Jennifer Pang

MIP Feeder Pattern

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Jennifer Pang
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To the Capistrano Unified Board of Trustees, Superintendent Vital and the Capistrano Unified School District,

We are asking that you place the Mandarin Immersion Program feeder pattern back on the Board of Trustees meeting agenda and that you reverse your ruling designating Niguel Hills as it’s middle school, and in the alternative, place the program at Newhart Middle School as was recommended by Superintendent Vital and the District on April 13, 2016. Below you will find signatures in support of this request, the signor’s address, whether they live in or out of district, number of children they have in the Mandarin Immersion Program and how many miles away from Marian Bergeson Elementary School they reside.

The Board of Trustees made it clear at the April 13, 2016 board meeting that it was going to consider five things prior to placing the Mandarin Immersion Program (hereinafter referred to as MIP) at a middle school location. The first item considered was CAPACITY. Dr. Holliday stated there are five available and useable classrooms at Newhart Middle School and room to place portable classrooms if necessary with program growth. In the alternative, at Niguel Hills Middle School, although there are four available classrooms, only two are useable at this time. The other two require "significant" repairs before students will be permitted to occupy them. Dr. Holliday also stated that there is no room to place portables on the property to accommodate program growth, elective class expansion or use by MIP for regular course programming.

It was made clear on April 13th that there is no capacity at Niguel Hills for MIP at this time without significant monetary investment by the District. The District is currently reaching out to the Capistrano Unified School District taxpayers and proposing a Bond measure to address the serious facilities needs that permeate throughout its schools. The Superintendent herself is holding community outreach meetings, such as the meeting that transpired on April 25, 2016 at San Clemente High School, to alert the community of the serious monetary needs in the District. As members of this tax paying community many of us are wondering how we could ever support such a Bond measure when the Board of Trustees is choosing to allocate funds at their disposal to repair Niguel Hills classrooms in order to accommodate MIP when they could have placed MIP at Newhart, which would have resulted in zero financial building costs to the District. The choice to place MIP at Niguel Hills takes much needed money away from other schools in the district that are in desperate need of repairs such as failing air conditioning units or faulty roofs. The Board made this decision flippantly as it was informed there would be significant costs but did not acquire the financial information from the District before making its decision to place the program at Niguel Hills. A Bond measure may be needed, and the community may want to vote in support of it, but when the community begins to research this issue they will uncover that this unnecessary expenditure was not the first the Board has made when alternative fiscally responsible choices were available to them.

In addition, limited classroom space and no room to add classrooms via portables could greatly affect what electives can be offered at Niguel Hills and the District’s ability to “master calendar” the regular MIP curriculum. It was made clear at the April 13th board meeting by Dr. Holliday that master calendaring is an art and poses many challenges. It was also made clear that the larger the school, the more available classroom space, and the easier it is to master calendar. The Board, in voting for Niguel Hills, has just made what was already going to be a master calendaring nightmare for MIP nearly impossible.

Some parents in the San Clemente petition voiced preference for Niguel Hills over Newhart because of their fear that the placement of the Spanish Immersion program feeding from Viejo Elementary to Newhart will negatively affect MIP. These parents believe that placing two immersion programs on one campus will force the principal to match the two programs’ curriculum to identical standards. The District has made clear that these are two separate programs with separate curriculum needs. Moreover, Newhart Principal Jeff Jones asserted that the programs will not be treated the same and cannot be treated the same due to curriculum differences. He went further to indicate that the Spanish Immersion program at Newhart would have no effect on the Mandarin Immersion program if also placed at Newhart, and that these parent concerns are unsubstantiated.

The second issue the Board considered in determining a middle school location was ADMINISTRATION STAFF. The District and the Board determined this issue to be "a push,” therefore this element will not be discussed further herein.

