In a recent newspaper article entitled “State Gives New Bedford 2.4 M for High School Turnaround”, Dr. PiaDurkin was quoted as saying “additional funds could be used to fund libraries, tech. upgrades and to hire additional English Language Learner Teachers.”
Using funds to offset the costs of libraries and upgrade computers as well as various forms of technology in existing schools would be of tremendous benefit to teachers and students system-wide. Using the additional monies to hire ESL teachers is complete mismanagement of funds. Right now NBPS, like all other systems in the Commonwealth, is scrambling to get all of their existing classroom teachers (with the exception of one identified group) qualified to teach in English Language Learners by the year 2016.
In order to do this, New Bedford, in conjunction with Bridgewater State University, is offering its general education classroom teachers fourteen separate Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) Endorsement courses that will each be open to 25-30 participants. This is a 45 contact hour course that will give general education teachers the needed ESL credentials necessary to keep their existing jobs and work with English Language Learners (ELLs) that will soon be integrated into their classrooms. Approximately 420 general education teachers in the city will be offered this course. The head of the ESL Department recently requested that eighteen additional ESL teachers be hired to support the transition of bilingual students into the mainstream classrooms. The School Committee approved the hiring of only three new ESL teachers. Perhaps the school committee acted wisely in their decision. Maybe they know something that the general population does not.
NBPS presently employs 33 Sheltered English Emersion Teachers (SEI) many of whom have extensive experience (15+ years) working with ELL’s. Because of their experience, these individuals require much less training than general education teachers; specifically a 15 contact hour abridged SEI Endorsement course instead of the 45 contact hour course offered throughout the city. Originally this course was to be offered to the SEI teachers but most recently they have been informed that no such course will be provided in the city nor will they be admitted to the 45 hour course offered to their colleagues because they already possess the skills needed to deal with ELL students. This means that this select group of educators, with an average combined history of over 15+ years of teaching experience with ELL students, must go outside of the system and pay for the abridged SEI Endorsement course, if they are lucky enough to find one within driving distance.
So the next question to be asked is why NBPS would do this to their own, highly trained staff. The answer once again is simple: MONEY. It is a minimal investment for NBPS to offer a 15 hour course to existing teachers with a plethora of experience. Here is the hidden agenda that most taxpayers do not know. If these SEI teachers do not take some version of the SEI Endorsement Course before 2016, they most likely will be terminated by the NBPS resulting in the need to hire more ESL teachers (as per recent request of the Director of ESL in the Central Office). These new hires may consist of recent TFA graduates or ESL instructors with limited or no actual experience working with inner city ELL students. Is this a wise decision for the students and staff of NBPS? One would argue that it is not. Present SEI educators have been working with ELL students for the last several years. They already know the needs of the students who are being mainstreamed by the turnaround plan and for that reason would be better able to assist general education teachers in the transition process of the more than 800 identified ELL students in the city. In addition, the majority of these teachers speak two or three different languages and can communicate directly with parents and guardians in their native language. They are familiar with families of ELL students and have already established strong bonds with parents and student advocates.
Once again the decision to request new ESL teachers instead of investing in existing SEI teachers is simple –MONEY--. It is more cost effective to eliminate older, higher paid educators. An additional caveat to removal of these teachers is that most are union members and would be replaced with non- union members that would result in less contract bargaining agreements (aka red tape) for the central administration.
Unfortunately for the SEI teachers with professional teacher status, (formerly known as tenure) their existing teaching credentials will not be valid after 2016. This will allow NBPS to conveniently terminate them. This is a travesty akin to firing individuals on the verge of retirement in order to save money. In essence it is age discrimination. These SEI teachers are not old enough to retire but cannot continue teaching because they have not been allowed by their own system to recertify. They possess a vast amount of knowledge but cost too much to keep. Like everyone else, they have families to feed, children to put through school, mortgages and bills to pay. End result: SEI students in NBPS do not receive the best instruction possible, the city’s unemployment rate goes up andproperty values go down all because of poor administrative decisions and faulty money management. Teachers know that times are hard across the Commonwealth and across the country. What they don’t understand is the heartless indifference to the needs of ELL students and injustice to loyal, long-term employees. Once again … administration will argue “its just business”. Teachers, parents and students are smart enough to know and deserve better.