is modeled on their program) and it does not exclude students at the beginning level.

    As to the motivation of the nay-sayers opposed to any choice program, who can really say. They claim that it is inherently unfair for Companeros students to not have as many special-needs students in their class as the contemporary classroom–is that saying that they find having special-needs students to be a burden unfairly borne by the contemporary students or are they saying that Companeros students are getting an unfair advantage that the special-needs students are unable to recieve, and so nobody should get it? If special-needs students are an unfair burden, we should be looking at how we can make it less of a burden all together. If they are saying that special needs students can’t learn a second language so nobody should–well that doesn”t make sense at all.

    There is definitely some kind of competition between Companeros and Contemporary, but I think it is fueled by choice–parents who make the effort to make a choice for their students seem the most satisfied with their choice—and those that do not have the time or did not make the effort to make a choice end up in the Contemporary program for the most part–and since these parents did not make a choice, they may be feeling left out of the satisfaction of those that did make the choice. I think this is true whether the “choice” parent decided to choose Companeros or Contemporary–these parent seem more satisfied.

    I am very familiar with the teaching staff in Companeros (or was before some recent changes) and know of many situations where excellent teachers chose Companeros –and than later chose to teach Contemporary classes–I think there are excellent teachers in both programs.

    However, I have not been pleased with some of the changes in the program–especially where Companeros teachers have shared jobs or reduced time as I found that having two regular teachers was plenty for my kids, and when it increased to 3 or 4 at the elementary level, I found it somewhat more difficult for my kids to handle. I also did not like the way they began to bring older students who did not have the Spanish immersion background into grades 4 and 5. I know they were trying to balance class sizes, but it also became a burden for the students and I believe it causeed the Spanish part of the instructional time to become more fragmented as English-speaking students had to be brought up to speed.

    December 2, 2009
  7. Susan Canon said:

    Jane & Steve re: who is eligible to be in the 90/10 Strand
    copying from page 27 of the presentation Kathie posted:

    Targets native English speakers who are well
    grounded in English and native Spanish
    speakers not well grounded in 1 1st st language

    December 2, 2009
  8. Susan Canon said:

    While the 90/10 strand is intended to provide additional literacy support for native Spanish speakers who are not well grounded in Spanish and to quickly immerse native English speakers who are well grounded in English into their second language (Spanish), there is still the 50/50 Strand which would be as available as the current Companeros (pretty much anyone who chooses it), so I don’t see how this is elitist. Either strand is a choice, nobody is excluded from the immersion program based on aptitude and nobody will be forced to go into either strand.

    December 2, 2009
  9. Jane Moline said:

    Susan: I think it is elitist to deny some native English speakers the 90/10 thread–especially if you are familiar with immersion programs and happen to think it is a better way to learn than the current 35/65 that would be in the “50/50” thread. It is not the same to be denied the 90/10 and forced to take the 50/50. I think it will be seen as elitist and I believe it will BE elitist.

    December 2, 2009
  10. Susan Canon said:

    Jane, I agree the 90/10 would be great for everyone who would choose it, and would be thrilled if the Companeros program simply became that and forget the 50/50 strand. I think I misunderstood what you were saying was elitist.

    However, as I wrote on my comment form to the district, my sense from this town is that many parents are afraid of a “total immersion” program and would see that as completely elitist. If they have a choice for something in between, they’ll feel more comfortable. The fact that Northfield has stuck with a unique 65/35 program for over 15 years in direct resistance to all the research about the success of more complete immersion programs in the country – nay, in the world – indicates to me that this community just couldn’t support a cold-turkey switch to 90/10 for the whole program. I suggested they should have at least one section at each site, not just one section at Greenvale as proposed. My hope is that having a couple sections of 90/10 will let the community see the success of such a program and allow some time to build the grade 6-12 program to support it. Perhaps in another 15 years they’ll be ready to adopt it all the way.

    I know I’m sounding cynical, but as Steve says above, there are a “steadfast few who want to dismantle any kind of choice program.” They managed to get rid of the Link program; let’s hope they don’t dilute Companeros into Proposal A!

    My youngest is a third-grader in Companeros now, so none of this would help him or my family out at all, but I’m still a supporter of language immersion – and other choice programs. And any choice program will be seen as elitist by some. Proposal C has two layers of choice and so some will see that as the elite of the elite, but it may be the only way for real immersion to get its foot in the door.

