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French Immersion Cap Meeting Draws Large Turnout

The School Committee, which is considering a new cap/lottery system on French Immersion, hosted a well-attended information session on Tuesday. The committee is scheduled to vote on the proposal tonight.

Over 150 parents and guardians joined the Milton School Committee at Milton High School on Tuesday, October 16, for a special session about the proposed cap/lottery on the first grade French Immersion Program.

The three and a half hour meeting featured 44 speakers from the community and answers primarily from Superintendent Mary Gormley and School Committee Chair Glenn Pavlicek.

Parents with widely different experiences and beliefs supported and opposed the cap on French Immersion. While some offered concrete alternatives, many others implored the School Committee to delay their upcoming vote to allow for more public discussion.

Following the public input, the School Committee did not discuss the subject, electing to save debate on the lottery and the option of delaying the vote to tonight.

“Our agenda has this discussion on it tomorrow,” Pavlicek said around 11 p.m. Tuesday, adding per Open Meeting Law the committee cannot talk about the proposal privately.

The School Committee will vote on the Grade One Assignment Plan, which was proposed by Gormley, at their regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday night. That meeting will start at 7 p.m. in the Milton High Library.

If accepted, the proposed lottery/capping plan for grade one French Immersion would be implemented for the 2013-2014 School Year. The cap for next year would be a maximum of 182 French students with seven full classes of 26 students. The breakdown includes two classes at Glover School, two at Collicot, one at Tucker School and, with full interest in enrollment, two at Cunningham School.

The lottery would go into effect if the English classes, which are enrolled first, don’t reach the minimum of 18 students per class. With the minimums met in each English class and 200 students in French Immersion this year (18 over the cap), this is only the second time in the program’s nearly three decades of existence that the new lottery would be used, according to Pavlicek.

Pavlicek began the meeting with an explanation of Massachusetts’ law. Because English is the required language of instruction, students with English as a second language and students with special needs (a one out of seven ratio in the Milton Public Schools, according to Pavlicek) must have the opportunity to be in a mainstream, English-speaking classroom.

One of the major discussion points Tuesday was on whether students with a sibling already in French Immersion should be given a seat in the program.

The proposal does not provide sibling preference.

Gormley cited the example of Tucker Elementary School, which has 19 kindergarteners with siblings in the program. If all of them were grandfathered in to French Immersion, that would leave just seven spots for the rest of the school population.

The idea of combining schools when it came to French Immersion was also discussed. Some suggested offering the French program to Cunningham/Collicot and Tucker/Glover families as two pools instead of four separate schools.

Gormley said the idea was considered, but not accepted because the students’ “home school,” was preferred.

If the cap was not met, parents could chose to place their child in another school with a French space available, as has been the policy in the past.

“As a leadership team we looked at the whole spectrum of ideas,” Gormley said.

The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) program, which was recently rolled out in elementary English classes was also discussed as a possible draw for parents to make the cap moot.

“We will communicate better with the public about the [STEM] program,” Gormley said in response to parents who were unaware that the pilot was being used in first grade English classrooms.

A timeline of communications on the Grade One Assignment Plan can be found at http://blog.miltonps.org/

Ravi Jain October 17, 2012 at 02:20 PM
I don't understand why combining schools is off the table? Surely for parents who would want their children to benefit from the French immersion program, this would not be seen as detrimental over a so-called "neighborhood school", especially considering the small scale of our town. My wife and I moved to Milton with our first child on the way, specifically to take advantage of the French Immersion program. I strongly oppose this cap proposal. I firmly believe the community and the school system can work to find a solution so all interested students can take advantage of this wonderful program instead of dividing our communities into the "haves" and the "have nots".

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