Open bilingual positions prompt waiver request

With a bilingual teacher shortage nearing a crisis point, Clark County School District officials have asked the Nevada Department of Education to consider waiving some licensing requirements in order to get more Spanish speakers into the classrooms.

George Ann Rice, associate superintendent of human resources for the district, said she traveled to Carson City this week and asked that the request be put on the discussion agenda for the Sept. 6 meeting of the state’s Commission on Professional Standards.

Currently, teachers must have an endorsement from the state in order to teach bilingual classes. Even experienced teachers from other states must go through the endorsement process, which can be both time-consuming and costly, Rice said.

The district has taken several aggressive steps toward recruiting bilingual educators, including offering tuition funds to current district employees who have at least half of their college degrees completed, Rice said.

A partnership with universities in Mexico to train bilingual speech pathologists and school psychologists is also being explored, Rice said.

When the 2002-03 school year begins Aug. 26, the district will have 33 new bilingual teachers at 23 elementary schools, Rice said. As of Thursday, there were still 15 positions unfilled.

About 20 parents and teachers from Fay Herron Elementary School in North Las Vegas showed up at Thursday’s meeting of the Clark County School Board to voice their concerns, calling for district officials to more visibly demonstrate their commitment to bilingual education.

Herron is the district’s largest elementary school with more than 1,400 students — 95 percent of whom are English Language Learners. Lisa Cabrera, a literacy specialist at Herron, said she’s concerned because the number of bilingual teaching positions has dropped each year.

“The program becomes less effective when it’s watered down,” Cabrera said. “There are hundreds of children in English-only classrooms who cannot read or write in English. How can we expect them to learn?”

Leah Terry, a kindergarten teacher at Herron, said she has been unable to get a bilingual position with the school district — despite her bachelor’s degree in Spanish and master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. To get the required endorsement, Terry said she would have to sign up for a special workshop that would cost her about $1,300 of her own money.

“I just can’t afford it,” said Terry, who came to Las Vegas from Denver last year. “There should be some way for my background and experience to count.”

Hispanic students make up more than 30 percent of the district’s enrollment, a percentage that has continued to climb each year. The number of students requiring bilingual programs and services has also soared, district officials said.

Agustin Orci, deputy superintendent of instruction for the district, said school officials are committed to bilingual education and recognize the important role it plays for the future of Clark County.

“Every school district in the country is trying to bring in more bilingual teachers,” Orci said. “This is a national issue, not just a local one.”

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