Search on for bilingual principal
Ryan Lengerich: CNJ News Journal
Jarilyn Butler didn’t always speak her students’ language.
On snowy days, the former Lockwood Elementary School principal would receive phone calls from parents asking if school had been canceled.
Many would ask in Spanish. Butler speaks only English.
“I would pick up the phone and it was ‘Habla espanol?’ And I would say, ‘No.’” Butler said.
Three years ago, the issue came up only sparingly; nearly 95 percent of Lockwood’s students were primarily English speaking. This past school year, 22 percent of the student population was classified as an English Language Learner (ELL).
Butler accepted the principal’s position at Clovis’ Zia Elementary in May, citing a lack of Spanish-speaking skills as a major contributor for leaving Lockwood after 10 years.
Clovis schools Superintendent Neil Nuttall has taken a proactive stance in confronting the bilingual issue. He has posted job-opening notices as far as Amarillo and Lubbock for a position he said would ordinarily be advertised only locally.
A master’s degree, at least five years experience and an administrative license are part of the qualifications Nuttall seeks. But also important, he said, is whether the applicant can speak Spanish.
More students speaking Spanish
At registration, Clovis’ school district requires students to complete a questionnaire. One question asks if English is the primary language spoken at home. If answered “no,” a series of related questions must be answered. Through this test, school officials determine if a student qualifies as ELL.
LaDonna Clayton, assistant superintendent for instruction, said the number of ELL students has ballooned at Lockwood — from 25 in 2000-2001 to 100 in 2003-2004.
Lockwood, which has an enrollment of about 450 students, is second only to La Casita Elementary — a dual-language magnet school — in percent of ELL students enrolled. Bella Vista is third with about 11 percent of its students classified as ELL.
Clayton said Lockwood’s location on the southern tip of Clovis contributes to the rise is Spanish-speaking students. Many of the area’s dairies, farms and ranches attract migrant families and are located in the school’s coverage zone.
“The migrant population grew right with it, so we know it is coming from there,” Clayton said.
Importance of being bilingual
Butler said communicating with the parents of Lockwood’s students was often more difficult than communicating with her students, who often had more English training.
Sometimes, Butler said, she needed a translator to meet parents.
“It has been an obstacle,” Butler said. “We want all our parents to feel like they can come in and discuss their children.”
Site teams made up of school officials visit each school yearly. In January, Butler said a site team examined Lockwood.
“We identified some special needs and one of those needs was for our English Language Learners,” she said. “I think I have been an effective principal here, but I would be more effective if I could speak Spanish.”
With 24 school hours of bilingual education and four skills tests taken completely in the foreign language, a teacher can earn a bilingual certification known as English as a Second Language (ESL) endorsement, Clayton said.
La Casita requires an ESL endorsement for its teachers. Butler said nine of Lockwood’s teachers have that qualification and more are working toward it.
“As we are transitioning in that community, we have a great demand for ESL and bilingual programs,” Nuttall said. “We want to have a principal who can facilitate that.”
Nuttall said the search for a principal with bilingual skills has been challenging.
The advertisement lists the pay rate between $56,000 and $62,000 for a 202-day contract, which is on par with the district’s pay scale. Nuttall said no additional money has been offered for bilingual skills.
As a result, he said the search has yielded only two candidates for serious consideration.
In recognizing the need for bilingual leadership, Butler said Lockwood is on the “cutting edge.”
“By not being able to speak Spanish I am going to hold them back,” she said. “We are ready to take the next step and we see the need is there, so we see the need to have a bilingual administrator.
“It was a blessing that there was another school that had an opening so I can contribute and work with the kids.”
A hiring trend possible
As Lockwood openly makes a transition into placing an emphasis on facilitating ELL students, a trend could be looming.
Jim McDaniel, assistant superintendent for personnel, said the administration is always preparing for the possibility of a school’s need to focus on ELL children, and bilingual skills are always a benefit.
“We ask every candidate we interview if they speak another language other than English. And sometimes the job does not require it,” McDaniel said. “But it is a plus when somebody has that quality.”
The Southwest Cheese Plant is scheduled to bring 220 jobs to the area when it opens late next year. Clayton said the plant could attract migrant workers and create another influx of ELL students.
While she said a bilingual teacher is not needed at every school right now, officials will continually make evaluations.
“What we will do is begin to look at the makeup of the school every time we lose a principal,” Clayton said.
Butler said a full time ESL specialist for the school district will be based at Lockwood for upcoming years.
“It wasn’t until the first of this year that I could see where our school needed to go,” Butler said. “Each school site will need to look at their own needs."