School Teaches Three Languages

A new charter school that will teach children in three languages — Mandarin Chinese, Spanish and English — is scheduled to open in September in the North Sacramento School District with about 120 children in kindergarten through third grade.

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Students at the Lindsay Global Language Academy, as the charter school is called, will learn all their subjects in the three languages from teachers who are native speakers. And they’ll practice conversation skills by participating in video conferences with students in Beijing, Shanghai and Mexico City, said Linda Ventriglia, a former Sacramento City Unified educator who created the school. “Kids that don’t get out of Sacramento now are going to see people around the world,” Ventriglia said. “We’re trying to create a 21st century school.”

It’s an unusual program in a school district that predominantly serves children from poor families, many of whom speak little English. About 83 percent of students in North Sacramento qualify for subsidized lunches, and 39 percent are not fluent in English. About 50 percent of the district’s students are Latino and 12 percent are Asian. The Lindsay charter school is designed to teach the three languages to students who speak any one of them at home. Students will spend half the day working in English and the other half in Spanish and Mandarin.

“I think that is the best thing since the ice cream cone,” said Maxine Sullivan-Pepper, school board president. “It is such a wonderful opportunity for children in the north area.” But the Lindsay Academy has generated a deep rift in the school district. It has divided the school board, pitted the district administration against the charter backers and — some people believe — even contributed to the recent firing of Superintendent Dennis Tillett. “I support the concept and I support the school,” said board member Linda Fowler. “I just don’t support the volatility they have created.”

The disagreement concerns where the Lindsay charter school will be located. Both parties agree that it should be on the campus of Dos Rios Elementary School, just south of the American River near Richards Boulevard. But they disagree about exactly where on the campus Lindsay will be sited, because it must share the grounds with another charter school — the Smythe Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Ventriglia and her supporters want Lindsay housed in the campus’ permanent building, while district officials say it should operate out of several portable classrooms. Sullivan-Pepper said the school board will try to resolve the conflict at its July 30 meeting. Ventriglia — who has support from three of North Sacramento’s five school board members — said she is optimistic the issue can be resolved before school opens Sept. 4. But Patty Smart, who has been serving as superintendent since the board fired Tillett last month, said the district and the charter have been unable to agree on a memorandum of understanding – or MOU — that would spell out the details of their relationship. “It would be legally OK to open it without the MOU,” she said. “Although highly unadvisable.”

Ventriglia said she has hired six teachers for the Lindsay school, but has not yet selected a principal. She developed the charter with grant money from the federal government intended to boost the number of schools teaching languages — such as Mandarin — considered crucial to national security and commerce. The grant is part of President Bush’s National Security Language Initiative.

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