Palo Alto's once-controversial Mandarin Immersion program was elevated from the status of "pilot" to "ongoing" Tuesday with nary a whimper of complaint from opponents.
The Board of Education voted unanimously to end the pilot status of the three-year-old language-immersion program, but asked for annual check-ins to ease lingering concerns about possible attrition, expenses and student achievement.
The program currently serves 88 K-3 children in four classrooms at Ohlone School. It is scheduled to go through fifth grade, with no provision for continuation into middle school.
English-speaking children comprise roughly two-thirds of the enrollment, while Mandarin-speakers make up one-third.
"There was lots of controversy with this program, but I think we've delivered what was needed to the community," Superintendent Kevin Skelly said.
At the time it was approved in 2007, debate over the program centered around resources, with opponents arguing that a new "choice" program drawing students from all over the district would displace other children from their neighborhood schools.
Mandarin Immersion found a home at Ohlone School, where Principal Bill Overton said it has integrated well with the school community.
A $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education has funded start-up costs, including development of curriculum materials through the fifth grade.
Concerns that attrition could cause class sizes to drop below acceptable levels have not materialized, but -- just as in the district's Spanish Immersion program -- it is something to watch, school board members said.
Board member Dana Tom said he wants to keep a close eye on achievement levels, noting that second-grade scores in English Language Arts among Mandarin-speaking students were low.
"That's not unexpected, but I'd like to see them jump by fourth and fifth grade," he said.
Board members said they also want to monitor costs associated with the program once the federal grant runs out.
A half-dozen parents thanked the school board for sticking with the program.
"We literally moved our family to Palo Alto today," said John Lily, former CEO of Mozilla Firefox.
"Specifically, the reason we moved to Palo Alto was for Mandarin Immersion."
Noting the global nature of his business and the fact that his wife has been a teacher in Jamaica, Lily said, "Both of us want our son to have a global world view, and that starts with language."
Giving "ongoing status" to Mandarin Immersion will boost confidence in the program for families and teachers alike, said parent Deb Whitman.
"None of us believe that if we call it 'ongoing' that it means guaranteed or permanent, but it gives it the best chance to become wildly successful, and removes uncertainty that teachers and potential parents face," Whitman said.