CONCORD -- If all goes according to plan, starting next school year Mt. Diablo teachers will have more tools to educate students who do not speak fluent English, and those students will have a better shot at academic success.

"I am looking forward to next fall," said trustee Lynne Dennler, of the draft Master Plan for Services to English Learners presented to the Mt. Diablo school board last week. "It will be just revolutionary for the teachers because they've been asked to do something they haven't been able to do. And now they'll be able to do it."

Dennler, who is a retired elementary teacher in the district, said she had no idea in her past classes how to best educate students who were learning English.

"So," she said, "I would go to trainings and make up things."

Now, the district has a plan to coach teachers in English language development. Teachers will be required to provide 30 minutes a day of this instruction to English learners.

The plan also calls for expanding bilingual classes to fifth grade, offering dual-immersion classes that would help English speaking students learn another language and vice versa, and offering biliteracy certificates to students who master a second language.

A committee of district staff, parents and community members drew up the plan after a consultant reported last year that English learners were not progressing at grade level. The district will phase in the plan over three years.


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It will start in the fall with expanded bilingual programs at five elementary schools with high percentages of English learners, even before the final plan is adopted by the board. That should happen by November or December, and it will be fully implemented by 2014-15 school year. said Jeanne Duarte-Armas, director of English learner services.

"United Latino Voice is working with us so parents understand their rights," she said. "Parents have been notified, but they haven't been informed. There's a real difference."

Maria Panameno-Bailey, a representative of the United Latino Voice coalition in Contra Costa County, criticized Superintendent Steven Lawrence for watering down language in the draft plan, which originally called for "primary language and primary literacy support as needed."

"You changed 'as needed' to 'when available,' " she said. "This makes me very nervous. I believe this is a loophole. The (plan) language should not be watered down, because these are services that are long overdue. Parents have been quiet up to now, but the United Latino organization fully intends to inform parents of their rights and responsibilities."

A school district may not deny parents' requests that their children be instructed in their primary languages, Panameno-Bailey said. But Lawrence said the district can't afford instruction in every language spoken by district students, since there are so many.

"When I look at Spanish, obviously, that will be available," he said. "But at some of our schools, we don't necessarily have a critical mass."

Lawrence said he would discuss the concerns with staff before bringing the plan back to the board for approval.

At Meadow Homes Elementary in the Monument Corridor of Concord, which has a high percentage of Spanish-speaking Latino students, 21 out of 44 K-3 classes are bilingual, said Principal Mary-Louise Newling.

This helps students learn academic concepts, while also building up their English language skills.

The district stops bilingual classes after third grade. Extending them to fifth grade or beyond will help students succeed, said third-grade teacher Theresa Mejia.

"It's such a huge benefit to be bilingual," she said. "So, if they're able to be proficient in both languages, it's just setting them up for good things in life."

MT. Diablo DRAFT English learner master plan

Phase 1: fall 2012
Increase parent outreach.
Continue meetings with parents and District English Learner Advisory Council to refine plan.
Implement teacher coaching and pilot centralized English language testing.
Coordinate extended primary language and bilingual/biliteracy programs in five elementary schools.
Implement 30 minutes of English language development daily for English learners.
End of semester: Present final plan for board adoption in November or December.

Phase 2: 2013-14
Expand centralized English language testing.
Implement programs in all schools, including dual-language immersion in some.
Give board a presentation and annual evaluation.

Phase 3: 2014-14
Fully implement plan.
Give annual board a presentation on progress.
More information is available by calling 925-682-8000 ext. 4026 or by visiting http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us. Click on April 23 and select item 14.2.
For additional details, read the On Assignment blog at www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.