Dear Village News Readers,
I would like to give you some background on what prompted the discussion that was reported in such a misleading, out-of-context manner in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Over the past several years the Board of Supervisors and the School Board worked together to restore some of the budget cuts made during the recession that, talking with teachers, principals, and parents, we felt were negatively impacting the classroom. Increased class size and loss of electives pretty clearly rose to the top. On the electives issue, let’s use orchestra and foreign languages as an example. Prior to the recession, if only twelve students in a middle school signed up for orchestra or a language, even though it did not meet the minimum number of students required to keep the class, the school system would do what was called “funding over.” This would allow the school to keep the class rather than eliminate the program at that particular school and negatively affect the high school programs.
We worked together on a plan to gradually decrease the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) in order to decrease class size and restore electives. In our budget discussions, last week, it came to light that in 2018 proposed budget, the 28 positions marked for our agreed-upon plan were going to be used for ESOL instructors rather than PTR reduction and electives. Technically, it is PTR reduction but it does not reduce class size or restore electives. In addition, throughout the year the school system has raised many issues in community meetings that they think are important, but teachers being overwhelmed by non-English-speaking students has never been one of them.
With that being said, I am not denying that the language barrier is negatively impacting our classrooms. It really came to light on Immigration Day when teachers only had English-speaking students in the classroom. They just found it so much easier to teach effectively without the language barrier. It is amazing how that statement has been twisted, accusing these teachers of not wanting students of a different culture or color in their classroom. It was so clearly a statement on a language barrier creating an inability to communicate.
I started asking around because it sounded as if maybe non-English-speaking students were being mainstreamed into the classroom before they were proficient enough in English to understand what was being taught. It appears that is what is happening is the federal government has lowered the proficiency level of English required before a child can be mainstreamed into the regular classroom. I have suggested that we teach them to master English in school before they are mainstreamed into an English-speaking classroom.
I have been told that in some of our elementary schools up to 70 percent of the students entering kindergarten are non-English-speaking.
How is a teacher ,even with the support of an ESOL teacher, supposed to teach with that many children not understanding what she is saying? How do the parents of English-speaking students feel that their children will be peer tutoring instead of learning the challenging lessons that parents want their children to learn? I believe our current ESOL program was designed to absorb a few non-English-speaking students into a classroom, not a majority. This is not an anti-immigrant discussion; this is a discussion about what is the most efficient and effective way to absorb large numbers of non-English-speaking students into the system so they can be successfully educated.
As far as the foster care issue, I do regret using the phrase “my pet peeve.” But since I did, I will use it in my explanation. My pet peeve is not with the families; it is with the design of the system. I understand there are some families that due to unforeseen circumstances, are temporarily misplaced. I was referencing the situation where a family moves from place to place throughout the region and we are required to send school buses to pick the children up as the parents move so we can keep the child at the same school. I can’t tell you how many times
I have seen buses on 95 with one child on them. All I was saying was: shouldn’t we work on stabilizing the family in place where the school is located while temporarily placing the children in foster care? There are many children that are placed with families for as little as two weeks while their parents stabilize their situation.
What really concerns me is if a person raises a simple issue that maybe the language barrier is impacting a teachers’ ability to be an effective teacher, they are immediately labeled anti-immigrant, unwilling to accept different colors and cultures. When suggesting there may be a more efficient way to support homeless students, you are attacked as uncaring and insulting.
We have a finite amountof resources, and any money increased in one area will take away from another area. Please allow us to have an honest debate without being demonized while having those discussions and making those choices.