CONCORD -- Some students in the Mt. Diablo school district will soon have the opportunity to immerse themselves in both English and Spanish as part of a plan to develop biliteracy.

The innovative program is part of the district's English Learner Master Plan, which strives to improve education for students not fluent in English, while also offering English-speaking children the chance to become bilingual in Spanish.

District officials plan to first start a pilot program at a few schools, before expanding it to more campuses, said Jeanne Duarte-Armas, director of English learner services. The plan also calls for more intensive bilingual instruction for students who are not learning English quickly enough in elementary school and a "World Academy" program for immigrant students at Mt. Diablo High.

"We want students to acquire English," Duarte-Armas said. "Not just learn it. Live it. Dream it. Feel it."

The board unanimously approved the plan Monday night, praising Duarte-Armas and an English Learner Task Force that has worked collaboratively to come up with the plan. It was initiated more than a year ago, after the state found the district's English learners were lagging behind those in other districts.


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Also at the meeting, the board heard several recommendations for cutting the district's special education budget. The Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team, or FCMAT, a independent team of educational consultants, recommended the elimination of a parent liaison, program manager, five speech and language pathologists and some psychologist positions. The team also recommended combining classes to increase the number of students; hiring fewer outside contractors for specialized services such as nurses; reducing the number of students placed in private schools; and reducing services provided through a popular mental health collaborative program.

Several parents voiced concerns about the proposed cuts, saying they would adversely affect students.

"There are several items that don't make sense," said parent Denise Lambert. "Our award-winning mental health collaborative should stay in place. Don't dismantle the vehicle if the problem is the fuel pump."

The board plans to vote on the recommendations March 25. The district initially commissioned the report because it wanted to reduce the amount of general fund money being spent on special education.

But trustees also got some good news Monday, when Chief Financial Officer Bryan Richards reported that the district will be able to pay all of its bills in the next three years after all. The district had filed a qualified budget last fall when it was anticipating cuts if Proposition 30 failed.

MORE INFORMATION
Details about the Mt. Diablo district's English learner plan, special education report and budget are available by calling 925-6582-8000 ext. 4000 or by visiting http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us. Click on March 11.
For additional information, visit the On Assignment blog at www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.