School board approves dual language immersion program at Montgomery Elementary

By From page A1 | February 24, 2013

The Davis school board voted unanimously on Thursday night to approve a gradual transformation of Montgomery’s current strand of Spanish Immersion program classrooms into a new two-way bilingual immersion language program.

Superintendent Winfred Roberson and Montgomery principal Sally Plicka said this transition would better serve the school’s diverse enrollment. The changeover would start with a kindergarten class featuring the new two-way program in the fall, and then slowly be phased in other grades across a period of years.

Plicka stressed that Montgomery will retain “a neighborhood focus, and not be a magnet for the district. … Dual immersion will help even out the demographics in the school, (and) the program is specifically designed to meet the needs of our English learners and regular students.” And she added that “(Montgomery) is really uniquely positioned (among Davis elementary schools) to be able to implement this program.”

Montgomery Elementary has hosted a strand of Spanish Immersion classes since the campus opened in 2001. Initially, Montgomery’s Spanish Immersion strand was designed to cover grades K-3, at which point students could transfer to César Chávez Elementary to continue in Spanish Immersion for grades 4-6. Last year, the school board approved the addition of another first-grade Spanish Immersion at Montgomery, as well as the gradual expansion of Spanish Immersion at Montgomery into grades 4-6.

Among public elementary schools in Davis, Montgomery has the fewest resident K-6 students living in its attendance area — 404 students, according to the latest report by the district’s demographic consultant. Montgomery also has distinctive demographics —  a ratio of 43 percent white and 40 percent Hispanic/Latino students (as compared to a ratio of 59 percent white and 18 percent Hispanic/Latino across the district as a whole). And 47 percent of Montgomery students participate in free-/reduced-price meal programs, which are based on modest family income (as compared with 21 percent districtwide).  Some 26 percent of Montgomery students are English learners (as compared with 9 percent districtwide).

Montgomery posted a robust 842 points in the state’s most recent Academic Performance Index ranking — the state regards schools with an API above 800 as “high performing schools” — and that 842 API would make Montgomery among the highest ranked schools in most Yolo County districts. But several years ago, Montgomery slipped into Program Improvement status under the federal government’s more punitive No Child Left Behind program, which requires that 100 percent of students be proficient in English and math by 2014 (a goal that most educators regard as noble but unrealistic). Montgomery’s students who are English learners have been meeting most (but not all) of No Child Left Behind’s annually rising benchmarks for English learners — and as a result, since not all benchmarks have been met, the school has not been able to get out of Program Improvement status, and is now in PI Year 4.

No Child Left Behind allows parents to move their children out of a school that is in Program Improvement and into a school that is not in PI. And a number of Montgomery parents have indeed opted to transfer their kids — sometimes into voluntary special programs like GATE, Montessori or Spanish Immersion at other campuses, other times taking advantage of the opportunity to transfer into a neighborhood school program elsewhere under Program Improvement’s parent choice option. According to school district statistics, 76 students from the Montgomery attendance area are now at Pioneer Elementary, another 52 are at Chavez Elementary, 20 are at North Davis Elementary, and so on.

In addition, most of the parents of Montgomery students who are English learners have chosen to place their kids in the regular neighborhood school classrooms at Montgomery, rather than Spanish Immersion classrooms. Plicka said she is hopeful that the two-way bilingual immersion program — which will include daily instruction in both languages, with the same content and academic standards that are used in English-only classrooms — will attract more students who are English learners or low socioeconomic status students into the immersion program. Plicka also noted that Montgomery is the only local school participating in a science-technology-engineering-math pilot program in conjunction with UC Davis.

Trustee Nancy Peterson, who has had children at Montgomery for 12 years, suggested offering a full-day kindergarten program at Montgomery — an idea that drew quick support from school board president Sheila Allen, who noted that Merryhill Elementary which has offered full-day kindergarten will be closing this summer. But given the school district’s financial predicament, it is uncertain where the money to support a full-day kindergarten would come from.

Jeff Hudson

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