The third consideration by the Board was ABILITY TO PROVIDE DIFFERENT SECTIONS AT ALL LEVELS. Niguel Hills only offers zero period in the 8th grade. The District determined that the costs to add zero period for 6th and 7th grade, which is of high importance to the MIP program, would be greater at Niguel Hills than Newhart because Newhart already plans to offer zero period to 6th and 8th graders. Dr. Holliday reiterated that Newhart has fewer scheduling restrictions and more elective options than Niguel Hills. For MIP students to be able to take an elective such as art or orchestra, they will have to take advantage of zero period. Due to the master schedule issues it is impossible to know the actual costs for adding zero period to Niguel Hills for 6th and 7th grade, however, Dr. Holliday stressed that this additional cost is one that Newhart would not bear to the same extent. Again, in times where money is tight for the District, and the list of repairs is long, the Board’s decision to ignore the financial benefits of Newhart at the expense of the District is a failure to show fiscal responsibility and reflects poorly on the District while they are seeking a Bond measure from the community. Moreover, due to the master schedule challenges, the Niguel Hills student body may lose electives if the building space required to hold such classes is not available due to the introduction of MIP students into the school. This is not expected to be a problem at Newhart.

It should also be noted that the 6th graders at Niguel Hills do not take P.E. every day, whereas Newhart students take P.E. daily. P.E. is offered every other day at Niguel Hills and is taught by teachers whose main job is to teach traditional academic subjects. P.E. is merely supplementing their regular day coursework. Newhart, on the other hand, has dedicated P.E. instructors who were hired because teaching P.E. is what they do best. Newhart would provide our children with much needed daily outdoor activity from highly trained instructors, but Niguel Hills will not provide this same benefit.

Fourth, the District gave heavy consideration to CENTRAL LOCATION in their middle school analysis. Unlike MIP, Spanish immersion has become a mainstream educational magnet program as evidenced by the fact that there are three Spanish immersion elementary schools just in our district alone. MIP, on the other hand, pulls students from both within District and out of District. Although this is a Capistrano Unified School District program, MIP’s survival up until now has relied on students from outside the district enrolling and maintaining residency in the program. Out of District parents have demonstrated a high level of commitment to this program evidenced by their obvious time investment and willingness to get their children to the program in spite of long drive times. When addressing central location, the Board would be remiss to disregard this fact as it can affect the long term viability of MIP. However, the Board seemed to believe that the issue of central location should pertain only to those students within district boundaries and gave heavy weight to MIP parents who are San Clemente and Dana Point residents and who signed a petition in favor of Niguel Hills. The Board of Trustees made comments about freeway traffic but did not spend any time pulling up Mapquest or Waze to obtain distances and times to get to Niguel Hills or Newhart from San Clemente or Bergeson. The following calculations are based on a randomly selected actual address of 304 Via Los Tilos San Clemente 92673 which is centrally located within Talega and will be referred to herein as SC. The distances provided are from Mapquest but are straight freeway distances and do not take into consideration alternative non freeway travel or toll road use. The times provided are all from the Waze app for Monday May 2, 2016 at the designated times. To travel from SC to Bergeson is 13.3 miles and 15 minutes at 7:45 am. To travel from SC to Niguel Hills is 13.4 miles and 17 minutes if traveling at 7:30 and 15 minutes if traveling at 8:45. To travel from SC to Newhart is 16.2 miles and 16 minutes if traveling at 7:30 and 20 minutes if traveling at 8:45 am. To travel from Bergeson to Newhart anytime between 7:45 and 8:45 is 9 minutes. To travel from Bergeson to Niguel Hills anytime from 7:45 to 8:45 am is 3 minutes. It appears the time it will take a San Clemente parent to get from SC to Niguel Hills at 7:30 is actually 1 minute longer than it would take to get to Newhart. At the 8:45 travel time, however, it will take that same parent 5 minutes longer to travel to Newhart. In the alternative, if a parent is dropping off at Bergeson first, to get to Newhart would take a mere 6 minutes longer than travel to Niguel Hills. In addition, if traveling from Bergeson to Newhart one would never intentionally take the freeway from Crown Valley to La Paz (which was so heavily discussed by the Trustees), but instead would almost always take Cabot to Oso to Marguerite to La Paz, avoiding any freeway traffic and it would be a 9 minute drive (only 6 minutes more than it would take to travel to Niguel Hills). Per the information provided by the District on April 13th to the Trustees (which was based on a November 2015 MIP survey), out of a total of 265 students, 212 live outside of the San Clemente, Dana Point/Capo Beach and San Juan Capistrano communities and only 53 live within those communities. The Board made the decision to place MIP at Niguel Hills at a financial burden to the District when the maximum amount of additional drive time a San Clemente parent may endure is 6 minutes. Although central location is one area the Trustees should consider, it is clear that since there is just a 6 minute maximum possible additional drive time, this issue should not be considered paramount above all else in determining what is best for MIP as a whole, especially when the San Clemente, Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano communities make up only 20% of the total MIP enrollment.

