Dual-language immersion program at Cortland brings concerns


A new opportunity for Cortland Elementary School students to learn how to read, write and speak in two languages poses questions and concerns for parents in Hamilton Township.

The room was packed Tuesday night during Seymour Community School Corp.’s board of trustees meeting as they shared their comments on the proposal for a dual-language immersion program.

That program would allow kindergarteners in the fall of 2025 to receive bilingual education and learn content in the Spanish language.

For years, Cortland has suffered a consistent decline in student enrollment and roughly 50% of students are there on waivers. The waivers are for students who have transferred to the school or live out-of-district, which can happen for a variety of causes. The waivers are only fulfilled if there is room in the classes.

Superintendent Brandon Harpe said Cortland was chosen to potentially house the program with growth in mind.

The school corporation hosted a community information session about the program Monday evening in the gymnasium at the school. School officials met with parents and residents concerned with the future of the school and the inability for parents to make the choice in their child’s education. Some of those also spoke during Tuesday’s board meeting.

Dustin Hiten was first in the audience to speak on the matter.

“This will create more division and elitism within our community and it will suffer from this,” he said. “There should be a safeguard in place so this program doesn’t become a ‘who you are or who you know’ program. I personally would like to see all kids in the district have the same opportunity.”

In the program, there would be approximately 25 to 30 students in each classroom, 50 to 60 total students per grade level.

The approach is called two-way immersion, in which a student population consists of half English language speakers and half Spanish language speakers.

Hiten said with the large amount of incoming kindergarteners in the school district, roughly around 400, this program would only impact around 10 to 12% of non-English speaking students.

As for enrollment, it is proposed that kindergarten enrollment will be offered as “Open Enrollment via lottery” to the community at large to participate in the program.

For consideration, students who are currently “zoned” to attend Cortland will receive priority to participate and those who chose not to enroll will be bussed to Emerson or Redding elementary schools.

Hiten said one of his children would thrive in a program like this while the other would struggle severely.

“Having a sibling not being able to attend the same school is not an acceptable choice,” he said. “Let’s figure out a solution to have both the dual immersion program and the ‘traditional’ education, doing this will give parents a true choice.”

He asked the board to reconsider the proposal and look at other options that will create educational opportunities for the entire district.

Tricia Bowers said she is concerned about the tax dollars that will be used to aid this program.

“Doing away with the proposal would allow Cortland to continue its excellence and allow the thoughtful use of time and tax dollars,” she said.

The corporation recently applied for a $50,000 development grant for the dual-language immersion program.

Jose Martinez, the corporation’s assistant director federal and state programs, said the grant will fund start-up costs associated with professional development, curriculum and programming, classroom supplies/material and teacher equipment.

State District 69 Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, also spoke about the proposal and the concerns of it impacting a school with already high reading test scores.

About 82% of third graders have passed the IREAD reading exam this year, a decrease from previous years, Lucas said.

He said out of the five elementary schools in the Seymour Community Schools district, Cortland Elementary is the only one that averages a score of 100%.

“I can’t understand why you are messing with the crown jewel when it comes to reading,” he said. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Lucas said he highly encourages the board to try a pilot program first to not potentially “mess up” an already successful school.

Greg Baxter said he is worried the program will make it difficult for students to enroll at Cortland.

“This seems like it will make Cortland a charter school with applications that require certain criteria that have to be met to attend,” he said. “This would no longer be a public school and what will we do if this does not work.”

Lacey Lanam questioned how the program will help a majority of non-English speaking students in the district.

“Some of the kids probably need a life skills class and are coming from countries that do not have the amenities that we have,” she said. “Parents should have a choice, and from the way I see it, they don’t really have a choice in this proposal.”

Lanam urged the board to come up with a different proposal that will help the majority of students in the district and addresses the overcrowding concerns in other schools.

Louis Wonning suggested Cortland remain the same and possibly re-establish the fifth and sixth grades there to bring more students to the area.

Alec Watson said a dual-immersion program or something similar should come to Seymour, but is concerned the choice is being taken away from the parents.

“I believe that having a choice in your child’s education is essential,” he said.

Watson suggested having two separate classes, one for dual-immersion students and one with the normal curriculum.

“This way the parents of Hamilton Township still have a choice to send their child to Cortland, but not in a dual-immersion class,” he said.

He also mentioned a concern for the future of Cortland wondering if an implementation of this program at another school would negatively impact Cortland.

“What happens if waivers continue to fall?” he asked. “Will the board consider redistricting or will you close the school?”

Board member Ryan Chandler spoke after the audience expressed their comments and thanked those for attending.

“I realize how much Cortland means to you,” he said. “We are already teaching Hispanic kids to read and speak English. We are already making them bilingual, but its not happening for the non-Spanish speaking kids.”

Chandler said this is an opportunity for all students to leave the school bilingual.

Board member Max Klosterman addressed how industries are looking for people who are bilingual and this program will help kids with future job opportunities.

“The job opportunities and businesses around here would love to have people who are bilingual. Their businesses would thrive,” he said.

Board member Art Jurgens said this isn’t a decision they are going to rush into.

“I can’t remember one decision where we busted into it and said this is how it’s going to be,” he said. “We have always thought about it.”

Board president Ken Browning said they would take all of the comments from the community into consideration.

“I share the same passion that you have for that school and community,” he said. “I view this as an opportunity to be looked at where Cortland would not only survive, but thrive. If we have to rethink some things, we will do that.”

When it came time to present the proposal on first read, Browning asked Martinez to postpone the proposal until May.

“It would allow us to process the community’s comments and take everything into consideration, as well as slow the process down in order to receive more community input.”

No posts to display