Broadway Elementary language immersion students are headed to Mark Twain Middle School

By Gary Walker

It was nearly a year ago that school district officials announced the popular Mandarin Chinese language immersion program at Broadway Elementary School in Venice would move to new classrooms being built at Mark Twain Middle School in Mar Vista.

But that hasn’t stopped the swell of nervous rumors questioning the program’s future, nor has it alleviated concerns about the impact that hundreds more students at Mark Twain will have on already congested Walgrove Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood.

To address the situation, Los Angeles Unified School District Facilities Division representatives are holding community meetings at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 26, and on March 5.

As of last year there were more than 300 K-5 students in the Mandarin immersion program at Broadway Elementary School, according to enrollment records. The program’s kindergarten through second-grade students (about 190) will move to Mark Twain in August, followed by third-, fourth- and fifth-graders during the 2015-16 school year.

Construction of new classrooms, offices and a cafeteria for the elementary school students headed to Mark Twain will cost taxpayers $30 million in bond spending, according to LAUD representatives. The school board authorized the expenditure in April.

Mandarin immersion students will relocate to bungalows at the middle school until construction is completed.

Why the move?

Mark Twain is underpopulated, and Mandarin immersion students currently share the Broadway campus with a nascent Spanish language immersion program that officials hope to grow.

Because Broadway has only 20 classrooms and the Mandarin immersion program has continued to grow since starting five years ago, Westside school board member Steve Zimmer decided on the move to Mark Twain — where Mandarin Chinese and a variety of other language coursework is offered as part of the middle school’s world languages magnet program.

Mark Twain Middle School Principal Rex Patton said he has always believed the Mandarin immersion program should relocate to his campus, as those elementary-level students can now continue their language studies through eighth grade before heading just down the street to Venice High School, which also offers Mandarin classes.

“We’re the only world languages middle school in LAUSD, and now we have an extraordinary opportunity to build those foundations worldwide,” Patton said.

In 2012 Patton had submitted a proposal to blend Broadway’s Mandarin immersion students and a middle school academy for arts and technologies into his magnet initiative, but the plan was rejected by former LAUSD Supt. John Deasy.

LAUSD spokeswoman Shannon Haber said Cheryl Hildreth, one of the district’s instructional area superintendents, will be on hand at Thursday’s community meeting to answer questions about curriculum and instruction.

LAUSD Facilities Development Manager Scott Singletary said attendees of Thursday’s meeting will be able to view preliminary designs for the new Mandarin immersion buildings at Mark Twain and receive updates on the approvals process for the new construction. An environmental review could be completed as early as this spring, Singletary said.

How construction and the increasing student population will impact nearby residential areas is of chief concern to Mar Vista resident Steve Wallace, president of the South Mar Vista Neighborhood Association. He thinks the move is a mistake.

“Why should they have to split families with two kids at this successful Mandarin program,  driving back and forth to either campus to pick up and drop off their kids, creating even more traffic and more car trips through Mar Vista neighborhoods?” he asked.

Singletary said a traffic study will be completed as part of the California Environmental Quality Act process before construction begins.

Blocks away, homeowners near Walgrove Avenue Elementary School complained that no traffic or planning analysis was done when Ocean Charter School shared their campus seven years ago, which led to traffic congestion during student drop-offs and pickups.

Karen Wolfe, whose son attends Venice High School, said she plans to question LAUSD representatives about expenditures for the new construction.

“I’m curious to find out how the district is going to rationalize spending $30 million to duplicate another school on that campus,” she said.

Wallace also questions the spending.

“I think it’s an excellent program that should be allowed to flourish, but the $30 million in new campus spending is a gross misuse of funds,” he said.