OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Parents in the Blue Valley School District Chinese immersion program are looking for answers after hearing the program their students are in is getting evaluated.

On January 19, the district sent families a letter saying that the Chinese immersion program would be evaluated based on:

  • Ability to provide Mandarin instruction in a sustainable way
  • Ability to attract, retain and support high-quality Chinese Immersion program teachers, both Chinese and English-speaking teachers within the program
  • Ability to sustain a pathway for current immersion students to achieve success on the AP Chinese Language test in high school

Because of that, “The district is not opening Chinese Immersion kindergarten enrollment for the 2023-24 school year due to the on-going program evaluation,” the communication read.

“It was a huge shock,” said Heidi Prokop Smith, whose older daughter is one of 453 students in the program between Kindergarten and 5th grade.

Her younger daughter is an incoming Kindergartener and Prokop Smith is worried that younger sibling won’t be able to also participate in the program now, or what it will look like in the future.

“She loves it,” said Prokop Smith. “We try to go out to every community Chinese event we can find.”

For the Turek family, Blue Valley’s program was the reason they didn’t move to San Francisco as John and Nancie had planned.

“Now that both of them are in it, it’s really great because they’ll come home and speak Chinese at the dinner table and tell us about the words that they’ve learned,” Nancie said.

The immersion program is a helpful way for the Turek’s children to learn about Nancie heritage without leaving out her husband.

“We’re kind of a mixed family so it was hard teaching them, so I didn’t really teach any Chinese to my kids, even though I speak several languages and Chinese because I didn’t want to exclude John,” Nancie said.

Similarly, Lauren and Peter Browne’s daughter has seen test scores and grades improve and stay strong since joining the program. It’s what made news of the evaluation and an enrollment pause make them think.

“It definitely made my stomach drop,” Lauren said. “What does this really mean?”

Blue Valley School District Chief Communication Officer Kristi McNerlin tells FOX4 evaluations are a routine part of any program in the district to make sure they’re hitting necessary targets.

“Program evaluation is a responsibility of a Board of Education in a district to make sure you are doing those things and you’re looking out into the future to see what it is that’s coming our way that may impede us from achieving our goals,”McNerlin said.

“The Board of Education will receive the program evaluation report and future programming recommendations at the Feb. 6 meeting,” the district’s communication to parents reads.

Even after that Feb. 6 meeting, McNerlin says there won’t be any action taken regarding the program, giving district leaders and parents the opportunity to move forward together. Aside from that, the district isn’t guaranteeing anything else.

“For the families that are in that [immersion program], are you able to say that those kids will be able to go through the program as originally intended or is everything on the table at this point,” asked FOX4 Anchor/Reporter Kevin Barry.

“I don’t know what is in the report,” replied McNerlin. “I think all options are open because that’s a Board [of Education] decision.”

The district tells FOX4 enrollment has stayed fairly stable through the first five years of the program, but the district isn’t immune from the hiring challenges felt in various professions across the nation.

“It’s a challenge right here for English-speaking teachers,” McNerlin said. “It’s a huge national challenge that we’re facing: a teacher shortage.”

“I get the staffing part because it can be really hard to find a teacher who can speak Mandarin and teach it, but they asked us to make a commitment, K through 12, and we did,” said Prokop Smith.