A plan to bring eight bilingual teachers to Conrad Fischer School in Elmhurst has some parents clamoring for the return of some non-bilingual teachers who recently were transferred from the school as it prepares for about half of its enrollment to be Spanish speaking next year.
Four teachers have been transferred from the school where some classrooms, for the first time, will have all Spanish speaking students.
The school is anticipating next school year having 251 students whose parents indicated that a language other than English is spoken at home. The large majority -- 200 of them -- speak Spanish. The school's total enrollment is 478.
Parents also were notified this week that Fischer, which serves kindergarten through fifth grade, has not made adequate yearly progress for the second consecutive year, a bar established under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. It means parents can opt starting in August to send their children to Jefferson Elementary School which is the district's only school to achieve adequate yearly progress this year.
Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 is bringing the equivalent of 8.5 bilingual teachers to Fischer. The district is required by law to provide instruction in the students' first language whenever it has 20 or more students in a learning center speaking the same language other than English.
At a meeting held Tuesday by school board members and staff, the gymnasium at Fischer was packed with parents and residents who are upset about the loss of the transferred teachers, whom they characterized as experienced and well-liked.
"We'll be left with only six teachers who've been in their curriculums for three years now that those teachers have been ripped from us," said resident Alice Rudenga.
Superintendent David Pruneau said the teacher changes are required because the district must meet federal requirements.
"We need to design programs that meet the needs of students. That's what this is about," he said.
Parents also questioned whether English Language Learner instruction – which is meant to be transitional – is the best way for children to learn English and other content.
A parent, Sylwia Nazar, who immigrated from Poland in 1997, said she thinks children will learn English more quickly if they are immersed in it.
"If I was able to speak Polish at school and Polish at work, I'd never have learned English," she said.
Teacher Pat Moll, who's been at Fischer for 13 years, said it's a bad idea to separate children.
"Segregated classrooms were a bad idea 100 years ago and they are still a bad idea," she said. "Children learn from each other. The changes that are being implemented are tearing apart our school."
School officials disagree that children learn English quicker when they are immersed in it. Statistics show the district's non-English-speaking students are falling behind, district officials said.
"What we worry about is moving too fast," said ELL coordinator Karen Mulattieri. "You see when they hit middle school and high school they don't have the expertise to understand technical material."
She said studies have shown it takes five to seven years for a student to acquire English to a level where they can learn in it.
Officials showed graphs indicating the gap between the performance of ELL students and others.
One showed that only about 30 percent of ELL students met or exceeded the Illinois State Achievement test for reading in 2012; while more than 70 percent of non-ELL students did.
Another showed that only 3.2 percent of transitioned ELL students pursue AP/Honors courses in English at York High School, compared to 32.5 percent on all students. The percent taking math is 4.3 percent compared to 44.4 percent of all students.