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Hispanic leaders call on buffalo board of education and superintendent williams to revamp canned bilingual advisory committee

June 22, 2010

Buffalo Board of Education (Photo Credit: BPS

The “scathing”  158 page report “Raising the Academic Achievement of English Language Learners in the Buffalo Public Schools” the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) presented to school officials had caused an uproar in the Hispanic community after  the Buffalo News, disclosed it on May 17 .

And on two occasions Hispanic leaders converged at the Board room in City Hall to share their concerns about the report with  members of the Buffalo Board of Education and Superintendent James A. Williams .  One  of the leaders commented Dr. Williams shrugged off the report as just “opinions”  after he responded to the speakers.

Again,   on Wednesday, June 23, at 5:30 PM,  this week many of the same leaders plan to speak at the  Board of Education meeting, attempting to get the School Board  to pass a resolution reestablishing the defunct Bilingual Advisory Committee the school district dismantled shortly after  Williams appointment as the new Superintendent of Schools back in 2005.

Board President Ralph Hernandez, West District, who met with the Bilingual Advisory group after his first election to the Board  in 2005 along with members of the committee all appeared to be district employees not  lay representatives of the community a reason rumored why  the superintendent  disband  it.

Although the report  credited the school district for helping “to produce better results for English Language Learners…in  reading at the early elementary grades,”  and  the results in the NYS English as a Second Language Achievement Test (NYSESLAT) showed important progress…it…stall at this point.”

It cited the school district “miss” these students  didn’t …notice they were here…  (or) modify… a successful program to ensure these (students) could succeed, and didn’t create an effective system to reach out to those communities.” They determined in this report that, “the instructional program… for these( students) is poorly defined, inconsistently implemented, lacking a clear strategy for developing English acquisition skills.

Yet more worrisome for the Hispanic leaders in the report is how …”the district appears to have very low expectations for these students…” These students are so “desperately behind and   likely to drop out before graduation.”

“The high school completion rates in comparision with ELLs in New York State were as dismal.  “ELLs in Buffalo have less than half the graduation rate of ELLs in New York State:  21 vs 55 percent.” And ” the district appears to have no pathway toward graduation for ELLs who enter the system in ninth grade or afterwards.”

During its site visit,” the team heard that many principals do not feel they have the knowledge to confidently help teachers interpret district policies and documents regarding the promotion of ELLs.”

Also, “changes in school leadership also contribute to inconsistent ELL programming. Some principals seemed very unfamiliar with their bilingual/ESL programs or the instructional approaches behind them. Principals with bilingual programs seemed better versed.”

During a download of data   team indicated nearly 100 English language learners in the district had not received bilingual or ESL services at all during most of the 2008-09 school year an alarming statistic for Hispanic leaders.

“Hutch Tech and City Honors—appear not to make special testing accommodations for ELLs. The entrance exam to these schools is strictly an academic screening test in English. According to Buffalo’s Part 154 ELL Data Report to the state, a total of 309 ELLs were enrolled in grades 9-12 during the 2007-08 school year.

“District data indicate that ELLs are over-represented in special education programs.   3,000 ELLs in district schools, approximately 20 percent are connected to special education. Most are identified as having a Speech Impairment (SI) or a  learning disability (LD).”

Although, over 3000 ELLs are Spanish-speaking from Puerto Rico, their percentage dropped to 49 percent as there has been an increasing number of students from other countries.  The Buffalo Schools enrolled 32, 732 students in 2008-2009. Hispanics make up 15% or 5000 with the Limited English Proficient enrollment at nearly 3,000 students. African-Americans are 57% and whites at 24%. Overall, the high school student population is 10, 118. Attendance steadily has dwindle from over 90% in the elementary schools to overall 88% district wide with figures as low as 74% in some high schools. There are  64 Principals and 71 Assistant Principals. There are only two Hispanic Principals and about seven Assistant Principals in the district.

The helter-skelter way in which  the district appoints administrators to schools with a high enrollment of these students concern the Hispanic leaders because the report  cited problems  in the “changes in school leadership  contribute to inconsistent ELL programming. Some principals seemed very unfamiliar with their bilingual/ESL programs or the instructional approaches behind them.”

The report was very positive about the leadership of the Director of Multilingual Education hired in the fall of 2006. However, few people outside  this department, “were able to articulate where the district was going in its efforts for ELLS and without a clearly articulated sense of direction that everyone understands…efforts could all be thwarted.” The team saw “this department as working in isolation from the remainder of the district” and attributed it to the position being vacant for so long before the district hired the current director who reports directly to the chief academic officer.

And  the report cited problems with the leadership of the community superintendents in general, including those with responsibility for…where many ELLS attended schools as exhibited very limited knowledge of ELLS or their performance…,” leaving it up to individual principals some “unfamiliar with bilingual/ESL programs or instructional approaches behind them.”

Clearly, if the district had  the knowledgeable policy makers  in positions from the superintendent’s cabinet to community superintendents level that could give  the needed district-wide leadership, including elevating the director of multilingual education to guide this effort it would improve services to the ELL population.

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