ARLINGTON- A new academy will offer specialized training to bilingual teachers in the Arlington school district, which has been criticized by the Hispanic community.

“This is customized training above and beyond,” said Gilda Alvarez Evans, director of the bilingual and English as a second language programs. “We have young faculty in most cases, and although they have good basic teaching skills, we can polish and improve on those skills. “

The academy will provide academic classes and training that is designed to keep teachers on top of bilingual-education trends and to provide incentives to teach in Arlington.

Superintendent Mac Bernd said the district recruits aggressively for bilingual teachers but still has a shortage.

“There’s obviously a shortage of bilingual teachers, and we think the best way to handle that is to train the teachers ourselves,” Bernd said.

In the academy program, classes will total 35 hours. Although participation is voluntary, the district will pay a $ 750 incentive to teachers who enroll.

The program, which starts in September, will focus on three areas, one of which aims to build student’s self-assurance and nurture a positive identity with their cultural heritage, Alvarez Evans said.

Other focuses include building students’ literary skills in English and in Spanish, and developing higher learning skills in all subjects.

Teachers will welcome the training, said bilingual teacher Aria Saenz Stauffer.

“Education changes all the time, and we’ve got to keep up with what’s working for students these days,” she said. “Bilingual teachers need that training and updating to learn what works, what doesn’t and what the latest is. “

The training is needed in part because of a shortage of bilingual teachers.

The district has 2,023 bilingual students in prekindergarten through sixth grade and 120 bilingual teachers. It still has seven bilingual teaching vacancies.

Another way the school district is working to meet the need for bilingual teachers is to pay college tuition for the district’s teaching assistants to earn bilingual degrees in exchange for working for the district when they graduate.

“Since we cover tuition for them, that’s our investment and they continue to teach with us,” Alvarez Evans said. “We have 17 of those teachers now. “

The shortage of teachers is noticed by school districts nationwide, including those areas that graduate bilingual teachers, said Frank Guajardo who is a teacher in the Edcouch/Elsa school district in South Texas and is also director for the Llano Grande Center for Research and Development.

“The reason we have a shortage of bilingual teachers is the same reason we have a shortage of Latino physicians and CEOs,” he said.

“Our system hasn’t done a good enough job cranking out the Mexicanos with college degrees. “

The University of Texas-Pan American in the Rio Grande Valley graduates students in bilingual education, and the competition quickly scoops them up, he said.

“They can call the school they want and get a job,” he said. “Even after Valley schools take every Pan American graduate they can get, they still have to recruit some more to fill the need. “

The Arlington school district has been criticized by the Hispanic community for not accurately calculating the dropout rate.

Gloria Pena, president of Image de Arlington, has said the district needs to track dropouts independent of state requirements.

Hispanics in the community approved of the district’s hiring of Marcelo Cavazos as the associate superintendent for instruction and the decision to name a new high school after Tejano military leader Juan Seguin.

In Arlington, the school district does not pay its bilingual teachers more than it pays other teachers, Bernd said.

“What we have been working on is to make the district an attractive place for all teachers to work,” he said. “The need is outstripping the supply. “

Kimberly Durnan, (817) 548-5411

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