Parents speak out as District 112 weighs dual language magnet schools

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North Shore School District 112 may create dual language academies at Red Oak and Oak Terrace elementary schools next

North Shore School District 112 may consolidate dual language classes at academies next school year when it implements a new school closing plan to be announced in October.

The idea has sparked both support and opposition in the past.

District 112 currently offers dual language instruction at Oak Terrace, Red Oak and Sherwood elementary schools. The large program mixes Spanish-speaking children learning English with English-speaking children whose parents have elected to give them a solid foundation in Spanish from an early age.

Oak Terrace School in Highwood effectively functions as a dual language school now because only one classroom out of 27 is not dual language. Children who live in the Oak Terrace area who opt for English-only instruction are shifted to Wayne Thomas Elementary School in north Highland Park.

But in southwest Highland Park, dual language pupils are divided among Red Oak and Sherwood elementary schools, which also house English-only classes. The split system has resulted in classes with as few as 13 and 14 students, and fewer educational opportunities for students, according to advocates of consolidation.

Arielle Nobile, a dual language parent at Red Oak, believes the academies will result in less diversity among students and staff and offer students from non-English-speaking households less exposure to English. Nobile, who addressed the school board Sept. 5, also suggested the consolidation would result in a higher concentration of low-income and at-risk students.

"I was surprised to hear at the last board meeting what sounded like overwhelming support for the academy model," Nobile told the board. "We pretend the plans presented at this point do not discriminate along racial and socioeconomic lines."

Nobile said the move would segregate students into dual language academies.

"It sounds like the 'separate but equal' model from back in the 1960s," she said.

Last fall, the district was poised to create dual language academies at Red Oak and Oak Terrace elementary schools in conjunction with a plan to close schools for the 2017-18 year. In January, the academies were put on hold — along with the entire school closing plan — following the abrupt resignation of the superintendent.

Under most scenarios, dual language pupils from the Red Oak and Sherwood areas would attend Red Oak, while monolingual students would attend Sherwood, which is adjacent to Red Oak. The program also would draw students from outside the attendance area.

Oak Terrace parent Marcie Faust strongly supports the academy concept after seeing the program at Oak Terrace evolve to encompass nearly the entire school.

"I have really seen more social opportunities for my son because there are just more children in the program," said Faust, whose children are enrolled in third and fifth grade dual language classes.

She also has a preschool child enrolled in a dual language program.

"Of course you go to school for academic purposes," said Faust, an educator in neighboring District 109. "But let's not kid ourselves. Children go to school for social relationships as well. Otherwise we would teach them at home."

Faust does not share the view that native Spanish speakers would benefit from the additional exposure to English that a more diverse school might provide.

"We live in a print-rich environment that is all English," Faust said. "You go to extracurricular activities and they are in English."

At the middle school level, District 112 may split dual language students between Northwood Junior High and Edgewood Middle School, rather than continuing the practice of sending all dual language students to Northwood.

The practice has come under fire from residents who say it accentuates the disparities between schools and perpetuates the historic divisions between the north and south ends of the district.

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