Local education officials spent Tuesday with the secretary of education of Guanajuato, Mexico, eight school superintendents and other Mexican delegates in hopes of finding a way to bring more Mexican teachers to Palm Beach County.
The Palm Beach County School District has a diverse student population. Fewer than half of the students are white, but about 77 percent of teachers are.
Locally and across the country, schools scramble to hire black and Hispanic teachers. Many educators think students do better when some of their teachers share the same cultural background. These teachers also serve as role models.
It also can be challenging for non-Spanish-speaking teachers to overcome the language barrier while students are learning English, Palm Beach County Superintendent Art Johnson told Guanajuato Education Secretary Victor Manuel Ramirez Valenzuela and the superintendents. Guanajuato is a central Mexican state northwest of Mexico City.
“I would like to see if some of the bilingual teachers you have in Mexico would like to move to Palm Beach County,” Johnson said.
Those bilingual teachers are important to Ramirez, too. In fact, exchange programs that would allow Mexican teachers to brush up on English skills are one of the biggest reasons he and his superintendents want to foster a relationship with Florida school districts.
Ramirez said he would support Palm Beach County’s efforts.
“That is a personal decision of the teachers,” he said. “If they want to live here, that is a personal thing, so we’re going to help them do what they want to do.”
More than 29,700 Palm Beach County students, 18.6 percent, are Hispanic. Of them, 1,840 were born in Mexico. These students are another big reason Ramirez wants a relationship with Palm Beach County. He wants to make sure they are getting a good education here.
One way Mexican schools can help is by sharing their distance learning program, said Margarita Pinkos, multicultural student education director for Palm Beach County schools. Some parts of Mexico are rural and have tiny schools that can’t offer as many classes as larger schools do. Students at these schools take some of their classes by watching classes on television.
Students who don’t know English could tap into these lessons to help keep them on grade level in math, science and other subjects while they are learning English, Pinkos said.
A delegation from Palm Beach County visited Guanajuato in June. Teachers from the Mexican state have spent two weeks at schools in Pahokee, said Pinkos. This summer, Pinkos hopes to take Palm Beach County teachers to Mexico for two weeks.
Personnel Director Marcia Andrews said she hopes to soon start traveling to Mexico to recruit teachers.
Prior to the meeting, Ramirez and the superintendents visited with teachers and students at Forest Hill High School in West Palm Beach, which has many Spanish-speaking students.
The delegates met with Miami-Dade school officials Monday and will today meet Ramirez’s Florida counterpart, Education Commissioner Charlie Crist.
Kellie Patrick can be reached at [email protected] or 561-243-6629.