MISSOULA - The curriculum at Paxson Elementary School took center stage during a Tuesday night Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) board meeting.
The school boasts of having one of the region's only dual language immersion programs, but MCPS Superintendent Rob Watson, changes could be coming to the delivery of the program. It's a decision that had students and parents voicing frustration for over an hour during the board meeting's public comment period.
Adrienne Tranel — a parent of three Paxson students — told MTN News that a chunk of the frustration stems from a last minute email sent to parents Tuesday evening.
“The understanding was that we were going along just fine with our program, and now I guess we're having this great change, but it hasn't really been communicated directly to the families and to the stakeholders,” explained Tranel.
The email sent to Paxson families notes that proposed changes to the DLI program would cut down Spanish instruction from half of the school day to 45 minutes each day.
For Tranel’s daughters — fifth-grade student Alexandra and third-grade student Emilia — Spanish instruction is often the highlight of school.
“I think it's really interesting because some stuff I get to learn in English with other teachers, and then with my Spanish teacher I get to learn it again, but I get to learn it in Spanish so maybe I learned some stuff that I hadn't learned before,” explained Alexandra.
“I like it,” said Emilia, “We're not speaking the same language every day like 24/7.”
Aside from the loss of bilingual benefits, Tranel foresees a loss of equity and access.
“It’s not just giving kids who speak English as a first language an opportunity to learn Spanish, but about giving kids who speak other languages as their first language the opportunity to learn English as a second language,” said Tranel.
According to Watson, the DLI program has a laundry list of challenges, including accessibility for all kids and the inability of teachers to deliver curriculum in Spanish. He calls the need for change just another iteration in the program’s 9-year history.
MCPS provided a statement to MTN News that states, “As part of our strategic planning process, we have been reviewing our academic programs at all MCPS schools. The DLI program has been reviewed this year by our staff and we are recommending some changes in the delivery model. We welcome feedback from parents and we will continue the discussion with our Paxson parents over the next few weeks. The recommended changes to the program will be discussed at the next School Board meeting. Our Board meetings are open to the public and the Board welcomes public comment as part of their discussion process.”
Moving forward, Tranel hopes to see transparency, communication, and collaboration from the school board regarding curriculum matters.
“I am hopeful because I do think our school board will do the right thing and I do think the superintendent will do the right thing, but I think we also need to slow the process down and be collaborative and work together and find that solution with next year's superintendent, whoever that may be,” said Tranel.
Paxson will host a DLI panel discussion on Wednesday, June 1 beginning at 5:30 p.m.