The Londonderry School Board received an education last week, as members and the television audience learned what is and isn’t provided by ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) for the district’s five schools.
The June 7 discussion stemmed from a request by Superintendent Nathan Greenberg to add a third ESOL teacher to the district’s team of two. It was part of Greenberg’s request for 1-1/2 new positions in the district, which he hopes to fund with the savings from 27 retirees.
Greenberg noted that in February, eight additional children came into the district requiring these services. He has received information about “multiple children” moving into the district in the near future who will also require ESOL.
Currently, Greenberg said, there are 24 students in the program across the three levels of school. Nineteen require direct instruction, while five more are on a monitoring program, which requires a case management piece and a C average or better, but does not require direct intervention, according to Greenberg and Student Services Director Kim Carpinone.
Three full-time ESOL teachers would place one each on the elementary, middle and high-school levels, Greenberg said.
Board member Leitha Reilly asked how many languages are spoken by the ESOL students, and Carpinone said eight. The ESOL teacher isn’t required to speak any of these, she noted. “They need the background to help students acquire English while working through the curriculum,” she said.
Carpinone added, “We are not required to teach them English.”
The ESOL situation is tight right now, with the eight new students coming in February and more predicted. Carpinone said the third teacher would meet the current need, and leave room in the event of more students moving in.
“Do students ‘grow out’ of this need?” Reilly asked.
Carpinone said they do, and they can be phased out of the program. But they still have to be monitored for those two years and maintain a “C” average.
“How do we know they’re prepared to move out?” chairman Nancy Hendricks asked.
Carpinone said the students take a test called the ACCESS test, which gives data on their mastery of the curriculum.
“But there is no requirement that they become fluent in English,” she added. “We don’t require it of them.”
This had board members scratching their heads. “How,” Hendricks asked, “can they possibly succeed in college if they don’t know English?”
The students could be well-versed in the content area, due to the education system in their home countries, and could use translation “apps,” Carpinone responded.
Carpinone said ESOL students frequently do well at science and math in college because of the nature of the content, “but not always in English.”
Greenberg added, “High school level students are usually able to grasp the facts of science and math, even if they are not fluent in English. And elementary students catch on quickly.”
“Kids are social beings,” Carpinone said. “They want to communicate with their peers.”
“What about college application essays?” Hendricks asked.
Greenberg said, “It depends on their level of education when they come to us.” If a student enrolls in LHS as a senior, with limited English skills, it’s not likely that they’ll be able to write a college essay by June.
“Also, the courses in their home country don’t always match up to ours,” he said. With that in mind, it may take an international student longer to obtain an LHS diploma.
Hendricks said, “So you’re telling me a student could go through grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 with a translator, and graduate without reading or writing our language?”
“Not necessarily,” Greenberg said. “It depends on the point in time they come here. If they move in as a senior, do we expect them to be fluent by June? That’s unrealistic.”
Also, he said, many families decide to pick up language instruction on their own. LHS has teachers who are fluent in French, Spanish and German and can help students adjust, though other languages are trickier.
“It’s a work in progress,” Greenberg said. “It depends on the child’s age, level of skill when they come here, how quickly they are able to pick up languages. There is no magic wand.”
Board member Steve Young said he would support the request, and Reilly said, “I’ll support it, but I’m not sure I understand.”
“I won’t not support it,” Hendricks said. “But when we say we teach English, then we say we don’t teach English – that’s frustrating.”
Greenberg reassured her that “We have never had a student graduate from Londonderry High School that did not speak English.”
“But you’ve never had this many,” Hendricks countered.
Carpinone said many of the students have had formal education in their native language, and they do well in math and science, whose concepts are universal. American History? Not so much.
Hendricks said, “I want to see them speaking, reading and writing English before they graduate.”
The second request was for an additional elementary classroom teacher for North School, to keep up with an increasing enrollment in the younger elementary grades. According to Greenberg, North’s first grade has 101 students, five classes and an average of 20.20 per classroom. Matthew Thornton Elementary School has 93, five classrooms and an 18-19 average, while South Elementary School has 68 students, four classes and an average of 17. Second grade is North, 83, four classrooms with a 20.75 average compared to Matthew Thornton, 93, five classes, 19/21 average and South, 76, four classes, 19 average. Third grade is North, 92, four classrooms, 23 average compared to Matthew Thornton, 109, five classes, 20-22 and South, 95, five classes, 19 average.
“We are getting new registrations on a daily basis,” Greenberg said, and with the completion of the Wallace Farms subdivision, he anticipates more. Granting the request would give Principal Paul Dutton the flexibility to put the teacher where he needs him or her, Greenberg said.
An elementary registration night June 22 will give them a handle on enrollment and help them to “see if there are any other students out there.”
Greenberg also requested a half-time kindergarten teacher to take on a new afternoon section at the Moose Hill School. Moose Hill’s afternoon kindergarten serves the north end of town, and Greenberg is anticipating increased enrollment from the new development.
It’s part of the new demographics, Greenberg said, noting that as their children age-out of the Londonderry system and graduate college, many residents want to downsize from the homes that comfortably held a growing family. “Who’s going to buy a four-bedroom house?” he asked rhetorically. Not the empty-nester.
Greenberg said he has asked the town’s GIS (Geographic Information System) director John Vogl to be a guest at an upcoming meeting to talk about population projections.
The board voted 4-0 to approve Greenberg’s three hiring requests.