MONTCLAIR, NJ - A survey was sent from the Montclair Public School District to Montclair families Wednesday morning with questions on the school magnet theme and parents’ opinion on foreign language immersion.

Parents began to launch complaints that the survey appeared anonymous, did not provide parents with more than one child an option to answer for multiples, and the same person could fill it out an infinite number of times. The overarching complaint, was tha it appeared that anyone, anywhere, with a link to the survey, could reply, and the resulting data could be used to make decisions for the school system.

While Interim Superintendent Ronald Bolandi was not reachable and no official spokesperson for the school system was available to discuss, unofficially a school district official responded, “We would hope that our families would have the integrity to want to complete the survey for their own well being.”

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The survey asked the following questions:

Are you aware of the magnet theme of your school?

How often does your child participate in magnet-related activities?

Do you feel that magnet-related activities interfere with core curriculum time?

Do you feel that your child benefits from the magnet courses and activities?

Would you like to see the magnets more aligned with important curriculum standards?

Do you feel there is an appropriate variety of magnet-themed choices for your child?

Would you be interested in changing the theme of one of our current magnet schools to a 50/50 immersion magnet? (50/50 means your child spends 50% of the school day in English and 50% in the target language.)

How can the magnet themes be strengthened, or become more contemporary?

Language instruction in general has been a theme of discussion in the Montclair School District. Specifically, foreign language immersion has also been an ongoing issue raised among parents during Board of Education Meetings over the past year.

Garrett Morrison, co-chairman of the Montclair School District world language round table committee spoke to Tap into Montclair about the state of world language instruction in Montclair.

Morrison said 35 people from Montclair are on the committee that informs a list of about 4000 residents on endeavors to improve language instruction in the district.

According to Morrison, currently New Jersey law says that language instruction is mandatory. He states that Montclair only has certain schools that teach a foreign language as an elective. If there is a conflict between that elective class and another, Morrison added that children may not get into the language class at all. 

However even best case scenario where a child consistently elects Spanish each cycle, at Hillside for example, and successfully gets in, they would have difficulty building on their language skills as the same content must be taught throughout the year to accommodate students joining the class midyear.

Morrison argues that the language immersion model is the best and most cost-effective way to prepare children for the future. Further, Morrison provided data that asserts children not only do better on standardized scores but also show increases in IQ test results after spending even one year learning a foreign language in an immersion environment.

When asked why the district has not acted on this data he said his guess is that turnover in the administration has made implementation a challenge.

Tap into asked Morrison if he thought the focus of the board should be on closing the education gap and improving math and reading. He replied, "We've supplied data to the district and AGAP that shows dual language immersion programs close the achievement gap, improve math and reading skills, as well as providing other benefits. Of course, it also closes the opportunity gap."

We asked about the cost of implementing such a program and whether there'd be implication on taxes, which are already exorbitant in our town.  

 

He said, "Implementing the dual language immersion model for foreign language instruction in Montclair will save millions in taxpayer dollars." The WL Committee found that Montclair doesn't have the money or time for quality traditional foreign language program. To give kids three to five classes a week of instruction takes time from somewhere. Morrison added, “Less recess? We really can't afford it in the current schedule. And, we would need to fund 20 to 25 teachers to run a quality program in just the K-5 grades. That's millions of dollars the town doesn't have to spend. And, the costs grow every year.”

 

The committee recommended using the immersion model of foreign language instruction because it doesn't require the 20-25 teachers or subtracting time from recess and other subjects. It also happens to produce better results in foreign language learning and overall academic achievement. Thus, it saves millions of dollars while providing other very good benefits.

 

Morrison who said language immersion would occur by attrition dismissed the notion that immersion could displace current language teachers. In other words, a new-hire immersion teacher will only fill a slot left by a retiring teacher.

 

We approached Alessandra DeBlasio, another parent who has advocated for immersion in the distruct whether she feels things are improving. Now that the Superintendent of Schools Mr. Bolandi has proposed a pilot immersion program at one of Montclair’s K-2 elementary schools it seemed some headway was being made.

 

DeBlasio said, “What I think is important is not merely stating that there will be an immersion pilot, but stating what the district means by "immersion."  So, until the superintendent states the parameters of the "immersion" program, I cannot even begin to consider whether he has addressed our language concerns.

 

We brought up the fact that Tuesday evening the superintendent sent a district wide survey asking how residents felt about language instruction, the magnet theme itself, and immersion specifically. DeBlasio said “Basic questions remain unanswered:  when will the pilot launch, which grades, how many classes per grade, how many hours per day of instruction in the target language (i.e., a 50-50 model, or 90-10), how many days per week and, if the language is Mandarin, why Mandarin?”

 

In recent meetings where a French charter school was proposed, Bolandi made a strong case about French not being widely spoken. He also touted immersion programs as mainly being in districts where the children’s first language was the immersion language. The choice for Mandarin, and only at one school without continuation certainly opens the door for questions.

 

DeBlasio went on to point out that Hillside is the next step for students from Nishuane when they graduate second grade. She said, “Why not include Hillside?  There are almost always kinks when inaugurating a new program at a school, so why not get them out of the way at both schools at the same time?  Why start just at Nishuane and then have to re-invent the wheel when it comes time for those Nishuane immersion students to go to Hillside?  Why not start the programs in tandem at both schools as we proposed?

 

When asked how he felt about immersion schools Morrison was inherently in favor of public education. DeBlasio said, “French immersion school … it’s an intriguing idea.”

 

 

When asked how he felt about charter immersion schools Morrison was inherently in favor of public education but wished the language component in our system was stronger.

 

DeBlasio said, “French immersion school … it’s an intriguing idea.”