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Pleasantville BOE hears reports on ESL students, school safety

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High School, 801 Mill Road, Pleasantville

Pleasantville High School

PLEASANTVILLE — The school district has become more diverse in recent years, and a new report is underscoring the need for multilingual teachers.

A curriculum report presented to the Board of Education on Tuesday discussed the status of English-language learners in Pleasantville schools. The report was part of the three-year English-language learner program plan for 2021 to 2024.

The report found there were 710 English-language learners in the district and that 19% of students were in an ELL program.

An additional 737 students in the district were formerly in ELL programs, meaning a total of 38.7% of Pleasantville students speak English as a second language. Of the 710 students who are English-language learners, 297 are immigrants to the United States who have been in the country for three years or less.

While there were 708 students currently enrolled in bilingual program, per the report, the district employed only 12 bilingual teachers — making for a bilingual student-to-teacher ratio of 59-1. There were also just 17 teachers teaching ESL classes.

The number of bilingual and ESL services fell short of state goals based on the number of English-language learners in the district, according to the report.

Dawn Rice-Bivens, a resident speaking during the general public comment section Tuesday, asked that the district hire more human-resource workers. She said a stronger HR department outfitted with professionals and those who specialize in promoting equal-employment opportunity could help recruit more bilingual and ESL teachers. She also called for the district to better respond to the chronic absenteeism of students alluded to in the report.

Acting Superintendent Karin Farkas said the district was hiring more truancy officers, who she said meet with administration and child-study teams and go out to homes to address the issue.

Board President Jerome Page said later in the meeting that while he could not address specific personnel concerns, he would work to address Rice-Bivens’ concerns about HR staffing.

Students who speak English as a second language were identified by home-language surveys. Students who indicate they speak another language besides English at home are administered an English-language test and are then placed in an ELL program, if needed.

Pleasantville schools offer students several different language programs. The full-time bilingual program, in which there is instruction in both students’ first languages and English, is available for students from kindergarten to eighth grade. The presentation to the board Tuesday indicated the school is required to try to expand that program for students in all grades.

There is also a dual-language program in which both students whose first language is English and English-language learners are taught in staggered blocks. Per the presentation, one full week of instruction is given in English and another full week is given in Spanish, helping students learn about both languages.

Because there is not a full-time bilingual program past eighth grade, high school English-language learners are entered into high intensity ESL programs. They take two periods of ESL classes and are offered sheltered English instruction with teachers trained to help ESL students in courses offered by the New Jersey Department of Education and Stockton University.

Pleasantville students who are English-language learners are doing well on subject-based assessments. According to the report, they largely met the achievement standards for English language arts and mathematics. They fell short, however, of school-attendance goals and were beset by chronic absenteeism.

The board also reviewed a school-safety presentation, focusing on violence, vandalism, substance abuse and harassment, intimidation and bullying infractions. Reports about those subjects are directed to the state, said John Hannigan, the database coordinator for the district.

Hannigan said the district’s anti-bullying specialists, guidance counselors and substance-abuse coordinators are trained to review new laws and programs about student safety each summer. Staff, parents and students, meanwhile, are trained in how to identify when students are struggling with an issue that poses a risk to student safety. Hannigan said the training programs available to staff, parents and students have increased considerably in recent years.

“One of the things that I’m actually quite proud of, and I think we should all be proud of, is the training that is occurring during the day to our staff, to our students and to our parents on how to identify certain things,” Hannigan said.

Pleasantville parents have raised concerns about school safety at past board meetings, and questioned whether the district was doing enough to keep students safe. In response to parental concerns, the district and the city entered into an agreement to have two Class III officers from the Pleasantville Police Department stationed in schools.

During her report, Farkas said students had just attended “see something, say something” assemblies that focus on ensuring student safety. She said a local pastor and police officers, as well as staff, led the assemblies and that they have been well received.

Contact Chris Doyle

cdoyle@pressofac.com

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