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Clark County schools plan to bring back bilingual programs

Bilingual education is set to make a comeback in the Clark County School District with a gradual rollout of English and Spanish hybrid programs in three schools by the 2022-23 school year.

The dual language programs would see students learn in each language for portions of the day, with the goal of mastering both.

They would be offered initially in a handful of classrooms at three east valley schools: kindergarten at Ronnow Elementary School and sixth grade and ninth grade social studies at Monaco Middle School and Desert Pines High School.

The plan would be to expand to additional grade levels and additional schools in time, according to a presentation at Thursday’s Clark County School Board meeting.

The presentation had broad support from trustees and residents, who touted the advantages of bilingualism in an international city like Las Vegas.

But some speakers also raised concerns about history repeating itself, as the district had tried and failed to maintain bilingual immersion programs in the past.

“I want us to have a bilingual program, but I’m nervous,” said Global Community High School teacher Machelle Rasmussen. “It takes a lot of commitment from a lot of people.”

Past programs were hampered by a lack of funding and a shortage of bilingual teachers, according to Superintendent Jesus Jara and Ignacio Ruiz, the district’s assistant superintendent of the English Language Learner Division.

But the district intends to start small and expand slowly, Jara and Ruiz said, giving it time to build up the needed teachers and administrators to operate the program.

The district will also spend the next year researching and developing the program, according to the presentation.

Trustees will receive data on the academic performance of the students in the bilingual program, according to Felicia Ortiz, president of the Nevada State Board of Education, who spoke in support of the initiative.

Supporters of Global, a school specifically for new immigrants, also spoke at the meeting, asking if the district’s investment would be better spent on an established program for English learner students, rather than a new one.

The school’s advocates have previously described feeling shut out of the district’s plans for English language education.

Jara said Global was not going away, adding that the district had a legal obligation to all students identified as English learners.

Ruiz said Global was one option for new immigrant students, but that the district needed to support those students at all its schools. The presentation also included plans for a “newcomer instructional pathway” that would include language study classes and integration services.

“It’s about diversifying our options,” Ruiz said.

Grading policy

The board also approved Thursday in a 6-1 vote an intent to change the district’s grading policy, including new language that emphasizes summative assessments, changes grading bands and allows for “revision and reassessment.” The proposed changes also say grades will “not be influenced by behavior or other nonacademic measures,” such as missing assignments, attendance, participation and responsibility.

The new grading policy was controversial with some residents, including teachers and others who said it would inflate grades and hamper students’ motivation.

“Keep the expectations high, and students will rise to meet them,” said Rancho High School teacher Michael Kershaw.

But district officials described the change as a shift to mastery-based learning, one that has been implemented in some schools.

“We want all our kids to be able to demonstrate what they’ve learned in content and in their classrooms and demonstrate that for their teachers,” Jara said.

The policy is scheduled to return for approval on July 8.

As part of the consent agenda, trustees also approved a $300,000 settlement with Data Insight Partners, whose founders had accused the district of copyright infringement related to a student data platform last year.

Trustees also hired a new board attorney, Holley Driggs Law Firm, with a contract to be determined.

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at 702-383-0218 or aappleton@reviewjournal.com. Follow @aleksappleton on Twitter.

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