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Dual language concerns aired : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Dual language concerns aired
Parents question program staffing for new school year

by Natalie Stevens


Supporters of the Oswego School District's dual language (DL) program filled the room at the Oswego School District Board meeting Monday evening to express their concerns about the district's transparency and communication regarding possible changes to the program.

In June of this year the school district announced plans to conduct an audit of the entire English Language Learners (ELL) program, of which dual language is a part of, after there were rumors that the program was to be dismantled.

The dual language program, which recently finished its ninth year, serves 367 students by putting native English and Spanish speakers together in a classroom with the intention for them to become bilingual.

The audit of the ELL program will be presented in October to the board and the dual language program was to continue as normal for the upcoming school year.

However, parents reported to the board Monday evening that there have been issues with staffing at the junior high level and several classes for eighth graders enrolled in the program are being cut.

Parent Heather Wood said parents of eighth graders were called last Wednesday, two days after students picked up their schedules, to tell them there are no dual language teachers to teach their classes.

The district had reported in June that three junior high level dual language teachers needed to be hired, and Wood said the administration delayed interviewing those hires and as a result only one teacher has joined the district.

"By delaying those interviews the administration did not act in good faith," Wood said. "We feel a promise has been broken. We were assured no changes while we waited for the audit to be completed."

Eighth grade dual language students will be enrolled in an English social studies class rather than Spanish, and they will not be offered "heritage learning," a program implemented last year, according to Wood. Instead, eighth graders will be placed in the high school course "Spanish for Spanish Speakers 2."

High school students took an assessment for that class, but eighth graders are being admitted without the assessment.

"We are skeptical about the last minute curriculum changes," Wood said.

Parent and member of the Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee (BPAC) J.C. Reveles told the board, "The current state of affairs had might all been avoided if there had been a culture of transparency from the start."

He asked the board to consider a town hall-style meeting, as the current format does not "allow for the needed two-way communication. We as concerned parents need to hear from the board that you have taken note of our issues and, whether you agree or disagree, that you will do something and not just keep quiet."

Communication with the district is at the heart of the problem for dual language parents.

"We want to inform you that our ongoing lack of communication with this administration is not improving and ask that something needs to be done," said DL parent Lillian Driscoll. "Never until this administration have we started without the needed teachers in the dual language program. Never had we had to eliminate dual language classes because of the failure to staff them."

In addition to the open junior high positions, a fourth grade dual language position is still open, according to Liz Luchyn, a dual language parent and a teacher in the district.

"We have known since the end of school there would be a fourth grade opening at the school. All through summer the posting has not stayed consistently on the website," said Luchyn. "We do not have a teacher for a fourth grade DL classroom. At this date, [it's] completely unacceptable. I'm very disappointed this is happening."

Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services Dr. John Sparlin said that he knows the fourth grade position is being worked on "as we speak," but if the district is unable to find an instructor a long-term substitute would be appointed until the position can be filled.

Sparlin added there are currently "many interviews in progress" for open positions throughout the district.

Parents had several ideas for the school district to consider to fill the open eighth grade social studies dual language teacher, including moving a Spanish teacher who is qualified to teach social studies into the position and then hire another Spanish teacher or hire a native Spanish speaker with a social studies endorsement as a temporary replacement.

"We implore board and administration to work with us. Communication is vital for all parties involved," Wood said.

Board president Bill Walsh said later in the meeting that the district can work on having town hall meetings - not just for dual language but for all district programs - in the future.

"Our district team is doing everything they can to make sure our students are getting the best programming possible," Walsh said.

He said the district is bringing in experts to review data for the audit and can't control the fact that, "People don't like the timeframe."

Auditor expected to be
chosen in coming weeks

Superintendent Dr. Matthew Wendt provided the board with an update in regards to the auditor for the English Language Learners (ELL) program Monday evening.

He said the district is about one to two weeks out from entering into an agreement with the individuals that will perform the audit. He said so far there is no indication that the audit would not be finished in time for a report to be submitted in October.

Wendt said there are two questions the audit is being designed to answer. The first question is: Have students been learning?

"We want to see how students have performed in this program and how native Spanish speakers have done over time," said Wendt. He said the emphasis will be on the native Spanish speakers because, "The dollars that are allocated to this district are to ensure our native Spanish speakers are doing well in school."

Information to determine how students are performing will be taken from data collected over the nine years of the program - or as far back as the district is able to go - as well as comparisons to neighboring school districts and state and national norms.

The second question the audit aims to answer is 'what is the cost?'

"I need to know it, you need to know it," Wendt said, adding he didn't know how the district could discuss a budget without knowing the cost of the ELL program.

"We ought to be able to know what programs are working in system and what programs cost in the system," Wendt said. "I'm not dismantling it. I'm spending thousands of dollars to find out the answer to those two questions. If we're going to continue, great, we need to know what it's going to cost and move forward."

Associate Superintendent Dr. Paul O'Malley said the district has been working "diligently" to find an auditor who can meet the expectations of what members of the BPAC asked for. "Whoever does this audit has to have expertise in finance and expertise in dual language."

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