By Gary Walker
Facing a growing level of discontent over his proposal to move a popular Mandarin Chinese language initiative to a Del Rey middle school, Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member Steven Zimmer announced June 5 that he will seek another location for the language program.
Zimmer made the announcement at a community meeting at Broadway Elementary School in Venice, the home of the Mandarin immersion program.
Due to its popularity, the Mandarin program is rapidly expanding and Zimmer was considering moving it to Marina Del Rey Middle School in Del Rey for the 2014-15 school year because there will be available space then. Under that option, he also would not have to move students from Broadway’s English language curriculum with long-standing community ties to their school.
The choice to seek another school was greeted with excitement at Marina Del Rey Middle School and Broadway, albeit in a more subdued fashion at the elementary school.
Odysseus Bostick, a parent of a first-grader who is learning Mandarin Chinese, realizes that the campus is quite small for a growing academic initiative but strongly disagreed with Zimmer’s earlier decision to move it to Marina Del Rey.
“I think it’s far better for the district to keep us at Broadway than moving the program to the middle school, mainly because Zimmer was going to allocate over $5 million to move us and that was coming from school improvement bonds,” Bostick said. “My gripe with that is centered on the fact that the Broadway campus is perfectly adequate for our program if we as a parent community altered the way we run the program.”
Bostick, who ran for the Los Angeles City Council District 11 seat in March, feels an “ideal model” of a 50-50 language immersion school is to recruit four kindergarten classes each year.
“That way, you start a cohort with 96 kids with roughly 24 kids in each classroom,” he explained. “Doing it that way allows you to downsize from four classrooms to three classrooms in second or third grade, something that happens because of two things: changes in student to teacher ratios and natural losses of students because of parents moving or changing school for some reason.
“So,” he reasons, “if you always start with four classes, you will have enough kids to maintain three classes later on.”
Marina Del Rey parents like Karen Wolfe objected to having another school on campus where millions would have been spent to upgrade classrooms and the school would face the potential loss of its gymnasium.
“My primary objection was the Mandarin school was receiving so much support from the district and was so big that it was clear to me and many others that the success of the Mandarin program was dependent on the failure of Marina Del Rey,” Wolfe, the school’s booster club president, asserted.
Currently, a charter school, Goethe International School, is occupying some of the classrooms that the Mandarin students would have taken. But LAUSD schools have more stringent regulations pertaining to facilities than charter schools, and the Mandarin students would have needed sinks and other improvements to the classrooms.
Tensions have been high at the elementary school for the better part of a year since the district began making plans to consider what to do with the Mandarin students, many of whom live outside District 4, which includes Venice, Mar Vista, Del Rey and Westchester. A small but vocal group of parents with students in the Mandarin program have expressed a strong desire to stay at Broadway, despite the dearth of space.
They attempted to pressure Zimmer into changing the school boundaries so pupils from the English program would be moved to Westminster Avenue Elementary School in Venice, exacerbating an already challenging time at the school as a chasm between some parents of the two programs began to emerge.
Some of these parents supported the $1 million largess donated to Zimmer’s opponent in the March 5 school board race – Mar Vista Community Council member Kate Anderson – and other charter school-backed candidates.
“Kudos to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg,” wrote Erika Kristen Beck. “Zimmer is ready to spend $2.5 million LAUSD doesn’t have by uprooting several hundred Venice students and families so that 100 kids don’t have to walk five blocks for no good reason.”
Many of these students that Beck referenced have parents and grandparents who live in the Oakwood neighborhood, and who themselves attended Broadway and resented the attempt to dislodge them from their school.
Zimmer, who could not be reached for comment, has repeatedly stated publicly that he will not change the school boundaries under any circumstances.
The location for the Mandarin students for the 2014-15 school year has yet to be determined.