District focusing on problems

SCHOOLS: Corona-Norco's English Language Learners program is monitored by the state.

Spanish-speaking parents got letters in English from their
children’s school. Some found their children in all-English
classes after choosing academic programs taught partly in
Spanish. And some children didn’t get tested for English fluency.

These are some of the problems state educators found in
Corona-Norco’s English Language Learners program for the district’s
6,000 students learning English. State officials met with school district administrators this
week and will return in mid-March to determine how long the
Corona-Norco Unified School District must remain under the
scrutiny of the state through a program known as Comite.

The program takes its name from the Comite de Padres, a group of
parents whose 1979 lawsuit led to closer review of educational
programs for limited-English speakers. Since 1985, state
education officials have chosen 10 school districts a year for
the program.

Districts can remain in the program for years, said Lauri
Burnham, manager of the Comite Followup Monitoring Unit.

Corona-Norco school administrators say some of the problems cited
didn’t happen or occurred only a few times. But they want to make
things right with the state Department of Education, which has
monitored the program for more than a year.

“Rather than debating, we want to just make sure we’re
addressing it,” said Steve Kennedy, a director of learning
support services for the 40,000-student Corona-Norco Unified
School District.

A top goal of the Corona-Norco school board is to fix the
problems.

Irma Ramirez, a parent and former president of Corona-Norco’s
District English Language Learners Advisory Committee, said she’s
glad that state officials will look beyond the district’s
compliance paperwork.

“I really hope they find out the truth,” Ramirez said, adding
that she, too, has found problems with the program. “Sometimes in
papers, we can do things really nice and pretty.”

In Corona-Norco, Miguel Elias, a director of learning support
services who oversees the programs, said some of the problems were
never widespread.

For example, the report states that “several students” were not
tested for English fluency at the district’s language assessment.
Instead, they ended up at a school where, officials discovered,
they were still learning English.

Employees may have erred, Elias said. Or parents may have left
the crowded center and never returned for their child’s testing, he
said.

“One may have slipped by, six may have slipped by,” Elias said.

“Hearsay” is how Elias characterized the allegation that “many”
school and district letters weren’t translated into Spanish. He
pointed to a stack of bilingual letters on the front counter of
Parkridge School for the Arts in Corona and an office sign
reminding Spanish-speaking parents to ask for an interpreter.

In response to the state report, district officials said they
will step up their monitoring of students who are still learning
English, and they will write a note explaining the language
options available to parents.

Prop. 227 restricted bilingual education, but, with a waiver, it
gives parents the choice of English immersion, mainstream English
classes or classes that are heavily Spanish.

Corona-Norco parents will now choose their children’s program on
campus, officials said. Before, they chose it at the testing center
and sometimes changed their mind once they got to the school and
talked to the principal or teacher, district officials said.

Corona-Norco teachers and principals say they will keep helping
students and families who speak little English.

At Parkridge, where about 60 percent of students fit that
description, teacher Selena Quintana-Colombia just wrapped up a
six-week training session aimed at Spanish-speaking parents.

And, in February, an English Language Development Academy will
be launched for fourth- through sixth-graders lagging at the
lowest levels of English fluency, she said.

“This was all in place — even before Comite,” Quintana-Colombia
said.

* * *

Violations in programs for students learning English

State education officials found flaws in Corona-Norco schools’
programs for native Spanish speakers, including:

Officials did not properly test students’ progress learning
English.

The district’s language assessment center did not test some
students to gauge English fluency.

Some schools did not offer English immersion.

English Learners Advisory Committees did not train parent
members, follow proper procedures or let parents help set
agendas.

Many letters went home only in English

Some students placed in majority-English classes by the language
center were switched to all-English classes at their school.



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