VALPARAISO — Valparaiso Community Schools will "reset" its popular Parkview Elementary dual language immersion program in a new, three-year pilot.

VCS administrators announced plans last week to continue the program next school year in a "status quo" state. Now, school officials say the three following school years will be used to implement a new model.

A Parkview school leadership team will use the remainder of this school year and next year's "status quo" period to develop the three-year pilot. The district will bring a new kindergarten immersion class into the elementary school next year, a district spokeswoman said, completing the school's kindergarten through fifth grade dual language immersion offerings.

Superintendent Julie Lauck outlined next steps for the program in a letter sent to VCS families Wednesday afternoon. Lauck and Parkview Principal Calli Dado also met with families in a closed-door meeting Tuesday night to present the district's expectations moving forward with the program.

The meeting lasted no more than 20 minutes and administrators did not allow for audience participation, parents who attended the meeting told The Times.

“We ask for transparency … we want to be partners,” Parkview parent Morgan Dravet said in an appeal to the Valparaiso school board in a Thursday night meeting.

Allison Hadley, a spokeswoman for Valparaiso Community Schools, said families were directed in the Tuesday meeting to an online inquiry form to "keep an ongoing record of questions in order to address questions thoughtfully and appropriately during the planning stage."

Parkview staff may not have answers to many parents' questions "until well into next school year," Hadley added.

"We know the value of the program and of the benefit for students," Director of Elementary Education Brandie Muha said Thursday night. “We do not have all of the answers to the future of the program, but we ask for grace as we go through the planning and figure out the answers to those questions that they might have."

The Valparaiso district was met with strong protest in December when its administrators first announced plans to end the dual language program at the end of this school year. VCS administrators walked back the decision after Parkview parents rushed to defend the program in an after-school rally and a series of coordinated school board appearances.

A consistent presence has continued at Valparaiso school board meetings ever since.

One community member, Christopher Pupillo, was escorted from the board room Thursday night after questioning VCS statements made this winter regarding the involvement of the elementary school's former principal in decision-making for the future of the program. The former principal has disputed claims she was involved in conversations to end dual language studies at Parkview.

Several parents voiced concern in the standing-room-only Thursday board meeting for the continued use of the word "pilot," fearing district administration could once again decide to end the program.

"I'm really thankful you guys took back the decision and will keep DLI in place next year," Parkview parent Ambica Macalka told the board Thursday. "Please know we are not up here for fun. There is nothing fun about standing here. This is so important that we will do hard things and face our fears in order to communicate that to you."

In the weeks since Valparaiso administrators first announced plans to re-evaluate the program, Parkview staff has examined program data and consulted with experts from Valparaiso University, Purdue University and the Indiana Department of Education, Hadley said.

Valparaiso administration also conducted a Parkview teacher survey to determine future evolution of the program.

A new, proposed structure communicated by VCS administrators will look to retain the program's "50/50" model, in which students receive 50% instruction in English and the other 50% in Spanish.

However, the new model will look to bring Valparaiso English Learner students into the program, which previously served predominantly English-dominant learners. Classes in this model would be made up of half English Learner students and half English-dominant students in a shift Lauck characterized as a new "district intervention strategy."

Hadley said it's still yet to be determined if all elementary English Learner students would be taught out of the same school under the proposed pilot program, as well as if any changes would affect students currently enrolled in Parkview dual language immersion.

Dado, as Parkview principal, will meet with the district's Bilingual Advisory Committee of parents, teachers, community members and field experts in the process of developing the new pilot, according to the superintendent's letter this week. The committee will meet next week for the first time since adding new members this winter and will continue meeting quarterly throughout the pilot program, Muha said.

The district plans to communicate updates in an ongoing FAQ page as well as through the Parkview website, school newsletters and regular parent meetings, Muha said.

School board president Robert Behrend thanked both families for their engagement and Valparaiso educators for their dedication in working to re-evaluate the program.

“Sometimes to move forward, you have to go back,” Behrend said Thursday night. “I think that's the only way you can learn from a situation. Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forward.”

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