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MI Issue has divided this town

Original post made by Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 31, 2007

Now that the Board has rejected the MI proposal (at least for the time being) we need to build some bridges across this town to fix the divide that has occurred as a result of the debate. Although for the large part both sides have been cordial, there have been some very divisive undertones ranging from racist remarks (including debates about whether they are racist remarks) to charter threats and insulting innuendos, plus an inclusion of children in this debate where they do not deserve to be. This community, particularly the school communities, have always put children first and differences second. Now as adults, we have to find ways to make sure that the wounds are healed and the divide vanishes. The problem is how to do this without this becoming more or a partisan divide. Lets start to co-operate and get over this. We don't want this divide and more importantly, our children don't deserve this divide!!

Comments (23)

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Posted by Disillusioned
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2007 at 2:21 pm

I lost a lot of faith in the character of Palo Alto parents as a result of this issue. I have no problem at all with people arguing their point passionately, which is to be expected. However, the level of nastiness on the part of some in board meetings, letters, and this anonymous forum, has exposed the ugly side of too many people.
Who would want to get better acquainted with people who have shown their baser character, people who don't respect their neighbors just because their desires and values differ from their own? Attacking the issues is one thing, but attacking the people is another.

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Posted by Pauline
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jan 31, 2007 at 4:45 pm

I agree, it has been very disillusioning. I was really depressed last night and this morning at the mud.

But, I have been cheering up as I speak to people, and remember that it is a very small minority of people who are nasty, and that the anonymous forums are just that, a way for people to vent who may want to vent.

I still believe that most of the people on either side just really thought they were doing what was the best thing to do. Like Barb said, good people with good intentions can respectfully disagree.

As long as we stop painting everyone with the same brush of whatever name du jour there is going around, on either side, and try to listen for what people actually mean when they speak, I think we will be ok.

So, I haven't lost all hope for us yet.

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Posted by it'll take a while
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 31, 2007 at 5:25 pm

I wonder if the opposing camps in Downtown North are now at least talking with each other. I understand that they tried to have a "make up" barbecue in Johnson park after the final decision on traffic calming was made but no-one attended.

The Palo Alto process seems to be flawed with the proponents being encouraged, event to the extent of donating $66,000 in this case, only to be shot down years into the effort.

There must be a better way.

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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 31, 2007 at 7:41 pm

How about we focus on a very simple question:

"Shall it be the policy of the PAUSD to include world language instruction as part of the core curriculum at the elementary school level?"

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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 31, 2007 at 7:51 pm


Your's is but one of several possible questions that could be asked of the BoE. In fact, the BoE has to prioritize all such questions. Jumping the line is not, usually, a good idea. Maybe the language issue has developed a critical mass, but I suspect that the neighborhood school issue is far in front at this point (and going forward).

Immersion programs should look at the charter school or private school approach.

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Posted by Simon Firth
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 31, 2007 at 7:57 pm

Thank you Paul, I completely agree. Let's have that discussion now. And if we decide -- as I hope we do-- that the answer is 'yes,' then we can talk about which languages we want delivered in what ways.

I know that languages have not been ranked as a high priority in the District in the past but I wonder if the MI proposal has shifted the community's feelings somewhat and made more people aware of the broad value of teaching children languages (especially their value in improving English language skills and in broadening a child's cultural worldview), and of the particular value of teaching them in the early years.

My impression is that this feeling is especially strong among parents of young children in the district. As the parent of an incoming kindergartener, I know that among my parent peer group languages rank very high.

Every neighbor I knew with a child entering kindergarten last year entered the SI lottery (with only one 'winning,' of course!) and the rest now are all (resentfully) paying for after-school language classes. Judging by the values that these parents hold, though, I think we can only expect demand for early language education (for all) to increase.

So let's get talking. I think the first thing to do is to advocate that the BOE set up a World Languages task force to look at language provision across the board. Such a task force should establish a logical progression of language offerings, quite possibly including (but certainly not limited to) immersion, from elementary to high school.

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Posted by Simon Firth
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 31, 2007 at 8:09 pm

To my College Terrace neighbor John -- I think that one task of a world languages task force should be to find a way to offer languages to all in an equitable way. If it does this, it ought not to be working against the neighborhood model.

