With the board of trustees prepared to vote Monday, Feb. 26, on whether to phase out the program starting this fall, here is a look at TWI in more detail:
*Editor's note: the phrase "or ending" was removed from the first paragraph of this story.
What is TWI and how does it work?
TWI is a specialized bilingual education program for grades K-5 at Edna Mae Fielder and Memorial Parkway elementary schools. Fluent English speakers and fluent Spanish speakers are taught together to learn academic content through both languages, according to a program description obtained via a public information request.
In kindergarten, students learn in English one day and in Spanish the following day. From first grade onward, students spend half the day learning in each language. TWI students have two teachers: one for English and one for Spanish.
How many students are in TWI and how do they get in?
KISD Chief Academic Officer Christie Caskey told trustees Feb. 19 about 430 students are currently enrolled. Since opening, the program’s enrollment has grown each year as children advanced through the program from kindergarten to fifth grade. To enroll, parents needed to attend an information session, where they would receive instructions for their children’s entrance exam.
According to the public information request, Students who met testing and other language criteria were admitted, although priority was given to kindergarten students with siblings in TWI, then students zoned to the campus, and finally through a lottery. First- through fifth-graders were given priority if they were on the waitlist, and then to new KISD students coming from a dual language program outside the district.
Students can typically only enter TWI in kindergarten or first grade because beyond that, KISD staff has determined students would not have the language foundation needed to keep up. However, some exceptions have been made in the past on a case-by-case basis, according to the district and parents with children in the program.
Why are KISD administrators recommending canceling the program?
KISD leaders began looking at TWI in fall 2017 because Fielder Elementary’s enrollment is 25 percent over its design capacity, according to district officials. Superintendent Lance Hindt said the district would need to consider changing the campus’ programs as a way to reduce overcrowding, as some families living outside the school’s attendance zone still send their children there for TWI.
However, Caskey told the board that when administrators examined the program, they determined it was, as a whole, cost-prohibitive to keep going for the number of children it serves.
How much does TWI cost and how is it funded?
TWI costs about $1.4 million and is paid for with district general operating funds. The program started in 2008 with a grant that expired in 2009, according to district officials.
What will happen to the students currently enrolled in TWI if the board of trustees votes to end the program?
If the recommendations by KISD's administrators are approved, TWI will be phased out at Fielder and Memorial Parkway elementaries. Starting in the 2018-19 school year, no new kindergarten students would be permitted to enroll but the students in the program could continue their progression as intended, Caskey said.
Why did TWI remain limited to the two pilot campuses?
KISD board President Ashley Vann said although she was not on the board when TWI first began, it was her impression that the district employee who received the initial grant intended for the pilots at Fielder and Memorial Parkway elementary schools to expand. But that never happened due to depleted grant funding and staff changes in the bilingual education office, she said. Since then, the district chose to maintain the program from existing operating funds.
Hindt said the district cannot afford to expand the program, but some parents suggested to Community Impact Newspaper they would be interested in a fundraising initiative to keep the program afloat.
What have parents said about the recommendation to cancel TWI?
Multiple parents have spoken at board meetings and with Community Impact Newspaper directly about their opposition to the move. Their primary argument is the program's benefits toward bilingual development and cultural education makes it worth keeping.
Some parents have organized a community meeting at World Theater in Katy on Feb. 22 to discuss the issue. A petition to preserve the program and addressed to the board is circulating, and parents called for KISD to research alternative funding methods for TWI before cutting it.
If KISD cancels TWI, will the program’s teachers lose their jobs?
Hindt said Feb. 19 that no Fielder Elementary School teachers would lose their jobs as a result of TWI’s demise.
Is TWI the only bilingual education program for KISD elementary students?
No. For elementary school students, KISD also offers the One-Way Dual Language biliteracy program at 13 campuses, including Fielder and Memorial Parkway elementary schools. Unlike TWI, which is open to both native English and native Spanish speakers, One-Way Dual Language is open only to Spanish-speaking students with limited English proficiency. The One-Way Dual Language program does not have enrollment caps, and KISD has announced no plans to change it at Fielder or Memorial Parkway elementary schools.