Portland School Board member Martín González made a bold proposal to reconstitute Portland Public Schools' long-troubled department for teaching English
to immigrant and refugee students.
The remarks from González came during a heated discussion of the district's chronic problems in that department, an issue recently highlighted in a board-requested audit
[PDF] that found PPS offered foreign-born students poor English instruction and inadequate access to core academic subjects.
And the remarks followed the introduction of a new resolution to make improving the department an urgent priority for the district, which has been out of compliance with federal and state rules regarding English-language learners for 13 of the past 17 years. Last year, the Oregon Department of Education temporarily withheld more than $600,000 in federal funds from PPS as a result.
González also said the ELL department had too many administrators and that the school district needed to begin immediately a search for a new ELL director. The current director, Diana Fernandez, sat in the audience for the meeting. Last spring, board members recommended her contract not be renewed. Around that time, Fernandez filed a discrimination complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries, as the Portland Tribune
"Business as usual," González says, "is not acceptable."
Every board member seemed to agree with that. They voted 7-0 to approve the new resolution for making the ELL department a higher district priority. But there was no indication from other board members whether they would support reconstituting the ELL department, an action that asks employees to resign and then reapply for their old jobs. Reconstitution at Jefferson High School in 1998 is now widely seen as a failure; the best teachers left angry and the bitterness lingered for many years.