Lake Placid school board weighs solutions to language program staffing dilemma

LAKE PLACID — The Lake Placid Central School District Board of Education heard a status update on the district’s growing population of English Language Learners and its fledgling, understaffed English as a New Language Program on Jan. 23.

ELLs are students who are currently learning English, while former ELL is a designation given to students who have tested out of ELL status but are still entitled to language support and classroom accommodations.

According to LPCSD Director of Pupil Personnel Services Sarah Allen, as of last week, LPCSD had 18 ELLs and five former ELLs, representing a total 4% of the student body. Fifty-six percent are at the middle/high school, 33% are at the elementary school and 11% are in preschool. LPCSD Superintendent Timothy Seymour described this number as a “precipitous increase” from the amount of ELLs the district had a few years ago. The district’s ELLs are mostly native Spanish-speakers, but Allen said that there are also a few who speak Bosnian or Russian.

“This is a building, growing edge for our district,” said Allen. “I’ve talked to other districts in our area informally … (and) asked if other schools were seeing English Language Learners, if that was happening in other schools, and they were not. So this is kind of unique to us right now.”

LPCSD’s English as a New Language Program is currently unable to provide its students with the minimum required amount of instruction with an English as a Second Language teacher. There are two staff members who work in the program, with ESL Instructor Caroline Hambley splitting her time between the middle-high school and the elementary school.

When a new ELL student arrives in the district, the school will use a few different resources — a home language questionnaire, individual interviews and a standardized test — to determine the student’s level of English mastery. There are several levels a student can be assigned: entering, emerging, transitioning, expanding or commanding. “Commanding” means testing out of the ELL program.

Based on their grade level and mastery level, the state mandates different minimum instruction requirements. An “entering” student in kindergarten through eighth grade must have 360 minutes of English as a New Language instruction per week, while an “entering” student in ninth through 12th grade must have 540 minutes per week.

According to data Allen presented at the meeting, across all grade levels, LPCSD currently only meets these requirements with its 12th grade ELL.

School board president Dan Cash asked Allen what the board should try to incorporate into its next budget to help the program meet state requirements. Allen said each school should have a full-time ESL teacher; traveling between schools has made it difficult for a single instructor to hit the required amount of instruction with 18 students and provide support to an additional five.

The school district’s deadline to adopt a budget for the 2024-25 school year is April 22.

The request for the board to fund a new teaching position comes as the board is bracing for a $617,000 hit to its state aid, a result of policy changes attached to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget plan. The district received a total of $3.5 million in state aid to support its $21.7 million 2023-24 budget.

Seymour said the state’s mandates and possible school aid cuts are in conflict with one another, taking a toll on the district.

“You’re presenting about 23 ELL students and the encumbrance on the district to provide those needs mandated by the state. That costs,” he said. “Although the (total student) population has dissipated in our district, the needs — and not just language, but with social work and the myriad COVID learning loss aspects — we are addressing those with all fidelity. But I hold out hope … the legislature won’t tolerate this.”

Allen also requested ELL-focused professional development for general education staff.

“All of these students are in classrooms with our general education teachers, who, this is new to them, too,” she said. “They are wearing microphones to help translate, they’re using technology, they’re talking with Caroline (Hambley, ESL teacher), they’re talking with Kandisse (Kis, ESL teaching assistant). So I think that we are giving the students a lot, it’s just that when we look at the minutes, there are some gaps there.”

Board member Jon Hopkinson asked Allen if translation has been an issue. Allen said that, while the ability to translate is a plus, it is not a required skill for an ESL instructor to have. She added that most ELL students who move to the district stay in the district and develop strong ties to the community that help them learn the language faster.

“It’s a great addition to our district,” she said. “These families have been lovely to work with and the students are lovely and they grow so fast.”


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