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School Board to Consider Armenian Dual Language Academy

District could start intra-PUSD program at Blair

Published on Thursday, March 26, 2020 | 5:01 am

The Pasadena Unified School District school board on Thursday afternoon will consider a staff recommendation for “conditional” approval of new “Armenian Dual Language Program Academy,” to be housed starting next academic year at Blair High School.

It would not be the proposed bilingual Armenian charter high school that was discussed at the board’s meeting on Feb. 27.

That’s when more than 200 supporters – many with students who will be displaced with the closing of Pasadena’s private AGBU Vatche & Tamar Manoukian High – packed the board’s meeting room and urged members to support the charter proposal.

Rather, this would be an intra-PUSD “academy” program at Blair, covering grades 9 through 12. It would be unaffiliated with the proposed charter school, which would have been called Melkonian High and been the first of its kind in the western United States.

With the financially strapped PUSD having already closed four schools for next year and approved the layoff of 55 employees (including 44 teachers), it appears this was not the climate in which to open a new charter school.

As board member Michelle Richardson Bailey said at that Feb. 27 meeting, opening a new charter so soon after closures could “lack empathy for the families” of students from the closed PUSD schools.

School board Vice President Scott Phelps told Pasadena Now on Wednesday that the charter proposal had been withdrawn, following discussions between charter advocates and board officials at which the PUSD recommended incorporating the Armenian program under an existing PUSD umbrella.

“We think it’s better for it to be within the school district,’’ Phelps said.

The public portion of Thursday’s board meeting is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m., not the usual 6 p.m. start time – and board members will convene remotely, in deference to the coronavirus crisis. The meeting can be viewed live on the board’s website at

School-board staff is recommending the “conditional” approval of the Armenian program, and the conditions the program would have to meet, according to a staff report, are:

  • An enrollment of 150 high-school students who are new to PUSD.

  • The program would be capped at 250 students for the first year.

  • If fewer than 200 students, or fewer than 50 per grade level, enroll, the course offerings and program location are subject to change.

According to the staff report, the hoped-for influx of new students – to a district that has been hemorrhaging enrollment, with another drop of 500 expected next year – would bring a potential revenue of $2 million to the district.

The initial estimated cost of the program is $1.5 million, the staff report said. All the financial estimates are based on a projected enrollment of 200 students in the new program.

“Adjustments will be made after initial enrollment is affirmed,’’ the staff report said. “The program may not be feasible without a minimum enrollment of 150 students.’’

Particularly with the private AGBU Vatche & Tamar Manoukian High School closing, it would seem those enrollment numbers are reachable — but it’s still no sure thing.

Arsine Shirvanian, a leader of the Melkonian High proposal, told board members on Feb. 27 that 200 students, many from private schools outside of Pasadena, had already pre-registered for the proposed Pasadena charter.

But, asked Wednesday if it could be assumed that number of students would roll into the PUSD program that’s now being considered, Shirvanian said, “It remains to be seen.”

While expressing disappointment that the charter-school proposal did not move forward, Shirvanian did offer praise for the PUSD school board.

“Under the circumstances, they have gone out of their way, and a program (rather than a separate charter school) is the best they could do,’’ she said.

“They felt that this was the best solution that they could offer. I give them credit. I can only say positive things. Perhaps in the future we can establish a charter school.”

As for the proposed program’s particulars, according to the staff report, PUSD would offer “an Armenian bilingual high school option with a global approach through the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program, thereby expanding PUSD’s bilingual and bi-literacy offerings. This program option will align with PUSD’s program goals and critical program features.”

More specifically, the program would offer Armenian-language courses at levels 1 through 4, as well as courses in Armenian history, culture and literature.

All classes would be taught by fully credentialed, bilingual teachers, the staff report said.

The report also said, “PUSD will open 65 seats for each grade level, 9-12, for the 20-21 school year. Seats will be open to all students, with preferences for siblings, neighborhood residents, employees and current residents of the Pasadena Unified School District.”

If the program is approved, students may apply through PUSD’s open-enrollment process.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,’’ Phelps, the board VP, said. “I think it’s a big win for the school district as a whole because our number one need … is for enrollment. … I really don’t see a downside for the school district.’’

The district already offers similar programs in Spanish, French and Mandarin.

The board will also get an update on the coronavirus situation as it affects the schools, touching on remote schooling, the meals program and numerous other aspects.

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