The Superintendent of School conducted eleven focus groups with an average of 15 participants per group. Three of the focus groups were with staff, six were with parents of children in the DLBE program, and two were with parents of children in the traditional program. The following is a synthesis of the feedback.
Faculty and Staff
1. What are the strengths of MKES’s current DLBE program model? What refinements could strengthen MKES’s DLBE program model?
For the most part, the MKES faculty and staff feel strongly that the DLBE program offers a rigorous, enriching experience for participants. They also note the strong community ties that this program has afforded to parents and families of student participants.
MKES faculty and staff also believe that the strength of this program is due to the teachers and partnerships within the program as well as the consistent use of best teaching practices. They view this program as an opportunity to narrow the achievement gap which recent test scores have supported (math scores).
2. We have heard concerns from parents of a number of children participating in the traditional program. The primary concern has been regarding a lack of socialization for the children because the children travel through the grades as a cohort. What are your thoughts about this concern? What can we do at MKES to address this concern?
MKES faculty and staff offered ideas of how the program could be refined to improve the program. They stated that there needs to be more time for planning, developing curriculum, coordinating instruction and professional development for teachers. There also needs to be a concerted effort to hire more Spanish speaking support teachers such as learning specialists, tiered teachers, Encore teachers, and substitutes.
There were also a few comments about how to best address the needs of special education students in the program and in the monolingual classes.
3. A number of parents of children in the traditional classes have called for the creation of 2 sections of traditionally taught classes at each grade level. This could lead to the elimination of universal choice and the implementation of a lottery for slots in the DLBE program. A number of parents of children in the DLBE program strongly oppose this as it would eliminate choice. What are your thoughts on this solution?
MKES faculty and staff felt strongly that using a lottery system would not work and that choice of program is the best option. From that point on, there was a plethora of ideas of addressing this issue or allowing for more wonderings on this issue such as: offering monolingual classes the option to attend another elementary school, concern for siblings (one in program and one not in program), balancing the languages of students in the program, and how do we follow through on promises made to the parents in DLBE?
4. How do we balance the concerns of parties on both sides?
Balancing the concern for parents who chose DLBE and those who did not was challenging for the MKES faculty and staff to address in a concise manner. For the most part, they agreed that providing, even more, opportunities for DLBE and monolingual students to integrate throughout the day and communicating these opportunities to parents in a more timely and explicit way would be helpful.
There was also concern that the school follow the mandates afforded to ESOL students and the opportunity for ESOL and bilingual education delivered in a way that is equitable to what monolingual students experience on a daily basis (ESOL and bilingual instruction is not taught in a pull-out model via the DLBE model, but would be if there was no DLBE program as it currently exists at MKES).
Lastly, there were many ideas, on a smaller scale, that left faculty and staff thinking about both families in DLBE and monolingual such as: how to highlight one program without offending the other program, if monolingual classes are integrated into Encore on a regular basis what would the impact be for classes that become higher in enrollment than the district’s suggested class size, a need to educate the greater BCSD community about demographics, concomitant district responsibilities and the need to follow mandates and law.
Parents of Students in the Traditional Sections
1. What has been the nature of your child’s elementary school experience to date?
Many parents shared that their child’s experience has been a positive one overall while some see the experience as exclusionary, segregated and isolating and a few see it as lacking in rigor or challenge. Those who see it as wonderful also highlighted the small class size, the great teachers, and the fact that learning and progress are occurring. While some parents expressed that their children only socialize with other children in the traditional program, some shared that their children continue to socialize with students enrolled in the DLBE program.
2. What factors led you to choose your child’s current program?
For the majority of parents, learning all academics in another language other than English was cited as the key reason for not choosing the DLBE program. They shared concerns about learning as too overwhelming, too confusing, and too challenging for their child and felt it would limit their child’s academic success. A few also cited no interest in learning Spanish as they see no value to instruction in any other language but English. The issue of effectiveness as a program was also shared by a few parents as a factor in their decision not to choose DLBE. The lack of choice due to the entering grade of their child and the desire to have their child experience the traditional classroom were shared by a few parents. Needing to focus on meeting the needs of a classified student was raised as a key factor in choosing the traditional classroom.
3. If your child was integrated with students from across his/her grade level in all special area classes, one or two subjects areas on a cycle, for example, social studies and math once per week, lunch and school-wide assemblies and programs, would this provide increased and sufficient socialization within the school for your child?
A few parents do not see any socialization issues with their child, while a few have an understanding that this is currently happening. A few parents agreed that this would make a difference but also shared that there might be challenges with the frequent movement of students. Uncertainty was cited by a few parents. Several parents did not see this as a way to provide increased and sufficient socialization. This was seen as a temporary solution to the issue for a few parents.
4. A number of parents of children in the traditional sections have called for the creation of 2 sections of traditional classes at each grade level. This could lead to the elimination of universal choice and the implementation of a lottery for slots in the DLBE program. A number of parents of children in the DLBE program have stated that any change in the current program, including limiting choice in any way, is not acceptable. How do we balance the concerns of parties on both sides?
Many parents shared that it is essential to balance the concerns of both parties for the sake of maintaining this neighborhood school while some believe that this will not be easy because sides have been created and are not willing to change. Others believe that the decision should be made by the taxpayers. Providing choice is important as reducing any choice or reducing the DLBE sections will not be beneficial. Creating a lottery system or opening the DLBE program to all of the elementary schools were ideas shared by parents. Dismantling the program and returning to all traditional classes as well as learning another language outside of school were shared as other solutions. Several parents adamantly shared that the DLBE program has negatively impacted taxes and created a racially divided community.
