NASELLE — After hearing input from the audience of about 30 and a presentation from Superintendent Rick Pass on the Mandarin Chinese immersion program, the Naselle Grays River Valley School Board decided to not adopt the program for the kindergarten class in 2012-13, but to take more time to consider the issue. After a presentation from BRLB Architect’s Tom Bates, the board did decide to pursue the possibility of a capital bond to fund improvements and additions to the football grandstand and vocational building erected in 1957.

“It is obvious that there are mixed opinions about the (Mandarin) program. This is an important decision and I feel the board, community and teachers need more time to decide about whether the program is what is best for the district,” Board Chairman Robert Torppa said.

The 55-year-old vocational and music building that includes the football grandstand is in need of repair and upgrades that will bring it up to code. A bond for between $3.5 million and $8 million would pay for the improvements and additions. The wide range of costs is due to the possibility of adding another gymnasium, weight room, and applied learning lab. A grant and matching funds could be as much as $2 million for the project, but it won’t be known if those funds will be available until early November.

The board will continue to look into the needed improvements and will make a decision before the Dec. 28 deadline as to whether to place a bond on the February 2013 ballot. Depending upon procurement of funds and what the community wants, the bond could be the same as the $1.57 per $1,000 of the current bond that will be retired in December or it could be “20 to 30 cents higher or lower,” according to Bates. The project would be completed before the 2015 school year if the bond were to pass.

Mandarin Chinese in


Debbie Denny, speaking for the Naselle Education Association, said, “Any time a foreign language is taught, that is excellent. But, having only one or two months to prepare for this program does not give us enough details about how it will operate. In the big picture, we need more time to have our questions answered and with teachers gone over the summer, this may not be the time to add a program that we are not sure we can sustain financially. We need more time to see how the money ($45,000 per year for the next two years) will be spent. This is too much, too soon.”

A poll of the Naselle teachers revealed concerns about the sustainability of finances, but voiced support of the program’s educational benefits. Superintendent Pass made a presentation about how the Mandarin Chinese Immersion Program would work and about its benefits to the students and to the district.

In 2006, K-12 enrollment in the Naselle district was 338, it dropped to 313 by 2008, and in 2011 enrollment was 282 students, a decrease of 17 percent. Pass was hopeful the Mandarin Immersion Program would help to increase enrollment. Pass pointed out that in one urban grade school of about 400 students there was a waiting list of 200 students to get into their Chinese language program.

Pass and other Naselle administrators visited Michigan State University and several urban schools in the Pacific Northwest. An MSU student from China would teach the Mandarin Chinese Immersion Program and the Naselle kindergarten and first grade teachers would instruct students who choose to take classes in English. “This would be a two-year pilot program,” Pass said. He cited the many advantages a Mandarin program would have in preparing students for a global education and the readiness students that age have for absorbing foreign languages as plusses.

If five students participate the first year and those five and another five the next came from out of district, Naselle’s General Fund would bring in about $6,000 per student and financially break even on the project. Only one parent of a home-schooled student in Naselle has expressed interest in the program thus far.

“Why teach a language from communist China? Why not Spanish where we have many people in our community who already speak it? I am concerned that this is a way (China’s) government wants to immerse into our society so they can take over. There are other ways to spend our money wisely to help for the needs our kids have,” Kaye Weimer said during time set aside for audience input.

“We need to also consider our children that choose to stay in our hometown community. Our academic programs receive excellent support, but I would like to see our vocational education opportunities increase. I want to keep the culture of our community and I don’t feel our community has been fully informed about spending money for teaching Chinese,” Karen Bertroch added.

“I am frustrated about parents of kindergarten or first grade students not having enough information about the program. I would like the board to slow down,” parent and teacher Rob Dalton said.

In order to implement the immersion program for next school year, a decision to adopt it must be made by June 29. The board members were polled and unanimously voted to table the issue.

“I have heard from 25 or 30 people in the community that if we throw away money for teaching Chinese, they will not vote for the bond or future (maintenance and operations) levies. I want to pass the bond and consider the Chinese immersion program down the line,” board member Gilbert Haataia said.

