Sunnyside schools target need for more bilingual teachers

Some teaching candidates in the Sunnyside School District are about to join the ranks of para-educators in facing a preference for Spanish-language skills.

Last night, Thursday, the Sunnyside School Board approved a plan to offer more academic instruction in Spanish for English language learners.

Called an "early exit" strategy, the program would offer teaching in Spanish to students in kindergarten through second grades.

The district will start the plan this fall with four kindergarten classes of Spanish speaking students at Sun Valley Elementary School.

Those four classes will then have a mix of instruction in English the following year and by second grade the teaching will be half in English and half in Spanish.

The move was recommended to the school board by Sam Ramirez, who directs federal and state programs for the district.

Ramirez said Sunnyside hasn't made enough yearly progress with English language learners, students whose native language is Spanish or another language, and is required to adapt a new system or possibly risk losing federal funding.

About half of Sunnyside's students either have been or are currently English language learners. All told, 88 percent of the district's students are Hispanic.

English language learners have four steps, with the fourth being complete competency in the English language. Ramirez says Sunnyside schools are doing a great job of helping students acquire English language skills through the first three steps, but struggle to get students all the way to the fourth level.

This summer, Ramirez said the district is training teachers who aren't involved in the "early exit" program to support the effort.

By the time the 2011-12 school year starts, he says the goal is to have half of the teachers trained in GLAD, guided language acquisition design, which is intended to help English language acquisition.

During last night's meeting, Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole asked Human Resources Director Debbie Holwegner about the availability of bilingual teachers.

"We've added some bi-lingual staff," she said of new hires for 2011-12.

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