Spanish Immersion program to stay at Westwood one more year

by Elyse Kaner
Staff Writer

After months of studies, district administrators recommended that Spring Lake Park District 16’s K-3 Spanish Immersion program remain at Westwood Intermediate School for one more school year.

The recommendation was made to school board members at their Feb. 14 regular meeting.

This will be the final year the entire program will be housed at Westwood. That, however, could change depending on unanticipated changes in enrollment during the next several months.

At a minimum, grades K-2 in the program would be housed at a different site for the 2013-14 school year, said Tom Larson, principal of Westwood Intermediate and Spanish Immersion (SI) program director.

An increase in student enrollment at Westwood and across the district has set the district to looking into another location for the SI program.

The SI program started with kindergarten classes in 2009 at Northpoint and Woodcrest elementary schools. In 2010, first grade was added and the program moved to Westwood, alleviating space concerns at Northpoint.

Had the program not moved to the intermediate school, district boundaries would have needed to be adjusted for this school year, Denise Waalen , director of educational services, said in a programming and boundary study update.

The plan for the SI program is to add a new class each year up to fifth grade.

More than projected

Meanwhile, to address increasing student enrollment, the district is looking into boundaries on a larger scale including pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and the Learning Alternatives Community School, said business manager Amy Schultz.

The district, with input from a demographer, estimated growth of 52 students in grades K-3 for the 2011-12 school year.

“What we actually saw was 140 more than projected at these four grade levels,” Schultz said, which begged the question of whether the upper grades will be able to handle the growth as the grades come through the system.

To address growing enrollment, the district is partnering with consultants to review all preK-12 facilities. The district is looking into leasing space, repurposing existing space, adding classroom space at a school and a new plan to use existing space more efficiently.

A few weeks ago, administrative staff asked that the district move forward with a recommendation for the SI program rather than proposing a full boundary change districtwide. Staff would at a later date revisit the boundary change.

‘Measure twice’

The district has done so much study, staff thought they would be able to move forward with something, but “it’s made us a little nervous in doing that,” Schultz said.

Schultz cited an analogy. “It’s better to measure twice than to cut once, so that as we start doing this we don’t make a quick decision. Let’s check it again and make sure that everything we’re studying holds true and, again this fall as students (and enrollment figures) come in, we can make a decision at that time.”

No action was taken on boundary changes at the meeting.

A recommendation is planned to come before the school board for building use and resulting boundary changes in November.

District 16 serves nearly 5,100 students from Spring Lake Park and parts of Blaine and Fridley.

Elyse Kaner is at elyse.kaner@ecm-inc.com

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