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At the Nov. 6 District 65 School Board meeting, administrators recommended adding two strands of the Two-Way Immersion (TWI) program at Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies. The recommendation is to start TWI in the kindergarten classes at Bessie Rhodes in the fall of 2018, and to expand the program by one grade level each year up through eighth grade.
Because Bessie Rhodes has only two classes per grade level, it would eventually become an all TWI school if the recommendation is implemented.
In addition, Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, said the District will continue to analyze the current locations of the TWI program and identify ways in which existing TWI strands could potentially be moved and consolidated at one or more schools. This would minimize the number of single strands, she said.
Also, over the next two years, Dr. Beardsley said, District 65 will move forward with researching and building expertise with the goal of adding a TWI program in the middle school grades.
Many parents of children who attend Bessie Rhodes came to the meeting, and about 15 spoke during public comment. Some parents said implementing TWI at the school would force them out of the school; some expressed concern about eliminating the Mandarin language class now offered as an option at the global studies school; some expressed concern that adding the TWI strands would drive out teachers and, once again, impact the stability of the school. Several parents said the Bessie Rhodes community was first told about the proposal on Nov. 1, and they did not have time to consider the ramifications.
Rather than rejecting Bessie Rhodes as the site or considering another school as the potential site, most Board members seemed to focus on how to make the transition as smooth as possible and in the least disruptive way possible.
At the tail-end of the discussion, Board member Rebeca Mendoza said it would be helpful for the community to hear why Bessie Rhodes was selected as the location, rather than the next top two choices. There was no information provided, however, about other sites that may have been considered.
Background re TWI
District 65 is required by State law to provide English language learning to Spanish-speaking English language learners (ELLs).
The Two-Way Immersion (TWI) program serves students in grades K-5 at Dawes, Dewey, Oakton, Washington, and Willard schools. Each of these schools has one K-5 strand of TWI, except Washington, which has two strands of TWI. A TWI “strand” is one class of TWI at the kindergarten through fifth-grade levels.
The TWI program exists first and foremost to serve Spanish-speaking ELLs. Ideally, TWI classes should be composed of 50% Spanish-speaking ELLs and 50% English-speaking students. In District 65, Spanish-speaking ELLs have a right to participate. English-speaking students are given the option to apply, and they are selected based on criteria in the Board’s policies and a lottery.
At the lower grade levels, classes are taught in Spanish a higher percentage of the time. For example, in kindergarten, students are taught 90% of the time in Spanish. As students move up in grade level, a larger percentage of the class is taught in English.
The goals of the TWI program include academic achievement for all students, high levels of bilingualism and biliteracy in both English and Spanish, and increased cultural competence.
On Oct. 9 and again on Nov. 6, Dr. Beardsley summarized the need to expand the TWI program at the K-5 grade levels and identified proposed criteria to use in selecting a school or schools at which to locate the new TWI strands. For a summary of these issues, see article, “Recommended Site(s) For Two TWI Strands to Be Presented on Nov. 6,” which is available at evanstonroundtable.com.
Proposed Criteria to Use in Selecting a Site
Administrators used input obtained through parent surveys and forums to identify six criteria that Dr. Beardsley said were the most significant and should be given the most weight in selecting a site.
First, she said, it would be ideal to have two or more strands of TWI at a school and to avoid having only one strand of non-TWI classes at a school.
“We are seeing a strong message that having a single TWI strand at a school is not as beneficial as having two strands. … We don’t want to create a system where we’re adding another single strand, without the possibility of having a second strand to go with it,” said Dr. Beardsley.
Second, the average monolingual (non-TWI) class size is significant. If a TWI strand is put into a school, it would replace an English-only strand, and would likely displace some English-speaking students. If a school has lower class sizes, it can absorb more students, reducing displacement, said Dr. Beardsley.
Third, Dr. Beardsley said administrators would give a preference to schools that had a higher number of Spanish ELLs in their attendance area. This would enable Spanish ELLs to attend the TWI program in their own attendance-area school and reduce busing.
The fourth criterion is to give a preference to schools that have flat or decreasing overall enrollment. “If enrollment is expected to grow, that would not be a potentially good place to put a TWI program, unless your average monolingual class sizes are still quite low,” she said.
The fifth criterion looks at school culture and collective responsiveness, and whether the school community is willing to work together for the benefit of all students.
Sixth, “We want to take a look at the last five years of data” and identify schools that have had “the highest levels of success” with TWI students, said Dr. Beardsley.
Dr. Beardsley said a seventh factor gained importance after administrators received additional input from the community following the Oct. 9 meeting. That factor is whether a school could “ultimately provide wall-to-wall dual-language (TWI) programming, meaning that all classrooms would be TWI classrooms.”
