Marion County School Board Explores Dual Language Program

During a recent Marion County School Board meeting, a discussion on the educational strategies and initiatives for English language learners took center stage, with a particular focus on a potential dual language immersion pilot program for an upcoming kindergarten class in the 2024-2025 school year. The program is designed to help English language learners develop skills in their native language while learning English more quickly, with research indicating cognitive benefits for early exposure to two languages. The board discussed the need for extensive planning and research to ensure the success of the program, which aims to progress through the grade levels.

The meeting also addressed the challenges of English language proficiency assessment and progress tracking, with the presentation of the WIDA screener and ACCESS test for English language learners, tools used to identify students who may require support and to measure students’ academic English language skills. The introduction of Elevation, a management platform for enhanced oversight of ESOL compliance, was highlighted, centralizing student data and supporting monitoring processes.

Further discussions involved the staffing plan and the ratio of ESOL staff to English language learners, particularly in schools such as Belleview High School and Westport. The board considered the regionalization of staffing to focus resources on schools with significant needs. The challenges of identifying students with language challenges versus learning difficulties were also examined, along with the compliance process and the role of resource facilitators in distinguishing language acquisition from learning skills.

Family engagement and the use of translation devices, such as the Ila Pro and Pocket Talk, were discussed to facilitate communication between staff and families. The cost of these devices and their funding through Title Three were noted, with positive feedback received and additional devices being ordered for schools. The Multicultural Educational Team’s role in providing professional learning opportunities to teachers and paraprofessionals serving English language learners was acknowledged, along with the use of programs like Imagine Learning, Lexia English Language Development, and Lexia Power Up to support language acquisition.

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The board’s discussion on financial matters revealed a $2.9 million decrease in funding due to a shortfall in student attendance estimates and various state adjustments, including a reduction in revenue of about $1.8 million compared to previous calculations. The educational enrollment stabilization category, the prior year adjustment, and the state funding discretionary supplement were also discussed. Board members sought clarity on discrepancies between reported enrollment and calculated FTE, with confirmation that the final calculation for the previous year showed an increase in FTE but fell short of estimates.

The board highlighted the need for additional funding through impact fees and a sales tax to support school maintenance and facilities. The General Fund Referendum, which supports class size and school safety initiatives, was discussed, along with the oversight of funds by the Independent Citizens Referendum Oversight Committee. The challenges of managing a large budget, including accommodations for the early timing of board meetings, due process for students facing disciplinary actions, and the impact of changes in the board committees, were also addressed.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.

Superintendent:
Diane Gullett
School Board Officials:
Allison Campbell, Lori Conrad, Eric Cummings, Nancy Thrower, Sarah James

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