Worried over proposed cuts in personnel who teach English as a second language to Arlington's public school students, parents and faculty asked the school board Thursday night to reconsider. But the cuts, according to district staff, may not result in the crisis many expect.
"I'm afraid the quality of education overall is going to suffer," said parent Doris Campos-Infantino.
Much of the attention was focused on Campbell Elementary School, where rumors circulated that many of its English as a Second Language (ESL) or High-Intensity Language Training (HILT) teachers would be lost. Nancy Arnold, chairwoman of Arlington's committee on ESL and HILT, requested the board provide emergency funding to prevent the cuts, which are being felt systemwide.
"Rather than an abrupt decline, a gradual approach is needed," said Arnold.
Campbell's PTA president, Mike Petro, said the cuts could cost the school 8 of its Spanish-speaking staff members. In a school where 75 percent of students speak languages other than English, Petro said, that staff is needed. According to its local evaluation for 2004 — available on the Arlington Public Schools Web site — Campbell had about 144 students in English language training and, of its 63 teachers, 33 could speak languages other than English. Some teachers said removing ESL- and HILT-trained faculty could reduce the quality of education. Experience in the classroom, said Florence Bell, an ESL-HILT teacher at Washington-Lee High School, counts.
"Teaching our English language learners requires more than commitment and hard work, it requires training and experience," Bell said.
BUT ALL THE worrying, according to School District staff, isn't necessary. Arlington Public Schools, said budget director Mary Beth Chambers, are planning to cut ESL-HILT staff. The reason: the population of ESL-HILT students is dropping. Chambers said Arlington's school system will lose 10 elementary school ESL-HILT teachers. Secondary schools will lose 18 teachers and one part-time assistant. Campbell, she said, will lose one teacher and one part-time assistant. By the same token, she added, Campbell's ESL-HILT population is projected to decrease by seven students next year. Throughout the entire system, schools are expected to lose about 662 ESL-HILT students.
"We feel like we're staffing closer to what we'll need with the number of kids coming through the door," Chambers said. "In the past five years, we've noticed the number of ESL-HILT students is decreasing. This means we've probably been providing more staff than we really need."
Many of the numbers parents have regarding the cuts at Campbell and other schools, Chambers said, just aren't correct.
"There's been a lot of misinformation circulating," she said.