Friday, July 22, 2016
[Monterey County] Grand jury takes Salinas City Schools to task
The Salinas City Elementary School District must find the money and resources to strengthen its efforts to move all students into English fluency by the time they leave the district.
That’s the basic conclusion reached by the Monterey County grand jury in its report for 2015-16, released Monday. The investigative body chose the Salinas City Schools in somewhat of a follow-up review of last year’s report that focused on the role of the Monterey County Office of Education with regard to English language acquisition.
On Tuesday, district Superintendent Martha Martinez said the grand jury report held no surprises in its findings and that the recommendations reached might apply to many districts with similar enrollments and academic challenges.
“SCESD was selected because the District is large and diverse enough to be representative of English language teaching and learning in Monterey County,” this year report reads in the chapter called “Overcoming Obstacles Together.”
In 2014-15, the grand jury took MCOE to task over its role in educating English learning students. However, MCOE officials responded to that report stating that the primary responsibility of English acquisition rests with the school districts.
Salinas City Schools is a kindergarten-through-sixth grade district with an enrollment of 9,125 in 14 schools. More than half of the students are classified as ELLs, or English Language Learners. The ELL enrollment at some of the schools reaches 81%, according to the grand jury report.
“Investigative interviews revealed major negative impacts to EL learners,” the report states. “Socio-economic obstacles and the absence of school readiness undermines their ability to learn, and is subsequently reflected in the students’ test scores.”
Martinez said that though the report findings did not break any new ground, she honors the work conducted.
She said she was surprised at SCSD being singled out by the grand jury for its review of English Language Learner programs. She said initially last fall the jury members said they wanted to learn more about ELLs. She welcomed that but “I had no idea they were going to write an official report until almost April.”
It was a teachable moment for both sides. “I found the grand jury members to be quite inexperienced about ELLs and programs. I think they learned a tremendous amount,” she said. The process was a tremendous investment of time on our part,” she said.
Martinez, who just completed her first year as superintendent, basically agrees with the findings, except for one that she plans to critique in detail when the school board issues its formal response within the next 90 days.
With regard to teaching English Learner children Martinez said she’s proud of the programs operating districtwide, and acknowledges that “there’s certainly lots of room to grow.”
“We have to become more consistent. We have pockets of excellence … and areas we need to improve. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished but it’s a sliver of what we need to do.”
The grand jury’s approach to this issue included interviews with administrators and education leaders, interviews with MCOE officials, school visitations, attendance of public school board meeting, and document research.
• Many children enter school with a limited vocabulary and lack of school readiness.
• There are no District preschool programs that provide aftercare.
• Grades 2–6 do not have aides who can provide teacher assistance in classroom tasks and small-group work.
• Students who are not reclassified to Fluent English Proficient status prevents them from taking the high school courses necessary to meet college entrance “a to g” requirements.
• There is low parent participation in school meetings, programs and activities.
• Insufficient time is available for collaboration between District teachers and administration.
• Inadequate time is allocated to parent/teacher conferences to enable parents to be involved and support their child in school.
• The shortage of credentialed teachers has resulted in the District hiring not-yet-credentialed and substitute teachers to fill the vacant teaching positions.
The grand jury recommendations:
• Provide affordable on-site aftercare for preschool and pre-K classes.
• Increase parent(s) participation and awareness of school meetings, programs and activities by requiring a parent orientation when a new student is registered for school. This orientation should be included in the 2016-17 student registration.
• Hire aides to work in grade 2-6 classrooms who can provide teacher assistance with small-group work and other non-credentialed tasks. Hiring of these aides should be accomplished in the 2016-17 school year.
• Compensate teachers for the additional time spent outside their designated instructional period to collaborate with parents, and other teachers.
• Make reclassification to Fluent English Proficiency status a priority by the end of 6th grade, and stress the importance of this in teacher in-service trainings beginning in the 2016-17 school year.
• Seek and encourage partnerships with community agencies, civic groups, local business and foundations (e.g. First 5 Monterey County, Salinas City Library “paleteros”) to sponsor school readiness services and student academic support.
Martínez and school board members will review the report and begin preparing a response to the grand jury at the next board meeting in August.
July 13, 2016
The Salinas Californian
By Roberto M. Robledo