Number of Limited-English Students in County Rises 14%

Education: Three-fourths are fluent in Spanish, underscoring need for more bilingual teachers, officials say. But qualified instructors are scarce and are in great demand.

The number of Ventura County public school students who speak little or no English increased by 2,461 students or about 14% last year, moving the county’s total of English-deficient students to 10th in the state, according to a new report.

The increase brings the total number of limited-English-speaking students in the county to 18,524, representing about one sixth of the county’s 110,187 student population, according to the report released this month by the California Department of Education. The statistics were taken from March, 1989, through March, 1991.

Three out of four students with limited English skills are fluent in Spanish, the report said, underscoring what educators maintain is a critical need for trained bilingual teachers.

Norm Brekke, superintendent of the Oxnard Elementary School District, said the district has reached “if not a crisis, a critical stage” in trying to recruit qualified teachers for bilingual classes.

He said colleges are producing fewer graduates in education, and only a very small number of those are certified in bilingual instruction.

The Oxnard Elementary School District ranked first in the county with a total of 5,067 students with limited English proficiency, 41.5% of the district’s overall student body, the report said.

Brekke said his district, with 16 schools and 12,347 students, has only 69 fully certified bilingual teachers and another 91 teachers who are able to work with Spanish-speaking instructional aides. School districts with 50 or more limited-English-speaking students are mandated by state law to provide bilingual instruction.

“There are only a finite number” of qualified teachers, Brekke said. “And they are in great demand.”

Oxnard High School District has the second largest number of English-deficient students — 3,097 — representing 27% of its total enrollment. Ventura Unified School District has the third largest number, or 1,463 students. That is 9.5% of the district’s student population.

In other areas of the county, Hueneme Elementary School District has 1,400 students who speak little or no English, or 19% of its enrollment, and Fillmore has 1,108 such students, or 33% of its student body.

These high percentages of Spanish-speaking students emphasize the need for the county’s 21 school districts to do a better job of training more of their teachers in bilingual education, said Clifford Rodrigues, director of bilingual education for the Ventura County superintendent of schools office.

There are now 451 teachers in the county qualified to teach students with limited English language skills, Rodrigues said. But about half of those are not fully certified and must be assisted by a Spanish-speaking aide.

Just with the increase that occurred in 1991 of students with special language needs, the county could use about 31 new bilingual instructors, Rodrigues said.

For teachers to be fully certified in the county’s bilingual program could take five to six years.

“If all you know is ‘Buenos dias,’ it could take awhile,” Rodrigues said. However, he said, teachers who are in the program and have at least two years of teaching experience are permitted to teach limited-English-proficient students while they are earning their certificates. But those teachers must work with Spanish-speaking assistants.

Rodrigues said the majority of teachers who are in the county program are from school districts in Santa Paula, Ventura and Oxnard. But he said east county school districts, such as Conejo Valley Unified and Simi Valley Unified, are going to have to step up their efforts to get teachers into the program because of the sharp rise in Spanish-speaking students in those districts.

For example, Conejo Unified went from 433 Spanish-speaking students in 1989 to 887 in 1991. Simi Valley Unified has gone from 603 in 1989 to 751 in 1991.

“The impact is that school districts that thought they would never have to concern themselves with (bilingual education) are realizing now that these students are here and it’s not someone else’s problem to deal with,” Rodrigues said. “They have to deal with the situation.”

Bob Isenberg, director of bilingual programs at Simi Valley Unified, agreed. He said the district put 16 teachers through the county’s bilingual program last year.

Isenberg said the district, the largest in the county with 18,000 students, has only one fully certified bilingual education teacher and 15 who work with Spanish-speaking aides.

“We could use about eight more teachers,” he said. “We’ll hire anyone we can find.”

Isenberg agreed with Rodrigues that the east county school districts have no choice but to get more of their teachers into the county’s bilingual education program because the number of limited-English-speaking students is going to continue to rise. As of last month, he said the number of limited-English-speaking students had reached 884.

“The only way for them to be productive citizens is for them to be educated,” he said.

Limited-English-Speaking Students

The number of limited-English-speaking students in Ventura County increased by 2,461 last year, bringing the total number to 18,524, or about 16% of the county’s total enrollment in public schools. The following is a breakdown of

increases in the county’s 21 school districts. District 1991 1990 1989 Oxnard Elementary 5,067 4,556 4,117 Oxnard High 3,097 2,391 999 Ventura Unified 1,463 1,309 1,152 Hueneme Elementary 1,400 1,271 1,049 Fillmore Unified 1,108 1,025 990 Ocean View Elementary 979 862 716 Santa Paula Elementary 934 863 804 Conejo Valley Unified 887 576 433 Moorpark Elementary 827 661 615 Simi Valley Unified 751 681 603 Rio Elementary 710 653 496 Pleasant Valley Elementary 527 491 459 Santa Paula High 247 289 114 Ojai Unifed 195 163 147 Special Education 79 70 14 Briggs Elementary 75 61 92 Somis Elementary 74 58 50 Oak Park Elementary 67 48 7 Mesa Union 30 28 35 Mupu Elementary 6 7 7 Santa Clara Elementary 1 0 N/A Total 18,524 16,063 12,899

Source: State Dept. of Education

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