83 lan­guages are spo­ken through­out dis­trict

The Buffalo News - - CITY & REGION -

Schools learning English as a new lan­guage has more than dou­bled to nearly 6,200, and now ac­count for nearly 1 in ev­ery 5 kids en­rolled in the city school sys­tem.

But im­mi­grant and refugee leaders are con­cerned there are too few bilin­gual teach­ers to ad­dress the poor aca­demic re­sults seen among many of these stu­dents.

West Dis­trict Board Mem­ber Jen­nifer Me­cozzi told those in at­ten­dance that the School Board is aware of these is­sues and is try­ing to ad­dress them.

“But what we all need to re­al­ize is this is a decade’s worth of mess,” Me­cozzi said.

State ed­u­ca­tion law, for ex­am­ple, re­quires dis­tricts to have a bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram if they have at least 20 stu­dents per grade who speak the same for­eign lan­guage, but there aren’t enough qual­i­fied teach­ers who speak the lan­guages. Eighty-three lan­guages, in all, are spo­ken through­out the dis­trict.

“You just don’t have the folks qual­i­fied to do that right now,” said Tim Har­ti­gan, an atlarge can­di­date who ad­dressed the au­di­ence in Thai dur­ing his in­tro­duc­tory re­marks. “Where are you go­ing to get them? You’re go­ing to grow them at home in the schools.”

Much of the fo­rum was spent dis­cussing nu­mer­ous con­cerns about out-of-school sus­pen­sions.

A re­cent re­port by the Ed­u­ca­tion Trust-New York showed Buf­falo sus­pends stu­dents at a higher rate than any of the large ur­ban dis­tricts in the state, while black stu­dents in Buf­falo are more than twice as likely to be sus­pended as their white class­mates.

“Im­ple­ment­ing pol­icy and be­ing con­sis­tent across the board helps tremen­dously,” said Jef­frey Con­rad, an at-large can­di­date.

Caro­lette Mead­ows, an­other at-large can­di­date, said the dis­trict shouldn’t han­dle sus­pen­sions with a cookie-cut­ter ap­proach and raised con­cerns about the dis­trict’s process for sus­pen­sion hear­ings and ap­peals.

East Dis­trict can­di­date Pa­tri­cia El­liott said she would elim­i­nate sus­pen­sions al­to­gether.

“There’s no ben­e­fit to putting a child out of school,” she said.

Jack Ka­vanaugh, an atlarge can­di­date, said restora­tive prac­tice isn’t as sim­ple as giv­ing teach­ers a day or two of pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment on how to im­ple­ment it in their class­rooms.

“To me,” Ka­vanaugh said, “so much of this is, how do we bring in ex­tra staff?”

For ex­am­ple, Larry Scott, a school psy­chol­o­gist run­ning for an at-large seat, said there’s one so­cial worker per 900 stu­dents in the dis­trict. He plans to ask the cur­rent School Board to hire an ad­di­tional 20 men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als next year to help ad­dress some of these is­sues in the schools.

Other can­di­dates who took part in the fo­rum in­cluded North Dis­trict Board Mem­ber Hope Jay; Park Dis­trict Board Mem­ber Lou Petrucci; Austin Harig; Des­mond Nalls; Ter­rance Heard; Ann Rivera and Kathy Evans Brown.

The 14 can­di­dates – two were missing – were crowded on stage and each answered at least one ques­tion from se­lected pan­elists or the au­di­ence be­fore be­ing given two minutes to make clos­ing re­marks.

Pas­tor James Giles, pres­i­dent of VOICE-Buf­falo, ac­knowl­edged after­ward that it’s dif­fi­cult for vot­ers to de­ter­mine which can­di­dates have what it takes to ad­dress these tough ed­u­ca­tional is­sues once they get around the board table with eight other mem­bers.

So, be­fore the close of the fo­rum, Giles asked the can­di­dates if he could say a prayer for them.

“You are go­ing to need it if the City of Buf­falo and Buf­falo Pub­lic Schools are go­ing to change in any dra­matic way,” Giles told them.

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