    December 2, 2009
  11. Susan Canon said:

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply our current Companeros is not a form of language immersion. I just meant a more complete immersion, more than 35% Spanish.

    December 2, 2009
  12. Griff Wigley said:

    Yesterday’s Nfld News: Input to shape program’s future.

    Parents at Monday’s meeting almost universally discounted the first proposal. They also expressed concern that creating a so-called 90/10 Companeros class would attract a large number of high-achieving students and create too much disparity between the levels of student achievement in each classroom. And, some felt, that class would be perceived negatively as an “elite” group of students.

    December 3, 2009
  13. Kathie Galotti said:

    Griff: You initially asked about why Companeros (can’t figure out how to get the right punctuation mark in there, sorry), is becoming ESL/ELL. I don’t know for sure, but the administration did merge the ELL kid into the 6th grade Amistades class/team this year. Maybe in their eyes this has worked well and they’re extending the idea downward? (I don’t mean that it hasn’t been successful–indeed, at least this year Amistades is every day instead of every other day–as it should be–so maybe it IS a howling success—I just don’t know. Any 6th grade parent care to comment?)

    In general, our district seems to underserve the ESL/ELL kids–we don’t provide them with enough specialized instruction (or at least, in recent years we didn’t–I think, in response to test scores being so low for this group of kids, there’s been some movement and hiring of one or two additional ESL teachers in recent years). So one somewhat cynical response is that the district is trying to use an existing successful program to address a long-standing problem without spending very much additional dollars.

    There’s another benefit to this strategy–it “balances” the number of “at risk” kids in contemporary and companeros. One of the complaints of the teachers who want to remove all parent choice in the district is that they get “stuck with” the low-functioning kids–this moves at least some of those kids into a program that they have a better chance of success with, if they are native Spanish speakers. And, from my personal observations, the Companeros teachers don’t have the same feelings of being “stuck with” these kids–they welcome them.

    Personally, I like the idea of mixing native Spanish speakers with the English-speaking Companeros kids (who, admittedly, tend to disproportionately be the high-fliers). There’s some neat social engineering here, of the sort Jane mentions above. It also removes the charge of “elitism” from Companeros. And, I personally hope, saves the program from being eliminated or watered down to a ridiculous level, a la Proposal A.

    December 3, 2009
  14. Kathie Galotti said:

    I also wanted to comment on the 90/10 strand option. I am not sure what the district is proposing here or why (during the presentation, my head was completely stuck on why they were simultaneously presenting proposal A AND the reasons why it was a bad proposal). But here’s what they COULD be thinking, and if so they are on relatively firm ground, given the literature.

    Learning to read, first of all, is an incredibly complex skill to master. We all take it for granted because we are skilled readers, but you can still find third-world countries where average literacy rates are under 35%. We ask our kids to master it when they are five to seven years of age. (This, for me, is why I feel so fortunate that BOTH of my kids had literacy-committed and pedagogically skilled K, first, and second-grade teachers).

    One of the single biggest predictors of learning to read smoothly is something psychologists call “phonemic awareness”–the ability to HEAR that words like BOSTON, BABY, BUNDLE all start with the same sound, and words like ANY and EVERY start with different ones. Or to recognize words that rhyme. Or to hear the number of different syllables.

    Bilingual education researchers have long demonstrated that the fastest way to teach a NON-English speaking kid to read English is to first teach him to read in his first language–and presumably this is because phonemic awareness is likely to be easier with a language you have oral fluency in.

    Reasoning from this premise, all native Spanish speakers should be eligible for the 90/10 strand. Indeed, the “shakier” they are in their first language, the more they are likely to NEED the 90/10 strand to develop initial literacy. Asking them to learn to read in English is like, dooming them.

    Ok, what about the English-speaking kids? Well, using the same logic, here you would want to make sure that the kids who DON’T have good phonemic awareness don’t have their early literacy attempts thwarted by teaching them to read in a foreign language they aren’t familiar with. In this sense, it’s only the “well-prepared” kids that can handle the extra challenge that learning to read in Spanish is going to pose.

    Again, I’m not sure if this is what the powers that be in the district are thinking. But if it is, it seems to me they are thinking wisely about the educational needs of both groups of students, and doing so with a firm rationale.It may look elitist, but it grows out of meeting the individual needs of individual kids.

