Will Teton County School District No. 1 have a magnet school for the dual immersion program? Maybe; maybe not. After last week’s monthly meeting the answer remains unclear.
In an attempt not to rush a complex decision, the school board opted to push the resolution into the new year. A workshop is scheduled for Jan. 11 to give the district time to gather data and answer trustees’ questions.
Trustees want to consider the implications, including what staffing and transportation would be in all possible scenarios. Others are nervous about changing the neighborhood school model the district currently uses.
“I would hate like the devil to disrupt the ability of neighborhood schools,” Trustee Janine Teske said. “How many kids walk to these schools? We get wrapped up in the dual kids.”
Dual immersion — meaning equal numbers of native Spanish and English speakers share a classroom and learn half the day in each language — is an education model the district introduced in 2009.
Trustee Keith Gingery, who made the motion to entertain a dual school again, said that what caught his attention is “how split the schools are.”
“We aren’t just talking about teaching a language,” he said. “There’s a lot more to the program. It’s an entire culture of the school. It’s hard to have that culture when … you’re competing with a different model going on at the same location.”
Gingery said dual and traditional students go at different rates, so teachers can’t collaborate because they’re at different places in the curriculum.
New trustee Betsy Carlin said the board’s willingness to take another look at the decision was a positive sign.
“Leadership is about being adaptive,” Carlin said. “I think it is really important to be flexible and to check in.”
Listen to the teachers
Chris Bessonette, a kindergarten dual teacher at Jackson Elementary, thanked the board for reconsidering the decision and said he felt well represented by some of the concerns brought up.
“The further we’ve gotten into this process, the more questions and challenges have come up,” Bessonette said. “And this is the solution that seems to come up again and again. A whole school approach is really exciting and maintains the integrity of the dual immersion program.”
Fifth-grade dual teacher Wendy Hultman agreed.
“I’m really in favor of this whole school model,” Hultman said. “I think it’s what is best for all children, not just dual immersion students. We [dual and traditional teachers] talked about this today, and we are all in agreement that it is challenging to do work when you are not doing it around the same philosophy, curriculum and materials.”
The board asked that teachers be represented in the workshop.
Former trustee Paul D’Amours echoed that sentiment.
“Listen to your teachers,” he told the sitting trustees. “There were a lot of unknowns. There are more knowns now, and there is overwhelming support for a separate dual school from the teachers who will be in these buildings.”
D’Amours called having a separate dual school “an opportunity to make all programs ‘premier’” as stated in the district’s vision. He said that “having separate strands is going to bring up the dual discussion every year.”
That doesn’t mean creating a dual magnet school would be easy.
Capacity is a major consideration in the decision. Once opened, Munger Mountain Elementary School will have a capacity of 583 students. According to a 2015 capacity study done by the district, Jackson Elementary School has a total capacity of 569 students — 441 in the main building and 128 in modular classrooms. Colter Elementary School has a total capacity of 567 students — 439 students in the main building and 140 in modular classrooms.
There are currently 465 kindergarten through fifth-grade students enrolled in the dual program, which presents a challenge. Munger Mountain is the only school with capacity for 465 students without modulars.
Winning the lottery
“If that choice is made, we won’t get a single dime for those modulars, and I think we would have egg all over our face with the state,” trustee Teske said. She believes it would look bad to the Wyoming Legislature if the district made Munger Mountain a dual magnet school and kept using modulars at the other elementary school buildings.
An estimated 23.5 percent of district students in kindergarten through fifth grade learn in modular buildings.
“A dual school will not fit unless you want us to use trailers,” Superintendent Gillian Chapman said. “And I’m going to call them trailers because that is what they are.”
Overcrowded classrooms are one of the district’s biggest challenges and a key factor in the construction of Munger Mountain Elementary School. Many feel educating students in modulars is a short-term, undesireable solution.
“Perhaps our mistake was voting to expand the dual program,” Trustee Kate Mead said. Mead is worried parents “feel like they’ve been treated like second-class citizens because their children didn’t win the lottery.”
“We have so many people who feel they have not been treated equitably in this process,” Mead said.
To enter the lottery parents or guardians must attend a forum in the spring and bring their children to one of the Jackson Elementary School kindergarten screenings. Once a lottery entry form is completed and submitted, the lottery is held each May, and notification letters are sent out by mid-June. Children of dual teachers and students who have older siblings are the only ones that get in automatically. Other district employees have a lottery just like the community does.
Chad Ransom, student services director, asked the board to decide “purely on what is best for students not in the dual immersion program.”
“Every time this is discussed it becomes a topic of dual immersion and not dual immersion,” Ransom said. “It becomes a conflict between two different types of teachers and families. My challenge for you all as you view this decision is not to at all look at what is best for kids in dual immersion. There are financial benefits and a number of other things we could talk about. That would be my recommendation and my challenge.”
Tracy Poduska, the vice principal of Colter Elementary School in charge of the timeline to reconfigure both existing elementary schools to be K-5, asked the board to decide sooner rather than later.
“I just have to stress that time is of the essence,” Poduska said. “We are at a point where there is work invested in this that would be put on hold. I am still planning to plow forward, but once the parent communication goes out surrounding preferences that starts to tip us to a commitment.”