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Posted on Wed, May 23, 2012 : 5:55 a.m.

Lincoln school board approves Washtenaw County's first Spanish Immersion program

By Danielle Arndt

Editor's note: The story has been corrected to note that 83 Lincoln teachers were issued pink slips.

The Lincoln schools Board of Education has decided to proceed with a Spanish Immersion program for the fall.

The program will be the first of its kind in Washtenaw County and the first that Superintendent Ellen Bonter is aware of on the east side of the state.

Lincoln Consolidated School.JPG
Spanish Immersion programs are very popular in West Michigan. Forest Hills, Holland, Jenison, Grand Rapids Christian, Grandville Christian, Rockford, West Ottawa and Zeeland Christian school districts all offer such classes. Rockford had approved expanding its program from grades K-5 to K-8 for the upcoming school year until recent budget constraints forced it to reconsider.

Bonter is “incredibly excited” about the possibilities that offering Spanish Immersion could bring to the district, including higher test scores and the ability to attract new students.

“Students in these programs generally have very high achievement rates,” she said. “For us to be able to offer students the opportunity to excel in a foreign language while they are still at the age where they can attain language very easily is huge.”

Lincoln began considering the program about a year ago after county resident Jeremy Reed and a small group of parents approached Bonter. Reed said the group had been looking for a school willing to host a Spanish Immersion program for about two years.

Ellen Bonter.jpg

Ellen Bonter

Bonter said she sat down with Reed and the other parents when Lincoln began talks to reconfigure its elementary schools and asked if Reed and his group would like to be a part of those conversations.

In April, Lincoln school board members voted to close Redner Elementary School and disperse its students throughout the district’s remaining elementary schools. They approved using the Redner building to create a new school for the district’s multi-age program, which has been housed in Brick Elementary School since 2010.

Bonter said the district sent around a survey to Redner parents and other parents whose children had not yet been placed at a school for the fall and asked where they would like their children to attend. Bonter said parents received their placement letters last week and all received their first school choice.

The Spanish Immersion program will join the multi-age program at the former Render school, which does not have a new name yet, Bonter said. She said Lincoln will offer just one kindergarten to first-grade class for 2012-13. Each year after that it will add on an additional section, generally in a higher grade, so students can stick with the program as they advance.

The rollout timeframe for the program is five years, for a total cost of about $1.49 million.

The first year of the program is estimated to cost Lincoln schools about $86,380 in instructional materials, the teacher’s salary and the district’s insurance contribution. But Bonter explained this is not an additional cost. She said the district would still need to have that teacher anyway to teach children currently in the district.

Lincoln schools may need to hunt for a teacher who is fluent in Spanish, however.

The idea behind the Spanish Immersion program is to teach and utilize as many aspects of the Spanish language and culture in the classroom as possible. As the children get older, the classes will be taught almost entirely in Spanish, according to other models.

Lincoln currently faces a situation where it needs to either gain $4.5 million in revenue or it will have to cut that amount from the 2012-13 budget, Bonter said. She added $4.5 million is about 10 percent of the district’s current expenditures.

Attracting students to the Spanish Immersion program could generate about $7,500 per student. However, some families have pulled their children from Lincoln schools because they are upset about the closing of Redner, costing the district about $6,800 per student.

Lincoln schools recently issued pink slips to 83 teachers. Bonter said depending on the number of retirement notices it receives and whether the state votes to reform the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System, Lincoln may be able to return some of those teachers to the classroom.

Bonter added it's possible the teacher Lincoln needs to run its Spanish Immersion program could be in that group of pink-slipped teachers or within the district already, which would mean Lincoln could ask back one of its teachers and not hire a new one. She said because the Spanish Immersion program was just approved Monday, the details are now being worked out. Bonter said the program will be open to School of Choice students from outside the Lincoln school district.

The Board of Education voted 5-0 to move ahead with Spanish Immersion. Two trustees were absent.

Staff reporter Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Thu, May 24, 2012 : 4:47 a.m.

I agree this is a nice program to offer. However, our board needs to also remember that they are in the process of dismantling a school and displacing 505 children for an alternative program(multi-age) of 274 students. They are going to be spending a lot of money on this but yet they still haven't confirmed whether or not they will be offering transportation to Childs for displaced Redner students...and won't even put it on the table for discussion until June. Yet they wanted parents to turn in their school preference forms by May 4th. So while they are trying to open up new programs to attract enrollment, they are also chasing people out because they aren't listening to parents' concerns about other issues....only the ones the board has a personal interest in. Also, Ms. Bonters' statement about Redner students being placed in their first school choice is not true. I know someone who got their 3rd choice(last) of schools. I also know of someone who said they weren't going to be returning to the district next year due to the decision of replacing Redner with the multi-age program..and they got a letter saying their child was placed in the new High Scope/Multi-Age school for next year. Wow they didn't win anybody back with that one. I'm sorry but it feels that this board has more interest with alternative programs than they do for traditional classroom teaching. Instead of attracting people they could also be deterring people away from the district when they do things like eliminat whole schools for alternative they did at Redner, in turn, displacing 505 students for a program of 274. Whose to say that the Spanish Immersion program won't eventually displace students. I wonder what the multi-age program will say when the Spanish Immersion program starts crowding their space at Redner. Offer the program but don't try to force it on people or they will only lose more students.

