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Advocates press city for plan to assist English learners
Officials address meeting at Tweed Courthouse in Manhattan
Staten Island Advance
Friday, June 06, 2003


Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein has rolled out ambitious plans for classroom instruction, overhauled special education protocols and
given rise to a new administrative paradigm.

Now a group that makes up more than 10 percent of city students is demanding to know why they have been left behind.

Children who speak a language other than English are still waiting to hear how the redesign will affect them.

Advocacy organizations gathered at Tweed Courthouse in Manhattan yesterday to ask, simply: "Que pasa?"

"Too little time remains before our ELL (English Language Learner) students will be back in their classes for the new school year," said Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, speaking to community leaders, advocates and parents representing a rainbow of languages.

In January, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he would have a plan in hand for the city's 144,000 English Language Learners within 60 days. But the Department of Education has yet to offer even a peek.

Currently, students have several options for boosting their language skills.

In bilingual classes, kids speak English, but read and write in their native language for a few years until they're ready to switch over. ESL (English as a Second Language) programs provide language support to kids in regular classrooms.

What will change in the classroom or at the administrative level remains a mystery, said Shelly Rappaport, a policy analyst for the Hispanic Federation.

"There hasn't been any discussion back and forth," she said, adding that representatives from roughly 30 organizations met with Klein on the topic last week. "It's, 'Tell us what you think, but we'll do what we want.'"

School officials said the chancellor is taking his time with a very complex issue.

"We are moving forward to implement an effective ELL program that will enable our children to learn vital educational skills and we will be discussing the details of our plan shortly," said Department of Education spokesman Kevin Ortiz.

Meanwhile, the school year is nearly over and administrators have begun to plan for September.

On Staten Island, that means making sure services will be available for the 1,750 English language learners in grades kindergarten through 8, and the hundreds more in high school.

"We hear talk from time to time about how models are changing in the city and across the country, but I've received no new direction on how to implement bilingual programs at the school," said Leonard Mandelbaum, principal of PS 16.

The Tompkinsville school serves students whose families speak 35 different languages. There are five Spanish-English bilingual classes in the younger grades, and extensive ESL services.

He is already looking ahead to next year, when he anticipates adding another bilingual class, Mandelbaum said.

"As we start to plan it would be a good time to receive direction," he said. "We'll plan based on the status quo."

Deborah Young is a news reporter for the Advance. She may be reached at young@siadvance.com.