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Commentary: LAUSD should reverse cuts to immersion program at Broadway Elementary

Guest Contributors | February 22, 2016

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LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer at Hamilton High “walk-in.”

By Jennifer Pullen

Tens of thousands of people, including Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Steve Zimmer, participated in a “walk-in” last week to show support for traditional public schools at a time when they are facing increasing pressure from — and loss of students to — charter and private operators.

Staged in partnership with local and national unions and other interest groups, it was a great photo op for Mr. Zimmer. But the truth is that when the cameras are gone, the district too often closes the door when parents choose to walk away from non-traditional schools and walk into LA public schools. We know, because they are closing the door on us right now.

We are proud that we walked in to the economically and racially diverse Broadway Elementary School in Venice in 2010 when it was facing closure due to low enrollment. We stepped forward with time and resources to support the launch of a Mandarin immersion program at Broadway that was championed by Mr. Zimmer and was designed to help make this traditional public school more attractive, and to create the type of learning opportunities our kids need to compete in 21st century Los Angeles and the global economy.

With the strong parental support, the program has flourished, and each year we have seen families literally camping on the street to enroll their kids. Broadway wasn’t closed, and the program was expanded from two classes to four, and there has been enough demand to support two additional classes for a total of six. The district’s response? They recently decided to cut the program down to two classes. This is unacceptable and the district must reverse course and maintain four classes in a program that has been proven successful and for which there is proven demand.

With this decision, the district is failing our kids. In the battle against charter and private operators, the district is shooting themselves in the foot. And here is a crucial stat: if the district stands by its decision to cut the number of immersion seats from 96 to 48, there will be an almost zero chance for new families to enroll their children in the program because 47 seats are already claimed by sibling-priority students. This directly disserves the local student population served by Broadway Elementary.

The district is trying to cover itself by stating that is not cutting program, but rather is keeping its commitment by creating two Mandarin immersion classes at Braddock Elementary School, which is located in an entirely different neighborhood. It’s a smokescreen – would cuts to the football program at Venice High be offset by a new football program at another school in a different neighborhood? We support expanding immersion programs across LAUSD. But expanding elsewhere does not change the situation at Broadway.

Plans are being finalized for the 2016-17 school year right now. We are at the critical moment for the future of this program and the future of Broadway Elementary. And it’s a test as to whether the district will once again demonstrate itself to be a moribund bureaucracy more interested in perpetuating the status quo than increasing the quality of education for our kids – with the end result being the continued flight of involved and engaged parents to charter and private operators and relegating those left behind to a
second-class education.

That’s why 240 current parents of Broadway Mandarin Immersion students and parents who want to enroll their kids in this program have come together to form Parents for Progressive Education.

We call on Mr. Zimmer to simply back a program that he himself called “a game changer.” We call on Superintendent Michelle King to send a strong signal at the beginning of her term that LAUSD will welcome involved and engaged with parents at our schools and that the district is in fact serious about delivering the kind of innovative education our kids deserve and the district needs to compete. Restore these classes. And if there is anything you need, our coalition is here to not just walk in, but to rally around you with time, resources and support.

Jennifer Pullen is president of Parents for Progressive Education and and an LAUSD parent.

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