As Orange County schools grow increasingly diverse with pupils of many backgrounds and languages, school districts are struggling to find enough bilingual teachers.

During the school year just ended, all 28 of the county’s school districts failed to comply with at least part of the state’s bilingual education requirements.

The results of the compliance review, done every three years, illustrate the growing need for such teachers as well as the uncertainty that has reigned at school districts statewide since California’s stringent bilingual-education law expired in 1987. But armed with new guidelines issued by the state Department of Education earlier this year, school districts in increasingly polyglot Orange County are racing to recruit teachers with bilingual credentials to meet state rules.

Wooed With Bonuses

So intense is the competition that these specialized instructors are being actively recruited and in some cases wooed with bonuses and stipends.

“I would say 1% of the school districts in the state got an A on their report card, and 99% (had something) out of compliance,” said Estella Acosta, who is in charge of bilingual-teacher training for the Orange County Department of Education.

The state Department of Education says 15.8% of Orange County’s student enrollment in 1988 was classified as “limited English proficient,” meaning that their primary language was something other than English. An update is due in a few weeks, and local and statewide educators say the new data will undoubtedly reflect an increase in limited-English speaking students in Orange County.

As the number of such students has increased, so has the number of different languages spoken in local schools. In the Garden Grove Unified School District, for example, administrators face the daunting task of teaching children who speak 71 different languages, including Spanish, Cambodian, Tagalog, Laotian and Hmong.

Summer Scrambling

For local school districts, summer is the time for scrambling to bring bilingual programs into compliance with new state guidelines, either by more aggressive recruiting of bilingual teachers or by submitting alternative plans for serving their multi-ethnic student populations despite a severe shortage of bilingual teachers.

For the small number of teachers with credentials to teach students whose English is limited, the summer months are a time to be courted by districts desperate to find more bilingual teachers.

Less than a month after he earned his teaching degree at Cal State Fullerton and got his credentials as a bilingual-education teacher, Ruben Gonzalez has had job offers from four schools, and he doesn’t know which to accept.

“There are so many offers,” he lamented. “But I have all summer to think about it. I feel lucky, to tell you the truth. I feel wanted.”

Another recent graduate, Ingrid Ragland, who also has a bilingual-teaching credential, was offered a job by the Fullerton School District, where her daughter attends elementary school — even though Ragland never applied to work there.

In the Santa Ana Unified School District, where more than half the students are limited in English, administrators learned of a teacher from Central America who was fluent in English and Spanish, and quickly tried to recruit her. They were undeterred by her lack of the proper work visa and began working with the U.S. State Department and other agencies to help the teacher get the proper visa and emergency credentials.

Santa Ana Unified now has 230 teachers with bilingual certificates, 63 more than the previous school year, district spokeswoman Diane Thomas said. But only two of those are certified in a language other than Spanish. “We certainly need more,” she said.

In that district, 51% of the district’s 40,000 students are considered limited in English, a higher percentage than any of the large school districts in the state, even higher than the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District, where 27% of the enrollment is considered limited in English.

So great is the need for bilingual teachers in the Santa Ana district that principals and assistant principals are sent to colleges in the Midwest to recruit teachers, Assistant Supt. Don Champlin said.

But the situation is not limited to the more urban areas of Orange County.

Specialist Hired

At the Saddleback Valley Unified School District in southern Orange County, where students are predominantly Anglo, the number of limited-English students has grown to 685 this year. An increase of about 150 students in the last year alone prompted administrators to hire a specialist in limited-English instruction. Maria Quezada, who began working for the district in April, said there are now 36 different languages spoken among Saddleback’s students, and administrators have started refocusing their instructional program to ensure that those children will be taught in the most effective way.

And they know the competition for qualified bilingual teachers is tough.

“In the past you could say, ‘There aren’t any bilingual teachers out there,’ and that was that,” Quezada said. “Now you have to do a little more. . . . You have to be very pro-active. . . . Some districts are even going into the universities and offering contracts to teachers in their third or fourth year of school.”

Graduation tallies at Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine, the main sources of new teachers for Orange County school districts, illustrate the problem.