Dr. Beardsley said research shows that “whole school immersion increases the status of the minority language and creates the optimal culture for language learning. Additional benefits include bilingual teachers can be hired in all subject areas, including arts and specials, to communicate with all students and to effectively adhere to the language allocation model for instruction … and all students and families can communicate with all of their teachers and feel welcome and comfortable at school.”
Reasons for Selecting Bessie Rhodes
A report prepared by Dr. Beardsley and Amy Correa, Director of Bilingual and ESL Programs, gives six reasons for selecting Bessie Rhodes as the site to establish two strands of TWI:
“1. There is strong alignment between the goals for the Two-Way Immersion program and the global studies school focus. The recommendation includes replacing Mandarin with Spanish instruction in the non-TWI grades. The addition of Spanish will communicate a school-wide value in the Spanish language and the Latino and Afro-Latino culture school-wide.
“2. Expanding TWI at Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies provides an opportunity to create a school with wall-to-wall dual language (TWI) programming where instruction throughout the school is provided in English and Spanish. This creates a more welcoming and inclusive environment for all students and expands opportunity for instruction in Spanish in content areas beyond math, science, social studies, and literacy.
“3. Bessie Rhodes has an attendance preference area in the 5th ward which is populated by predominantly Black and Latino families creating opportunity for native English-speaking Black families to have increased access to TWI.
“4. Adding TWI strands at Bessie Rhodes addresses a growing population of native Spanish speakers in north Evanston where District 65 currently offers one TWI strand (Willard).
“5. The addition of TWI to a magnet school allows for both strands to be added in the same year without eliminating a neighborhood school, which would be the outcome if a non-magnet school is converted from offering dual language (TWI) and monolingual education strands to dual language only.
“6. With an average class size of 19, Bessie Rhodes has opportunity to more fully maximize enrollment.”
In addition to recommending Bessie Rhodes as the site for two new TWI strands, the report also recommends that four additional steps be taken:
• The District allocate $7,500 to support community engagement events and to assist families with the cost of transportation to the events.
• Siblings of students currently enrolled at Bessie Rhodes be given a preference to attend the school, so families could stay at one school.
• Strengthen outreach to the Black community about the TWI program.
• Deepen the curricular connection between the TWI program and the global studies model.
Managing Overcrowding at Other Schools
Inasmuch as the District uses the student selection process at Bessie Rhodes and King Arts magnet schools to manage overcrowding in the District’s other schools, the RoundTable asked Paul Goren, Superintendent of District 65, if turning Bessie Rhodes from a magnet school into a TWI school would impact the District’s ability to manage overcrowding in the District’s other schools. The RoundTable also asked if the change could result in a need to redraw attendance areas or to use other strategies to manage overcrowding.
Dr. Goren responded, “We do not currently anticipate that the recommended changes at Bessie Rhodes will result in a need to redraw District boundaries; neither do we anticipate exceeding class size guidelines as a result of the decision. There are several factors that led us to draw this conclusion. These include:
• “Bessie Rhodes currently has class sizes below guidelines in most grade levels. After the adoption of our proposed recommendation, we anticipate that class sizes at Bessie Rhodes will be closer to guidelines. We predict this based on the need for TWI among Spanish-speaking ELLs and the number of applications we receive for the TWI lottery.
• “By moving our classes back to the 50/50 split in other schools, we will also be able to manage enrollment by placing students in TWI at other neighborhood schools.
• “King Arts currently has class sizes below guidelines in most grade levels. We anticipate that King Arts will be a popular alternative for those interested in a K-8 option but not a TWI program, and, therefore, that we will receive more applications for King Arts. This will also aid in enrollment management.”
Before Bessie Rhodes was reopened as a magnet school in the early 1990s, District 65 redrew attendance-areas of various schools on multiple occasions between 1985 and 1990 to balance overcrowding and maintain racial balance in the schools.
The report also says administrators considered the decision to select Bessie Rhodes using an equity lens. The report says, “Factors contributing to the current inequities in the system center around the predominant single-strand approach, the lack of outreach to the Black community about the program, and policy barriers to increased enrollment of Black students.”
The report says, “We can mitigate the first inequity by expanding the program in a manner that concentrates two or more strands of TWI within a school building.”
The report says the selection of Bessie Rhodes addresses the second inequity because 20% of new admissions to Bessie Rhodes are allocated to students who reside in a designated portion of the Fifth Ward. The District will address the third inequity by committing to improve outreach to the Black community.
The incremental cost of establishing TWI at Bessie Rhodes is estimated at $85,000 in the first year, $58,000 in the second year, $63,000 in the third year, and $93,000 in each following year.
