Parents target racial imbalance at Crystal River
Marla Korn says her daughter Chally is not only making good grades in the second grade at Crystal River Elementary School, but she’s reading at the fifth-grade level. “She’s definitely progressing well,” Korn said, adding that the academic rigor at CRES is excellent. But life at the Carbondale elementary school is more complex than academics. Korn, like some other Anglo parents at CRES, is concerned about racial segregation in schools in Carbondale and the racial imbalance at CRES, perhaps the primary reason many Anglo parents have taken their students out of the school and put them into predominantly white schools, including Ross Montessori and Carbondale Community School. About 77 percent of Crystal River Elementary’s 479 students are Hispanic, according to the Colorado Department of Education. “That gets hard when a lot of the parents speak primarily Spanish, so it’s hard to have parent camaraderie there,” because it’s difficult for parents to communicate, Korn said, adding that she has another child at Ross Montessori and she supports all three public elementary schools in town. The kids at CRES, she said, get along and communicate with each other just fine. Parents come to CRES, see the racial imbalance and sometimes become uncomfortable, Korn said. “A lot of times Crystal River isn’t given a second look because of the imbalance in the population. That’s unfortunate, because they have a lot to offer.”A dual language programThe perception that schools in Carbondale are racially segregated has galvanized some Anglo parents there to encourage the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 board to support a bilingual teaching program at CRES to balance the student population. But two of those CRES parents, Colin Laird and Debbie Bruell, who spent an hour discussing the subject with board members Wednesday, got a cautious reception from the board, which gave them their “conceptual support” for the idea. Laird said trends showing Latino populations increasing and Anglo populations decreasing at CRES are “strong and self-reinforcing.”According to Roaring Fork School District data, Carbondale and Crystal River elementary schools together had 379 Latino students and 201 Anglo students in 2004. In 2005, CRES, which combined last year with Carbondale Elementary, had 371 Latino students and 101 Anglo students, according to Colorado Department of Education data. Though there is no current Census data available to compare the CRES student population to the racial breakdown of Carbondale, he said, speculating that Carbondale is about 50 percent Latino by now – far different from the racial makeup of CRES. Laird said the number of low-income students has risen quickly at CRES – more than 15 percent in a year. “We think this is really unacceptable,” Laird said. “When you concentrate low-income kids in one school, it’s difficult for them to achieve.”A study by the Denver-based Piton Foundation supports that claim. “Low-income kids perform significantly better when they’re not in the majority,” said Spokesman Alan Gottlieb. The key is to try to keep the number of low-income students, rather than minority students, at just below 50 percent of the student population at a school.With a dual language program, Laird said he hopes more Anglos would be attracted to CRES, balancing the student population and encouraging student achievement. Such a program wouldn’t change the curriculum, but add Spanish language to it, he said, citing a similar program in Edwards, where there is more of a racial balance. The program would begin teaching the youngest children in Spanish as a foundation to eventually graduate bilingual students from high school, he said. Laird said kindergarten and first-grade teachers could work up to giving math and social studies lessons in Spanish for a time, then switch their lessons to English. For Spanish speakers, “we build on skills they already have and then help them take those skills to English, and then at the same time, we’re helping English speakers learn a second language,” he said. The board agreed that such a program would require more resources for more teachers, but board member Susan Hakanson said that, while she might agree with the program in principle, a public opinion survey taken prior to the 2004 bond election showed that district parents don’t want bilingual programs in schools. “I was stunned with the numbers that came back with that survey,” she said. “I hate to sound afraid of it (a bilingual program) – I think it’s a glorious thing to do – but I have to be. We can’t watch that community separate more than we’ve watched it over the last 10 years.”That separation was caused by alleged white flight to Ross Montessori and Carbondale Community School because parents were given two other schools to choose from, pushing CRES to the back burner, board members said. “We have an unsuccessful past history of trying innovation in Carbondale,” said board member Bruce Wampler. “Montessori only made things worse.”And because of the challenges Wampler said the board faced with Ross Montessori, it’s going to be difficult for the board to “leap” into a bilingual program, he said. CRES principal Susan Olson said Wednesday she doesn’t yet know the logistics of creating a dual language program at the school.”For me, student achievement has to be the bottom line,” she said, adding that more research needs to be done before the program is implemented.
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