To the editor:

Bravo to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for awarding a grant to Salem and Lynn to explore dual language programs for English language learners (“Salem school officials explore return to bilingual education,” Feb. 18). While your headline was correct, it was surprising that nowhere in the article was there any indication that there had ever been a dual language program in Salem. For the Lynn school district, this will be a new program. If pursued, this will be a revival of a long-standing and successful Salem program.

The Federal Street School, later Nathaniel Bowditch, had a dual language program from 1990 to the early 2000s. Under the leadership of the late Dr. Arlene Dannenberg, director of bilingual education, former Superintendent Edward Curtin and Principal Pamela Appleton, Salem established a dual language program at the former St. James School on Federal Street. There were two programs at Federal Street School, a multi-age strand and a dual language strand. To prepare, staff researched best practices and participated in professional development. Beginning with kindergarten, grades were added one year at a time. With citywide student assignments to foster racial balance, students attended from all parts of the city. Multi-age classrooms had two grades per classroom. In the dual language program, Spanish-speaking students and English-speaking students were learning together in both Spanish and English. Both programs were challenging and rigorous for students and challenging for teachers to plan and implement. The district supported on-going professional development for teachers.

The school was highly chosen and attended by children of all backgrounds, including a mayor, city councilor, School Committee members, staff and teachers (including the children of the teacher interviewed in your article). Parents and staff urged the city to make the new building, Nathaniel Bowditch, a K-8 school, because research showed that dual language learning is most successful when continued through eighth grade. The rigor of the programs was evident in student test scores. In 2004, for example, on the school’s state report card, every student group made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

In 2002, a state-wide referendum on bilingual education passed, eliminated bilingual education and required English language learners to be taught in English. In response, the state Legislature passed an override allowing dual language programs to continue. Nevertheless, under the administration of Dr. Herbert Levine, Salem district administrators began to dismantle the Nathaniel Bowditch School dual language program, limiting the teaching of mathematics in Spanish, then limiting teaching in Spanish. Without support from the district, the program gradually ended.

It is a good thing that this grant will enable staff to visit schools with active dual language programs. During the years of the Salem dual language program, staff from other school districts, including one from Texas, came to observe the Federal Street program. I hope that Salem will take advantage of Salem teachers and staff with deep knowledge and experience teaching in a dual language program.

A dual language program in Salem will benefit native Spanish and English speakers through strong academic learning in both languages, embodied by the new Seal of Biliteracy available to graduates of Salem High School. Any student who masters two or more languages will have this noted on their transcripts.

Dr. Jo Sullivan

Principal, Federal Street/Nathaniel Bowditch School, 1994-2002