Two hot-button issues will come before the Palo Alto Board of Education Tuesday night -- a proposed change to the academic calendar and the district's controversial Mandarin Immersion Program.
The board is set to vote on a calendar shift that would conclude the first semester before the December holidays, beginning in 2011-2012 -- meaning final exams would come before the break.
The board also will discuss a recommendation by Superintendent Kevin Skelly to boost the status of the three-year-old Mandarin Immersion offering from a "pilot" to an "ongoing" program.
A vote on Mandarin Immersion will not occur for at least two more weeks, school officials said.
Based at Ohlone School, where all classrooms and restrooms are labeled in both English and Chinese, Mandarin Immersion now serves 88 students in four classrooms -- two K-1 and two 2-3 grade level classes.
Mandarin-Immersion families have become versed in "the Ohlone Way," pitching in with the school's farm chores and taking leadership positions on the school's site council and Core Values Committee.
With an initial enrollment in fall 2008 of 40 K-1 students -- one-third from Mandarin-speaking backgrounds and two-thirds from English-speaking backgrounds -- the program has grown each year, with attrition of two students from each class.
Departing students, whose reasons varied from "not enough academic Mandarin" to "moving to Hoover Elementary," were replaced from a waiting list.
Though samples are small, STAR test results so far show Mandarin Immersion students slightly lagging the general Ohlone population in English Language Development, and on par, or slightly ahead, in mathematics.
The pilot Mandarin program was initially approved 4-1 by the school board in June 2007, with then-board member and now City Council Member Gail Price dissenting.
The vote carried an amendment specifying that there is no "intention or direction that there will be a middle school program for MI students."
Start-up costs for the program were funded by a $300,000 grant from the Federal Language Assistance Program of the U.S. Department of Education, enabling the district to collaborate with researchers at Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley on developing curriculum and assessment methods.