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Capo to Offer County's First Chinese Language Program

Decked out in red, about 60 parents and their children from all around O.C. show up to urge support for the immersion program. Finding qualified teachers will be the biggest challenge, district staff say.

方案批: “Program approved.”

A Mandarin Chinese language program will be offered in the next school year at .

The school district's board of trustees Monday voted 6-0 to forge ahead with the program that will teach students the most-spoken language in the world.

It will be the first program of its kind in Orange County, with as much as 80 percent of instruction in Mandarin, and trustees said they would like to see it attract students from outside the district. 

“If there was just one skill I could give to my daughters, it would be to speak Mandarin Chinese fluently,” Leland Jay of Seal Beach told the board.

He and other parent supporters later said they would be willing to drive up to an hour to get to a Mandarin Chinese immersion program. About 60 parents attended the meeting to urge support of the program.

The school district already operates an extensive at three elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools.

Currently, most of the state’s Mandarin Chinese immersion programs are in the Bay Area. Los Angeles Unified has a handful, San Diego County has one, and Orange County, despite nearly 80,000 people who identified themselves as Chinese on the 2010 census, has none.

“I’m really excited,” said Thalia Tong Mars of San Clemente, who spearheaded the effort that has already attracted 166 potential students. “It’s all about my kids. It’s all about making them a leader, giving them that competitive edge.”

Mars drives to Irvine every day so that her son can attend a Chinese preschool.

The program is set to start with a kindergarten and maybe a first grade, said Julie Hatchel, assistant superintendent of education services. The curriculum is likely to be one that a Bay Area school district developed and has used for 12 years.

The challenge will be to staff the program, Hatchel said. Currently, the state says, there are only 47 teachers in the entire state who are properly credentialed to teach in Chinese.

Vicki Soderberg, president of the teachers union, the Capistrano Unified Education Association, was the lone speaker from the audience who said she had concerns about the proposal. She said that of the 248 last year, only 120 have been rehired.

“We have loyal teachers who have taught five, six, seven years,” she said. They shouldn’t be bypassed in favor of new teachers.

Additionally, Soderberg said she worries that the school district already has its hands full with new programs for 2012-13, including a , a  for students not 5 years old by Nov. 1, and a science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum approved at Monday’s meeting in partnership with the National Park Service.

But board members did agree with parents—decked out in red shirts and sweaters—that Mandarin Chinese is an important component to preparing 21st century learners. 

Trustee John Alpay said the immersion program has been one of his top priorities since being sworn in last December.

“I’m a little disheartened by the comments of Vicki Soderberg,” Alpay said. “To quote my father-in-law, ‘Can’t never did anything.’ ” He added that one of the teachers waiting to be rehired has a credential to teach Chinese.

Marlon Woolforde, a resident of Trabuco Canyon, said that even before his daughters were born, he created a list of priorities for them. It includes such things as love, security and self-esteem. But after doing so much business in China, he has since added “Chinese literacy” to the list for his now 3-year-old and 1-year-old.

“Mandarin is not only the most prolific, most spoken language in the world, but also one of the fastest growing,” he told the board.

Trustee Anna Bryson said she traveled to China with her husband, Bill Evers, when he was assistant secretary of education in 2007 to 2009. They visited the top-performing elementary, middle and high schools in Beijing.

The competition is palpable, she said, adding that it is a matter of national security, the advancement of education and “international goodwill” that there are Americans fluent in Chinese.

Because the new school could attract students from outside Capo Unified, the district staff recommended a school near the 5 and 73 freeways be selected. The trustees chose . 

Alpay and Bryson noted that students from other districts would bring money to the district, as schools are paid by students’ average daily attendance numbers.

Trustee Sue Palazzo was absent from Monday's meeting.

- City News Service contributed to this report.