“My son is working in China right now and communicating is not a problem for him. Cell phones and computers can translate,” Haataia explained.

“I disagree that the immersion program is tied to the bond issue. Holding the bond hostage is petty and immature,” former board member Deanna Gjovik remarked.

“I have heard from 12 or 13 parents of kids in the kindergarten class and they will support the bond, even if the immersion program is not adopted,” Allen Lebovitz, a parent, said. It was pointed out only eight parents of kindergarten or first grade students in the Naselle district voted in the last levy election.

“The immersion program is a positive. Increasing enrollment through the program is a positive. Global education is a positive, but we need more time to research how this program will impact our district. I want to wait until next year and give this time for it to sink in before we decide,” board member Ed Darcher said.

“There are too many unanswered questions. I want to wait until the community warms up to the idea (of the Chinese immersion program). I want to table it for another time until we get more positive feedback from the community,” board member Hollis Fletcher said by a telephone connection as he was unable to attend the meeting in person.

“I don’t want to kill the program, as I see most people are pretty much for it, but the timing is not the best right now. I also agree to wait,” Torppa said. The next deadline for adopting the program for 2013-14 is April 2013.

“I want to commend Dr. Pass on a great job of pulling together a lot of information in a short time,” Darcher added.

Superintendent goals


“Four months ago I asked the board for the superintendent’s goals and I have not heard anything back. Is the superintendent under the direction of the board? Does he have goals? If so, I want to hear what they are? I also want to know why the (June 19) agenda was not published.” Buddy Strange asked during community input.

“Yes, there are goals for the superintendent and for the board. We will look into getting the information on goals on the website, We do not just sit up here and do things helter-skelter,” Torppa answered.

Principal’s reports

The Columbia Virtual Academy has an enrollment of 325 students after its first year of implementation in the Naselle district. Four teachers, two secretaries, and a half-time principal position have been added through the funds generated from CVA. In mid-June the district discovered $87,000 in additional revenue to the general fund from CVA levy equalization.

“We have a $384,000 cash balance right now and by August, when our fiscal year ends, we should have between $400,000 and $500,000. Our enrollment has been stable and we will adopt our budget for next year at the July board meeting,” business manager Jon Tienhaara said.

He explained how vocational teachers Greg Nelson and Jim Moten are working to have a two-period block that would consolidate several classes. “We might have kids go to Fred Johnson’s organic produce farm one day, work on small engines the next, and be at the Naselle hatchery the next. Students will get instruction in several disciplines, while taking advantage of community partnerships,” Tienhaara explained.

“We have 90 students in summer school at Naselle Youth Camp, but we are funded for an average of 82.5 so our classes are bulging. I have taken on about 20 students for independent study. Next (school) year we will be funded for 76 students,” NYC School Principal Lisa Nelson said.

“We had seven students graduate this past school year. Our sophomores are on par with public school students on the High School Proficiency Exam scores. We had a record-breaking 86 percent pass, almost exactly the percentage of public school students. I am totally thrilled as the number of kids who passed is up 67 percent at NYC from a year ago,” Nelson related.

“I want to acknowledge the great job our teachers do, especially since the average stay of our residents is only 70 days and we have a higher percentage of special needs kids than the state average,” Nelson concluded.

School board action

The rubberized track at Reuben Penttila Field will be resurfaced this summer at a cost of $68,000. That money has been accumulating since it was surfaced 15 years ago. The average life expectancy for similar tracks is eight years.

Consent items including warrants and payroll were approved. Jeanine Helvey as head cook and Diane Bennett as middle school volleyball coach’s resignations were approved. Lamar Wirkkala was hired as assistant varsity basketball coach.

Updates in the policy on high school graduation requirements, public access to district records, federal motor carrier safety mandated drug and alcohol testing, and bid requirements were approved. The Title I building parent involvement plan was also approved. The two and a half hour meeting was then adjourned.

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