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Mandarin magnet program and vacant seat discussed at CHCCS Board of Education meeting

Jessica O'Donovan

Jessica O'Donovan, assistant superintendent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, talks during district meeting on Friday, Feb. 7, 2019 at the Lincoln Center, 750 S. Merritt Mill Rd.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education discussed three pressing topics at its meeting on Thursday: updates on plans for Glenwood Elementary,approval of budget requests for the 2019-2020 fiscal year and a plan to fill the vacancy on the school board.

Glenwood Mandarin Magnet Plan

The Mandarin Magnet Implementation Committee presented compromise recommendations that incorporate community feedback for the original plan that was approved in September. The proposed plan would keep both the traditional and Mandarin tracks, while still solving the issue of overcrowding.

“We would create a modified attendance zone, which would be a smaller attendance zone, then for any remaining slots, those would be lotteried off across the district,” said Jessica O’Donovan, assistant superintendent for instructional services in CHCCS.

Currently, anyone who is in the Glenwood attendance zone is automatically granted enrollment at Glenwood, which has led to over-enrollment. Class size legislation will also go into effect for the 2020-2021 school year, which will allow Glenwood to further control its numbers. Having a plan to cap enrollment is important, O'Donovan said, as Glenwood only has an absolute maximum of 25 classrooms.

The proposed plan also differs from the one passed in September 2018 because it keeps the traditional track in place.

“Your child can still start learning Mandarin at a young age, but not necessarily be immersed in it for academic subjects,” O’Donovan said.  

Traditional track students will take Mandarin as their foreign language instead of French and will start this in kindergarten.

O'Donovan said with the current complete Mandarin immersion program, new students cannot enter the program above the first grade unless they express proficiency in the language. The newly proposed plan would allow the school to accept new students at any grade level.

O'Donovan also said the Mandarin language program has enrollment gaps when compared to district demographics, so there were concerns that expanding the program would create enrollment gaps at Glenwood as a whole. To increase diversity in the program, they will add more weight in the lottery to students from neighborhood segments with a higher poverty rate.

“Dual language programming is one research-based way to close the achievement gap in an enriched educational model, but that doesn’t mean anything if we don’t have the underrepresented students in the program,” O’Donovan said.

Teachers will be trained to follow equitable practices, and additional supports and resources will be put in place to help students understand material. Faculty and peer collaboration between both tracks will also be prioritized with the goal of fostering unity at Glenwood.

The board will vote on this plan on June 5. 

School board vacancy

In addition to the Mandarin program, the board decided to communicate with former school board members to try and fill the vacant seat. However, if this doesn't work and an application process ends up being required, the board will vote May 2, 2019.

“We are talking to former board members to see if they are interested, and then the second process if no former board members are interested in being on the board, we will have an application process,” said Joal Broun, chairperson of the school board.

Next year's budget

The school board also formally requested $5,530,872 for its total budget for the upcoming year. Only $1,932,000 will be used for expansion requests, which are new projects, centering focus on eliminating the achievement gap. The rest of the money will be used to continue current projects.  

An expansion request has been made for $450,000 to improve maternity and paternity leave in an effort to maintain and recruit high-quality teachers.

“Our teaching population as a whole in North Carolina is aging, and you have less people going into teaching than you did before, which makes it more difficult to retain teachers, so this is just one part teacher retention,” Broun said.

Another way the district is going to work toward promoting equity is by collaborating with Orange County Schools and sharing ideas of how to best achieve equity. In the past, CHCCS has never formalized this collaborative relationship.

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“When we join together with Orange County, we can share what is working and what is not working. It always helps to have a different view of what people are doing and what kind of things they are doing,” Broun said.

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