Indeed I would make it part of the task force's remit to come up with solutions at the elementary level that are equitable and non-threatening to neighborhood schools. For me that doesn't mean an abandonment of immersion per se. If all neighborhood elementary schools offered some language instruction, I for one would not be against one or two immersion programs existing as choices for parents who wanted to go that way. I think the demand for immersion would subside, though. Perhaps we'd end up with a single strand at one, two or three local schools--and, with our newly super-sized elementary campuses, my guess is they'd not swamp the neighborhood feel of any.

The bigger point, though, is we need to have this conversation first before we vote any particular language proposals through.

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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 31, 2007 at 8:22 pm

The problem with immersion programs is that there is no realistic way to stop them. Simon, you talk about language immersion. How about math immersion? Music immersion? Physical education immersion? Science immersion? Anytime an activist group organizes to get their own immersion program it will be the same essential problem: Pressure on the BoE to jump to the front of the line.

IMO it was a mistake to allow SI and Connections and Direct Instruction to compromise neighborhood schools. We are now paying the piper.

The BoE has immense problems facing it. Why are any of us forcing even more problems onto their plate?

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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 31, 2007 at 8:37 pm


I don't understand why you think the question as I pose it is jumping the gun. It should be a question that is asked and answered as part of the strategic plan in the coming year.

If the answer is that language is not a priority (which is the case with the exisiting priority list) we all move on accordingly. If the asnwer is yes, which is what I would like to see be the case, then a whole series of questions follow on from there.

I am confused why you mention neighborhood schools as regards this world language policy question, I will just leave it at that.

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Posted by Simon Firth
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 31, 2007 at 8:43 pm

John -- I agree choice programs are hard to stop once implemented. That's why we need a better process for deciding on them, rather than the reactive, ad hoc process we have now. I also agree that the BOE has more imporatant things right now to do than guide us through a new choice program, which was one reason why I was against forcing through MI this month.

But I also think we need to think about languages more. A lot of the pro-MI rhetoric was exhorting the BOE to be 'cutting edge' and 'innovative.' Where I think we could be just that is in offering languages to all at elementary school (if we can resolve the financial and logistical challenges that such an ambition would present). I'm willing to keep language immersion in the discussion for now. I'd certainly not be against abandoning the whole idea, though, (and SI along with it), either, if we have an alternative offering at the elementary grades.

To think more about that, here's one question I'd like answered -- if we have language offerings for all at the elementary level (which gets rid of the equity objection to an SI-only or SI&MI-only system), what are the really compelling reasons to not offer immersion at all and therefore to get rid of SI?

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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 31, 2007 at 8:50 pm


I have no problem with dropping issues into the hopper each year. They can all be prioitized, according to the best interests of our schools. I have to say, though, that MI did, indeed, try to jump to the head of the line. You were part of this, Paul, so let's not be coy about it.

I seriously doubt that the language group will truly accept a non-priority ranking, should it occur, next year.

Let's talk about it next year, when it is appropriate to rank prioities by the BoE.

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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 31, 2007 at 9:18 pm


I'm not too sure I follow your argument. You seem to be saying that a generic language offering should also allow an immersion program. Do I have that right?

I am not, per se, for or against language programs in the lower grades. I guess I would need to be convinced that they are a high priority. I am more concerned about core educational pursuits: English language skills, math/arithmetic, reading skills, physical education, music, art. Pretty basic things, really.

I think foreign language skills should be judged against other priorities. If, for instance, the BoE decides that foreign languages should displace art instruction, or music instruction, then it will need to makes those hard choices. However, I will never support any more attacks on our neighborhood schools (via immersion programs).

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 31, 2007 at 9:57 pm


Your argument strikes me as slippery-slope reason. Language immersion has been shown, repeatedly, as the most efficient way to teach a second language. Not so for math and science.

Of course there's a realistic way to stop immersion programs. It happened just last night and if PA wants to elect a board that opposes another choice program it can do so.

Hoover and Ohlone were developed at a time when there were sliding school enrollments and PA needed magnet schools. Right now, we don't. The neighborhood schools score well and have, for the most part, more students than they can handle. Ohlone and Hoover haven't destroyed the neighborhood schools. There's no brain-drain or lack of parental commitment.

