By Rebecca Gaunt
Cobb County School District’s dual language immersion program may be facing significant changes and that has parents and students worried.
Parents expressed frustration on the lack of communication about the change from the district in local Facebook groups. Teachers report being told the program is being phased out but they don’t know why.
Introduced in the 2015-2016 school year, the DLI program allows students to learn a second language while learning academics. The program’s website describes the goals for the students, which are “ to develop literacy skills in both English and the target language while attaining a high level of academic achievement that is at or above their grade level in all content areas and to develop a world cultural sensitivity. Each school/community chooses the immersion language for its school.”
More details on the program and a list of participating schools can be found at this link.
In a Facebook live, school board member Dr. Jaha Howard, whose child enrolled the first year of the program at Nickajack Elementary School, said he spoke with
Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and some district executive team members about the rumors.
“There’s going to be some type of reduction for the dual language immersion program… and the details of that, to my understanding, is not set in stone, and is not clear,” he said.
In his discussions with the district, Howard said he heard concerns about staffing issues, allotment challenges, and the prioritization of making sure students are reading well and performing academically.
In March, the district reported that 98% of its full-time educators signed to return for the 2022-2023 school year.
Ragsdale will address the issue at the next board meeting on April 21, according to Howard. However, a fourth vote is needed to put the program on the meeting agenda for discussion, and that has not happened yet. If Ragsdale discusses it during the superintendent remarks portion of the meeting, it’s unknown if any questions will be permitted.
Some parents have commented that the program is the reason they moved to the area and are deeply concerned about how the changes might affect their children’s education.
“I want the superintendent to share all the reasons why this operational decision is being made,” Howard said. “It sounds pretty clear that it’s not a cold cut of the program altogether.”
One of the rumors circulating is that the program will no longer accept kindergartners and be phased out that way, but Howard said he thinks the program will instead be focused on at certain schools.
Howard noted that the program was started by involved parents and said, “I’ll suggest that what got it started is what’s gonna keep dual language immersion thriving–and that’s severe serious engagement.”
He continued, “What about when we have educators who, if they’re at a school where dual language isn’t going to continue, what incentive do they have to stay?”
Becky Sayler, a teacher and candidate for Cobb School Board Post 2, has three children in the DLI program. She shared a letter on Facebook that she sent to board members and the superintendent.
She wrote, “My children have had wonderful teachers in this program. I believe they have been challenged and supported in their academic pursuits in ways unique to a program of this nature.
Receiving communication from the district on how this program will look for our elementary students when they reach middle school has been a challenge for the past six years. We persist in this program despite these problems in communication because we know it is so valuable to our children’s education. We hope this program will continue for years to come and that your communications and plans for it will be consistent and clear.”
Board Chairman David Chastain told the Courier in an email,” My understanding is that CCSD is continuing existing Dual Language classes, and that Mr. Ragsdale will have some comments at the next Board meeting about the DLI program.” When asked in a follow up whether the topic would be a discussion item at the meeting, he wrote, “I shared what I know. Next board meeting we will get more details.”
The Courier reached out to the district for comment but has not received a response.
“The board ultimately holds the superintendent accountable for what we do and the direction we’re going to go. Also, how we prioritize our programs…It seems that as a leadership team, we find money for what we want to find money for,” Howard said.
Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.