School Board adopts bilingual policy

The recommendations include hiring more bilingual teachers and staff fluent in Spanish.

PROVIDENCE—The School Board last night adopted as its new bilingual education policy a set of recommendations that were developed by parents, teachers and administrators during a two-year study of city schools.

The recommendations include spending an additional $ 500,000 to hire more bilingual staff and teachers fluent in Spanish, but the School Board has deferred discussion of financing.

School officials said they think the policy may be implemented by shifting personnel rather than by hiring additional people.

The board voted unanimously to adopt the recommendations of the study titled LIFT (Language Instruction for Transition), but Gloria Steiny, a member of the board, raised questions about how the project will be monitored, how it will be evaluated and whether school officials will be able to compare its performance to the system it replaces.

Fran Mossberg, administrator of the School Department’s bilingual and English as a Second Language programs, replied that ways to measure the new program have been built into it.

But comparison to the old system could only be “through the dropout rates,” Mossberg said.

And that is the hope behind the recommendations – a reduction in the dropout rate, which currently is about 35 percent.

Spanish emphasis

Hispanics comprise the fastest-growing segment of the school population -and about 35 percent of the total school population this year – but leaders of the Hispanic community fear that the dropout rate is increasing even faster.

And the LIFT report, which was released in February, said the dropout rate among Hispanics increased as students gained fluency in English.

The study suggested that a higher percentage of Hispanic dropouts had been shunted into mainstream English curricula, as compared to Hispanics who were kept in bilingual programs.

Hence, the study’s conclusion that more bilingual classes would lower the dropout rate among Hispanics, and at the same time increase the percentage of English-speaking Hispanics.

The new policy calls for an increase in Spanish classes, Spanish teachers and Spanish administrators.

As a result, Hispanic parents who don’t speak English will be able to communicate directly with school officials and teachers, and will be able to exert a stronger influence on their children.

Roosevelt Benton, the School Board chairman, said the aim is to use Spanish as a tool to stimulate understanding among students and then to work on improving English fluency.

Supt. Arthur Zarrella said the policy has the endorsement of national bilingual experts.

The policy will go into effect in the fall, Zarrella said.

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