It does sound like SI at Escondido creates particular problems. It sounds very-in-your-face and a bit divisive.

Basically, choice programs have succeeded here, but there's neither the room nor the consensus for another one. I think it also became clear that the BoE will not do another Escondido where a neighborhood school is split into two programs.

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Posted by another observer
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 31, 2007 at 10:47 pm

"We are all tired of the big lie which is desperately trying to split this community" -- Pauline Navarro

WE are tired, too, Pauline.

From: Pauline Navarro
Sent: Thursday, January 25, 2007 3:02:41 PM
Subject: Time for short letters to Board on MI

Dear All:

I am writing this as a result of a conversation Jamie Maltz, Lisa Steinback , Faith Brigel and I had. I hope this is in the spirit of what they intended I write in all of our names. If not, the fault is mine.

Judging from the letters to the Editor that have been appearing lately, it is safe to assume that the 4 Board members who so eloquently spoke against implementing MI right now on Jan 9th are getting a punishing number of letters in support of MI. These letters are probably using all tactics imaginable from accusing them of the pernicious "lack of vision", having a weak will and worse, to threatening them with Charter Schools, to guilting them by saying PACE paid for the Feasibility Study so they deserve MI.

Sunday Jan 28, Palo Alto Daily News Letters

Mandarin immersion supported

Dear Editor: I am the parent of a child in the Palo Alto Unified School District and I support Mandarin immersion. Neither my husband nor I speak Mandarin, and our daughter, an only child, is in third grade and long past the window of opportunity presented by the superintendent's recommendation for a pilot K-1 Mandarin immersion program at Ohlone Elementary School. On a personal level, we will gain nothing and lose nothing whichever direction the school board chooses to vote. So why does Mandarin immersion matter to me? Because it's the right thing to do for Palo Alto students and families. The school board members' stated reasons against Mandarin immersion are shocking. For example, board member Mandy Lowell says Mandarin immersion is too divisive. Frankly, all change in Palo Alto is divisive, including the attendance area action, historical preservation, high-density housing, traffic calming and redevelopment of Edgewood and Alma plaza shopping centers. If our leaders had acted based on how divisive an action is, we would never have had the landmark decisions of Brown v. the Board of Education or Roe v. Wade. The question is not whether the action is divisive; the question is what action will help our children be best prepared to become productive and responsible citizens of a global economy.

Janis Hom,
Palo Alto
Friday Jan 26, Palo Alto Daily News Letters

Mandarin proposal a good opportunity

Dear Editor: I'm pleased to see that the Mandarin immersion proposal has sparked such interest in reviving the [Foreign Language Elementary School program] and a comprehensive language strategy for the Palo Alto schools. Elementary school is a very effective age for learning a foreign language.

I don't believe, though, that commissioning a comprehensive strategy is a good reason to delay or cancel the proposed Mandarin immersion pilot program. If we believe that the eventual strategy is reasonably likely to find that there's a place for both immersion and FLES (as the presence of Spanish Immersion seems to suggest), letting the tiny one-strand / two classroom, cost-neutral Mandarin immersion pilot program proceed can be an effective step toward the future. It will take advantage of the current knowledge and momentum for Mandarin immersion, it will give input on how well a second immersion program can fit into the Palo Alto choice programs, and it will also provide some creative exploration in how immersion programs can be leveraged to offer FLES in a cost-effective manner. It would be a win-win to be getting this local experience at the same time as a task force is studying other districts' approaches to language learning in elementary schools.

Let's lead, rather than dragging our feet.

Terry Roberts,
Ohlone and JL Stanford Middle School parent,
Palo Alto
January 24, 2007, Palo Alto Weekly Letters
Looking to the future


I was completely shocked to recently learn that the progressive Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) made the decision not to support the Mandarin-immersion program.

As an entrepreneur and private business owner in Palo Alto, I can tell you that there is tremendous growth opportunity for Americans in China. Many of our clients, ranging in size from Fortune 1000 companies to local start-up companies, plan to expand their business relationships with China over the next decade, whether as investors, potential customers, suppliers or strategic partners.

