Blue Valley to pare down popular Chinese Immersion program

Blue Valley Chinese winner

Photo via Blue Valley School District.

The Blue Valley School District is moving forward with a much-discussed plan to cut back on the district’s popular elementary Chinese Immersion program, which is currently hosted at two schools.

At its Monday meeting, the Blue Valley Board of Education voted to move forward with a recommendation from a special Chinese Immersion task force that seeks to funnel new students to the program to just Wolf Springs Elementary, starting next fall.

Students currently enrolled in the program at Valley Park Elementary will be able to continue on through the program at that school, but new Chinese Immersion students will no longer be sent there.

The decision caps a months-long process in which district officials, parents and other stakeholders have studied the long-term sustainability of the program, the only one of its kind in Johnson County.

The issue arose, in part, due to ongoing struggles to recruit and retain enough qualified teachers to meet the high demand for the program.

Chinese Immersion
Photo via Blue Valley School District website.

Valley Park will be phased out as a program site

  • The final plan approved by the board was was one of four alternatives presented by the task force — all of which involved transitioning the program to one school building instead of two.
  • Enrollment in the Chinese Immersion program will remain open to any qualifying student in the district, with the “possibility to expand to two sites” in the future and capping enrollment at 54 new kindergarten students.
  • Current students in the Valley Park program will get to continue with a class at that school, but only Wolf Springs will accept new students going forward.
  • The proposal also includes hiring a new district-level position for a person fluent in both English and Mandarin who would help oversee the program’s curriculum.

Some Valley Park parents opposed the change

  • Several parents spoke out against the changes at Monday’s meeting, and urged the board to give the task force more time to come up with a better option.
  • Multiple parents voiced concerns about equity, pointing out that families who live in the Wolf Springs attendance area tend to have a higher socioeconomic status than those who live within Valley Park’s boundaries — leaving Valley Park families less likely to afford a house in that area or to be able to drive their children that far south each day.
  • “Programs like this can give students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds a brighter future,” said Valley Park parent Will Clough. “With this proposal tonight, you’d be voting to offer immersion only to those who already have the most advantages.”
  • “My husband and I are both working parents — it is not equitable to ask us or other families to pay [sic] extra per kid to participate in an aftercare (program) or transportation costs in order to be on the program,” said Valley Park parent Elizabeth Gray. “This program is a shining jewel of this district, and cutting it (at Valley Park) is a stain on Blue Valley’s reputation of exemplary education.” 

The board was split in its decision

  • The board ultimately approved the measure in a 4-3 vote, with board members Jim McMullen, Patrick Hurley and Sonya Evans voting against it.
  • “We’re shrinking the program and we’re cutting the program in half when there’s a significant amount of demand,” said McMullen, who served as a member of the Chinese Immersion task force. “My view is that you have to invest into your best programs.”
  • Board member Gina Knapp, who also served on the task force, said the final proposal served as the best way to keep the program moving forward — while also pointing out that keeping two sites to the program would likely mean cutting capacity even further.
  • “That would be an even bigger equity issue, in my opinion, if we close it off to everybody in the district except for those 27 (students),” she said. “Based on the data we have today, we cannot find (another) building in this district for next school year that can house an entire Chinese Immersion program.”

The district will continue planning expansion

  • As part of Monday’s vote, the approved proposal requires the board to discuss possible program expansion at least once a year.
  • Some of the proposed long-term ideas for expansion include a new “signature school” where every student participates in immersion, a more central location for the program or expanding the number of students in it.
  • In the meantime, the district will continue to use a lottery for program enrollment — which opens up in March for the 2024-25 school year.

Go deeper: Blue Valley task force says to scale back Chinese Immersion