Students must change schools to make room for growing Mandarin and Spanish programs

By Gary Walker

In the three years since Broadway Elementary School in Venice welcomed a Mandarin language immersion program, parents of traditional-curriculum students have found themselves at odds with the newcomers over limited classroom space and fear of being displaced from the campus.

Mandarin-immersion parents, many of whom live miles away, have argued they need full run of Broadway’s 20 classrooms for the rapidly growing program to prosper. Parents of traditional students have accused those families of trying to push their students out of the way.

A recent decision by Los Angeles Unified School District officials settled the argument in an unexpected way: both groups will eventually have to leave the school.

Through a gradual process beginning this fall, a Spanish-language immersion curriculum launched at Broadway last year will eventually become the school’s sole instructional program.

The relocations are a directive from LAUSD Supt. John Deasy and have rankled many on both sides of the issue, with members of each group accusing district officials of misleading them into thinking they wouldn’t have to leave the school.

“I know that they are upset because they love their school, but I can only do what the district directs me to do,” said Broadway Principal Susan Wang, who came to the school with the advent of the Mandarin immersion program.

Of the 298 students currently enrolled in the Mandarin immersion program, 285 live outside of Broadway Elementary School’s geographic attendance boundaries and attend the school through district permits, according to statistics provided by LAUSD.

Traditional students number 107, 47 of whom live outside of the attendance boundaries.

There are 39 students in the nascent Spanish immersion program, 23 of them attending by permit.

In August, traditional students in grades two through five will transfer to Westminster Avenue Elementary School in Venice, about half a mile away.

Mandarin immersion students will remain at Broadway through the 2014-15 school year but, but the following school year its kindergarten through second-grade students will transfer to Mark Twain Middle School in Mar Vista. Third, fourth and fifth graders head to Mark Twain in 2015-16.

On April 15, the LAUSD board voted to spend $25 million in school bond money to construct new classrooms, offices and a cafeteria for the Mandarin immersion program at Mark Twain.

Following the announcement of these changes, a group of traditional-curriculum parents rallied in front of Broadway Elementary for two days.

“I don’t think it’s fair for them to kick us out of our own school,” said Rocio Hernandez, who attended Broadway as a girl and has a son attending the fifth grade there.

LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer, whose district includes Venice and Mar Vista, said he recognized how painful it would be for some of the families to relocate.

“No one can pretend that this is a positive for students who are caught in the middle of this very tough situation,” Zimmer said. “We’re to do everything that we can to make sure that those families get all the help that they need from this district.”

But the Mandarin immersion program’s move to Mark Twain is also another brick in the foundation of a language immersion pipeline that Zimmer is trying to build in Venice and Mar Vista.

Despite tensions, he believes all the ingredients for a successful language initiative are in place.

“We have the opportunity to capitalize on the diversity of these communities and make the commitment — as a school community, as a Los Angeles community — and say your child can come through our Venice system and be multilingual and multicultural at a level that, upon graduation from Venice High School, they would have a choice to study wherever they wanted,” Zimmer said.

“We have simply the best dual immersion program in LAUSD and I’m sure one of the best in the state,” Zimmer continued. “It has weathered the storm of budget cuts, of pedagogical changes, and it is battle-tested.”

Lillian Yee, whose son is in the Mandarin immersion program at Broadway, said that relocating the program to Mark Twain Middle School may ultimately benefit its students.

“We could then become a feeder school to Mark Twain,” said Yee, a liaison between the program’s parent council and the school district.

Yee, whose child commutes to school from Porter Ranch in the San Fernando Valley, said the program certainly needs room to grow but was disheartened to learn that traditional-curriculum children would be moving out first.

“After all, they were here first, but we do need a larger space [next year],” said Yee. “In many ways, I would have preferred that we moved to Mark Twain first instead of the community school leaving, but that’s not what the district wanted.”