Anchorage school district administrators propose cuts to Immersion and Immersion programs

Young students sit at desks in a primary school classroom.
Students at Birchwood ABC Elementary sit in their classroom on November 1, 2022. Birchwood ABC is one of six schools within the Anchorage school district that administrators are recommending to close next year. (Elyssa Loughlin/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage school district leaders are considering how school buildings can be repurposed if six elementary schools close next year.

At a work session Tuesday, consultant Shannon Bingham proposed allowing charter schools to use some of the spaces.

Under his proposed plan, the Birchwood ABC Elementary building would house Eagle Academy. Klatt’s building would house Highland Academy and PAIDEIA. Nunaka Valley and Northwood elementary school buildings will have new pre-K programs. And the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School and STrEaM Academy will share the Wonder Park building.

The district would not be able to receive rent from charter schools, but would save on utilities and maintenance costs.

Administrators also proposed changes to language immersion programs. The district’s Chinese, French and Yup’ik immersion programs would end after fifth grade. High school students would complete their language immersion programs in eighth grade.

High school immersion programs will be eliminated after this school year. Instead, high school students will be encouraged to enroll in AP or other upper-level language classes at their school, or to enroll in a college-level language class. Administrators also suggested that students could participate in an exchange program in a foreign country or start learning another language.

School board president Margo Bellamy asked Brandon Locke, the district’s director of world language and immersion programs, what he thought of the proposal. He said he worried the cuts would discourage parents from enrolling their children in elementary school immersion programs.

“What would be the point of, say, starting a kindergarten in French next year, knowing that it will end in a few years?” he asked. “I think that will automatically cause enrollment issues in our current programs at the elementary level.”

At the middle and high school levels, Locke worried how those students would fare in standard high school language classes, which use a very different curriculum.

CONNECTED: Anchoring parents, students are asking the school board to keep funding for language immersion programs

Finally, administrators proposed moving the IGNITE program, a districtwide program for gifted students in second through sixth grades, online. The district’s director of teaching and learning, Dianna Beltran, said the resulting staffing reductions would save the district $3 million and free up bus drivers.

School board member Kelly Lessens worried that students would lose key benefits of the program if it moved online.

“I’m thinking of IGNITE projects like dissecting a frog or learning to use a 3D printer,” she said.

Beltran said students may still have access to those types of activities depending on the school they attend.

The board scheduled a two-hour work session for Tuesday, Nov. 15, to discuss moving all sixth-graders to the middle school and outsourcing girls’ hockey, swimming and gymnastics over three years. Anderson said administrators will also ask the board for a decision on proposed changes to IGNITE and the school’s reuse plan at that meeting.

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