By Mary O’KEEFE
Monte Vista Elementary parents, residents from around the school and the Glendale school district have been in discussions concerning the Dual Immersion Program and its effect on the school’s population. The problem appears to be that they haven’t been discussing the issue with each other.
At Tuesday’s Glendale Unified School District board meeting, the board voted to continue the Dual Immersion Programs at Monte Vista and Verdugo Woodlands elementary school, thus preparing both schools for an increase in population, which concerned parents greatly.
The district had a meeting with the Monte Vista parents, which was contentious. The district had not met with nearby residents and for that GUSD school board President Nayiri Nahabedian apologized to the audience at the board meeting.
The Foreign Language Academies of Glendale (FLAG) program at Monte Vista is a Korean program while Verdugo Woodlands has a Japanese FLAG. The programs began at both schools in 2009 and are popular, attracting students from other Glendale elementary schools.
One of the concerns from parents who spoke at the meeting on Tuesday was a plan to add bungalows to accommodate the increased student population.
“At Monte Vista we are putting in two new bungalows,” said Superintendent Dick Sheehan.
This, said parents, would reduce playground areas for the schools. They were also concerned about what more students would mean to the quality of education at those schools and how all of this would affect the traffic situation.
The district had been discussing this issue for a long time and had considered alternatives. At one point, Sheehan said, the district had looked at splitting the program, having kindergarten through third grade at one school and fourth through sixth at another.
“But [when we] looked at the continuity of the program, we didn’t think the program would work,” he said.
At the foundation of the discussion both sides are in agreement. The district and parents like the FLAG program; it is the ability for the school site to accommodate the increased student population and maintain the quality of education, and life, that is in disagreement.
Sheehan began the discussion on Tuesday with comments to dispel some rumors and misunderstandings that arose from several emails he had received from parents.
He addressed an email that stated the FLAG program plan would impact, and has impacted, class sizes or split classes, i.e. first and second grade combined into one classroom.
“[FLAG] hasn’t had any impact on class size or splits,” he said.
Sheehan explained the teacher-to-student ratio increase to 26 kids to one teacher was due to the state’s budget and not the FLAG program.
He also addressed a misunderstanding by parents that there would be construction at Verdugo Woodlands and in fact it would begin in December 2014. He stated that no funds had been allocated for construction at the school.
During public comment, several parents echoed each other’s concerns about both Monte Vista and Verdugo Woodlands. Parents stated their children are feeling the difference from increased population at lunch and during recess.
But principals from both schools stated their lunches were not affected by the increase so far but both did speak of traffic issues. However, the district added that traffic and drop off/pick up issues have been a concern for years at all district schools before the FLAG programs.
It still came down to numbers and from where students are coming for the programs.
“Of the 166 kids that are in the Dual Immersion Program at Monte Vista, 48 of them are residents in the Monte Vista [district area], which is 29%, 110 are in the Glendale district area, which is 66%, and 5% are out of the Glendale area,” said Dr. Kelly King, assistant superintendent in an interview on Wednesday.
At present, for the 2013-14 school year, Monte Vista has a student population of 661. The district estimates there will be a steady rise in enrollment in 2014-15 to 684, then 724, 758 and, by the year 2020-21, a student population of 798 students.
At Verdugo Woodlands, the numbers are thought to increase and then decrease. At present the student enrollment is 815; in 2013-14 it will be 831, then 839, then topping out at 844 in 2016-17. It is then estimated to decrease to 763 in 2020-21.
Despite several meetings between parents and the district, and discussions at the GUSD board meetings, there is still a gap in understanding on both parts.
Monte Vista parent Kirstin Boudreau Hofhine sent an email to King that spoke of her concerns. She received a response which, according to Boudreau Hofhine, stated her concerns would be shared with the district leadership before the Tuesday’s vote.
“Don’t place all the Korean FLAG students you can gather from all over the L.A. basin in a Korean FLAG School. Meet the needs of the community. Do what is best for the students in that community. We are a public school, not a private school,” stated Bourdreau Hofhine.
The Monte Vista parents have collected over 250 names in a petition opposing the increased size. Many parents at the meeting wondered why other schools, like Valley View or Dunsmore – both with declining enrollment – were not looked at as an option for what they deem to be over-crowding. Others wondered what would happen when the students are promoted from sixth grade to middle school. Those issues were not dealt with at the board meeting.
The issue of declining enrollment is a dangerous situation for schools; fewer students equal less funding; however, too many students mean lines at lunch and at recess and a crowded campus. The issue facing the district is how to strike a balance.
For the parents who were interviewed for this article, the overwhelming feeling is that the district needs to communicate better with stakeholders before an issue is put to a vote.
Robbyn Battles, who as a CV Town Councilmember has been working with the district on traffic safety for all CV schools, spoke at the meeting.
“[When] we hear you are rolling in 800 kids, [the community] gets fearful,” she said. She added if the district communicates with the parents and they come to an understanding, the families would be their strongest supporters. She stressed her concerns about accommodating more kids and the accompanying traffic issues. Both she and the district agree that parents who ignore basic traffic rules are a major problem; the problem of safety will only increase if there are more students.
Sheehan said he had heard the concerns and although the vote was not in favor of most of the parents at the meeting, the district will continue to discuss the issue. The district is planning more meetings with the PTA organizations at both schools and Sheehan said he would schedule a meeting with nearby residents.