Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Maryvale parents decry late cuts to French Immersion Program

But school system says decision is ‘responsible’, necessary

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Charles E. Shoemaker⁄The Gazette
Benjamin T. OuYang shows off the new interactive whiteboard in one of the classrooms.
Several Maryvale Elementary School parents say their children are being unfairly singled out after county school officials made a last-minute decision to cut staff from the French Immersion Program.

Parents were told last week that they would be getting one less teacher for the fourth grade immersion program. Conducted in French, the program operates parallel to Maryvale’s standard school curriculum.

‘‘There was a lot of anger at the school this morning,” Tony Reid, a Maryvale parent organizing opposition, said after the first day of classes on Monday.

Parents are circulating a petition, calling for the restoration of the teaching position at the Rockville school. About 16 people gathered to strategize at a meeting Sunday night, some calling for a boycott of the standardized testing, others considering pulling their children out of the immersion program. Rockville Mayor Larry Giammo has been asked to look into the matter.

The cut, administrators say, was precipitated by last-minute enrollment numbers that fail to justify two fourth-grade teaching positions in the immersion program.

‘‘We made a very responsible decision, in my view, aligning resources that best serve all the students in that building,” Sherry Liebes, community superintendent who oversees Maryvale, said.

Principal Kimberly L. Kimber referred calls seeking comment to the school system’s communications office.

The move affects more than the second immersion teacher who was reassigned elsewhere in the school system, parents say. Ripple effects are felt throughout the fourth- and fifth-grade levels, as class sizes and rosters were reshuffled at the last minute.

Since the English- and French-speaking courses could not be blended, one of the programs had to lose.

The administration’s solution — what parents are most vexed about — is to combine one of the fourth-grade immersion classes with one from fifth grade. In a separate move, the system added a fifth-grade teaching position.

The result is a much lower student-to-teacher ratio in the English-speaking courses than the French Immersion Program.

The immersion program now has a fourth-grade class with 27 students, a fifth-grade class with 28 and a combined fifth- and fourth-grade class numbering 28.

The school system allows up to a 28 students to every one teacher at these grade levels.

In comparison, English-speaking classes in the two grade levels enjoy sizes no larger than 18.

Parents point to other moves, like a cut in the amount of reading instruction give per day, as evidence that the immersion program is in jeopardy.

The English classes have taken hits, too, like the loss of a teacher and two academic support positions, Liebes said.

Trying to balance the immersion cut, those students will get additional math instruction, albeit in English, she added.

The move to partially mitigate the impact of the immersion cuts has not satisfied parents, who say the combined classroom was thrust upon a teacher at the last minute.

‘‘I don’t see how you can effectively teach a combined class with a week’s notice,” Reid said. ‘‘I think it’s ridiculous.”

Anne-Marie Kim, Maryvale’s PTA president, said the last-minute timing of the announcement left many parents confused. Why, she asked, is the school system combining two grade levels in a class when it has been moving to eliminate such composites?

But the implementation of a combined grade level is not extraordinary, Liebes said.

‘‘Teachers have experience with that type of differentiation of curriculum,” she said.

Dissatisfied with administration answers, parents promise to work to get the teaching position restored.

‘‘We will continue to plague each member of the school board until something is done,” Reid said.