Non-English-Speaking Students on Rise

Education: the county's rate of language deficiency rises by about 10%. Increases in the Oxnard area and the Simi and Conejo Valleys help create greater demand for bilingual teachers.

In a continuing upward trend, the number of Ventura County public school students who speak little or no English increased by 1,985 students or about 10% last year, according to a new report.

This brings the total number of limited-English-speaking students in the county to 20,509, or about one-fifth of the county’s 116,230 student population, according to the report by the Ventura County superintendent of schools office. The statistics were compiled from the spring’s enrollment figures.

School districts surrounding Oxnard continue to have the biggest jump in the number of English-deficient students. But schools in Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks’ Conejo Valley are also enrolling escalating numbers of non-English-speaking pupils, increasing the demand for bilingual teachers certified to teach in Spanish and English.

“More and more, the Simi Valley and Conejo Valley school districts are realizing this is not an Oxnard or Santa Paula problem; this is something everybody has to recognize,” said Clifford Rodrigues, director of bilingual education for the county superintendent of schools office.

He said there are 230 certified bilingual teachers working in Ventura County, but that about 300 more are needed.

Rodrigues said his office offers a bilingual program for teachers. Although there are about 300 teachers enrolled in the program, he pointed out that it can take four years or more for teachers to become certified.

In school districts throughout California, the number of English-deficient students was 1,078,705 in 1992, a 9% increase over the previous year. Ventura County had the 10th highest percentage of students with limited or no English-speaking skills, behind Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

Of those designated English-deficient students in Ventura County, 92.6% were fluent in Spanish, the report said.

The Oxnard Elementary School District, with a total enrollment of 12,732, continues to lead the county with the highest concentration of students with special language needs.

The number increased from 5,067 in 1991 to 5,423 in 1992, representing 44% of the student population.

“We’ve more than doubled our count in the last 10 years,” Supt. Norman Brekke said. “And there’s no apparent end in sight.”

Brekke said 75 of the district’s 120 teachers are certified bilingual instructors, but more are needed.

He said the district is already planning to extend its recruiting efforts for qualified teachers — in extremely short supply — to such places as Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

The Oxnard Union High School District had the second highest number of students who spoke little or no English. The report counted 3,918 of them, compared with 3,097 in 1991.

Ventura Unified ranked third with 1,577 English-deficient students, up from 1,463 the year before.

But perhaps the most notable gains were in the Simi Valley and Conejo Valley unified school districts at the eastern end of the county, where the general population remains largely white.

In the Simi Valley district, the number of English-deficient students was 880, a 17% increase from 1991. And in the Conejo Valley district, the number was 968, a 9% jump.

The Simi Valley district, the largest in the county with 18,634 students, has only one certified bilingual teacher.

The Conejo Valley district has none.

However, both districts have a handful of teachers who are qualified to teach with the assistance of Spanish-speaking aides.

Simi Valley also has 11 teachers enrolled in Spanish language courses; Conejo Valley has seven.

In addition to the shortage of qualified teachers, school districts struggling to meet the needs of English-deficient students must cope with shrinking budgets and crowded classrooms.

Brekke said classes in his district average between 30 and 35 students.

“This exacerbates the problem,” he said. “It’s an extremely difficult situation for teachers because the limited-English-speaking students need a lot of individual instruction.”

But Brekke said his district will get some help from the Oxnard Union High School District, which plans to launch a new student-to-student tutorial program next month.

Under the program, students in the high school district will be paid to tutor elementary school pupils having trouble developing their English language skills.

“We’re very excited about it,” Brekke said. “We hope it will be successful and that it will grow.”

Richard Simpson, assistant superintendent of the Conejo Valley Unified School District, said his district would like to be able to recruit certified bilingual teachers but, because of budgetary constraints, cannot afford to do so at this time.

“We have not been hiring for the last four or five years,” he said.

Limited-English-Speaking Students

The number of limited-English-speaking students in Ventura County increased by 1,985 last year, bringing the total number to 20,509, or about 18% of the county’s total enrollment in public schools. The following is a breakdown of increases in the county’s 20 school districts as well as special education

classes offered by the Ventura County superintendent of schools office. District 1992 1991 1990 Oxnard Elementary 5,423 5,067 4,556 Oxnard High 3,918 3,097 2,391 Ventura Unified 1,577 1,463 1,309 Hueneme Elementary 1,687 1,400 1,271 Fillmore Unified 1,132 1,108 1,025 Ocean View Elementary 1,073 979 862 Conejo Valley Unified 968 887 576 Santa Paula Elementary 897 934 863 Simi Valley Unified 880 751 681 Moorpark Unified 819 827 661 Rio Elementary 728 710 653 Pleasant Valley Elementary 515 527 491 Santa Paula Union High 308 247 289 Ojai Unified 215 195 163 Special Education 91 79 70 Somis Elementary 81 74 58 Briggs Elementary 78 75 61 Oak Park Unified 69 67 48 Mesa Union 41 30 28 Mupu Elementary 7 6 7 Santa Clara Elementary 2 1 0 Total 20,509 18,524 16,063

Source: County superintendent of schools office

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