By Charly SHELTON
Three major issues that have plagued the Glendale Unified School District board of education in the last few months were addressed at Tuesday’s board meeting, and two of the three came to a close.
The Glendale Teacher’s Association reached a tentative agreement last month on their contract negotiations, which the district and the membership voted to approve. According to GTA President Taline Arsenian, 80% of the total membership voted and of those who voted, 92.5% voted yes to approve the tentative agreement. The GUSD board voted unanimously to accept the agreement and the issue is closed with both sides happy.
The early start date of the upcoming 2016-17 school year, beginning Aug. 8, 2016, is another issue that was discussed at the meeting. The board does not have the power to change the school calendar outright on its own, but can only choose to reopen the issue and let the teachers renegotiate the calendar. With this calendar having been set for the last three years, the board voted 3-2 that it should remain closed due to lack of time to properly negotiate the new calendar, among other concerns. This effectively ends the issue and school will remain as scheduled to start on Aug. 8 however parents behind Save our GUSD Summer have vowed to continue the debate.
The third major issue the board faced at the meeting was that of a charter school. Debate continues on the proposed International Studies Language Academy (ISLA) charter school petition and whether or not the parents of the district want to allow it. The board invited members of the public to voice their concerns or support for the creation of a charter school within the district at the board meeting’s public hearing.
ISLA is the proposed foreign language immersion school, which will operate within the GUSD area, giving more students a chance at immersion learning. The existing program, Foreign Language Academies of Glendale (FLAG), is operated within established schools in the district and offers 100 seats, with a wait list beyond that.
A presentation on the proposed school by petitioners Gillian Bonacci and Hilary Stern clarified some of their points as to accountability, support and affirmations.
“Studies have found that at-risk students are also very successful in immersion programs like their English only counterparts and this may be their only opportunity to acquire a second language,” said Bonacci. “In addition, there have been numerous studies about the cognitive benefits of bilingual education where knowledge and skill is expected of every student.”
After the presentation, the floor was opened to comments from those in attendance. Limited to two minutes and 30 seconds each, and with 36 speakers it took an hour and a half to accommodate everyone. Some spoke in favor, some in opposition. Of the 36 speakers, 19 spoke against and 17 spoke in favor.
“They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It ain’t broke, people, it’s doing really well … let’s keep supporting it,” said Tami Carlson, teacher at Roosevelt Middle School and an opponent of the charter school.
GUSD parent Gabriel White of La Crescenta did some research on the charter petition signatures and found that while all of the signatures needed are accounted for, only 26% of the signees are from GUSD, while 44% are from Los Angeles Unified School District and the rest of the signatures are from districts around the L.A. area and Southern California.
“What this indicates,” said White, “is that there really is a tremendous need for this program … at LAUSD and other school districts.”
Some of the speakers in favor of the charter were bewildered as to why the approval is called into question, as the ISLA board has secured funding from outside groups like Turner-Aggasi Charter School Facilities Fund.
“Why not?” asked Gwendolina Mahler, GUSD parent and speaker in favor of the charter. “We’re not asking for a facility, we’re not asking for money, we’re not asking for anything. We are asking for approval and oversight. And we want to work with you. Please, let us.”
A concern was raised by many speakers in opposition that this was “privatizing public education,” working with investment groups like Turner-Agassi to get funds for start-up and operations.
“I feel charter schools are the resegregation of our public schools,” said Ingrid Gunnell, mother of GUSD students and a GUSD graduate herself. “Many years ago the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that separate is not equal. I hope that the school board stands up with integrity and denies this charter school because I do not feel that our schools should be resegregated on racial or socioeconomic grounds.”
The voices in favor defended the point that this will be a public school and open to all.
“Have you seen our school lunches with Kraft and all that? What they’ve made off our schools? For their lunch? It just doesn’t make sense,” said Michael Pecchia, father of LAUSD students who hope to apply for ISLA. “So I look to you as an opportunity for children, just another opportunity of choice. We are a melting pot. If we stick with one thing, we don’t teach our children to think outside the box.”
If the charter school’s petition is denied by GUSD, according to the presentation, “We will continue to move forward to establish ISLA.” The school plans to open in the fall with 21 teachers and 438 students.