Marisa September 27, 2011 at 07:40 PM
This is a big win for all of us to give our children a well rounded education that will give them more opportunities in the future. We live in San Juan Capistrano and currently drive our son to Irvine every day to attend A Little Dynasty Chinese School. We are excited the Capistrano Unified School District will allow our son to continue his studies locally.
CE September 27, 2011 at 10:25 PM
"Trustee Anna Bryson said she traveled to China with her husband, Bill Evers." Of course.
Jenn B September 27, 2011 at 10:47 PM
This sounds like a very exciting program! I hope it will be as successful as our Spanish immersion program. Why am I not surprised that the lone dissenting voice was that of a union representative? Since when do the unions have something to gain by offering more advantages to our students?
Capo Dad September 28, 2011 at 05:41 PM
Yes, Alpay, I find Vicki Soderberg's attitude disheartening also. Thanks for waking up on at least this one issue.
Pam Sunderman September 28, 2011 at 06:47 PM
Vicki's job is to speak up for teachers. That being said I think this program is a win-win just as the Spanish Immersion programs are. I hope that everyone keeps in mind that any new program (such as those mentioned by Vicki) involves a dedication of funds, resources, and staff. And there is always the possibility that a program will involve more than originally estimated. I believe Vicki was encouraging caution and asking for consideration for class size as well. Perhaps the Patch can publish her comments in full so that we can better judge what she had to say.
Capo Dad September 28, 2011 at 08:27 PM
Yes, her job is to speak up for teachers, not to be concerned about what's in the best interests of educating the district's students.
Penny Arévalo September 28, 2011 at 09:05 PM
http://cusd.capousd.org/cusdweb/boardaudio/9-26-11/09-26-11RegBdMtg.mp3 Vicki's comments come in at one hour, 14 minutes. FWIW, I didn't get the impression she was vehemently against the program at all. That's why I used the language "had concerns." She just wants those on the RIF list hired back first. Unfortunately, such a policy would be the equivalent of being against the program until such time the district sees better (financially) days.
Capo Parent September 28, 2011 at 10:37 PM
This program appears to give parents and students another viable alternative to the traditional public school education. Not mentioned by Penny, but noted in the article in the OCR (sorry Penny), the program will have to be financial self sufficient in order to survie. If that is the case it will be interesting to see how much money parents/students who commit to this program/school will have to raise to get the program/school off the ground and then to keep it financial solvent. Good luck to them!
Penny Arévalo September 28, 2011 at 11:30 PM
No offense taken CP. I actually had it in my original article. Here's the unedited lead: "方案批准 “Program approved.” The Capistrano Unified School District will become the first school district in the county to offer a Mandarin Chinese immersion program. The trustees Monday voted 6-0, with Sue Palazzo absent, to forge ahead with the program, which they hope will attract students from outside the district as well, for the 2012-13 school year. They added a caveat that the program must not become a drain on the already-tapped school district’s finances."
Pam Sunderman September 28, 2011 at 11:38 PM
Capo Dad, You can speak up for teachers and still have the best interests of educating the district's students in mind. Actually you can't have their best interests in mind unless you do speak up for their teachers. Just ask them.
Pam Sunderman September 28, 2011 at 11:39 PM
Thanks Penny.
nootrino December 17, 2011 at 06:40 PM
You folks rock! I live in Maplewood, NJ and we are considering a similar program but it is meeting FIERCE opposition from a small group of narrow-minded but extremely vocal residents who are using the increased funding aspect as a fear-mongering tactic to persuade other residents to defeat this initiative. A sorry bunch to say the least. If you'd like to see how some "progressive" East-Coasters deal with this have a peek here: http://millburn.patch.com/articles/hua-mei-charter-makes-first-cut-in-approval-process?ncid=following_comment Count your blessings you live in California! The rhetoric in our town (mind you just 12 miles west of Manhattan) has gotten so extreme that you'd think Chinese immersion schools (or any other immersion schools for that matter) are Godzilla monsters that are going to DEVOUR OUR CHILDREN!
Thirty Four December 18, 2011 at 12:35 AM
"FIERCE opposition from a small group"??? Are you kidding me? Have you gone out an listen to their concerns, the overwhelming majority of people. Please go out of the computer room and meet real people to sincerely listen to other people opinions before making a false statement that it is a small group of people.
Marian Raab December 18, 2011 at 12:48 AM
+1 Thirty Four. Signed taxpaying Maplewood, NJ, homeowner with two children. One in the public school system the other starting K in public school next fall. Peace Out!
