Opinion: Open letter to BUSD — Save the Thousand Oaks bilingual program

The district appears to have taken the first step in killing the bilingual program at Thousand Oaks, with no prior outreach to the community.

By Stephen Murphy

Stephen Murphy is a Berkeley resident with a daughter in the bilingual program at Thousand Oaks Elementary School.

Dear Berkeley Unified School District,

As a parent of a child in the bilingual program at Thousand Oaks Elementary School I was amazed and a little horrified last week when I received a letter in my child’s backpack notifying parents of the already made decision to consolidate three of the grade levels in the bilingual program. This I perceived as the first step in killing this program. I personally had an array of emotions after reading the letter. After speaking with other parents, I quickly learned my feelings were widely held.

First, how can the administration make such monumental changes to a program without stakeholder, i.e. parent, notice or input? Adding another learning hurdle to an already acknowledged vulnerable cohort of children, while keeping parents in complete darkness with no opportunity to comment, is mind-boggling.

Second, the administration’s treatment of this program, especially as it pertains to intentionally trying to promote the program, has been abysmal. It appears that the administration is intentionally dissuading students from attending this program. Many parents needlessly struggled with the administration to enroll their children into this program, and many parents were prevented from enrolling their children into the program due to needless obstacles placed before them by the administration.

Third, the testing used to determine a good fit for the program is deficient. Presently, it appears the testing simply determines native vs. non-native Spanish speakers. By default, non-native Spanish speakers are ranked dismally low on the fluency scale. This program is for children who have proficiency in Spanish, regardless of how they attained that proficiency.

Finally, in this present political and economic climate, and the changing demographic in our city, we demand that the school district honor, support, and promote a program which emphasizes cultural diversity. Do not sabotage the program by cutting its legs out from under it.

Therefore, I ask the following:

  1. Immediately put a hold on the process of consolidating grade levels. It will save the administration time and money to not develop curriculum, rearrange staff, etc. if we keep the program as is.
  2. Give the parents and teachers an opportunity to conduct outreach to the community, with accurate information about the program, to fill vacancies in the incoming kindergarten class.
  3. Support and promote this cherished institution by: a) listening to the teachers, b) modifying the website to correctly represent information, and most importantly, c) re-designing the language assessment test to do more than differentiate between native and non-native Spanish speakers that builds in appreciation for the right students for each class.

Like you, we adore our children and we adore this city. You are in a perfect position to champion the transformation of this program from one that is presently limping along, without buy-in and administration support, into a model program which teaches every other school district that a challenged city can celebrate diversity in these troubling times.

Sincerely,

Stephen Murphy