Parents of Students in the DLBE Sections
1. What has been the nature of your child’s elementary school experience to date?
All parents indicated that their children’s experience to date in DLBE was largely positive. A number of parents cited their children’s love of learning and enthusiasm for school. Many parents acknowledged the inherent challenge and rigor of DLBE as a benefit to their children. Parents noted that not only were their children becoming biliterate but also they were demonstrating increased resilience and perseverance in school and other areas. Some parents who have had experience with children in pull-out instruction commented that DLBE was more inclusive and less stigmatizing because the children in the program are fully integrated. Additionally, some parents described the value of their children’s development of their home language in an academic setting, where it is treated with the same degree of importance as English. Some parents also noted that their children’s participation in DLBE has given them increased access to their own children’s education now that content is taught in Spanish as well as English.
2. What factors led you to choose your child’s current program (DLBE)?
All parents cited the program vision and goals of bilingualism and biliteracy as factors that moved them to select the program. A number of parents indicated the decision to participate in the program was easy for their family because the benefits were evident in their mind. A handful of parents across the focus groups indicated that they intentionally moved to Mount Kisco so that their children could attend MKES and participate in the program. A number of parents believed that their children would have increased opportunities in high school, in college, and in their professional futures as a result of their participation in DLBE. Specifically, individual parents highlighted globalization, marketability, competitiveness, and opportunity as future benefits of DLBE for their children. A few Spanish-speaking parents recognized the importance of formal academic instruction in Spanish, noting that their children would benefit from learning academic language and structure in Spanish that would not be explicitly taught at home.
A small number of parents also indicated that the decision was difficult because there was a certain degree of risk and uncertainty involved, but all parents indicated that they were glad that they had enrolled their children in the program.
Many parents also pointed to integration, inclusion, diversity, and a larger sense of community as factors in their decision to enroll their children in DLBE. Some parents who had older children noted that their siblings in DLBE had different social experiences as a result from the more diverse group of students in their children’s classes daily. Some parents observed their children’s interactions with a wider group of friends during and after school, sharing anecdotally that their children attended playdates and birthday parties with a more diverse group of classmates.
3. What are the most profoundly critical components of the current DLBE program that make it effective and special for the children? Are there any areas in need of improvement?
Many parents underscored the quality of the DLBE teachers as a critical component in the effectiveness of the program. Many parents also specifically cited the value of the teaching partnerships, acknowledging the importance of teacher collaboration in program development and implementation as well as in the assessment of students’ strengths and needs. In addition to teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogical skill, parents commented on their dedication, passion, warmth, and diligence.
A number of parents also noted the structure and design of the program as critical components of its success. Specifically, parents pointed to language allocation, teachers’ fidelity to the language of the zone, and students’ immersion in one language for the entire day.
A number of parents also indicated that a critical component of the success of DLBE moving forward would be district-level leadership and support for the program, including the support of the Board of Education and Superintendent. Parents in each focus group commented that they were frustrated that they felt that year after year they had to continually advocate to protect the program. Some parents pointed to early culminating events in DLBE in grades 1-2, indicating disappointment that less time was presently dedicated to celebrating student success in the program rather than defending the current model.
A large number of parents across the DLBE focus groups also choice and integration as critical components of the program’s success. According to parents, choice and integration largely contributed to the balance of English-dominant and Spanish-dominant students participating in DLBE. Parents indicated that the composition of the class was a critical component in the success of the program over time.
Parents noted that there is a sense of community and belonging in the program and school because everyone had the opportunity to make a choice in the program. Across focus groups, all but two parents indicated that they believed they had a choice. The parents who believed that the traditional setting was not a viable choice indicated that they were still content with their decision to enroll their children in DLBE.
A few parents offered suggestions for improvement. Specifically, a small number of parents in different focus groups sought improved communication of DLBE parent meetings, summer workshops, and homework expectations.
4. A number of parents of children in the traditional sections have called for the creation of 2 sections of traditional classes at each grade level. This could lead to the elimination of universal choice and the implementation of a lottery for slots in the DLBE program. (Note: ELL’s would be guaranteed slots in the DLBE sections) A number of parents of children in the DLBE program have stated that any change in the current program, including limiting choice in any way, is not a desirable option. How do we balance the concerns of parties on both sides?
All DLBE families vehemently opposed the idea of a lottery or any mechanism that would restrict choice and open enrollment in DLBE. Parents indicated that such restrictions would be unfair and destructive to the school and larger community. Some parents underscored the value of open enrollment, allowing access to all kindergartners, regardless of their individual strengths and areas of growth. A few parents in different focus groups noted their appreciation of their children with disabilities having this uniquely enriched and inclusive learning opportunity.
A number of parents believed that a lottery would increase the divisiveness that was becoming increasingly prevalent in the community as a result of this dialogue. A small number of parents suggested that the District consider options than a lottery; that is, they asked that the District explore other creative alternatives including further systematic integration of students in the traditional sections.
Some DLBE parents indicated that MKES had taken steps to effectively integrate students in every section in physical education, music, art, lunch, recess, and at special grade-level events such as assemblies and field trips.