Update – Mtg Notes: School Committee 05.23.12 (1) – Capping French Immersion enrollment proposed

The presentation given by Superintendent Gormley has been made available online. You can find it here.

by Frank Schroth

During last night’s School Committee meeting Superintendent Gormley introduced the option of capping enrollment in the French Immersion program for the fall of 2013 school year. For the first time in the history of the program a lottery would be used for admission for the program. The demand for the program is exceeding the supply of seats. The recommendation comes as a result of the program’s popularity. This fall 66% of incoming Grade 1 students opted for French Immersion.

The increasing popularity of the program over the years has introduced logistical challenges on the system and is having a number of impacts on the English program. Ms. Gormley reviewed metrics for both programs over the years, the impacts of the enrollment trends, and the effects that capping the French program would have.

Ms. Gormley began her presentation by noting that when the World Language Committee, a group of administrators, faculty,and parents, formed to develop and evaluate assignment plans for the two programs in 2010, they included an option that would cap enrollment. The report states, “If more students select the French than seats are available, a lottery would be held to determine who was enrolled into French Immersion.” That has happened.

Gormley presented the following metrics last night regarding enrollment. From 2008 on French has been the preferred program of the majority of incoming 1st graders. In 2008 it was 56%, 59% in 2009 & 10, 54% last year and 66% for coming 2012-13 school year. This has required that the district add auxiliary class rooms to accommodate the demand. It is not a perfect solution as it means students need to attend a school other than their neighborhood school. The demand for  French has had other impacts: class sizes are larger. The average class size for an English 1st grade is currently 16.4 vs 24.6 for French. In 2012 – 2013 it will the difference will be greater, 14.9 vs 25.1. The demand has resulted in removing an English “strand” from Cunningham for 2012. As a result there will be 1 English 1st grade class at Cunningham in fall 2012 and 2 French,; Glover will have 2 English and 1 French. Overall this fall there will be more French 1st grade classes (8) than English (7).

Gormley identified some of the ramifications of the increase in French enrollment. The “limited enrollment in English creates a higher ratio of students in special education in the English program.” It also “results in a limited number of role model students for the co-taught program.” The co-taught program is one that integrates special needs students into a regular classroom.

Additional challenges presented by increasing French enrollment are finding qualified teachers, the budget implications of staffing classes with low enrolments, and maintaining organizational consistency. By capping enrollment the English program would enable all elementary schools to have at least two strands (classes in English which would provide more opportunities for inclusion (i.e. placing special needs students in more than one classroom). and provide more stability and predictability in planning for both programs. With more predictability in class size would come consistency in staffing, curriculum and climate.

The suggestion was to begin capping with the 2013 school year. Communicating the procedure and defining the lottery system are the next steps.

Ms. Kelly was the most vocal in response to the announcement. She noted that the committee formed in 2010 focussed on assignments not the programs (The committee’s report on assignment can be found here). She mentioned in reference to French class size that “It’s not correct educationally to start a class at 26.” In general she pushed for more data to support any decisions going forward. “Capping is a starting point.” There was an acknowledgement that they need to hear what parents think. Mr. Walker also mentioned that they should be cautious in solving one problem not to create 2 or 3 more. Both Walker and Kelly expressed some surprise that this issue was brought up in the “Happenings” section of the agenda.

Gormley said “This is a huge issue . . .single strands in English [at the elementary schools] are a problem.”

She committed to working on a timeline to review with the committee at their next meeting.

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