In a 4-3 split vote, the PUSD Board Thursday conditionally approved a new Armenian Dual Language Immersion Program (DLIP ) to be instituted at Blair High School. The intra-PUSD “academy” program at Blair—covering grades 9 through 12—replaces the Melkonian High School, a planned bilingual Armenian Charter School which was previously advocated by leaders of the Armenian community.
Following nearly 90 minutes of discussion, Board members Dr. Elizabeth Pomeroy, Scott Phelps, Lawrence Torres, and Roy Boulghourjian voted in favor of the program, while members Kim Kenne, Michelle Bailey, and PUSD Board President Patrick Cahalan voted “no.”
In her presentation to the board, PUSD Chief Academic Officer Elizabeth Blanco called the new program a “hybrid” of current academy and DLIP programs, and said the PUSD tried to be “innovative” in their development of the new Armenian program.
“We looked at various LAUSD programs, and realized that that would take us several years to negotiate, and we might lose a window of opportunity,” said Blanco, of the program, tentatively proposed to begin in the fall 2020 semester.
Blanco also pointed out that the program has already drawn interest from more than the projected 150 new PUSD students, a number which would generate $2 million in new State revenue for a District that has been losing students at a steadily increasing rate over the last ten years. The initial estimated cost of the program is $1.5 million, according to a PUSD staff report.
At the same time, the Blair High School location was selected because of its position as the home of the District’s International Baccalaureate program, said Blanco.
Board Member Michelle Richardson Bailey, who led the opposition to the program, also said during the discussion, “I’m not saying I am against this. I think this would be a great addition to the programming of the district, but we didn’t give this type of consideration or deliberation to the ASL (American Sign Language) program, and we know that ASL education can cultivate into a job, and we’ve seen that every day in the Coronavirus updates on TV.”
Bailey also expressed concern that the separate location of the Armenian DLIP would create a kind of “segregation” on the Blair campus, and questioned where the money to fund staffing for the program would come from, despite the revenue projections. Superintendent Dr. Brian McDonald told the Board in response that the original petitioners of the Melkonian charter school had said they were willing to contribute funds to the development of the program.
Arsine Shirvanian, petitioner for the Melkonian School, told the board that she had told her supporters that she was no longer supporting a separate school.
“We are clear on that, and we just have to let the parents and public know,” she said. “We will not be an independent school, we will be an academy within Blair, and we will become part of the Blair community.”