After a visit from Japanese dignitaries, letters from the Japanese ambassador and tearful pleas from Floris Elementary School parents and students not to remove the school's Japanese Immersion program, Fairfax County Public School officials determined the program would be transferred to Fox Mill Elementary School at the start of the 2006-07 school year.
"I wouldn't say I was shocked or anything with the determination," said Shari Berman, mother of two Floris students. "But, I guess I can say I was disappointed."
Floris parents first learned about FCPS' plan to review the school's Japanese Immersion program in March. At the time, parents were told that Betsy Goodman, cluster VIII assistant superintendent who oversees Floris and 23 other schools, would review the program. In her review, Goodman would determine if a recommendation should be made to Jack Dale, Superintendent of schools, to relocate the program to neighboring Fox Mill.
"I think all of us who worked with this really want to see the Japanese Immersion program continue to flourish and grow," said Goodman. "I don't see transferring it from Floris to Fox Mill as diminishing it — both schools have good programs and hopefully that interest [from Floris] will transfer."
UNDER THE SCHOOL SYESTEM'S proposal, the Floris program would be phased out after this year and merged with Fox Mill's program starting in the 2006-2007 school year. Fox Mill's Japanese program has nearly twice as many students, according to Goodman.
Parents feel the loss of the Japanese Immersion program will be more than just the loss of six classes and three teachers, it will be a loss for the school as a whole.
Originally created in 1989 through a grant awarded to FCPS, the Japanese Immersion program was implemented in three area elementary schools: Floris, Fox Mill and Great Falls.
Along with offering specific language skills to students enrolled in the immersion classes, the program offers children throughout the school a global perspective and fosters tolerance of other cultures, said Judy May, mother of three immersion students and active Floris volunteer.
"Over the next couple years you won't see much of an impact because there are such large classes," said May about the decision. "But, there will be a point where Japanese will be something they talk about as 'this is how it used to be.'"
Through the review process Goodman and Paula Patrick, foreign language coordinator FCPS, met with parents to hear concerns, field questions and explain what would happen if the program were transferred.
During that time, parents felt FCPS officials never gave an answer about why the program was under review and felt their suggestions about how to save the program were dismissed.
"They still haven't made it clear what we have saved the school by taking it out," said May. "They never pointed to a catalyst, they just said this is something they should have done a long time ago."
GOODMAN MADE her recommendation based on three factors: conserving the county's staffing resources, creating a stronger program at one school and financial savings over time.
Because Fox Mill had stronger enrollment numbers than Floris through the six grades included in the program, it was a better use of the county's resources to combine the programs, she said.
Floris currently has 136 students enrolled in its immersion program and approximately 826 students enrolled overall in the school. Fox Mill has 750 students enrolled overall and 215 enrolled in its Japanese Immersion program.
Immersion programs require additional staff to be hired to offset the number of immersion students who come into the non-immersion classes, she said. If those numbers "don't fall just right," non-immersion class sizes can increase, causing the need for additional staff, she said.
By transferring the school's program, FCPS officials estimate they will save $702,000 over six years. The county approved an overall budget of $1.9 billion for its schools this year.
"We lost something that made our school really unique, really something special," said May. "What will Floris be now that that's gone?"
IN AN AUG. 2 LETTER sent to Floris parents, principal Karen Siple said the school would explore the possibility of other language programs. Currently the school system is focusing on its Foreign Language in the Elementary School program that reaches all students. The program teaches a foreign language to the entire school, versus the partial immersion program — like Japanese Immersion — where only a select number of students can be served, said Patrick.
"We did talk to faculty on the first day of school to explain the FLES program," she said. "We'll hold PTA meetings again to give the information to parents and then if they want to pursue the program we will go from there."
There are currently seven FLES programs throughout the county offering French, Spanish, Chinese, Italian and Latin, said Patrick. The vision of the county is to implement the program into every school so each graduate has a proficiency in languages other than English, she said.
During the review, Floris parents suggested running the FLES program in addition to the immersion program, but county officials decided against that suggestion.
"I understand that decisions have to be made and they're not always popular decisions," said Patrick of the recommendation. "But, they're made with the best interest of the student body in mind."
Parents are already planning to pull their children from Floris and enroll them in Fox Mill next year to ensure they stay in the immersion program, said May.