It should also be pointed out that, due to the bell schedules at both Niguel Hills and Newhart, parents will have an hour and 20 minutes between when they pick up at Bergeson versus middle school in the afternoon. Bergeson releases at 2:05 pm and Newhart and Niguel Hills release at 3:25 pm. Niguel Hills is in a residential community with no park, playground or public bathrooms nearby. Moreover, there are not multiple safe drop off or pick up locations and parents are usually stuck in a tremendously long line to pick up their kids from school. In the alternative, Newhart has a giant grass park area, playground structures and public restrooms directly behind the school. The Norman P. Murray Center is also directly behind the school and open to the public and has tables, restrooms and air conditioned facilities where parents can take their Bergeson students to begin homework while waiting for their middle school child to get out for the day. There is ample parking in these areas as well. If one did not want to enjoy these facilities, there are many different safe drop off and pick up spots in the neighborhood where a parent could easily avoid the long pick up car line. Ease of drop off and pick up was rated of high importance to MIP parents on that November 2015 parent survey. Newhart is the obvious winner as to this issue.

Lastly, the Board of Trustees considered FEEDER PATTERN when choosing the middle school. It seemed at the April 13th Board meeting that some of the Trustees believed this to be an afterthought category. This issue is paramount to many MIP parents. The District has not broken feeder pattern for any of its immersion programs up until this point. Feeder patterns allow students in middle school to forge friendships and then carry those relationships on to high school. By breaking the feeder pattern, the District is harming the social development of the MIP children and cannot demonstrate a benefit to the program or to the District in making this choice. It is a grave oversight by the Trustees to break feeder pattern for an immersion program that seeks to maintain viability through high school. Although the MIP high school curriculum has yet to be determined, it is likely that the number of courses taught in Mandarin will be reduced as the students move towards the 12th grade. For some parents their desire to stay in the program may dissolve as the reduced number of Mandarin course offerings in MIP may not be enough of a draw to make those families stay in the program, especially when the students could attend Saddleback College in the evenings and take college-level Mandarin courses to supplement/maintain their Mandarin bi-literacy, or they could attend programs such as the Irvine Chinese School. Friendships, however, are the ultimate rope that will tie a student to a school. If their friends are going to Capistrano Valley High School it will greatly encourage them to also continue on to Capo Valley. The MIP children will garner friendships outside of MIP once they are in middle school and taking classes with other students who are not enrolled in the immersion program. By breaking feeder pattern you are not allowing the MIP students to develop friendships beyond the MIP enrolled student population. The Mandarin curriculum can be supplemented elsewhere. What will generate program longevity will be curriculum, teachers and friendship connectivity. Do not dismiss feeder pattern in making your analysis. It is important to us. Do not dismiss feeder pattern, which benefits the children and the program, for the sake of parent convenience especially when their convenience argument is a mere 6 minutes of drive time.

In analyzing all of the five above mentioned categories, Newhart is the clear better choice for our program and the School District. We demand that you readdress the feeder pattern issue at the next Board meeting and wholeheartedly re-engage in a full analysis of what is best for MIP and the District.

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