Arlington school officials plan to create a Bilingual Teacher Academy this fall to provide customized training for district teachers.
The move comes after local Hispanic leaders voiced concerns that bilingual teachers don’t receive proper training or materials necessary to help their students. League of United Latin American Citizens officials have requested that bilingual teachers receive a $ 1,500 annual stipend each.
“We had some concerns addressed at our last meeting concerning bilingual education and stipends,” Superintendent Mac Bernd said. “What we do intend to do, not necessarily grant stipends, but certainly give bilingual teachers the opportunity to be more recognized in their profession.”
Paul Salinas, president of the Arlington LULAC chapter, said the program could be a first step in improving the district’s efforts to recruit and retain quality bilingual teachers.
“It has been increasingly difficult for this district to hire bilingual teachers,” Mr. Salinas said. “Arlington is not keeping our bilingual teachers because other districts are offering more money and putting forth a lot more effort to help their bilingual teachers. And these teachers deserve these things.”
The district currently has 106 bilingual teachers serving 2,023 pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade students. Seven bilingual teacher slots are vacant.
Jose Marcelo Cavazos, Arlington’s associate superintendent of curriculum, announced his plans to create the Bilingual Teacher Academy at a trustee work session Thursday afternoon. It will be the first program he’s implemented since joining the district in July.
Dr. Cavazos said the academy would help bilingual teachers better educate their students.
“Ultimately, we want our students to be successful in school and to master the academic assessment standards set by the state,” Dr. Cavazos said. “We feel this is a high-need area. In our case, with the teacher academy, we are investing in our teachers so they can provide the best possible education for our kids.”
Participation in the academy is optional. It will be open to all district bilingual teachers. If all 106 bilingual teachers take advantage of the academy, the program will cost the district $ 795,000. The money will come out of the bilingual education program’s staff development fund.
Mr. Salinas said he believes the program could help improve the quality of bilingual education in Arlington.
“It will be a long process, but as long as we keep them aware of what is going on, change will come,” he said. “We all need to do as much as we can to help children – any child.”
Dr. Cavazos said he expects to spend the next couple of months surveying bilingual teachers so their ideas can be incorporated into the training program.
Initially, he said the academy will include presentations from leaders in its bilingual education program. They also will contract with bilingual educators for additional training sessions.
“After we do a needs assessment, we will see exactly what our needs are,” Dr. Cavazos said. “Eventually, we hope to develop our teachers so they become master trainers to lead some of the sessions for our younger teachers.”
Trustees said the academy seems like a good idea to improve bilingual education.
“Rather than just throwing money at the problem, this is a good program because it is going to develop our staff,” trustee John McInnis said.
Dora Gonzales, a Blanton Elementary School bilingual teacher, said she would consider participating in the academy once she learns more about it from the district.
“We have had training in the past, and I’m not sure how this will be different from the regularly scheduled training sessions in the school year,” Mrs. Gonzales said. “Personally, I would like a little bit more direction as to how to schedule the different levels and see how to best serve them and coordinate with the regular classroom teachers.”
Mrs. Gonzales said the academy could increase camaraderie among bilingual teachers.
“Right now, I get the feeling we are too separated and do our own things and we don’t feel there is a togetherness among the bilingual teachers,” she said. “If anything, we need to communicate more with each other and support each other. I would hope this could come out of the academy.”
Dr. Cavazos said the academy will do much more than just develop staff.
“Part of the challenge with bilingual education is that programs are all different,” Dr. Cavazos said. “We feel if we customize the bilingual education and make it our own, we feel it will serve our teachers here and keep them here.”