Rock Hill school board OKs language immersion academy at Sullivan

Second-grade Spanish immersion teacher Bonnie Jean Avilez DeHudson demonstrates shapes during a class at Ebinport Elementary School in this 2015 file photo.
Second-grade Spanish immersion teacher Bonnie Jean Avilez DeHudson demonstrates shapes during a class at Ebinport Elementary School in this 2015 file photo.

The Rock Hill school board voted Monday to build a kindergarten to fifth-grade language immersion academy for 900 students, to open at Sullivan Middle School in the fall of 2018.

The board voted 6-1 to approve the project, with board Chairman Jim Vining casting the lone dissenting vote. Vining said he opposed it because it would not expand the student capacity of immersion.

“It’s just a bad use of taxpayer dollars,” said Vining, who argued the school district would be spending “$18.4 million for a program that does not increase the opportunity in the district.”

He also said the district needs a clear vision for where it’s moving with choice programs.

The board also voted unanimously to approve a middle school immersion program at Sullivan for students who would be moving into sixth grade in the fall of 2018.

The immersion academy would consolidate the Spanish language immersion programs at Ebinport and Richmond Drive elementary schools and the French immersion program at Rosewood.

Superintendent Kelly Pew acknowledged that the capacity of 150 students per grade for grades kindergarten to fifth grade, or 900 total, would not increase the number of students served.

However, she said it would open the program to students across the district.

In the past, she said half the spaces in the immersion programs had to be reserved for students zoned to the three elementary schools. She has also said the district would provide bus transportation for students who sign up for choice programs.

Lynn Fulton-Archer, a Rock Hill resident who said she has worked with Delaware language immersion programs, complained that the Sullivan program would be limiting enrollment in immersion, not growing it.

She characterized the move as “whittling away language access and making it a privilege available to only one in nine students. ... It is limiting it to a single building and less than 5 percent of the students in the district.”

She urged the board to study the issue further and consider starting language immersion programs in all schools.

But Hector Cortes, an Ebinport parent from Mexico who has two children in the program, praised the move, saying it would be “a great program for our city and the kids who live in Rock Hill.”

Other board members voiced support for the move, saying the program would be available to students who were not able to use it in the past because they did not have transportation.

Board member Mildred Douglas said the program has created excitement and it “is time for some transformation.”

The Sullivan proposal calls for a new $18 million kindergarten- to third-grade language immersion building at Sullivan. It also calls for $400,000 for improvements to a Sullivan wing for fourth-and fifth-grade immersion, and $5.6 million for other updates at Sullivan.

Pew said the immersion building would be self-contained, with a separate entrance and separate cafeteria, although the kitchen area might be shared with Sullivan Middle.

The district has set aside $6 million for Sullivan renovations. The rest of the money would come from $16 million set aside to build a new elementary school and $2 million from a district construction contingency fund.

Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077