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Mandarin immersion supporters continue grassroots battle

Mike Szymanski | July 8, 2015

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MandarinImmersionA group of about 170 parents is organizing to keep LA Unified from cutting a Mandarin Immersion program in Mar Vista by raising money and hiring consultants and lobbyists to make their case with members of the board and their staffs.

“It’s not over,” parent Jenn Pullen, an organizer of the group, Parents for Progressive Education, told LA School Report. “We have spent years sending emails and writing letters, and it took someone who had a personal relationship to even get to Steve Zimmer. So we have to hire professional help to get heard and get to the right people at the school administration. What we have now is the worst of all possible outcomes.”

The group’s mission is to create a K‐12 public education pipeline for Mandarin immersion on LA’s westside, with an immediate priority to protect all four incoming Mandarin immersion kindergarten classes and develop a pipeline to for Mandarin immersion students into middle school.

After Zimmer, the newly-elected board president, championed the cause and the school board approved the project in 2014 at Mark Twain Middle School, Superintendent Ramon Cortines pulled the plug on the $30 million project. It would have been the only program of its kind in the district. The group is devising a strategy to reverse Cortines’s decision before he leave office, probably late in the year.

“Not only has Cortines made a unilateral decision to cancel the construction of a new facility for our program, but he also cut the program’s kinder enrollment by half, starting in 2016 and 2017,” Pullen said. “Cutting the kindergarten class from four to two classes is devastating to the program.”

Pullen said she wants her first grade daughter, Kara, to learn her native language. Pullen left China when she was 9 and doesn’t speak any form of Chinese around the house as much as she wants. But, the family lives in Santa Monica, and they switched to LAUSD in order to be part of this unique program.

“When my husband asked for the transfer papers to leave the Santa Monica school district go to LAUSD, they kept asking him if that was correct because it’s usually the other way around,” Pullen said.

“We are not asking for any more than the regular public school funding,” said Pullen, who pointed out that the parents involved in the program have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to supplement teacher assistants for each class.

The Mandarin and English Dual-Language Immersion Program is the brainchild of Broadway Elementary School’s principal Susan Wang, who speaks the language. Cortines met with Wang, parents and concerned neighbors and decided to halt building the school at a new site, although he praised the program.

Another parent, Diana Gage, said she wants her child to learn about her culture. “LAUSD was doing something very innovative,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense that they now say there is no room to grow and will cut it in half.”

Saeed Ali, of the West Mar Vista Residents Association, speaks three languages and said he has no problem with the immersion program, but complained that 90 percent of the students would not be living within the school boundaries, a scenario that he said would create traffic and parking problems.

In a June letter to the school board, Ali asked that Cortines affirm the cancellation of the project and admonished Zimmer for “intemperate accusations and comments.” Ali blamed LAUSD for “putting a program in a neighborhood without talking to the people who would be affected.”

So far, the parent group supporting the immersion program, co-started by Pullen and Suzanna Rosemont, has raised $11,500 of a $20,000 goal on a GoFundMe campaign.

“The program is working, it’s successful and we want to keep it,” Pullen said. “It’s not over with as far as we are concerned.”


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