Hilburn Academy drops Mandarin program, will focus on Spanish

sbarr@newsobserver.comMay 1, 2014 

— Hilburn Academy no longer will offer Chinese language instruction to students but instead focus on Spanish, a change that comes as the school prepares to welcome its first group of eighth-graders.

Principal Gregory Ford last week told parents that the shift will help the school focus on its core mission to prepare students to be successful and competitive in high school.

None of the high schools that the school feeds into offer Mandarin like Hilburn does. If students instead focus on Spanish, they’ll enter high school better prepared to take on advanced work, rather than starting over with a new language, Ford said.

“We want Hilburn students to be at the top of the game,” he said at a PTA meeting.

Hilburn’s K-8 structure is unique among Wake County Public Schools. Its transition from a traditional elementary school began with the 2012-2013 school year.

Prior to the restructuring, the school had been plagued by low enrollment when hundreds of students were moved to nearby Sycamore Creek and Walnut Creek elementary schools. Fewer students led to staffing and program inequalities that parents urged the school system to address in a sustainable way.

Arrin Dutton, president of the PTA, said in an email that the community is a tight knit one and pays close attention to ensure the original vision for the school remains in place.

Early feedback from parents indicates they understand the need for the language change and are accepting of it, she said.

Ford told parents the school also will be able to expand several existing programs in the fall.

Those changes include adding full-time instructional assistants in every kindergarten class; expanding literacy support for kindergartners through second graders, both struggling learners and those in need of enrichment; and having a full-time academically and intellectually gifted teacher and a full-time instructional specialist.

Ford also said enrollment numbers continue to climb for the school. The school expects to enroll about 760 students in the fall, up from a low of about 350 during the 2011-2012 school.

Ford’s decision to drop the Mandarin program does come just as Wake touted the addition of a Mandarin immersion program at Stough Elementary School in Raleigh and a Spanish immersion program at Hodge Road Elementary School in Knightdale.

Those programs are designed both to be a benefit to students, but also to encourage families to enroll at the schools rather than attending a magnet school or other program elsewhere.

Barr: 919-836-4952; Twitter: @barrmsarah

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