OVERLAND PARK, Kan. – Parents at Blue Valley School District’s Chinese Immersion Program are looking for answers after hearing that the program their students are in is being evaluated.
On January 19, the district sent the families a letter stating that the Chinese immersion program would be evaluated based on:
- Ability to deliver Mandarin lessons sustainably
- Ability to attract, retain and support high-quality Chinese Immersion teachers, both Chinese and English-speaking within the program
- Ability to sustain a path for current immersion students to achieve success on the AP Chinese language test in high school
For this reason, “The district is not opening enrollment in the Chinese Immersion Kindergarten for the 2023-24 school year due to ongoing program evaluation,” the communication reads.
“It was a huge shock,” said Heidi Prokop Smith, whose oldest daughter is one of 453 students in the program in kindergarten through fifth grade.
His younger daughter is a maternal on the way, and Prokop Smith is concerned that his younger brother also won’t be able to participate in the program now, or as he will be in the future.
“He loves it,” Prokop Smith said. “We try to attend every Chinese community event we can find.”
For the Turek family, the Blue Valley schedule was the reason they didn’t move to San Francisco like John and Nancie had planned.
“Now that they’re both in it, it’s really cool because they’ll come home and speak Chinese at the dinner table and tell us about the words they’ve learned,” Nancie said.
The immersion program is a helpful way for Turek’s children to learn about Nancie’s heritage without leaving out her husband.
“We’re kind of a blended family, so it’s been difficult to teach them, so I haven’t really taught my kids Chinese, even though I speak several languages and Chinese because I didn’t want to shut John out,” Nancie said.
Similarly, the daughter of Lauren and Peter Browne has seen improved test scores and grades and has remained strong since joining the program. That’s what she made news of the rating and a pause in enrollment sobering.
“It definitely made my stomach drop,” Lauren said. “What does it really mean?”
Blue Valley School District Chief Communication Officer Kristi McNerlin says FOX4 assessments are a routine part of any program in the district to make sure they’re meeting the necessary goals.
“Program evaluation is a responsibility of a Board of Education in a district to make sure you’re doing those things and that you’re looking into the future to see what lies ahead that may be preventing us from achieving our goals,” McNerlin said.
“The Board of Education will receive the program evaluation report and future planning recommendations at its February 6 meeting,” the district’s communication to parents reads.
Even after the Feb. 6 meeting, McNerlin says no action will be taken on the program, giving district leaders and parents an opportunity to move forward together. Other than that, the district guarantees nothing else.
“For the families who are in it [immersion program]are you able to tell that those guys will be able to follow the schedule as originally intended or is it all capable at this point,” asked FOX4 Anchor/Reporter Kevin Barry.
“I don’t know what’s in the report,” McNerlin replied. “I think all options are open because that is a Council [of Education] decision.”
The district says FOX4 enrollment has remained fairly stable during the first five years of the program, but the district is not immune to the hiring challenges felt in various professions across the nation.
“It’s a challenge right here for English language teachers,” McNerlin said. “It’s a huge national challenge we’re facing: a shortage of teachers.”
“I get the staff part because it can be really hard to find a teacher who can speak Mandarin and teach it, but they asked us to make a commitment, from K to 12, and we did,” Prokop Smith said.