China is now one of the fastest growing economies in the world. For example, a recent article in the San Jose Mercury News reported that China is now the second largest buyers of cars, providing a fortunate boost to U.S. automakers whose market share is suffering at home.

If this is the economic picture today, what will it look like in 15 years when today's Palo Alto first graders enter the workforce? As president of a talent management consulting firm, I am assured by employers that the jobs will now go to where the talent is available.

There are few barriers to keep jobs in the United States. Imagine the competitive and economic advantage our kids in Palo Alto would have if they had the opportunity to learn fluent Mandarin now in elementary school. I personally have two children who are the lucky recipients of a fine PAUSD education. If such an immersion program had been offered when they were young, I would have done anything to enroll them.

I truly can't understand how a district that has represented such excellence for so many years cannot have the foresight to provide as many students as possible with this opportunity to learn such an important foreign language. It is almost an obligation of the district to prepare our students with the skills they will need to compete globally when they graduate.

I am not of Chinese descent. I am a Palo Alto resident who was born in Chicago. I strongly urge the PAUSD board to reconsider its decision and demonstrate the type of leadership for which this district has been known.

Dr. B. Lynn Ware
El Camino Real
Palo Alto

Leaders or followers?


Palo Alto has a chance to make a name on the map with a Mandarin-immersion program, and yet it is swayed by xenophobic, opinionated neighbors to remain unknown for innovation. What a shame to hide one's head in the sand when progress will happen around us.

I will join the laughter when Palo Alto finally realizes it has to implement a Mandarin program into the school curriculum (after Cupertino, Burlingame, the East Bay, etc.). Rather than be a leader blazing a trail, the opponents prefer the "safe" and rutted path of a follower.

With the pending Mandarin-immersion decision leaning toward unfavorable, Palo Alto's average IQ will be lowered. In the name of making all things equal, dumbing down has begun. Anyone with math experience would know about the lowest common denominator to make things equal.

The Bay Area is all about diversity, and yet Palo Alto wants equality -- how can diverse people be equal? By being reduced to the basic human being. That's marvelous but sure misses the point in education.

Education is the door that opens minds. I think the board has forgotten what real education is and always has been about: opening minds.

I do not expect closed minds to open, but do hope their children will have a chance to allow success into their lives with open minds. Once open, they won't ever close again.

Jeannie Llewellyn
Piers Court
Palo Alto

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2007 at 1:28 am

Ummm, Another Observer, what point are you trying to make? Not all letters are published. The more abusive a letter is, the less likely it is to be published. So, just that there were some polite pro-MI letters doesn't mean there weren't rude ones. Given the range of tones in the posts online, I seriously doubt the letters to the editors were all hearts and flowers.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2007 at 8:59 am

The divisiveness goes on.

Lets talk about how we want to see FLES in our schools. Do we want to see a longer day? Do we want a choice between say 2 languages at each school? Do we want FLES as an optional after school program, organised by the District will accredited traveling teachers, possibly funded by PTA or some such money. Do we want this to be an optional program or a mandatory program running directly after school, but perhaps changing the kids into different classrooms to get them with others of the same skill level?

All these topics are worthy of discussion. Rehashing the same arguments over and over again are not.

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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 1, 2007 at 10:07 am


I have been involved, off and on, in support of world language being part of the basic curriculum in PAUSD for a number of years.

The discussion of the current choice policy at the BoE meeting the other night demonstrated to me that (once again) that the lack of a clear policy around the role of world language instruction has led to the sort of situation we have been in with the specific question around Mandarin Immersion. Since the current language policy, such as it is, is vague and incomplete, there is a great deal of confusion about what the role of language instruction is or should be, particularly at the elmentary school level. Contrast this with the current choice policy, which is clearly spelled out, and serves as the tool set for dealing with the role of choice programs in this district. It is a telling difference.

To my way of thinking, the basic language policy question must now be answered. I find your phrasing "dropping issues into the hopper" to be perjorative, as if addressing this fundamental question is just another little thing that a few people want to get some air time to discuss. It is much more important than that.

There certainly is an opinion that Mandarin Immersion was proposed "out of sequence," and it gave rise to many people who support the concept of world language instruction at the elementary level opposing it at this juncture. I hope those people have the same enthusiasm I do for getting the overall policy question fully addressed as a next step. When that happens, the immersion question will likely re-surface, in a context of a policy that I wish had happened 12 years ago, when the matter was originally addressed, and Spanish Immersion was the outcome.

