BY MIKE SPENCE AND FAITH CHAPEL
A letter recently appeared in the Review, outlining some concerns about a Spanish Immersion Pilot Project at one of our schools. We want to articulate the district’s perspective and correct some inaccuracies.
The Bainbridge Island School District values innovation. There have been numerous instances over the years when individual schools or teachers have initiated new projects or programs and piloted new curricula.
Recent examples include the piloting of ST Math at Blakely Elementary and AP Computer Science at the high school. The Spanish Immersion Pilot Project is another example of a school-initiated program.
There was no violation of district policy with the Spanish Immersion Pilot. The project was started by a group of parents who worked with the principal and staff of the Mosaic Home Education Partnership Program. The original intent was to expand on “Spanish Experience” classes that were successfully implemented last spring. Subsequent discussions among staff and parents led to the development of a small-scale Spanish Immersion Pilot for 2012-13.
These types of school innovations have not required board approval unless they are proposed for district adoption. The district’s position has been to allow schools latitude to pilot new projects with a limited number of staff and students to gauge interest and work through potential problems before they are offered on a broader basis. If a school pilot is successful, the district then considers expansion or replication of the program.
This is what is currently taking place with a Spanish Immersion Pilot. The results of a feasibility study that began in January will be presented to the board of directors on March 14.
Although the Spanish Immersion Pilot Project was originally intended for Mosaic families, some families decided not to participate. Parents of students in other schools learned of the pilot through word-of-mouth and enrolled their children. Their enrollment in this pilot project, and the manner in which it occurred, caused some people to view this class as a new district-adopted program that had been created “under the radar” for a select few.
It is exceedingly unfortunate that the start of an innovative, school-initiated pilot project has been marred by this perception. It is clear that the process needs to improve. We recognize that as innovative projects move forward, the processes that are used must be fair and clearly understood.
Last fall, a K-6 Educational Programs and Innovation Committee was formed to review and recommend processes for piloting new ideas or programs. It is also exploring innovative elementary programs and identified world languages as a priority to consider for all students. The committee is composed of parents, staff, administrators and school board representatives and will present its recommendations in May.
The district is blessed to be the recipient of community generosity and receives donations from many different groups. The Bainbridge Schools Foundation provides invaluable support for district priorities. During the past five years, donations from the foundation have exceeded $4 million dollars, allowing the district to retain staff, maintain class size, train teachers, preserve educational programs, and fund innovation.
Many organizations accept designated donations for specific programs or projects. PTOs collect donations for Outdoor Education; booster clubs accept funds for specific sports or music programs. The Bainbridge Schools Foundation receives some donations for specific purposes. It has provided start-up costs for innovative elementary programs such as ST Math and Zeno Math. The use of designated donations to support STEM, the WINGS special education program, and the Spanish Immersion Pilot are consistent with past practice and have ensured that projects such as Spanish Immersion are cost neutral for the district.
All donations over $1,000, including those from the foundation are submitted to the board of directors. Both the district and foundation board members are aware of the concerns that have been expressed about the level of detail in district donation forms and are jointly working on revisions to reporting, documentation, and communication processes.
Bainbridge Island has a long-standing tradition of passionate debate, and the topic of Spanish Immersion is no exception. It has been evident from the start that every person who has expressed an opinion on this subject cares deeply about the quality of education of our children.
Our schools are great because our community cares, and we welcome your comments and suggestions as we work to innovate and improve.
Mike Spence is president, of the Bainbridge Island School District Board of Directors, and Faith Chapel, is district superintendent.