Although a bilingual teacher shortage afflicts many New Jersey school districts, officials say it seldom produces the headline-grabbing trouble Paterson experienced recently when Eastside High School lost five Hispanic teachers.
“We sometimes have difficulty finding French Creoles to teach our Haitians, but we usually don’t have trouble finding Hispanic teachers,” said Iris Martinez Arroyo, who runs Newark’s 4,652-student bilingual program.
“Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Gujarati: Those are the languages that give us the most recruitment problems,” said Jay Doolan, manager of the state Board of Education’s bilingual unit.
About 500 Eastside students marched March 9 on the Board of Education, complaining about the loss of five of the eight bilingual teachers at the school.
A week after the march, aides hired to temporarily fill those positions began joining the Eastside staff at annual salaries ranging from $ 11,537 to $ 14,646, said Schools Superintendent Frank Napier and Iris Vega, supervisor of Paterson’s $ 2 million bilingual program.
Napier said he began hiring the aides before the protest.
The superintendent told protesters, led by Principal Joe Clark, that the shortage occurred largely because teachers had left Paterson for better-paying jobs in other districts.
But Napier and Vega later said two of the teachers were on sick leave, another was on maternity leave, and a fourth had resigned. They did not account for the fifth.
Napier and Paterson Education Association President Peter Tirri agreed that salaries were at the root of the shortage. Starting pay for Newark teachers is $ 25,500, compared with Paterson’s $ 21,200.
“After a good bilingual teacher has been here a few years, he or she often leaves us for a better-paying district like New York, Newark, or Perth Amboy,” said Napier. “We can’t compete.”
The superintendent said teachers must earn bilingual teaching certificates in their teaching specialty in addition to normal elementary or secondary teaching certificates. Yet districts do not normally pay extra for the second certificate.
Although bilingual education directors in other school districts agreed that teachers should be paid a bonus for dual certification, they said intensive recruiting efforts and good working conditions, not salary, were the keys to maintaining a stable bilingual teaching staff.
“We advertise in all the Spanish papers and national education journals, said Martinez Arroyo. “We have developed strong relationships with all the colleges. We especially recruit bilingual teachers to do their practice teaching with us. We bring people in from other fields.
And we make trips to Puerto Rico.
“On my last trip, I brought back three Hispanic teachers,” she said.
Fred Carrigg, who runs Union City’s 1,631-student bilingual program, said much of his recruiting is conducted among former Union City students who attended bilingual classes. Because of Union City’s large Hispanic population, Carrigg said, other districts recruit heavily in the city school system.
“I get calls all the time from other districts, but I can’t ever remember being called by Paterson,” he said. “Despite our large Spanish population, I’ve never seen their ads in our local newspapers, either.”
Napier and Vega said Paterson has advertised heavily, and has recruited at all local colleges and in Puerto Rico.
“We stay in touch with all the appropriate government agencies, Hispanic groups, churches, and universities,” said the superintendent.
“We’re constantly writing letters and making phone calls.”
Melindo Persi, Passaic County’s schools superintendent, said Paterson’s bilingual program was among 29 areas that failed a state review, largely because the program often lost track of students as they moved from one school to another.
But Napier said these deficiencies have been corrected for subsequent state monitoring, which will begin shortly.
Such conditions can cripple a bilingual program because, even under the best of circumstances, teaching conditions in urban bilingual classroom are not ideal, said Carrigg.
“Even the best programs often have two classes in one room,” he said.
“Since the influx of Central American students, you can have a couple of 15-year-old kids from Nicaragua in a high school class, even though they haven’t been to school for five or 10 years because of the war there. You can’t put them in a primary grade because they wouldn’t mix well socially.
“So the teacher has to teach these kids along with others who are making a more normal transition to English. It’s not an easy job, and many teachers leave to take more traditional jobs as quickly as they can,” Carrigg said.
Tirri said teacher recruitment had suffered this year because Napier had assumed recruitment duties himself, in addition to his other functions.
The superintendent denied that he had neglected recruitment. But the school board is considering filling this function with a new administrator.
Doolan, the state administrator, said the shortage of bilingual educators had created a demand that is often filled by teacher candidates who are skilled in a second language but cannot find employment.
“It’s a way for them to get jobs,” he said. “We provide a method for them to take the necessary courses to become certified while they’re teaching.”
Vega said a small minority of Paterson’s 105 bilingual teachers have provisional teaching certificates.
The aides now being hired to fill the teaching void at Eastside cannot teach in the classroom, said Napier. But they can translate for an English-speaking teacher and perform other non-teaching tasks.
Napier said he hopes to hire provisional teachers before the end of the school year.