Weighing ELD Options

Faced with size and quality imbalances between English Language Development programs at Los Altos and Mountain View, district administrators work to resolve the discrepancy — with the future of the Los Altos ELD Department in the balance.

Discontinuing all beginner-level English Language Development (ELD) classes at the school is one option on the table in a move to even out numbers of English learners at Los Altos and Mountain View High Schools. Most agree, however, that the problem cannot be so easily fixed.

According to Associate Superintendent Brigitte Sarraf, the district recently decided to make similarity between the schools a higher priority. To district officials seeking balance, the 51 students in MVHS’s four-level ELD program looked like a problem next to the 120 in LAHS’s program.

“It is very difficult to have a comprehensive program that is affordable when the numbers are so small,” Sarraf said. “Our interests include providing the best possible program within the limits of our resources and at the same time respecting the board’s wishes to maintain two schools that are similar in size, scope and quality.”

District policy technically puts newcomers who need ELD into MVHS, but administrators find it hard to tell kids they must attend a school miles away when the school near their home can accommodate them. As a way to  save resources and avoid more English learners entering LAHS, the district declared last month that ELD I classes would only be offered at MVHS from now on. The decision was later called off, and a small committee was called together to brainstorm alternatives. Los Altos ELD Coordinator Emily Goodheart saw flaws in the original proposal right away.

“I understand the rationale for it,” Goodheart said. “But then my second thought was that it wasn’t going to do very much, because this year we only have 13 [ELD I] students, and so it wouldn’t make a huge difference [moving them] between the two schools.”

Goodheart expressed concern for students not ready for ELD II by the start of the next school year who would have to transfer to MVHS to continue ELD I, and also for ELD I students who have older siblings already attending LAHS.

“More students like me live near Los Altos High School, and I think they should probably just spend more money at Los Altos High School for ELD teaching—more teachers, more rooms, and more chances to them” said ELD student sophomore Ming Gong, who collected over 100 signatures to protest the original proposal.

The district was quick to agree that eliminating ELD I at LAHS may not be a sufficient solution.

“We decided to delay [the decision] because it makes sense to look at the whole program instead of just tinkering around the edges and focusing only on beginning students,” Sarraf said. “As you can see, the problem is much bigger than that.”

The newly created committee consists of staff, parents and students. According to Sarraf, the group will “start by identifying a set of common interests and then brainstorm different ways of providing services to this group of students.”

The discontinuation of ELD I is still a possibility. The committee’s first meeting was scheduled for Thursday, February 28.

“They really want us to come up with a plan that’s workable,” Goodheart said. “But how to get to the point where you have an equal number on both campuses is not that easy. Tune in later: I don’t know. I’m worried about it.”