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Elgin-area teachers face ESL mandate

Fourth-grader teacher Carol Romero conducts geometry studies Tuesday Sheridan Elementary School Elgin.  Sheridan Elementary students improved their ISAT scores

Fourth-grader teacher Carol Romero conducts geometry studies Tuesday at Sheridan Elementary School in Elgin. Sheridan Elementary students improved on their ISAT scores, due to steps the school principal and staff has taken. October 30, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 23, 2013 2:08PM

About 200 teachers in Illinois’ second-largest school district will have to have credentials in teaching English as a Second Language under a proposal to bring 10 elementary schools into compliance with federal education standards.

The plan approved earlier this week by the U46 Board of Education affects schools in Elgin and Hanover Park that have largely Hispanic populations and students with limited English proficiency. The 10 schools have spent five years on academic watch status and are among 178 in Illinois required to create a restructuring plan this year under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. To date, 464 schools have restructured, according to state education officials.

District officials said Thursday they don’t know how much the restructuring plan will cost, but it also will involve hiring specialists at the district level and an assistant superintendent to oversee the process. Key to the plan, backed by administrators and leaders with the Elgin Teachers Association, is teachers at the kindergarten through the sixth-grade level earning an ESL endorsement, according a memo to U46 Superintendent Jose Torres from Ushma Shah, assistant superintendent of elementary schools, instruction and equity.

Such an endorsement requires a minimum 100 hours or three months of teaching experience with students who speak English as a Second Language, plus 18 semester hours of instruction in ESL, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. That’s different than a bilingual endorsement, which would require teachers to be fluent in a second language.

Shah said ESL endorsement will ensure “all teachers have been prepared to serve the students that are in front of them” and could allow general education teachers to co-teach with bilingual teachers in dual-language classrooms. The district began transitioning all its services for Spanish-speaking students to a dual-language model two years ago.

The ESL plan could cost teachers in the affected schools up to $6,000 each to keep their jobs, according to the teachers and parents who expressed concerns about the plan during public comments Monday. District officials and the teachers union are looking into ways to defray that cost, representatives said.

The ESL certification process may seem far-reaching, but other restructuring options were more dramatic, Torres said.

Those options include: Closing the affected schools and reopening them as charter schools; replacing all or most of the school staff for not meeting state academic standards; or contracting an entity, such as a private management company, to operate the school as a public school.

The U46 administration chose the fourth option, which was to implement any other major restructuring of the school’s governance and make fundamental reform in governance and management, financing and material resources, or staffing.

Of all the options, Torres said earlier this week, a major restructuring was the “less bad one, the less worse one.”

There’s still work to be done, school board members said, but Elgin Teachers Association President Kathryn Castle said, “People need to know now.”

Shah said the plan, which she presented with Castle, had input from the U46 Transformation Taskforce, created last year in the district’s contract with its teachers union.

Affected schools include Channing Memorial, Garfield, Lords Park, Highland, Hillcrest, Huff, Sheridan and Washington elementary schools in Elgin. They also include Laurel Hill and Parkwood elementary schools in Hanover Park.

School board member Joyce Fountain was the lone vote against the plan, and said she questioned how “embedded” the district’s restructuring plan is “in the everyday world.”

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