“The goal is two-fold: one is to help recruit Hispanic students back to TPS; the other is to deal with the many Hispanic families where we are teaching Spanish and English,” said Emilio Ramírez, principal-mentor-facilitator at TPS headquarters. “Together, they could be bilingual. We’d also like to attract others outside the community to another program we’re going to offer for the community.”
The concept would start with four classes. The aim is to find a suitable location close to most of the Spanish-speaking families who reside in East Toledo and the Old South End. Ramírez stated the district “has an ambitious goal” to start in August, but recruiting families will be key over the next eight weeks or so.
“It’s been a long time coming and we’ve reached a critical mass,” he said. “A bilingual, immersion school, dual language schools have been across the country for some time.”
“It’s been talked about for a while and right now’s a good time to implement because we’re in a transformation plan and we’ve had great success with some of our other specialty schools and giving more options to our students,” said Bob Vásquez, a TPS board member who individually supports the idea. “So this is a great time to start this.” Mr. Vásquez made it clear that he was at the meeting as an individual and not as a representative of the TPS board.
“I’m very pleased. I think the need is there with children, one of the fastest-growing populations in TPS is actually Spanish-speaking families,” said José Luna, TPS Hispanic outreach coordinator. “I think this would be a real boost to help the Spanish-speaking population make the transition to English smoother.”
TPS officials have identified 570 Latino families whose children currently attend charter schools. There also are 228 Spanish-speaking families living within the school district’s boundaries. The proposal would still need formal school board approval.
“So we have a pool of 800 families to pull from. Also, if we’re looking at pulling others who want their children to become bilingual by second grade, which is our goal, then the numbers are enormous,” said Ramírez.
TPS is looking to co-locate a Spanish-language Head Start program alongside the K-2 bilingual school. A national provider will lay off some 280 Head Start teachers, an indication that TPS will take over the federal preschool program in the fall. Some type of formal announcement is expected later this week.
One other potential concern is the state’s third-grade reading guarantee, which is why TPS leaders will start with a K-2 bilingual program. A third grade program may be added down the road. One option is to teach language arts in English, then focus on math, science, and other subjects in Spanish in order in order to meet the reading guarantee.
“TPS currently does have bilingual teachers, all across different grade levels and experiences,” said Ramírez. “So we are compiling a list of who we have and where. I think we have enough internally to start off.”
“It’s certainly not cost-prohibitive. I think it’s just a matter of getting our staff and facilities in line with what we want to do,” said Vásquez.
The Latino leaders in attendance also included: Dr. Romules Durant (TPS Superintendant); Guisselle Mendoza, executive director of Adelante, Inc.; community organizer Ramón Pérez of One Village Council; Adelante board members Dan Briones and David Ybarra; retired educators Mary Morales and Dr. Manuel Caro; Cindy Geronimo, executive director of the Lucas County Land Bank; former Toledo city official Lourdes Santiago; Baldemar Velásquez, Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) founder and president; Jeffrey Hanthorn (TPS administration); Tracy Knighton (TPS); and Rico Neller (former TPS teacher at Jones Junior High and editor of La Prensa).
Ramírez told the assembled Latino leaders that the idea has been discussed in the past in one form or another and “have done some things but never fully accomplished a project.”
Ramírez and Luna first pitched the idea in May to TPS Superintendent Dr. Romules Durant, who was immediately supportive of the concept. He was in attendance at Friday’s meeting as well to lend support.
The superintendent told the group the new school, “if it generated the right numbers” could prove to be either “self-sustaining or cost-neutral.” He cited as examples both Toledo Technology Academy and Toledo Early College High School, both magnet schools that attract 40 percent of its student population from outside the school district.
“That 40 percent helps to sustain the program to where it pays for itself,” said Dr. Durant.
The TPS superintendent stated he has already invited Adelante, Inc. to move its location to within such a school to build a community partnership similar to what the school district has done with the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs, which have facilities within or attached to various TPS schools. He explained that such “collective work” could lead to more grant opportunities, which would further sustain and strengthen such an effort.
“I think we have an opportunity to do something big on the East Side,” said Dr. Durant.
“We’ve had some success with some of our specialty schools. The time is now to move forward,” echoed Vásquez.
Ramírez stated the district has identified 596 Hispanic students who attend charter and online schools in metro Toledo. Another 861 charter school students identify themselves as multicultural.
“We need your input to help create this vision to bring them back to TPS,” said Ramírez.
There are three concepts under consideration for such an English-Spanish school:
An “immersion school” would involve either completely or partially teaching courses in Spanish to improve a child’s proficiency in the language and to acquire an appreciation and understanding of the culture;
A bilingual school, where half the class is made up of English speakers and the other half is made up of students learning Spanish, while class time is split between the two languages so students encourage each other to become proficient in their bilingual skills and learn the culture; and
A foreign language in elementary school (FLES) is a content-based school where 15 to 50 percent of the subject matter would be taught in Spanish with the goal of using that subject content as a vehicle for acquiring foreign language skills and appreciation of the culture.
“I think we have the capacity. We have the buildings, we have the teachers, we have the know-how, and we have the leaders. I think we can pull this off,” said Ramírez, who pointed out TPS already has identified 35 teachers with bilingual skills.
TPS administrators also showed a pair of video clips of how bilingual schools have operated in other cities, including Milwaukee.
Dr. Caro expressed concern about how Latino culture would be taught in such a concept school and whether it would be a “watered down, benign, sugary kind of thing.”
“That’s why you’re here and Adelante is here—to help us teach that culture and do it right,” responded Ramírez. “I need you to help develop that.”
Effective communication with parents and transportation challenges would be the biggest issues going forward among Adelante’s client families, stated Ms. Mendoza.
“With any pilot school, you have to do it with quality in mind and customer service,” she said.
The group seemed to advocate a school for a mix of Latino kids and the general public in order to encourage diversity, inclusiveness, as well as an effective educational model.
“The interaction amongst the kids is just as important in the learning process as the teachers that you have in the classroom and structuring those interactions between non-native speakers and native speakers I think will be really important,” said Ybarra.
One of the main reasons the assembled Latino leaders voiced their support for the idea is because many of them were actively discouraged by school from speaking anything other than English while growing up as a means of assimilating into the community.
“Otherwise, we’d have a lot of second-generation Latinos who are bilingual,” said Ms. Geronimo, who took ESL classes while attending Westfield Elementary as a child.
“It was a shame,” echoed Vásquez.
Many in the group signed up to work as a smaller committee to develop the school concept and reach out to Spanish-speaking families across the community.
“I agree it’s way overdue, it’s past due and I’m glad we’re going to do it now and not look backwards,” said Pérez.
A follow-up meeting will be held at a later date to inform parents of the concept and recruit potential students. Spanish-language ads are planned in order to reach the necessary families who could populate the school.