    Now, I don’t know about the Emerson school Jane mentions, and if they are successful with all groups, then that’s certainly an important counterexample to what I’ve said…

    December 3, 2009
  15. Linda Willgohs said:

    Thanks to all for the great discussion of meetings and learning styles. Very informative! I think I have some additional info on Griff’s question about how Companeros became an ELL program in addition to an immersion program. Several years ago (as in when Companeros was only offered at Bridgewater and we didn’t have tiered busing) the class sizes between Contemporary and Companeros had huge disparities, especially among 4th and 5th grades. Northfielders like to think that we have a vary stable student population, but while the student census is stable, we have a lot of student mobility. Thus, Companeros students (native English speakers) move out of town and there is no easy means to replace them. New students moving to town after 1st grade cannot join Companeros, so by 4th and 5th grade, a Companeros class room had 12-15 students in it while the Contemporary classroom was bursting at the seams. Parents were (rightfully) upset about the disparity in student/teacher ratios and I believe the District’s response was to more aggressively recruit/place ELL students in Companeros. It is a win/win result for everyone, it would seem, to help balance classrooms and increase educational outcomes for all.
    Companeros parents, please recognize that this is a choice program and that choice programs = more costs for the District. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have choice programs but when the school funding is an issue across the nation, it is healthy and appropriate for each community to be asked whether choice programs are important and if the community is willing to support that choice(s) financially to make it happen.
    I have a question for the contributors with great knowledge of learning in immersion programs. In the early stages of the Companeros program review, I was told that the value of an elementary language immersion program is diminished significantly when it is not continued through the middle school years – such as is the case here in Northfield. Amistades students receive some, but substantially reduced, Spanish instruction in middle school. Is this true? Any ideas if that was considered during the review of the program as a whole?

    December 3, 2009
  16. Kathie, you can get the ñ of Compañeros in Microsoft by making sure Num Lock is on, use the numbers on the keypad on the right side of the keyboard and do Alt + 164.

    December 3, 2009
  17. Kathie Galotti said:

    Susan: I have a Mac (couldn’t you tell I was one of THOSE people?) and so I am having trouble following your directions. I found num lock (F6) but when I hold the alt key and type 164 nothing happens…. so I’ll take an easier way out and copy your typed Compañeros which has the right accent mark.

    Linda: You have hit upon a very sore curricular point, and that is the lack of continuity/teacher communication between Compañeros and the supposed extension of the program at the middle school, Amistades, especially in 6th grade. This was brought up in our small group discussion Monday night–the 6th grade Amistades really hasn’t been very high quality, and indeed, doesn’t seem to do very much. The 7th and 8th grade Amistades functions more like a high school World Languages course, emphasizing grammar and literacy. 6th grade has been, frankly, something that’s neither fish nor fowl–much less oral practice than in elementary, and not enough on grammar or literature.

    Much of this seems to reflect gross communication problems within the district. The 6th grade teachers only observed the 5th grade classes for the first time 5 years ago (when myself and a few other parents begged for this to happen, and enlisted the support of a supportive elementary principal)–and it became very clear that the 6th grade teachers didn’t really get what the elementary program was doing. My son’s 6th grade Amistades teacher spoke LOTS of English during their one period a day of Spanish–a really stupid thing to do when those kids had had Compañeros teachers speaking exclusively in Spanish for like 4 years. THEN the powers that be reduced 6th grade Amistades to one teacher, and the Spanish class to every other day. (They seemed to me to be heading toward the “Taco Tuesday” model I refer to in post 1 above). Now, apparently, it’s back to every day, and the ELL program is somehow folded in . This could be a great save or a terrible idea, and I don’t know how it is playing out in practice. I would love for some current 6th grade Amistades parents to jump in here and give us their take. Maybe this latest move has addressed all the concerns, I just don’t know.

    I know that many parents have been dissatisfied with 6th grade for quite some time (and, in fairness, not just 6th grade Amistades–the whole 6th grade language arts has been problematic for MANY parents–with no connection to what the many excellent 5th grade teachers have been doing). MAP scores in Reading and Language Usage have been virtually flat for several years in 6th grade–one one year there was an actual slight decline in one of them. Seriously, the kids would have been better off NOT going to school that entire year when it came to reading or writing (in contrast, Northfield’s math curriculum has always been pretty strong and shows growth every year, including in 6th grade). And, when they changed the curriculum to halve the amount of Spanish in 6th grade Amistades, no Compañeros teachers were even notified, much less consulted. Sigh.

