Rich Boccia is not afraid to lead. That much was apparent at a meeting he held on Tuesday night with six mothers of incoming kindergartners to the Mammoth Unified School District. The group gathered with the new Superintendent to discuss how he planned to handle their issue with the Dual Immersion program at Mammoth Elementary School; all six mothers in attendance had children who were waitlisted for the program this year.
A total of 15 kindergartners, five of them Spanish-speaking, had been placed on the waitlist when the Dual Immersion program filled up more quickly than anyone was expecting. The group at Tuesday’s meeting claimed they had been told in April that they were in the Dual Immersion program but then received letters in July reneging and saying they were not.
They claimed they attended the mandatory meeting that they were told was the only prerequisite for getting into the program. While the word “guaranteed” was never used, the words “highly probable” were, if that meeting was attended.
These parents felt it simply unfair that in a public school, their children would not be receiving the same opportunities as others and could fall behind in life because of it. They believe the program should be available to all who want to participate.
Early on in the meeting Boccia did something rarely seen in these parts or in political situations in general: he put his butt on the line and made a commitment. Boccia committed to “stabilizing the program,” which he explained meant that he would absorb all of the waitlisted kindergartners as well as solve the issue of there being no oral language program in the middle school [another hot button item*], before the school year begins on Aug. 25.
According to Boccia there were several options on the table to accomplish the kindergarten absorption piece of this, which included hiring a new teacher and creating a new kindergarten class, making a larger kindergarten class and hiring an aid to help the teacher, or creating combination classes (putting two grades together).
As of Tuesday evening he and newly hired MES Principal Rosanne Lampariello, were still deciding which option to choose, but Boccia assured the mothers that between contacts that he and Lampariello had there were plenty of qualified candidates to choose from if they decided to acquire a new position. Boccia explained that he was trying to make the best decision to allow all kids to achieve both in the short-term and the long-term.
“I see the anxiety in your eyes,” Boccia sympathized. “I was a kindergarten teacher and I also have two daughters so I understand where you are coming from. These are your babies.”
“We are trying to get the best opportunity for our kids to excel,” said Anne Winston, one of the mothers. “We’re not worried about closing achievement gaps.”
“But at the end of the day we should all care about all kids,” Boccia retorted, to which Winston agreed.
Boccia went on to express that he too believed the students who wanted to be part of the DI program should be allowed to do so.
“World language is an avenue for international-mindedness and global citizenship,” he observed. “Kids have to learn a different language.”
However his second goal regarding dual immersion will be to gather data on the current program to see if it is actually working. Boccia, like the mothers new to the school program, had little background information on the program and claimed he was having difficulty finding answers.
“People aren’t volunteering information so I’m having to do a lot of investigating,” he explained.
Until the data is collected the program will continue to be run in its current form – a 50/50 classroom. Other DI programs are often run in a 90/10 format with 90 percent of the class taught in Spanish and 10 percent taught in English. Different studies suggest different biases toward one set up versus the other.
Boccia will take the plan for the DI absorption to the Board workshop scheduled for Aug. 12 for review, but ultimately he told the mothers, it is an administrative decision that he will make, which is why he could make the commitment he did.
“I feel confident we can absorb this without a negative impact,” he said.
The mothers were thrilled to hear that this problem was a top priority for Boccia, and while there were many other issues regarding the school district that they hoped to tackle in the future with the new Superintendent, they went away feeling as though they might receive the equal playing field they had hoped for.
*Currently students who participate in Dual Immersion in the elementary school realize a gap in language learning between elementary school and high school because there is no oral language program at the middle school.