Danielle Arndt

Wed, May 23, 2012 : 10:21 p.m.

The number of pink slips issued to teachers in the story has been corrected. Thank you to commenters for alerting us.


Wed, May 23, 2012 : 5:09 p.m.

There are numerous studies that indicate learning multiple languages help kids become better students. Not only that but it can helps ward off Alzheimer's disease in the elderly. What a gift to be able to give your kids, even if they complain now. Anyway, I wish it were Ann Arbor doing it.


Wed, May 23, 2012 : 4:13 p.m.

I am glad to see such a program implemented. I only wish that the Ann Arbor school district was as forward-thinking. Research has indicated that acquiring multiple languages is extremely beneficial, and can also act as a protecting factor against dementia in old age. Immersion is the best way to learn any language, and the earlier the better. Traditional second-language models are typically too little language per week, much later in a student's life. In order to be competitive in a global economy, I believe multi-lingual skills add a significant edge.


Wed, May 23, 2012 : 3:32 p.m.

I think this is exciting news! To me, this shows Lincoln Schools as a school district that is willing to be innovative and forward thinking even during difficult times for our education system. I also value a school district that listens to parents' concerns; most parents I know believe that giving young children the opportunity to learn a second language is a gift. Lincoln listened and is helping to provide that opportunity for those interested.

Mr. Penny

Thu, May 24, 2012 : 3:40 p.m.

I'm going to assume your either an LMA parent or you sit on the BoE. The rest of the community has been left in the dark. The communication is terrible across the district! The program would be exciting if the fundamental basic needs of the existing students were being met, but they're are not.


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 1:01 a.m.

While I agree that this is a good program to's another one like the Multi-Age does not suit all children and the board does not know when to stop with these alternative programs. They are displacing 505 children for an alternative program of 274. There is no logic to that. What's to say this program won't eventually displace more students. If they want to offer these programs then fine but don't keep chopping away at our option for traditional classroom teaching and continuing to displace students and disrupt them. . They need to address the reasons as to why students are leaving...otherwise they're going to continue to have problems no matter what. A lot of the reason parents are pulling their children from the district is actually because the board does NOT listen to the majority of parents. The majority does not rule at this school. It's all about the personal interests of some these board members and that is what makes me a little uneasy about this choice. I've seen them in action and they didn't show much regard at all for the children they are displacing from Redner. I can see a similar problem happening in the future with this program if we let them run wild with it. Most school boards would not displace 505 kids and eliminate a school from the district for a program of 274 and that's where I have a problem with some of their decision making.


Wed, May 23, 2012 : 2:14 p.m.

Every child in my extended family between the ages of 5 and 15 has attended the Spanish emersion school in Grand Rapids. These children are given an opportunity to develop their language skills and cultural understanding. This not only gives these children a leg up in a global society, it gives them a better understanding of the world around them. I am surprised it has taken Washtenaw County so long to embrace this method of teaching. Only time will tell, but I hope such schools will help lessen the xenophobia in our country.


Sat, May 26, 2012 : 4:33 a.m.

I agree that this is a good program to offer but the Lincoln school board is getting pretty radical these days with how far they are going with these alternative programs. They like to push them over traditional classroom teaching even if there isn't a ton of demand. This has a lot to do with special funding. They have put tons of money into continually moving the multi-age program and displacing other students. Even when the number they are displacing is much more than those students they are accomodating. Teachers are losing jobs regardless of seniority due to the board's decision to eliminate Redner altogether for the Multi-Age program and the Spanish Immersion program. A program that had 274 students and a program that wasn't even implemented yet to know how much demand there would be. They can vote to start a Spanish Immersion program but they can't confirm if they are going to provide transportation for displaced children going to Childs next year. We're talking about a public school here. They are trying to attract new students and neglecting and disrupting the ones they already have. I can understand why some people would want this option but that's all it should option and this is where there is a slippery slope with our school board. I don't agree that people would be more receptive to French or Russian Immersion programs. I think it is the other way around. I'm not sure which languages Lumberg is referring to as to the Spanish language being dominant over. While it may be dominant over some, here in the United States the English language should always be dominant over any other. Just like I wouldn't go to other countries and expect them to have to speak my language. Either way, I think we should allow people to have the choice for the Spanish Immersion program without trying to belittle those who don't choose it. Successful people have come out of traditional classrooms as well.


Wed, May 23, 2012 : 3:35 p.m.

I agree with you - but if the program was French immersion, or even Russian immersion, there would be less blowback. Spanish = immigration = poltics = division That is how many will view the program, even with all its benefits. Well rounded is always the key though.


