Virginia Jama is uniquely qualified to comment on changes
in the ESL/bilingual program at New York City Schools. She was
until recently the ESL Coordinator in New York Public Schools,
District 7, the Bronx. Readers are also invited to check the
Achievement Interview with Virginia Jama from our
May, 2002, edition. ESL MiniConference Online is grateful to
her for this insider's update on controversial changes in
the NYC school system's approach to educating English language
How can an ESL/bilingual program succeed after all the local school districts have been shut down and all the ESL/bilingual coordinators sent packing?
We are in a funny situation in this city of over one million public school students, 14% of whom are English language learners (ELLs.) The mayor took over the school system a year ago, hired a high-profile lawyer to be the chancellor and rearranged the whole hierarchy. ESL teaching is still a shortage area and, out in the field, whole schools have been paralyzed because their ESL teacher went on child care leave or took another job. Some of the fired coordinators were not rehired. Some of the district people went to central headquarters and the central people got jobs at new regions.
To top that off, state funding for ELLs went directly to schools and now the school principals have to show they are spending it for the good of ELLs. Yes, the kids are still there, speak 140 different native languages, and want to learn English.
The chancellor, Joel Klein, has proposed an alignment of all instructional programs, promised to set up an ELL Academy to train teachers, and said he'd implement a definite language allocation policy to move students from their native language to English within three years. A new Head of Programs, Maria Santos, brings a vision of a unified system with a commitment to ELLs' equity and equality. Ms. Santos hired at least 50 instructional specialists for the ELL program. I am one of them.
I have concluded that in this educational environment there's no use waiting for directives from above. It will be up to us, the ESL professionals, to make the new program in New York City a reality.
Report by Virginia Jama, Staten Island, NEW YORK
2003 ESL MiniConference Online