At UC Irvine, only six to 10 of 150 teachers who graduated this year had bilingual credentials, said Joan Bissell, assistant director of UCI’s office of teacher education. Only 20 or so of Cal State Fullerton’s teaching majors who graduated this year had bilingual credentials, said Prof. Carol Barnes, the university’s coordinator of elementary and bilingual education.

Snapped Up Quickly

“If a district just waits for somebody who is bilingual to apply (for a job), they’re not going to get them,” Barnes said. “Our bilinguals are often snapped up by school districts where they did their student teaching or where they worked as an aide. I would think that many of our teachers are not even in the (job) market.”

And at UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton, all of the bilingual teachers who graduated this year specialized in Spanish.

When schools cannot find teachers who speak specific languages, they cope by hiring aides — often parents in the community — to work alongside the teacher in the classroom.

When the state’s bilingual law expired two years ago, the state Department of Education issued an advisory saying that because of other legal requirements, school districts were nevertheless obligated to comply with the intent of the law, which was to help students acquire sufficient English language ability to succeed in the regular school program. The bilingual law had required a certified bilingual teacher for every 10 limited-English students.

Under current guidelines, school districts now have more flexibility for training and qualifying their own bilingual teachers or language development specialists — instructors who aren’t necessarily fluent in the primary language that their students speak.

Even so, some districts have sought waivers from the state Department of Education, saying they cannot meet the guidelines by the fall, usually because of limited resources, materials or personnel. So far, seven Orange County school districts have filed for such waivers, and four of those are still awaiting state Board of Education approval.

Saddleback Unified is one of the four. Quezada said it had applied for the waiver “to give us a little bit of time to come up with our resources,” she said.

New Flexibility

The Garden Grove Unified School District has tried to take advantage of the new flexibility. Laura Schwalm, director of educational services, said that 25 of the district’s teachers have bilingual credentials but that several others are in locally designed programs to get credentials or certification as language development specialists.

With the wide diversity of languages spoken among the district’s 7,000 limited-English students, Schwalm said, the district is exploring teaching methods that do not rely so heavily on the state’s bilingual-credentials testing.

“One thing we are looking at is at what level of proficiency do (teachers) need to learn the Spanish language if they are teaching at the kindergarten level, for example,” she said. “Now the district can set its own criteria.”

The heavy demand for certified bilingual teachers has led some districts to offer bonuses or stipends to entice job candidates. Los Angeles Unified School District pays up to $5,000 extra for certified bilingual teachers. Santa Ana Unified offers up to $1,400, and the Westminster School District gives up to $300.

Some districts strongly oppose giving bonuses to bilingual teachers. “Why not give physics teachers a bonus too?” asked Garden Grove Supt. Ed Dundon. “They’re hard to find too.”

Others say stipends can help alleviate the shortage.

“If more districts did that, it might encourage more people to get into (bilingual teaching),” Cal State Fullerton’s Barnes said.

Cooperative Spirit

Another solution to the teacher crisis is a new cooperative spirit between institutions of higher learning and public schools. More and more, it involves tapping the very people who have been helping teachers cope in their classrooms with limited-English students.

Bissell said UCI has been working on a program with Santa Ana Unified, Cal State Fullerton, Rancho Santiago Community College in Santa Ana and Chapman College in Orange to encourage bilingual teacher aides to get not only their bachelor’s teaching degrees, but also their certification in bilingual teaching.

Norm Gold, the state Department of Education’s bilingual/bicultural consultant, said there is no doubt that the need for special instruction for limited-English students will continue to grow in California.

“We now have 10 to 12 years of data on limited-English students, and we know the need will keep growing for at least the Spanish language,” he said. “The growth has been less predictable for languages like Hmong, but there are now large numbers of students and kids in refugee camps all over the world, such as the Philippines, who we know are in the pipeline and who are probably going to end up here (in California).

“There are children who will probably come here soon from Afghanistan, from Soviet Armenia and other areas of the world,” he said. “The population in Orange County now is not that much different than in the rest of the state, so school districts there will also have to be prepared.”

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