Peter Gorman (courtesy Charlotte Observer)

Dissatisfied with teaching in Spanish 85 percent of the time, a North Carolina superintendent is pushing for a proposal that includes a plan for a school where Spanish is the predominant language.

Superintendent Peter Gorman pitched his proposal to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board today, with provisions to combine two of its dual-language programs and turn Collinswood Elementary into a Spanish-speaking school. Nora Carr, chief communications officer for Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, told WND the facility will help to preserve Hispanic culture.

“We find that a lot of kids who go there have parents who might be English-speaking immigrants, and they might be very successful,” she said. “They fear that their kids might be losing some of the culture or not getting the fluency in the language because they speak English at home.”

Carr said one of the top executives with AT&T is Hispanic and sends his children to the school.

“Obviously they are very fluent, well-educated in English, legal citizens,” she said. “They’re sending their kids there because they want them to have exposure to their native language.”

Collinswood Dual Language Academy already provides a K-5 “language immersion program.” The school began with a total Spanish curriculum. According to a brochure to promote the Spanish services, “In this dual language program, kindergarteners spend 85% of the instructional day learning the curriculum in Spanish and 15% of the day learning in English.”

Carr said the program places equal emphasis on fluency in English and Spanish, but according to a program brochure, Collinswood teachers provide instruction in Spanish while introducing English words. Texts are provided in Spanish as well.

When students reach the first grade, they spend half the day learning in Spanish only. Homework is allowed to be completed in either language.

However, the dual language program could place even more emphasis on Spanish and stretch the curriculum into the eighth grade if Gorman’s plan is approved.

Collinswood enrolls more than 510 students, and the population is 53 percent Hispanic, 29 percent black and 17 percent white. The school estimates 66 percent of the student population is eligible to receive low-income free or reduced-price school lunches.

With nearly 117,000 students, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District is the nation’s 23rd largest public school district. It sparked public controversy last year when a student named Jose Velasquez recited the Pledge of Allegiance in English at his Garinger High School graduation, the Charlotte Observer reported. Immediately afterward, CMS organizers requested that he repeat the pledge in Spanish.

Collinswood School

Based on U.S. Census 2000 figures, the Hispanic population increased 571 percent in Mecklenburg County from 1990 to 2000. Likewise, Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools experienced a 822 percent jump in Hispanic enrollments from 1995 to 2000.

According to the City of Charlotte’s Mayor’s Immigration Study, much of the growth is “due to the high birth rate of Hispanics and illegal immigrants in Mecklenburg County. … However, the full impact of illegal or legal immigration for the school system cannot be determined, as Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, like schools across the country, do not ask for citizenship status when students are enrolled for the academic year.”

CMS claims the cost per student is $8,198. The study multiplies that number by the 13,000 students in the Limited English Proficiency program and estimates that $106 million is spent on illegal immigrants in the district. In 2006, CMS received $6 million in state funding for the LEP program.

“Certainly we have kids who are first-generation immigrants and are learning English, and kids who were born here and don’t know English at all who come from all kinds of backgrounds and cultures,” Carr said.

When asked if the Spanish program will cost more than typical public schools, Carr responded, “Traditionally magnet programs cost a little bit more, though we’re actually combining programs to save money, so this is actually going to be a cost savings for us. Their teachers get paid the same amount as a teacher at a regular elementary school. There may be some additional curriculum costs.”

While Gorman has been discussing budget cutbacks for hiring teachers, and many instructors complain that they are forced to pay for school supplies, the district’s media division enjoys a budget of $3.57 million and employs 29 people. Some critics say the division is more focused on spinning the image of the district rather than keeping the public informed. CMS even has its own TV department with 36 shows.

Carr said plans for the Spanish program are in preliminary stages at this point, and the board will make its final decision in the fall.

“It’s all up for discussion; nothing is firm yet,” she said. “It’s simply a proposal, and there are a variety of options that we’re looking at. We’ll be taking those out to a series of community seven forums through August to get input from parents, the community and the general public.”



Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.