Bill Koelzer December 18, 2011 at 02:28 AM
After visiting scores of Chinese cities during 21 trips there, I can assure you that the managers of China's culture and economy today only want to be friends with the US. China is not our enemy, so those who oppose Chinese language courses might want to do some research instead of having knee-jerk reaction to Korean War thinking about China. USA-China cooperation and friendship will spell the FUTURE economic success of the US as well as that of China. We NEED skilled, Mandaran-speaking diplomats, politicians, investors, trade negotiators and tourism officials on OUR side, and FAST, to catch up to the Chinese who actually ALREADY have been teaching English as a second language there for more than 30 years. Teaching Chinese in our schools does a favor for parents who want their kids to develop a world-view and excell in business, teaching, the arts....actually, in anything!
Thirty Four December 18, 2011 at 05:38 AM
Sorry for posting irrelevance comments in your local Patch because someone from our area are trying to relate to this article and make it the same thread of our discussion in NJ. I think if it is the wish of people in your area to form this school for your county, I am totally all for it and wish for its success. For those who are curious what is going on in NJ. we are not against Chinese language study. In fact we have a large population with Chinese heritage in our area. We already have many schools that teach Chinese in grade K to 12. However, we are vehemently against the undemocratic way of creating any Charter schools in New Jersey in a way that is agaist the wish of "the overwheing majority of local tax payers". If you live in New Jersey which has chronic problems with high property tax, you will appreciate our pain. Only a few parents in our state can just file an application to create a Charter school of any kind. The sole approver is ONE appointed state official. No local voters or representatives of any kind can stop that approval whether that is the majority. If approve, local tax money per headcount will be moved from local public schools to fund that school. There will be no public meetings to take citizen inputs for running that school. When people are against it, those proponents resort to labeling opponents like we are uneducated, racist and all kind of bad things. So here you go. Now you know how undemocratic NJ is.
nootrino December 18, 2011 at 02:30 PM
TwentyFour, You make it sounds like the Chinese Polituro has hijacked NJ and is forcing its undemocratic policies on the citizens. Your argument is desperate at best. First off, anyone who lectures Californians about oppressive taxes is clearly out of touch shows you have no global OR national view. But it seems this community values education and opportunity for their children more than a marginally increased tax load (which they have mnadated can't increase, good idea). Finally, I just want to say to residents of this town, that these in Jersey who are rabidly opposed to this initiative actually live in some of the richest communities in the state. Average household income in these communities is in the low100's. Two communities that were recently eliminated from the charter geography due to their vocal opposition by a minority, Short Hills/Millburn and Livingston are ACTUALLY THE RICHEST COMMUNITIES IN ALL OF NEW JERSEY. My point is this has nothing to do with money or extra taxes, these folks have the money to fund this school whose increased costs will be marginal at best. There is a greater issue going on here: lack of vision, fear of foreign cultures, petty ethnic politics and the ignorant NIMBY mentality by some who categorically reject anything that does not meet their personal needs. The only chance we have now is if Snooki or Tony Soprano endorse this initiative. Again congrats to the denizens of SJP for wanting better for your children.
Thirty Four December 18, 2011 at 04:51 PM
You continue to spread lie around the nation about "opposition by a minority". I can't keep monitoring and making correction each time you go out and make a false statement that you are totally aware of. At a BOE meeting, only two people who spoke of supporting the schools were the founders. All other residents spoke against the proposed schools.  http://thealternativepress.com/articles/in-unanimous-vote-livingston-board-of-education That is just one example. Every single time there was a meeting about the issue, more than 90% spoke against the applications. When a proposed Mandarin Immersion school held an informational meeting, only "seven parents" joined them. Is that called the majority?  When the "majority" of people express their opinions that you do not agree with, it does not mean that they are automatically wrong (or uneducated - their votes should not be counted, etc.). Also it does not change that fact and somehow the majority become a vocal minority just because you said so.

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