Parents’ and Board Members’ Comments/Concerns
Parents and Board members raised a number of concerns, including potential displacement of families and attrition of teachers, keeping Mandarin as an offering at the school, and several larger equity issues.
Displacement of Families and Teachers: Parents of several families said they would be displaced from Bessie Rhodes if TWI were located there, and some said they were concerned teachers would leave the school.
Parents of a second-grader at Bessie Rhodes who said their native language is Spanish said they decided that the TWI program was not best for their child, and they decided to enroll their child at Bessie Rhodes because of its focus on global studies. They said, however, they would not enroll their 3-year-old in a TWI class at Bessie Rhodes, and because they wanted both children to attend the same school, they would feel displaced if TWI is located at Bessie Rhodes.
Parents of another family said they were attracted to Bessie Rhodes because of its focus on global studies and because it offered Mandarin.
They said they had a third-grader at Bessie Rhodes and a younger child whom they had planned to enroll in kindergarten at the school. Because they do not want to enroll their younger child in TWI, they feel they would be displaced if TWI is established at the school.
Another parent said she felt if the school is converted into a TWI school, the next eight years would be filled with “turmoil and inconsistency,” and many parents would leave, many teachers would leave, and there would be a “downward spiral” at the school.
One parent said as TWI rolls up in grade levels, teachers, particularly non-tenured teachers, may see the writing on the wall and leave the school.
Board member Candance Chow said the District needed to address concerns about teachers and teacher “attrition.” She said the District needed to give additional thought to “stay incentives” and ways to induce teachers to stay through the transition.
She also noted that the highest number of students who were enrolled at Bessie Rhodes resided in the Walker and Lincoln School attendance areas. She asked administrators, if the families of those students decided not to stay at Bessie Rhodes and to return to their attendance-area schools, what would be the impact on potential overcrowding at Walker and Lincoln schools?
Board member Lindsay Cohen said, “I’d really like to be able to, in future conversations, truly understand in as much detail as possible the implementation for the current Bessie Rhodes community and how to truly make the transition as seamless as possible, to make sure we’re really thinking ahead as much as possible.”
Ms. Cohen added, “We really want to avoid situations where at grades three through five, we see a 40% switch in schools in one year. That would be an issue for us to deal with. I think that’s information we’re able to gather because it’s a finite community. The other issue is with the teaching staff. How do we mitigate issues in this transition as well.”
Board member Rebeca Mendoza said what was most important to her is that the new TWI strands are placed at a school “where the children are going to feel welcome and the children already at these schools are going to be as minimally disrupted as possible. This is a community effort. We’re at a point where we need to make a decision, and we do need community members to be on board.”
Preserving Mandarin/Global Studies: Under the proposal, the course in Mandarin would be replaced with Spanish in the non-TWI classes. Several parents asked if Mandarin could be preserved as an optional additional language, or if not, if Mandarin could be preserved and phased out as the TWI program rolled up in grade levels.
Many School Board members expressed support for continuing to offer Mandarin. Anya Tanyavutti asked administrators to report back whether the decision point would be financial or cultural.
Dr. Beardsley said, “We are hearing the perspective of families that they want Mandarin. We will consider that perspective.”
Board member Sergio Hernandez and several parents said they would like a more detailed explanation on how global studies would be preserved at Bessie Rhodes and how TWI would fit into a global studies program.
The Long-Term Plan
Board member Joseph Hailpern said it is hard to look at the proposal in terms of a multi-year plan, when the Board does not know what the overall program will look like in the future.
Dr. Beardsley said during the balance of this school year, administrators will be looking at potentially reorganizing the current TWI strands. She added that needs to be done somewhat simultaneously with an analysis of establishing TWI in the middle schools. She said, “The middle-school we would want to focus on doing middle school programing depends on where those TWI strands collect.
“In order to address the isolation that’s been raised, we would need to impact more than Bessie Rhodes,” Dr. Beardsley said.
Mr. Hailpern said he would also like to know, if there were no financial constraints and no site constraints, “would a Fifth Ward school be the recommendation?” He added, “If we think it’s the right thing to do, but can’t do it because of certain constraints, our community can also handle knowing that we want to do this but we can’t because of that. I think it’s a worthwhile conversation to have.
“I’m not suggesting we reframe everything right now,” he added.
Ms. Tanyavutti said the proposal is something to celebrate. ”We have an amazing staff team that has elevated our institution’s understanding about bi-literacy and culturally relevant education in a way that’s an asset, not considered as a risk factor or a deficit, but we still have to grow those opportunities for black children and families.”
The Board is scheduled to consider the placement of TWI again on Nov. 20 and Dec. 4, and to vote on Dec. 4.