Dear Bridge Point Staff, Parents and Guardians:
Over the past several weeks, I have watched the contention emerging at your school around a program that holds so much potential. I am referring to Futuro, the proposed Spanish immersion pilot, which some parents asked us to introduce at Bridge Point next fall. It is hard to know where or how to begin clarifying critical information about this program. I will start with a sincere apology that discussion of this promising pilot has, for some, resulted in such a charged atmosphere. It was unintentional that this genuine, research-based effort to introduce a meaningful, innovative and optional program for students has become divisive for some in the Bridge Point community.
Bridge Point kindergarten parents approached the administration and Board of Trustees with aspirations for their children to become fluently bilingual. After a series of public conversations spanning almost six weeks earlier this spring, more than 50-percent of incoming kindergarten families who are residents of the Bridge Point attendance area decided to formally apply for their children to participate in this voluntary pilot. We agree this program may not be for all parents and children. For those who do not want this experience for their child, we are pleased to continue offering the same high-quality, English-only general education curriculum.
Nevertheless, I understand everyone's desire for reassurance and more information. The numerous phone calls, e-mails, personal conversations and now an online parent petition regarding this program have made the following clear to us:
- The concept of language immersion has been part of the school district's conversation and planning for several years, long before my arrival as superintendent. Committees have devoted months to studying and learning about immersion and how it could work and fit in a school district such as Eanes ISD. For the past two years, I have spoken extensively of language immersion's place in our strategic plan, including many public Board of Trustees meetings, state-of-the-district addresses, staff meetings and back-to-school events. Especially for our teachers, the idea of language immersion – even if implemented in a limited fashion – should not be a surprise.
- There are questions about the curricular materials for this program. The simple answer is there will only be a difference in the way some subjects are taught using Spanish language versions of our present printed and online materials by respected publishers, such as Pearson, Envision, Delta Education and FOSS. The content standards and curricula in all subjects will be identical to the current resources used by teachers. This is not a haphazard curriculum adoption; discussions about aligning this program with our current curricula were thoughtful and deliberate. While Bridge Point teachers may not have specifically been part of that planning, selecting the model occurred with them and Bridge Point – as well as all Eanes ISD teachers and schools – in mind. The program was purposely built with district educators' involvement to be transferable to any of our high-performing schools.
- Many parents and staff feel the schedule to introduce this program is too short. I acknowledge the abbreviated timeframe; however, please understand because so much quality work had been done in developing the model – and because we have such high confidence in Bridge Point's outstanding teaching team – we feel your school is capable of embracing this change.
Ideal timing is not always uniform for everyone who experiences change. Initially, we planned to consider extending the pilot to other campuses in the fall of 2018. For a significant number of Bridge Point parents of incoming kindergarteners starting in the fall of 2017, that would mean a lost opportunity. They asked us to consider the viability of moving ahead this fall. We listened, considered the request and felt it was worthy of exploration. For some the timing will be too fast; for others a language immersion option in Eanes ISD is long overdue.
- Much has been made about the Cedar Creek committee studying this possibility for months, beginning in October 2016, versus the perceived few weeks Bridge Point parents have had to consider this option. The first several months the Cedar Creek committee spent on this project were devoted entirely to learning the different immersion models and determining which one would be the best fit as a pilot for all of Eanes ISD. After this quiet study phase, the first public parent meeting at Cedar Creek occurred Feb. 6. The board then heard a presentation on the pilot Feb. 7 and approved its implementation on Feb. 21. Two informational meetings were held for interested parent applicants on March 21 (one month after board approval) before the online application opened March 27 and closed March 31. At Cedar Creek, there were 53 days when the Spanish immersion pilot was in a public discussion phase before parents were asked to make a choice and apply for their child to participate.
In contrast, the proposed model and possibility of a Bridge Point pilot was first discussed in a public parent meeting at the school on March 30. The board heard public remarks and had discussion at its April 11 and 25 meetings. Two informational meetings were held for interested parent applicants on May 3 (eight days after the board meeting) before the online application opened May 8 and closed May 10. At Bridge Point, there were 41 days when the Spanish Immersion pilot was in a public discussion phase before parents were asked to make a choice and apply for their child to participate. The difference between the initial public parent presentations and the final application deadlines at Cedar Creek and Bridge Point was 12 days.
- There are concerns about staffing the program, attracting and hiring a quality Spanish-speaking teacher, and the burden this program will place on our highly regarded current team of teachers. We are fortunate Cedar Creek has already hired an accomplished immersion teacher for its pilot; as a result, other exceptional candidates emerged who can now be considered for Bridge Point. Eanes ISD is a preferred school district for many educators in Central Texas. The attraction of talent combined with the wonderful teachers we already have in place should make for an exciting combination. The responsibility of delivering this instruction in Spanish will belong to the new teacher; the current teacher who will partner with the new educator will continue teaching half of her present subjects in English to two classes of students. There should be minimal additional preparation for the current teacher, only the adjustment to seeing one class of students in the morning and a second set of students in the afternoon – but teaching half of the subjects she currently teaches.
- Only one teacher from that grade level where Spanish is offered will be asked to move to another assignment. Every effort is being made to keep highly qualified teachers in the same school, knowing some attrition of staff always occurs each year. This will be the annual reality as the program builds through each grade level, although we want to retain outstanding teachers in their same school and certainly within our school district. We will do everything possible to protect the talent that makes Eanes ISD a school district of distinction and will help teachers find their best role with any reassignments that may occur.
- The model itself has been criticized, with some asking for a more elective approach instead of a true immersion format. Fitting language studies into a rotation with art, music and physical education was studied at the onset. However, the "pull-out" model must fit into the school day, thereby taking time away from other instructional subjects. Something (i.e. art, music or P.E.) would have to be altered or removed from the school day, or the school day itself would need to be lengthened. Additionally, language as an elective is more expensive and would compromise staffing – two aspects we worked very hard to minimize when choosing a model.
We recognize Futuro is not for everyone, but to deny Spanish immersion for some when all the building blocks are in place would be a disservice to those families who choose this for their child. Whether you are considering the program or not, please know I am personally committed to ensuring your child excels at Bridge Point with an outstanding teacher in every classroom, the support of solid instructional resources, and a Board and administration fully devoted to the success of each learner.
Within that promise is room to provide parents with an alternative. If they desire for their child to one day be bilingual, Futuro is the best-researched optional program they can access with the choice of at least two outstanding Eanes ISD schools.
At this time, the District will move forward with a Spanish Immersion pilot at Bridge Point Elementary beginning with kindergartners in the 2017-18 school year. As long as parents maintain an interest and commitment that allows for reasonable class sizes, this pilot will proceed as discussed and we are excited about its prospects.
Dr. Tom Leonard
Superintendent of Schools