Shelton schools may need to hire bilingual teacher

The Shelton public schools could need to hire at least one bilingual teacher at Long Hill Elementary School for the next school year.

State rules require a school district to provide a bilingual teacher if 20 or more students at one school have the same primary language other than English, School Supt. Freeman Burr told Board of Education (BOE) members at a recent meeting.

Long Hill could reach that threshold for Spanish-speaking students in the 2013-14 school year.

The possibility is an indication to the growing diversity of Shelton’s schools, which now have about 220 students whose primary language is not English, although their primary languages vary. About 5,300 children attend Shelton schools.

English Language Learners

District-wide, there are about 500 students who can speak about 35 different languages — from Russian to Portuguese, and Polish to Arabic — but the language other than English isn’t the primary language for the majority of these students.

Students who need help with English but don’t require a bilingual teacher are classified as English Language Learners, according to Burr’s presentation.

Bilingual and ESOL teachers

A bilingual teacher is different than an English as Second Language (ESOL) teacher, and could cost the district more to hire. The state would provide a small grant to the city to hire a bilingual teacher, but nowhere enough to cover the estimated $72,500 cost per teacher, including salary and benefits.

Even if there are not 20 students requiring a bilingual teacher, Long Hill will need an ESOL teacher for the next academic year, Burr told BOE members.

The superintendent asked the BOE to set aside about $145,000 in its revised 2013-14 budget to cover up to two bilingual and/or ESOL teachers at Long Hill, although it too early to know exactly what the need will be.

While it shouldn’t be a problem to find an ESOL teacher, bilingual-certified teachers can be hard to find — and may command a higher salary due to supply and demand.

Training current staff

For the future, BOE members suggested Burr look into having the district pay to train current teaching staff to qualify them to be ESOL and bilingual teachers.

“It would be good for us if we helped our teachers acquire this ability,” member James Orazietti said.

Orazietti said the schools likely will grow more diverse, and a pro-active approach makes sense. “This isn’t going way,” he said.