Standing proudly, speech clutched in hand, with an encouraging father at her side, the eight-year-old lowered the microphone as far as it would go and began. “Hi. My name is Valeria Valencia. I want a real teacher because we are not learning.”
For the first five weeks of the school year, 24 third grade students in Lincoln Elementary School’s Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE) classroom went without a permanent teacher.
At last Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting, a team of students, parents, and teachers of Lincoln Elementary followed Valeria’s lead and appealed to Board Members. “I’m here to demand a bilingual teacher for the third grade,” said Raul Valencia, Valeria’s father. “I’m here to demand a good teacher from you guys, or at least to let my daughter transfer to another school,” he added.
Last school year, 290 out of 463 Lincoln Elementary School students were identified as English Language Learner (ELL) students, with Spanish as their primary language.
At the beginning of this year, instead of securing a permanent bilingual teacher, the district employed a series of substitutes, none of them equipped to teach the class.
Elora Henderson, a third-year Special Education teacher at Lincoln Elementary, stepped in to help the substitutes teach the bilingual class. The substitutes were not given a curriculum to follow or a lesson plan.
“[The substitute is] not their permanent teacher, he’s a non-bilingual substitute trying his hardest to teach a transitional bilingual education class,” said Henderson at last Wednesday’s meeting. “Thank goodness for this sub for sticking around doing his best to plan a class he did not sign up to be the teacher for and coming to school everyday to be there for them. Thank goodness for him.”
Regarding the five-week delay in hiring a permanent teacher, Marcus E. Walton, Director of West Contra Costa Unified School District’s Communications Office said, “Our Superintendent, our Human Resources Staff, and our Board Members have all said that it is not acceptable, it was not acceptable, and in the future we need to make sure to provide teachers who have the skillset and the credentials to teach our students in that classroom and all of our classrooms.”
According to Walton, the district had been searching for a replacement teacher all summer long, but potential hires turned down the position. The district cited last year’s decision from the Board to further decrease classroom sizes in elementary schools as a primary reason for the delay in hiring. Although student population did not decline, with fewer students in each classroom, the district found itself in a shortage of teachers, and ended up having to relocate and hire over 200 new and old elementary school teachers this summer.
The community’s presence caught the attention of the Board of Education at last Wednesday’s meeting: this week, a permanent bilingual teacher was hired to teach the third-grade class – exactly five weeks since the school year began and five days after the School Board meeting.
“If the parents are incredibly vocal about their needs they are able to enact change in a way that we as teachers (or principals and administrators) really cannot,” said Ms. Henderson, one of the teachers who spoke at last Wednesday’s meeting, following the employment of the permanent teacher.
At the Board Meeting, Ms. Henderson pleaded with the Board Members, “Please think about why you’re here in this position and think about who you’re here to serve. Don’t forget the about kids.”
Standing on his tippy-toes, hands trembling, Cruz Leon, a third-grade student in Lincoln’s TBE class, reminded the Board Members why he was there, “I want to learn how to read faster and I want to learn more about Pablo Picasso, Frieda Kahlo, and President Lincoln.”