Dear Families,

Happy November! Please see below for the meeting notes from the forum held on Wednesday, November 1st.  The Language Task Force was represented by AP Odamis, Tr. Shavon, and myself.  We answered questions regarding the task force’s recommendations presented at the October BOT meeting.  The task force recommended that, beginning with Kindergarten students in the 2019-2020 school year, ICS will offer one language program for all students. The task force’s second recommendation is that second-language learning remains vital to the ICS school model and would be an important component of any new program. The BOT will vote on this recommendation at the November 8th BOT meeting.

Notes were edited for accuracy, clarity, and completeness.

Pr. Kristen


Why did ICS initially use the two program model?
The original dream of the founders of ICS was an Immersion program.  The 2 program model was a concession to address concerns that a full immersion program would not draw enough families to meet the required enrollment number.  In addition, the founders wanted to ensure that they could hire highly qualified teachers.  There were doubts that they could staff a full immersion school.

What are the challenges of the two program model?
There are always questions as to why we have 2 programs and the data reflects a divide between the two programs: racially, socioeconomically, and academically.  ICS community members, as well as those who have examined ICS (Middle States evaluators, Temple researchers, charter renewal evaluators, grantors, etc) have commented on the differences in the programs over the years, often citing them as problematic. We have tried to address the divide in multiple ways, but none have proven effective enough to address the concerns that are raised.

What is the difference in academic testing between the programs?
Immersion students are performing much higher than those in the Enhanced program on standardized tests.  Students from families who choose Immersion are predominantly performing higher on the Kindergarten Bracken test (the test given to incoming Kindergartners once they are enrolled at ICS, but before the school year starts). This discrepancy continues throughout students’ tenure at ICS.

Aside from the amount of Spanish instruction, are there other differences between the programs?
We also see a clear difference in the population of our classrooms. One of our ICS values is global citizenship. When we look at some of the classrooms they look segregated and that isn’t part of being a global citizen. Our mission and beliefs value the diversity and the uniqueness of our students and our community. We are not serving all of our students in an equitable manner with the present model.

The state of PA defines “Historically Underperforming Students” as students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, and English Language Learners. Since there are far less Historically Underperforming Students (and students who scored low on the Bracken test)  in the Immersion Program than in the Enhanced Program, Immersion classroom teachers are able to devote more time to each student in need of extra attention. This means the Historically Underperforming Students in the Enhanced program (i.e., the majority of our Historically Underperforming Students), receive less time and attention from the classroom teacher, one of the most important factors in a child’s achievement.

Do Historically Underperforming Students show better growth in one program over the other?
Yes, the students in the Immersion program generally do better.  But, if we take underlying socioeconomic differences into consideration, the difference is not that significant.  Overall, our students show growth no matter what the program or if they are in the Historically Underperforming category.

Has there been research about why families choose one program over another?
Yes, we have conducted surveys and collected various data points.  The data is all over the place with no consistent pattern.

  • Each year a large portion of the incoming Kindergarten is siblings.
  • Families apply to one program in the hopes that they will have a better chance to get into ICS in the lottery.
  • Many Spanish speaking families apply for the Enhanced program. These families want their students to learn English at school while learning Spanish at home.
  • Kindergarten applications last year numbered about 1,000 (for about 55 spots). Families can apply online and many parents just apply to a mass amount of schools, in the hopes that they will be accepted into one of the charter schools. Some parents don’t know the differences between programs.  Some families have no idea that they were enrolled in a Full Immersion Spanish program. When you click immersion on the online application, a message pops up to inform the parents that they are enrolling their child in Spanish education in Kindergarten. Applications for other grades also numbered about 1,000.

Do you find that more Black families do not choose the Immersion program?

Yes. We have also found that Latino families are 50/50.  Less White families apply to the Enhanced program. Asian families generally apply to the Enhanced program.

The Future/Next Steps

What has been recommended to the Board?

  1. Beginning in 2019-2020, ICS will move from a two program school to a one program school. (Large project so we want enough time to plan).
  2. Bilingual education will be an important component of the ICS school curriculum. (Not considering a 30 minute model.  The question is what the percentage will be and when/if it will be phased to a lower percentage as the students get older.)

How was this recommendation developed?
The question of shifting to a one program model has existed for at least 10 years at ICS.

