[lg policy] California: French charter school gets OK in Santa Rosa

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Dec 19 15:27:58 UTC 2011

French charter school gets OK in Santa Rosa
Published: Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 8:10 p.m.

Santa Rosa parents, teachers and school officials are enthused by the
prospect of 140 students learning to de parler en français next year
at a unique French-language charter school. "This is so exciting, this
is history-making," said Jennifer Schwinn, a veteran educator who was
one of five proponents of the Santa Rosa French-American Charter

The K-8 school, which has been in the planning stages for more than
two years, won unanimous approval from the Santa Rosa school board
Wednesday night and is scheduled to open next August in Santa Rosa.
It will be the sixth charter school in the Santa Rosa district, but
the first French-immersion public charter school west of the Rocky
Mountains and the fourth in the nation, the founders said.

The only others are in New York, Louisiana and Kansas. "I have to tell
you, it's been an awesome ride," said Najine Shariat, a Santa Rosa
dietician and another founding member.  The lengthy organizing
process, she said, "is not for the faint-hearted."

But enrolling students won't be a problem, Shariat said, as 195
parents have signed a petition expressing their intent to send their
kids to the school, including more than 140 who will enroll next year.
Prospective students come from Sonoma and Napa counties, and some on
the list would come from New York and France to attend the new school.

Shariat, who will enroll her daughter in the school, said she expects
a waiting list for admission, with enrollment starting at 140 and
constrained only by classroom space and teachers. "The sky is the
limit," she said.

A charter school in Windsor, Cali Calmécac Language Academy, offers
bilingual education in Spanish, but parents seeking elementary
education in French now have to pay for private schools in Corte
Madera or San Francisco. Boosters tout the value of French in travel,
culture and business, as well as the benefits of bilingualism on
academic achievement.

Board president Larry Haenel said the approval was a cinch. "We're
always looking for innovative ways for children to experience
education," he said. Officials were impressed by the school's
French-immersion program, as well as its "rich curriculum," level of
parental involvement and interventions for students struggling
academically or emotionally.

"There was no downside" to the proposed school, he said. Andy Brennan,
Santa Rosa Teachers Association president, said the union supports
dependent charter schools, which are sponsored and operated by the
Santa Rosa district, as the French-American school will be.

Personally, Brennan said that teaching youngsters a second language
makes them more proficient in their native tongue, as well. The
student's age is a major factor, he said, noting that by 12 or 13,
children begin to lose the facility to reproduce sounds in a foreign
language.  "A little kid can easily pick up three to four languages,"
said Brennan, who speaks English, French and German.

Students at the French-American school will start out with lessons
primarily in French, and by middle school will study about half in
English and French. In third and fourth grade, they will have an
option for taking Mandarin or Spanish as a second foreign language,
Shariat said. Schwinn, a Santa Rosa resident who is superintendent of
the Monte Rio Union School District, intends to enroll both her sons
in the new school.

Learning a foreign language is "a cognitive exercise that improves
brain function" at any age, she said.
Research has shown that such learning can help stave off Alzheimer's
disease and other dementias in elderly people by building additional
connections in the brain. Schwinn said she was motivated to start the
French charter school because her younger son attended Ma Petite
École, a French-language day-care school in Santa Rosa, for three
years and was left with no opportunity for more language lessons until
junior high.

The first step toward establishing the charter school is hiring a
director and finding a site. Doug Bower, Santa Rosa associate
superintendent, said he expects to present the school board with
several options for a site at the January board meeting.

The charter school will be governed by the school board, with its own
advisory board comprised of parents, he said.

Teachers will be credentialed and members of the teachers union.


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