The Pleasanton school board started talking over possible kindergarten through eighth grade (K-8) pathways to be implemented on the north side of the city during a workshop last week that sparked much dialogue and excitement from trustees.
The hour-long session on March 27 was deemed too short for the full overall discussion, so the board decided to continue the conversation by folding it into another workshop (set for April 10) on facilities planning and the district's most recent enrollment report -- topics that also address capacity issues in northern Pleasanton.
"I think that this is super exciting," trustee Jamie Yee Hintzke said during the workshop last week. "I mean, this is really the next direction our school district needs to go in."
The conversation about new educational programs comes as the board has been considering whether to open at least one new elementary school in the near future to address existing and projected overcrowding at schools on the north side of town.
No decision has been made about whether to build a new school, let alone the potential location or if it would be traditional K-5 or the district's only K-8 campus, but the board is looking at its options.
Staff briefly presented 10 different models for specialized learning that could be implemented as part of a potential new K-8 school: LEAD (literacy, enrichment, academics and digital arts), a dual language immersion program, project-based learning, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), International Baccalaureate (IB), Montessori, an international school, STEAM (STEM subjects plus arts), a visual and performing arts academy, and a Waldorf school.
Jenni Tyson, director of elementary education, said that a non-specialized K-8 campus is also an option. In her staff report, Tyson included research indicating that a K-8 model could lead to improved academic performance for students, particularly pointing to the advantages of having fewer "transition" years.
These specialized programs could be implemented as stand-alone or in conjunction with one another, according to staff. Some of these -- like a focus on STEM and project-based learning -- are already being used in classrooms throughout the district.
Staff chose, however, to spotlight two options: a possible Mandarin dual language immersion program and the IB program.
"In light of our desire to be global, in our preparation for students, and we say that we want our students to make a better world, we decided to highlight a couple that have global connections," said Odie Douglas, assistant superintendent of educational services.
A Mandarin dual immersion program might look similar to the Spanish immersion program already in place at Valley View Elementary, he said. Community members have expressed an interest in such a model, he said, and the option could meet the needs of Pleasanton's growing community.
The IB program -- which, according to its website aims to teach students in a global context, "independently of government and national systems" -- would also have an immersive component, as students in the program are required to learn another language.
Trustees overall expressed excitement about the ideas, though they did have questions regarding how prospective models would affect the existing district school structure and students' continuation into high school.
"I would think there might be some requirements and/or limitations on certain programs, with a certain type of facility -- space, layout of a certain school," board vice president Valerie Arkin said. "So I'm trying to figure out how do we mesh those things together."
Douglas replied that right now staff just wants board direction on the programs of most interest, and then they would be able to work on the logistical components, such as architectural design, staffing, enrollment and budget.
Hintzke suggested having the IB and dual language immersion programs operate tangentially, considering IB's foreign language proficiency requirement.
Board member Steve Maher asked if an entire school should be dual language immersion. Superintendent David Haglund replied that a whole-school immersion program can be difficult, unless the surrounding population lends itself to that.
He pointed to Valley View, where the principal is trying to expand and improve upon the Spanish immersion program there. Part of the problem, he said, is that the dual language immersion program at the elementary school isn't aligned with the same program that continues through Pleasanton Middle School and Foothill High School.
"At elementary school, when you're learning the language, you're learning the language at the same time that you're learning math and science," Haglund said. "And yet when they get to that high school level and even in some ways at the middle school level, you're really only getting the language component in your language class, or maybe an ELA class."
Even going outside for recess can pose immersion challenges at Valley View, he said. If a program were wholly immersive, students would be speaking Spanish (or Mandarin) outside too.
Three members of the public spoke during the public comments section, with Tonya Bass asking how a K-8 program would affect special education classes. Board president Mark Miller responded that while trustees could not specifically reply to her comment, that concern would certainly be addressed.
At the April 10 workshop, the board is set to continue the discussion on the K-8 models in the context of the updated demographics report and its student enrollment projections.