  • In our 2015 Strategic Growth Plan, one of our objectives reflected this question.
    • Objective 3.4: Convene a task force to research dual immersion models and investigate the feasibility of moving to a one-program model.
  • Members of the community (teachers, parents, administrators, BOT members, founders) were invited to be a part of this Task Force. Over the course of four months, with the leadership of outside consultants, the Task Force reviewed data and research.
    • Cleverlands: The Secrets Behind the Success of the World’s Education Superpowers by Lucy Chrehan
    • Board interview data collected during the 2015 Strategic Planning Project
    • Parent survey data collected during the 2015 Strategic Planning Project
    • Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) data from 2015
    • Program data related to the 2016 ICS Kindergarten Cohort compiled by Odamis Fernandez-Sheinbaum
    • Obsession, written by Ed Cooke; April 13, 2017
    • 6 Potential Brain Benefits Of Bilingual Education, written by Amy Kamenetz; November 29, 2016
    • America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century, American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Commission on Language Learning; 2017
  • Task Force shared recommendations with the Board.

What were the opinions of the task force members before it began? 
We didn’t ask anyone how they felt in the beginning meetings.  In conversations with staff, we can get a sense of people’s concerns and feelings on the topic, so invited people with varying thoughts to participate. The planning team looked for people who are charged with representing groups like staff and parents.  We tried to balance lower and upper schools, immersion and enhanced, parents and non parents — and yet keep the group small enough to be manageable. We invited Pam Prell because she is a founding Board Member of the school. We thought it would be important to have someone who was present during the development and start of ICS. There were a number of members who had strong opinions but we wanted members to be vocal and push back and talk about concerns in many different ways.  We didn’t want “yes” people.

Is there a reason the Task Force’s rationale has not been laid out to parents?
In 2015 we had our strategic growth plan and one thing that came up was convening a task force to research dual immersion models and investigate the feasibility of moving to a one program model due to inequity of the programs. Making this decision is looking at the BIG picture and no one family can look at the BIG picture from their own perspective. We knew that this decision was well beyond any one person at this school. It is actually affecting more incoming families than current families. During the 4 months of meetings, there wasn’t much for the Task Force to say to families. We were researching and wanted to wait until we actually had information and answers to give to families.

Reading between the lines, it sounds like these issues are very sensitive.  
Yes, the issues surrounding the inequity of the two programs are very sensitive and  difficult to express in an email.  We would like this process to be as transparent as possible. It is so layered and that it is sometimes difficult to explain.

What will the new program model look like?
We don’t know that answer yet. That is what Phase 2 will involve. We will research and visit many schools with different models of bilingual education.  What we do know is that the more we expose students to language, music, art, dance, we will allow the brain to make more connections and neural pathways.  This allows students to be better lifelong learners and prepare them for their future.

When will the decision be a final decision?  What is the time frame?
The Board will be voting on a resolution Wednesday, November 8, 2017. If the recommendation is accepted, Phase 2 will begin shortly thereafter.. The next year and a half would be spent researching and preparing for the transition. The new model would begin in the 2019-2020 school year.

What will Phase 2 look like? 
Phase 2 is yet to be defined.

When the Board votes on November 8th, is that a commitment to move to a one model program even though we don’t know what it is yet?
Yes. We would be committing to a one program model, no matter what it looks like. We don’t want to spend time, energy, resources and funds to find a one program model and then have the board vote no.

How does it affect students who are already enrolled at ICS?
It does not affect them. If the recommendation is accepted, the new model would start with the incoming Kindergarten class in 2019. All existing students would continue in their present program.

What will the teachers who currently work at ICS do?  Will they want to leave ICS and find a new job if we go to one model?
We have a staff population where we have at least 10 staff members leave each year (on average).  We have always been able to shift positions where people aren’t losing their jobs.  With natural turnover, and new positions being filled we will always try to find a way to have teachers keep their jobs. We will likely need English and Spanish teachers in each grade even if the model changes.  Spanish language will continue to be part of ICS itself and whatever curriculum we choose.

What will it mean for staffing if we move to a full Immersion program?
There is that natural turnover.  There are older grades and there are less Spanish positions in the older grades as the program moves up.  It would be challenging to staff an entirely full immersion school.

Will the Board vote on the new program recommended as a result of Phase 2?
This question is difficult to answer because phase 2 is yet to be defined.

Would the lottery process change?
There would still be a lottery, but yes it would change. Parents would no longer choose between the Enhanced or Immersion programs.  They would just choose to apply to ICS in a lottery format.  Current families would still have sibling preference.

