CORONA—Two state Department of Education consultants visited the Corona-Norco Unified School District last week and reported that the district needs more bilingual teachers.

That in itself is not an unusual condition for Southern California school districts. But state bilingual education consultant Leroy Hamm said the Corona-Norco school district needs even more such teachers than district officials think they do.

“The district estimated fewer in need than the state felt they needed,” Hamm said. The district estimated that 50 addi tional teachers were needed to fully serve the 3,600 district students who speak little or no English. The state consultants said the true number was closer to 75 teachers.

“There is such a difference there, we wanted to verify on site,” Hamm said.

That, plus questions about a complaint filed three years ago about the lack of bilingual aides at Adams Elementary School, brought Hamm and Suanna Gilman-Ponce, another state bilingual consultant, to Corona. They visited about 20 classrooms at Adams, Stallings and Home Gardens elementary schools and Centennial High School.

Their conclusions were delivered orally on May 26 at Adams Elementary to a small group of school officials. A written report will be sent to the district within the next week or so, according to Hamm. But until it is, he said he would not comment about specifics.

Cyndy Erman, principal of Adams Elementary School, also declined to comment about the complaint or resulting report until she sees the state’s conclusions in writing.

Diane Weinkauf of Corona, who lodged the complaint with the state Department of Education three years ago, said yesterday that while her two children no longer attend Adams, she is still interested in the investigation’s conclusion.

According to the complaint, one particular year-round attendance schedule, called A-track, had many of the school’s Spanish-speaking children in classes where teachers spoke only English. She said teachers were so overwhelmed in trying to reach those children that her own children, who speak English, were not getting enough attention.

She asked for bilingual aides but none was hired. She asked that her children be switched to different classes but they were not. So she filed a complaint with the state.

That investigation has not been completed, according to state officials.

Shelby Wagner, the district’s assistant superintendent of personnel, said the issue of bilingual education is complex. If the district clusters non-English speaking students in one class, it looks like segregation. But if the district spreads them out across the school, all teachers have to be bilingual.

“We all know there is a shortage of bilingual teachers. What is the solution? ” he asked. Some people suggest stipends for credentialed bilingual teachers but Wagner said the district’s $ 30,000 starting salary already is one of the area’s highest.

He said he offers qualified bilingual teachers a contract even before he knows what school might need them. Also, the district pays material and testing fees for teachers who are earning bilingual credentials.

“They were really pleased with the teachers they saw,” he said of state consultants. The district just needs more of them, he said.

School board member Bill Hedrick, who has made it a personal mission to improve the district’s bilingual education program, said the state consultants’ report confirmed some of his own observations.

“Children are not being instructed because teachers can’t communicate with them,” he said.

However, Hedrick said, there are bright spots in the district
– he named bilingual programs at Jefferson and Home Gardens – but still hundreds of children are not being served except for about an hour a week with a Spanish-speaking classroom aide.

“That is not enough time for anyone to learn the core curriculum,” he said. “It is just grossly inadequate. “

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