French Immersion Q & A held with Ricky Durrett at Glen View

By Jim Wilkerson

Earlier this week, supporters of the French Immersion program requested to be put on the agenda at the Lincoln Parish School Board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 7. Their request was denied because emotions were high, and a Q & A with Superintendent Ricky Durrett was already scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 9.

While the School Board meeting went smoothly with many of the supporters in attendance, the Q & A session turned emotional at times.

Parents, upset that their children’s Immersion program was scheduled to be discontinued, used the entire hour and fifteen minutes to voice their questions and concerns (sometimes sarcastically) to Durrett.

“How can any superintendent look at any group that wants to start a program and say, ‘Yes, we are behind you; we guarantee it for so long,’ but then turn around? Nobody’s going to want to get involved…Does your promise hold no weight?,” asked one parent.

Some in the audience pleaded with others to remain calm and act civilly.

“If you have something you want to say, keep in mind that there are kids in this room. So, let’s not talk to Mr. Durrett like we’re talking in the comment section on Facebook. Let’s keep passive aggressive tones and sarcasm away from this room,” one person requested.  

Two primary concerns for French Immersion advocates were the lack of advertising for the program that, they argue, kept attendance low, and the breaking of the promise made by former Superintendent Mike Milstead that the program would last through fifth grade.

Durrett and the school administration, on the other hand, looked at the high dropout rates from the Immersion program – not just in Lincoln Parish, but in other Parishes like Evangeline Parish. They also considered the high costs of the program that are not covered by grants, as well as the growing Hispanic population in Lincoln Parish that would justify a Spanish Immersion program rather than a French one.

Ultimately, Durrett said he and others in the school administration would be willing to compromise.

“Can we do something different?,” Durrett asked. “Can we switch to Spanish instead of French to include more kids? Can we move it to an auxiliary class to where we expand it to more kids all over the district? Do we just keep the program going in K, 1 and 2? And then after second grade end it? Do we continue on, if we have any, all the way to fifth grade and then just phase it out as we move along? Those are some options I’ve looked at, and I’m more than willing to listen to what you all have to say.”

Board member Hunter Smith echoed Durrett’s sentiment of compromise at the end of the meeting and suggested that a committee be made to discuss the matter further.

“We have had tremendous success in other areas of the School Board where we have created committees,” Smith said. “We can create an advisory board or whatever you want to call it…Five or six of y’all, go sit down with Ricky because, I can tell you, I’ve sat in this position a few times in front of my company, and this isn’t an easy spot to sit in. It’s a lot easier to sit at a round table where you don’t feel like you’re the only one out here in the ocean.”

The meeting ended on a positive note, with an understanding that more discussion will be had among Immersion advocates and the Lincoln Schools administration. 

Anna Kelley, the spokesperson for Immersion parents and advocates, expressed gratitude to Durrett and Smith after the meeting and informed them that five or six parents had already come to her, asking to be part of the committee. 

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