Has the temperature been taken of parents as a whole?  Is a survey going to be sent to ALL parents?
We will definitely be doing more outreach.  But, not as a vote.  We want to make researched based decisions.  Overall, we want this to work and we want to have parents on board, because if they aren’t, this won’t work.  We are considering all viewpoints.  This forum is only the first step in keeping the current families informed.

Will there be consideration of Advanced Placement?  (gifted program)
Our teachers are very good at differentiating.  If things change and teachers are having a harder time differentiating, we are open to the possibility of a program for students with different academic needs. We want to support all of our learners to continue to reach a higher bar.  If we need to do a more rigorous academic “gifted program” we will.

Second language was the main reason we applied to this school and that is what makes ICS so special. What is going to make ICS special now, since this is such a unique program?
ICS is a unique place with various focuses on academic skills, languages, arts and global education. These focuses will NOT be changed.  Part of the recommendation to the Board of Trustees is that Spanish Bilingual Education continues to be a big part of the school curriculum.  ICS will continue to be special!

We love that ICS has an Immersion program, and if you didn’t have the full Immersion program, I don’t know that I would want to send my child here.  Would you still have the same pull of families?
Our waiting list is about 1,000 for Kindergarten, and 1,000 for other grades.  We will continue to monitor how many families apply in the lottery with whatever decision is made.

We want to protect the reputation of ICS.  ICS West is 50/50.  How is it working for them?  Will it be the same for us?
We cannot compare the two schools.  ICS West is only 2 years old.  ICS Center City is 17 years old.  There are many different models to look at and we still haven’t decided what model we will follow.  We can learn some things from the development of ICS West, but we also have to look at the demographic differences between the two schools.  Whatever tool we use, we will continue to use the same values that ICS has always has.

Southwark has taken several of our teachers and is successful from what I hear.  How is that affecting ICS?
Andrew Jackson and McCall have all started Spanish programs. However, their schools have different demographics than us and some have programs focused on bilingual heritage speakers. The one program proposal is not due to other schools starting their own Spanish programs.  Yes, some former ICS teachers have  joined the School District of Philadelphia to teach at these programs.

Is there an argument why a full immersion program wouldn’t work?
That idea isn’t out of the question. Some families are very apprehensive about applying to a full immersion program.  Not everyone chose ICS for the Immersion program.  Some fully fluent Spanish speaking families don’t have an English background and support their child’s literacy skills in Spanish at home and want their students to learn English at ICS.  Other families are apprehensive about how to support their student’s academic growth at home if they don’t speak Spanish at home.

Have any parents of the enhanced program raised concerns?
ICS has not received any emails or letters of concern from parents in the Enhanced program at this time.

The Task Force Members are listed below. If you have any additional questions or concerns, they are excellent resources to reach out to.

  • Krista Pfeiffer (BOT member, parent of ICS 3rd & 5th grader)
  • Jenny Hoedeman-Eiteljorg (Student Records and Communication Support, former family liaison, parent of ICS 3rd grader, at ICS for 10 years)
  • Begona Muñoz (2nd grade Immersion teacher, parent of ICS 1st and 2nd grader, at ICS about 10 years)
  • Pam Meacham  (Kindergarten teacher, parent of ICS 6th grader, at ICS for 7 years)
  • Pam Prell (Founder, parent of 2 ICS alumni and current 7th grader, former BOT member)
  • Amy Urban Romaine (PTA president, parent of ICS 2nd grader)
  • Kerry Routh (former Staff Rep, Academic Dean, former MS Math teacher, about 10 years at ICS)
  • Olga Molinares (MS Spanish teacher for Enhanced and Immersion, separately, at ICS for 2 years)
  • Steve Bellizzi (MS Social Studies teacher for Immersion and Enhanced, separately, 6 years at ICS)
  • Rosie McNamara-Jones (BOT parent rep, parent of ICS 6th grader and alumnus)
  • Shavon Norris  (Organizational Culture Coordinator, K-5 Dance/Movement teacher, at ICS for about 10 years)
  • Odamis Fernandez-Sheinbaum (Assistant Principal, parent of ICS 2nd and 5th grader, at ICS for about 10 years)
  • Elsie Stern (former BOT president, parent of ICS 6th grader and alumnus)
  • Maureen Eagen (BOT member, parent of ICS 7th grader and alumnus)
  • Doris Naffah (Kindergarten Immersion teacher, at ICS for 8 years)
  • Kristen Long (Principal)
  • Tom Scheid (CEO)