North East ISD has begun hosting a series of public meetings to get feedback on a proposal that calls for a potential clustering of dual language program campuses.

The background

District administrators briefed the NEISD school board Oct. 9 about ways the district could reduce a $39 million budget deficit, including potentially streamlining the number of elementary schools that provide dual language courses.

April Muzquiz, NEISD’s director of elementary education, told trustees 6,722 students are enrolled in NEISD’s dual language program, 5,258 of which are participating across 16 elementary schools. Another 1,173 students are taking part across five middle schools with the remaining students at one designated high school, MacArthur High School.

District officials said dual language programming has gotten more popular in recent years because it helps Spanish-speaking students learn and improve their English speaking and writing skills in the classroom and at home.

According to NEISD data, the district’s emergent bilingual population—students learning English—was 10,820 during the 2022-23 school year with 18.3% of students enrolled in the district’s dual language program. During the 2015-16 academic year, the district’s emergent bilingual population was estimated at 7,126 with 10.5% of students in dual language courses.

However, while NEISD’s dual language program has grown over time, so has the number of dual language course teacher vacancies. NEISD had 24 such vacancies in the 2022-23 school year; 19 of those spots were filled by international teacher hires. This school year, the district had 12 such vacancies as of mid-October.

Muzquiz said NEISD has other challenges, such as the length of time it takes to do collaborative teacher planning in dual language campuses and an imbalance among dual language class sizes.

Digging deeper

District officials unveiled two options for elementary schools. Option A would group, or “cluster,” dual language courses at specific campuses by moving programming from two campuses that are no more than 2 miles from each other and consolidating at one school. NEISD officials said this scenario would set up a specialized bilingual academy in that neighborhood while the other school would provide English-only instruction.

Option B would let two neighboring schools keep their dual language courses but lower the number of seats available to enrollees.

District administrators said clustering would result in a more personalized learning environment, balanced class sizes and an adequate staffing level of certified educators with dual language expertise. Transportation of dual language students is also a factor in district officials’ decision-making process.

Superintendent Sean Maika said cutting the number of dual language elementary schools from 16 to eight could save NEISD about $8 million over the next two years. No teachers would be eliminated under an approved program redesign, district officials added.

What’s next

NEISD is getting input from students’ families and staff through surveys and public input meetings at each of the 16 elementary schools through January. Two initial meetings have been held at Regency Place and Oak Grove elementary schools Nov. 8 and 13. Administrators said they would explore options to consolidate dual language campuses over a two-year period, develop a cost/benefit analysis with the board to get an update and potentially act on the matter in February.

What they’re saying

Board members David Beyer and Marsha Landry said they like the clustering concept but hope it does not yield adverse effects, such as significantly reducing or overcrowding any one school’s dual language enrollment size.

Maika said the point of clustering is meant to further enhance performance in the dual language program.

“It’s really about looking for efficiencies in our programs,” Maika said.