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Posted by k
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2007 at 10:08 am

With today's considerable economic, enrollment, political school finance and other challenges, I think it's most appropriate that the BoE take good care in examining potential new choice programs. Really, most of us in the district expect that. The MI proposal must be placed in context of everything else in this district.I commend the Board for doing just that and rejecting MI at this time.

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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 1, 2007 at 10:38 am


Language programs were not even on the current list of top priorities of the BoE. Maybe nobody dropped it in the hopper last year, or maybe it was not considered important enough to consider seriously. Since it will clearly be in the hopper this coming year, which current top priorities should be displaced, in your opinion?

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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 1, 2007 at 10:59 am


I cannot answer your specific question about what should be displaced, nor do I think it is necessary for this discussion.

There will be a new strategic plan developed in the coming year, and there will be a series of questions asked and priorities set. It is not a matter of tweaking an existing plan, where some things are adjusted. It is a zero-based process, if my work experience and understanding of the process PAUSD will follow are appropriate indications. I suspect all the current priorities will be included for consideration, and I further suspect that other matters, in addition to world language instruction, will be brought to the table as well.

I really do not know much about the history of the existing strategic plan, but I do believe it was a major oversight that language was neither addressed, nor made a priority. I am hopeful that this time round, that on any matters that get serious review, it is made clear that they are or are not priorities, and why or why not. Makes it much easier to know where things stand if it is explicitly stated one way or another, on any and all issues.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2007 at 1:29 pm


I think FLES development needs its own thread. I mean, the topic of this one is divisiveness, no?

As I've said, I'd like to combine Summertime immersion classes with traditional language instruciton in the schools. The immersion process does have particular benefits and a summer program is an economic and open way to offer that. Space isn't an issue and it would be possible to offer a variety of programs.

In the early years, I think the emphasis needs to be on the spoken rather than written languages. The huge advantage of early language is on the spoken side--i.e. speaking without an accent.

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Posted by Lisa Steinback
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 19, 2007 at 7:57 pm

Perhaps unbeknownst to Larry Yang (Letter in the Weekly, 2/9/07), district-wide foreign language plans are already in progress. On Jan 30 the Board approved the start of an implementation plan for a FLES-based program for elementary school. The results will be fed into the Strategic Planning Process in 2007-2008. The district's plan is that this FLES-based design would then be integrated with the secondary world language program so that a full K-12 program could be provided in all schools. This sounds to me like a great opportunity to continue the momentum of this issue across our district. We are all stakeholders in this process and any Palo Altan interested in foreign language should stay involved. In the twelve years since our district last took up this issue, technology has skyrocketed forward. Creative possibilites abound (e.g. check out the Rosetta Stone foreign language software available on Palo Alto library computers). Feel free to come up with your own suggestions. Join myself and other of the MI opponents who are already hard at work on this. We can supplement FLES classes with today's tools. Imagine telling our children to please put on their iPod so they can hear their Spanish lesson. It's very exciting!

I wonder if Larry knows about the impressive foreign language classes going on afterschool at the various elementary school campuses? At some schools, 25% of their students stay after school each week in order to learn about the language and culture of another country! At other schools, families attend summer trips with their child's language teacher to reinforce what they learned during the school year. It's evident that local school communities are working to fill this demand. On Jan 30, the district announced it will offer Mandarin Immersion to middle school students in summer school. That's a great start. Parents like myself hope this will be a catalyst for the district adding various language immersion offerings to elementary summer school as well. With students learning and listening to a second language during the school year and then having it reinforced during the summer, real progress can be made. Let's actively support our district in its efforts to provide foreign language enrichment. I think there are many parents like myself that dream of their child speaking a second language by the time they graduate high school. I truly believe it could be fantastic for all our children.

Like this comment
Posted by a parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 6, 2007 at 6:53 pm

why are we not looking for the future to better our children.. i can't really judge this problem unless it doesn't work. we need change. change is good. the world is changing and there are so many people of all colors of life living in palo alto. why should this tear up a community of people. why can't we work together and help each seem that it all about control.

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