Illinois School District Trains Hispanic Parent Leaders

After noticing that few Hispanic parents were serving on school district committees, an Illinois school district superintendent decided to create a program to teach parents the skills they need to become effective leaders.

Elgin Area School District U-46  superintendent Jose Torres tasked family and community engagement employees with creating the two-year Hispanic Parent Leadership Institute in 2010 to foster greater parent involvement, The Daily Herald reports. The district even compensates parents with $1,000 stipends for their participation.

The school district is the second largest district in Illinois next to the Chicago Public Schools, and its student enrollment is about half Hispanic.

In the first year of the program, parents meet one Saturday a month to learn about the district and go through leadership training. In the second year, parents meet every other month engaged in hands-on learning opportunities.

The district already has some success stories to share about Hispanic parent participants. Teresa Aguirre serves on a middle school Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO). Other parents have advanced to positions on various committees and advisory councils. One parent was elected to the school board.

Elementary school parent Tomás Figueroa, is a participant in the program.

“Like most parents, I wanted to get more involved in my kids’ education and find out who’s making the decisions on what they’re learning,” Figueroa told the Herald. “All those questions were answered. I would recommend it to everybody.”

I previously blogged about the Elgin district this spring when it decided to require teachers at ten of its low performing elementary schools to earn English as a Second Language teaching credentials.

The district’s treatment of Hispanic students hasn’t gone without some criticism. A federal discrimination lawsuit was filed against the district in recent years, accusing schools of running a segregated gifted program that placed elementary students whose native language is Spanish in a separate program from gifted native English speakers.

Related Links:

– “U-46 hopes to train more black, Latino parent leaders,” Daily Herald.

– “Illinois District Requires ESL Training for Some Teachers,” Latino Ed Beat.

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Illinois District Requires ESL Training for Some Teachers

The second-largest school district in Illinois will soon begin to require all teachers at 10 of its lowest performing elementary school campuses to earn English as a Second Language teaching credentials.

The U46 school system in Elgin, Illinois, served more than 40,000 students in 2011. The student enrollment is about 49% Latino and 22% limited English proficient. The failing schools impacted are heavily Latino.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the impacted schools are those that have been on “academic watch” for five years and are required to restructure under No Child Left Behind.

Some teachers are concerned that earning the ESL credential will be expensive. The ESL requirement is just one of many of the district’s restructuring changes.

The Courier News reported that school board member Amy Kerber said the plan is a “really massive undertaking and massive system shift.”

More districts are taking steps to encourage all teachers to undergo training on training English Language Learners, to address the growth in the number of children needing such specialized instruction.

Related Links:

– “Elgin-area teachers face ESL mandate,” Chicago Sun-Times. 

– “U46 teachers, parents and school board members offer their reactions to ‘massive’ restructuring plan,” Elgin Courier News.

– “Hispanic Parent Leadership Institute seeks to educate, get parents involved,” TribLocal.

– “School Superintendent Adds His Dimension to Federal Equity Report,” Hispanic Link Report.

Lawsuit Says Illinois School District Had Segregated Gifted Program for Hispanics

Parents in suburban Chicago have filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Elgin School District U-46, accusing the district of running a segregated gifted program that placed elementary students whose native language is Spanish in a separate program from native English speakers. A trial is currently under way.

Former English language learners who had been classified as proficient in English were placed in the gifted program for native Spanish speakers along with children still classified as English language learners, The Daily Herald reported. This gifted program was known as the Spanish English Transition School Within a School (SET SWAS). District officials said the students did not meet standards to qualify for the general education gifted programs.

The Daily Herald reports that both sides have put gifted education experts on the stand. University of Texas at Austin director of bilingual education Alba Ortiz audited the program and testified that the programs were “institutionalized discrimination.” “They are deemed English-proficient, so why segregate them from their English-language peers?” she asked.

But this week, University of Virginia professor Carolyn Callahan testified that the separate programs for native Spanish-speaking children were necessary because the children would fall behind in programs for native English speakers and needed bilingual support in Spanish and English.  The Courier-News reports that Callahan said programs were “language-based, not race-based.”

The Courier-News also reported that gifted teachers testified in support of the separate programs. Teacher Rachael Jackson said she would cry if the program ended. “The students need the support,” she said. “They need to be in a place where they feel safe, where they feel confident, where they’re with other kids like them.”

At one point during the trial, the Courier-News reported that Superintendent Jose Torres said that the separate programs helped students feel more confident because they were with other students who looked like them. “If that’s the case, we would have segregated schools,” U.S. district judge Robert Gettleman responded. “Brown vs. Board would have been wrongly decided.”

The Chicago Tribune reports that Latino students comprised about 27 percent of students in the gifted program in 2008-09, while they were 40 to 45 percent of the enrollment. The plaintiffs’ attorney said only 2 percent of gifted elementary students in the English-speaking program were Hispanic.

The lawsuit was filed in 2005, and also said that district boundary changes segregated black and Hispanic students into overcrowded classes and that black and Hispanic students didn’t have equal access to gifted programs.

Do your local school districts have gifted bilingual classes? I’ve visited a gifted class in Texas solely for bilingual students, so I know they exist elsewhere. But in the class I visited, the students were all classified as limited English proficient. In Elgin’s case, children who recently had been classified as English proficient were then placed in the separate gifted program for native Spanish speakers.

Is this a case of the district making a “separate but equal” argument in defense of segregation? Or was the district just trying to meet the language-specific needs of the Hispanic children?