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Teachers in 10 U46 schools protest ESL certificate requirement

Teacher Dorothy Rouse conducts class with student special educatiprogramlast year HighlElementary School Elgin.  It is one 10 6 schools

Teacher Dorothy Rouse conducts class with student in special education programlast year at Highland Elementary School in Elgin. It is one of 10 6 schools where District U46 is requiring teachers to earn ESL certificates. | Sun-Times Media file

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District U46 elementary schools in restructuring

Channing, Elgin

Garfield, Elgin

Lords Park, Elgin

Highland, Elgin

Hillcrest, Elgin

Huff, Elgin

Laurel Hill, Hanover Park

Parkwood, Hanover Park

Sheridan, Elgin

Washington, Elgin

To be added next school year: Lowrie, Elgin

Updated: January 12, 2014 6:19AM

ELGIN — Seven teachers, including the president of Elgin Teachers Association, told the School District U46 Board of Education they oppose a recently announced requirement that teachers in 10 schools must be certified to teach English as a Second Language, or be transferred to a different school or possibly lose their jobs.

The requirement was announced last month to teachers in the 10 elementary schools that are undergoing “restructuring” because of chronically low test scores. However, if the present trend of every school failing to meet ”acceptable yearly progress” in test scores continues in U46 — as it has in almost all area school districts — all the district’s schools could end up being restructured within a few years, requiring all U46 teachers to get the ESL endorsement.

The teachers were told that anyone working in a restructuring school must earn an “ESL endorsement” by taking a series of post-graduate college courses by May 2016.

Originally, social workers and some other non-teacher professionals working in the restructuring schools also were told they would have to get the endorsement. But a few days ago, administrators sent out a new notice that these people would only have to take one additional course to keep their jobs.

Cost to teachers

Speaking during the board meeting’s public comment time, some teachers said they already are doing many things to improve their students’ performance and do not need the new training to do that.

Others complained that if they have to take the added courses, the school district should pay for the cost of doing that, and some said teachers who are about to retire should be excused from that hardship.

Board members and administrators did not comment on the issue.

ETA President Kathryn Castle said after the meeting that earning the ESL certificate requires six post-graduate courses at one of various universities and colleges in the area. The teacher would have to pay whatever tuition that college charges, but Castle said that typically would add up to abut $5,400, plus the cost of books, fees, registration and travel.

Castle was unsure how many of the affected teachers already have ESL certificates.

“No other school districts I know of have imposed this requirement,” Castle said.

“Good teaching can’t be boiled down to a checklist” of official certifications, Castle said in her comments to the board. She added that the requirement signals “the district is moving more toward a one-size-fits-all system.”

Katie Thomson, who said she has taught special education at Channing Elementary School in Elgin for 17 years, said she will be eligible to retire in 2016 and “I have outlasted many who have chosen to leave the school.”

“I’m familiar with the families and the neighborhood,” Thomson said. “No, I don’t have an ESL endorsement. But I’d like to think my experience at Channing has made me valuable to continue there.”

Kathy McKewen, a teacher at Washington Elementary in Elgin who said she has earned a National Board certification through extra study, echoed that sentiment.

“I’m nearing retirement, and I’m being asked to further burden my financial position by taking ESL classes I won’t be using,” she said.

Chris Whitney, who teaches at Lords Park Elementary in Elgin, said that “the ESL endorsement is a huge financial burden on the staff. Where is the research that shows having an ESL endorsement will close the (students’) achievement gap?”

Losing staff

Whitney said the stress and requirements of the restructuring already have caused her school to lose “three effective reading coaches,” while teachers who stayed behind add to their schedule by doing tutoring, reading nights, math nights and a chess club.

Josey Schambach, a teacher at Hillcrest Elementary in Elgin, said all teachers at Hillcrest already are “highly qualified” but are dealing with students from a problem socioeconomic background and that the school has too many children in many classes.

Jennifer Ostrowski, a teacher at Highland Elementary in Elgin, said Highland has seven teachers who lack the endorsement but have a total of 58 years experience. She said the 2016 deadline is not a “reasonable amount of time” and the district should help with the expense.

Even Navi Gonzalez, a dual-language teacher who spoke to the board in a heavy Spanish accent, said it seems unfair that teachers close to retirement should be burdened with the new requirement.

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