Parents and advocates ask for changes to ESOL programs in Montgomery County Public Schools

Parents and advocates ask for changes to ESOL programs in Montgomery County Public Schools. (ABC7 photo)

Learning English is a top priority for a growing population of students in Montgomery County. But now, the school district's ESOL- "English for Speakers of Other Languages" - division is being restructured.

Monday night, some parents showed up at a Board of Education meeting to protest the change. Many demanded more resources for the district's ESOL programs.

The meeting was delayed, due to the large crowd filling the board room. Once many moved into an overflow room across the hall, board members heard from parents and community advocates who asked for systemic changes to help Montgomery County Public School's (MCPS) ESOL students.

Parent Nora Morales said, "Only 25 percent of ESOL Kindergarten students are proficient."

MCPS expects 2,500 new students next school year. Many of them will be English language learners. According to county records, between 2009 and 2015, the number of ESOL students in MCPS jumped 32 percent.

Part of the county's proposed fiscal year 2017 budget, the ESOL division will be decentralized with staff spread to offices across the county.

Diego Uriburu is the executive director of Identity, Inc. and co-chair of the Montgomery County Latino Advocacy Coalition.

"They say, 'We should not have one office in charge of the ESOL population, but ESOL should be integrated into all aspects of MCPS.' That's fine, but we want to be sure that's funded and that there's accountability within that move," he said.

Several teachers attended the board meeting. In the hallway outside, they said they need more help with the fast-growing population of ESOL students who speak Spanish, French, Chinese, Vietnamese or other languages.

ESOL resource teacher Kristin Ruopp said, "We welcome them, but for a teacher teaching a class of 16 to 18, a new student every day means your [class of] 16 to 18 [students] becomes 25 very, very quickly."

METS instructional specialist Margarita Bohorquez said, "We're facing a lack of resources, technology and supports that the teachers need to support these students."

In response, the district's chief academic officer Maria Navarro said many ESOL students arrive in January, February, March and even as late as April and May.

"It's difficult to get ESOL-certified staff, first," Navarro said. "And then, to get them in the middle of the [school] year to fill these positions is something truly an issue and it's affects our students and we want to get much better at doing that."

Navarro said MCPS is adding five new parent community coordinator positions and hiring 36 additional full time employees for the ESOL program next year.

But with the current rate of growth, many advocates at the board meeting said that was not enough.

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