Board raises doubts about ELL staffing

Published: 9/15/2021 5:37:53 PM

The Manchester school district is in the process of overhauling their plans for students learning English.

On Tuesday, the Manchester school board heard about new steps to place more students learning English in regular classes with native English speakers. The district now merges these students to mainstream education soon after their arrival, to avoid making them feel segregated.

With 1,660 children enrolled, the district’s chief equity officer Tina Philibotte said Manchester schools have the most English Language Learners (ELLs) in NH.

The new approach places ELL students in the same core subjects as native English speakers to promote the socialization of those ELL students. The goal of the model is to make them feel welcome and capable of taking any future classes to advance their knowledge, including Advanced Placement classes.

Nicole Ponti, executive director of English learner instruction, said the idea is to teach language through class content, compared to less inclusive programs, in which ELL students are taught in separate settings for extended periods. “As soon as we can do that gradual release, we will be (as) inclusive as possible, that is the expectation,” Ponti said.

Philibotte said this program could serve as a model to other districts.

But Major Joyce Craig and some members of the board were worried about the plan’s logistics. Critics noted there are only four ELL monitoring teachers for every 140 kids.

Karen Soule, a representative of Ward 3, questioned the model. Soule said the ratio of teachers to students is low and students may not get needed support.

Jim O’Connell, another representative, raised questions about efforts to achieve higher graduation rates for ELL students. He worried about kids losing a year of learning while these adjustments and new hires are made.

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