    But, just because the middle school hasn’t apparently had its curricular act together, does that justify killing a successful elementary program? Personally, I’d rather review the Amistades program (this time with some actual PARENT input, please) rather than say, well, the program will be bad in middle school, so let’s end a successful elementary program.

    The parents at my table who’ve had more recent experience did say that 7th and 8th grade Amistades was much more useful and better taught. So it seems to me we are really only talking about one bad year (and it’s a bad year in other curricular areas). I say, let’s review 6th grade and make necessary changes since it is not working, rather than kill what IS working in grades one thru five.

    By the way, apparently Amistades is not on any schedule to be reviewed. At least it’s not showing up on the district’s curriculum page. Maybe there’s a way to push for inclusion of this as part of the current Compañeros review?

    December 5, 2009
  18. ¡Lo siento, mucho, Kathie! As you can see, Microsoft Windows can do the upside down marks too: ¿¡ Perhaps someone else knows the key to Macs.

    December 5, 2009
  19. Sean Fox said:

    On a mac you can get an ñ by hitting n while holding down the option key and then hitting n again with the option key off. No need to memorize cryptic numeric codes. (insert comment here about Macs being easier to use)

    December 6, 2009
  20. Kathie Galotti said:

    Wow, Sean, you have saved the day once agaiñ! Thañks!

    I forgot to say one other thing about the continuity between Compañeros and Amistades: I think one of the motivations for Proposal B (the “minor tweaking” one) is to enhance this. In Proposal B, more time will be spent in the elementary years focussing on Spanish literacy (presumably including issues of grammar and of writing), which will match up better with what is taught in late middle school and high school.

    December 7, 2009
  21. Kathie Galotti said:

    So, supposedly a report was made at last night’s School Board with a recommendation on Compañeros. Has anyone heard what it was?

    February 9, 2010
  22. Kathie Galotti said:

    Ok, the final proposal has finally been announced (after a great deal of hush-hush secrecy). And the reason for that hushedness became immediately clear. The district is spinning again.

    You can access the proposal at this url:

    Here’s my reaction:

    First of all, I’m glad that both of my kids got to experience the current, Bridgewater, version of Compañeros. It’s been a very successful program—not only for them, but for their 40-60 classmates.

    Second, I’m very disappointed that, once again, the District has chosen to spin the public feedback on their proposals. At the meeting, they told us that the 50/50 option was basically the current program, “tweaked” a bit. Instead, the proposal now before us contains some big structural changes. Apparently these were not even fully discussed by the review committee (or at least by all members), but instead, were put in at the last minute, presumably by the superintendent for other reasons (to reduce bussing costs, to pander to the teachers who want Compañeros to go away—this may be the first move toward weakening the program enough to make that happen). Interestingly, the committee meeting scheduled for Feb 25 has been cancelled (mysteriously), so the committee members won’t get another chance to have input before the School Board votes.

    “The public” was never given the choice of saying, “the current program is working great.” Or that they thought 35% Spanish was ok. We were never told that to GET an increase to 50% Spanish, we would have to give up the excellent literacy piece that has been an important part of the program (Well, even worse: we were told that Option B was the current program, continued). The Option B as presented never included the idea that in the future, all classrooms would be self-contained. Or that there would be severe caps on enrollment. Or that, contrary to what the CARLA report recommended, the program would be further divided among three buildings with at least 2 principals who really aren’t committed to the idea of immersion programs. So, the idea that the district is using “the public’s” feedback is at best “spin” and at worst a lie.

    Ok, this won’t affect my current second grader, so it’s going to have to be up to future parents to weigh in. But here’s my perspective, for what it is worth. The success of the current program depends vitally on the presence of a PAIR of teachers at each grade level, with one focusing and specializing in literacy. This is especially crucial in first, second, and third grades.

    The Spanish Compañeros teachers already have a lot on their plates. With the move to incorporate more Spanish in the school day, they’ll have more. To expect them to also quickly develop the expertise in literacy instruction that their partners have is, I think, unrealistic. Some of the more experienced ones might, after a few years, become good at this, but young teachers probably won’t be able to handle it for their first few years of teaching, and some of the less extraordinary teachers may never handle it well.

    So. Glad that my kids got the benefit of the “old” and successful version of the program. Glad that one of my kids, at least, got to be at BW under the leadership of a principal who was 100% committed to Compañeros (Diane Kinneberg). Sad that future kids won’t get this experience. Sadder still that the District can’t prioritize academic success over political pandering and reducing bussing costs.

    February 13, 2010

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