Russian charter school vote nixed

A group of Russian parents and educators pulled a plan to create a new Russian language charter school — one day before the proposal was scheduled to go before San Francisco's school board for a vote.

Although the proposal for the Sputnik Charter Academy included signatures of 95 parents who were “meaningfully interested” in enrolling their children in the school, the plan appeared headed for rejection with the school board's curriculum and budget committees both having previously voted to withhold approval of the plan.

If the proposal had gone before the school board for a vote, interim Superintendent Gwen Chan would have recommended a denial, said Victoria Li, deputy general counsel for the San Francisco Unified School District, adding that the main concerns involved the curriculum plan.

“It's for an elementary school, so if the program doesn't work you'll have kindergarten students and first-grade students who could conceivably lose crucial years,” Li said.

Valeria Tuvtushenko, one of the charter proposal organizers, said the district had promised to work collaboratively with the Russian group to improve the curriculum proposal, and that although the original hope was to open the school by fall 2006, they would not let the delay discourage their efforts.

“We see this a positive opportunity to develop a stronger school,” Tuvtushenko said, adding that the group plans to resubmit their proposal with a hope of opening by fall 2007.

Sputnik would have been a two-way immersion program, according to the proposal, which means some academic subjects would have been taught in English, while other disciplines would have been taught in Russian.

Parent Regina Smirnov, who came to the United States with her husband 12 years ago, said she wanted her two kids to maintain their Russian language and culture — but she also hoped Sputnik would match the educational experience she had in her homeland.

“The Russian education, they believe kids are capable of more,” Smirnov said. “When I was a kid, after the first grade, we were given the multiplication table and told when we come back for the second grade, we had to know it.”

School board member Eric Mar said he was supportive of the Russian parents' needs, but would prefer to see a Russian language program created within an existing school. Due to budgetary shortfalls and declining enrollment, the school board has voted to close six schools within the last year.

“With school closures and the budget crisis, the political context for their charter proposal is difficult,” Mar said.

beslinger@examiner.com

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