Wed, May 23, 2012 : 3:25 p.m.

lumberg48108 - I feel that a well rounded education is the key. I was lucky enough to have a variety of classes to choose from when I attended middle and high school - from French and Philosophy to Home Economics and Shop. All were valuable experiences. Exposure to as many classes and skills as possible helps one find the things in life at which they may excel.


Wed, May 23, 2012 : 3:07 p.m.

well said - since when is learning a new language (a soon to be dominant language no less) not considered to be a strong eductational output? The students who go through this program will be better prepared and more successfull than others, i am willing to wager. Of course, you can have your kids take "american" classes like 'shop' if you prefer them to not be prepared for the future.


Wed, May 23, 2012 : 1:08 p.m.

Let see: 1) Lay off a bunch of teachers (85 not 49). 2) Displace a bunch of students and teachers from Redner. 3) Fail to excel in teaching kids in English, why not fail at it in Spanish too. LOL Lincoln is getting close to replacing Ypsi and West Willow as the most poorly run districts in the area.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 1:51 a.m.

Some parents still think schools need to teach discipline and manners.


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 12:28 p.m.

3 superintendents in the past decade. 1 quit during the contract and still got paid. Fired a middle school principal only to have to reinstate with back pay. Publicized an "award" only to find out it was a paid-for advertisement - $25k. Passed a bond paying for improvements to one school, only to change their mind and displace 500 students to house 200 while still paying for the construction on the building that longer needs it. A collective bargaining agreement that permits employees to take off over 8% of work days without so much as a doctor's excuse. That's just off the top of my head. So sure, I left this little starter list and referred to testing scores. I didn't want to seem like I was piling on. 3rd worst in the county? That's a conservative estimate.


Wed, May 23, 2012 : 8:20 p.m.

Lumberg-I have lived in the Lincoln district for 12 years and my 9 and 6 year old daughters both go to Lincoln schools. Top that with personally know several teachers in all three districts (including my wife), I feel that I am uniquely qualified to speak on the subject. How about you??


Wed, May 23, 2012 : 3:02 p.m.

@glimmer you mean MEAP scores getting lower equates to "Lincoln is getting close to replacing Ypsi and West Willow as the most poorly run districts in the area." Really? that is all you need? You don't take into account budget cuts or incoming school of choice students who most will admit (if they are honest) are not prepared for school, or all the other challenges facing education? It's that simple, heh? MEAP scores are low so the district is poorly run. Wow, what introspection.


Wed, May 23, 2012 : 2:20 p.m.

Read the MEAP results readily online. The statement is factual based on those.


Wed, May 23, 2012 : 1:41 p.m.

@jjc155 unless you have firts hand knowledge of all three districts (not just reading the internet) you are not really qualified to make that statement, are you? Are you an educator? Do you have kids in one or more of the districts? Do u have a professional interest in education, beyond reading about it? and yet, you make the statement and we are to assume you are an expert on Ypsi education because you read LOL indeed


Wed, May 23, 2012 : 1:04 p.m.

Lincoln Consolidated is the best gift the parent corporation of charter schools could ever receive.


Wed, May 23, 2012 : 12:11 p.m.

Every time I read something like this, I wonder if an "English immersion program" would better serve our youth.


Wed, May 23, 2012 : 11:37 a.m.

You would do your readers a service by moving the paragraph that explains what a "Spanish Immersion" program is about near the top of your story instead of burying it more than halfway through. A better explanation is needed as well. Which students does this type of program serve and to what end? I assume the goal is higher achievement scores but among what group? Are the participants in such programs native Spanish speakers who are doing poorly because they lack English skills or English-speaking students who want to become bilingual?

Danielle Arndt

Wed, May 23, 2012 : 3:04 p.m.

MixedStock, the program generally draws a wide variety of students looking for cultural enrichment and higher achievement. In the programs on the west side of the state, often students are native English-speakers whose parents find value in them learning a foreign language young or students who come from bilingual households. In general, there are studies out there that claim early foreign language acquisition helps narrow achievement gaps; benefits higher order, abstract and creative thinking; enriches and enhances early cognitive development; helps economically disadvantaged students especially students score higher on standardized tests and improves overall chances of college acceptance, achievement and attainment. Here is a link to a study that talks more about the benefits:


Wed, May 23, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

THANK YOU! i was reading the lead and wondered "what is spanish immersion" so I kept reading ... and kept reading ... and kept reading until it was buried deep in the story and even then I learned very little. this is journalism 101 folks - Dont refer to something with out explaining it first to the readers where are the editors????


Wed, May 23, 2012 : 11:06 a.m.

Whats next Arabic.


Wed, May 23, 2012 : 10:58 a.m.

Lincoln laid off 85 teachers, not 49.

Danielle Arndt

Wed, May 23, 2012 : 3:16 p.m.

I have a call in to the superintendent's office to ask about the number discrepancy. Thank you for your post.