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PNGISD embarks on bilingual program

GROVES — Port Neches-Groves Independent School District has taken its first steps in initiating a bilingual program with the hiring of a certified bilingual teacher for prekindergarten.

Earlier this week, board members approved the hiring of Adela Hochstrasser for the 2017-2018 school year. She will likely be assigned to the West Groves Education Center where the district’s prekindergarten program is housed.

Trustees mulled the idea of offering a one-time signing bonus for certified bilingual teachers but enough qualified applicants came forward so the bonus was not needed.

State law requires districts that have at least 22 students of one language other than English in one grade level to implement a bilingual program.

This is the first year the district has qualified to add the program.

Superintendent Rodney Cavness and Assistant Superintendent Mike Gonzales recently visited a job fair at the University of Houston where upwards of 600 graduates were on hand.

Most of the group were certified for early childhood through sixth grades, general education and only a handful were certified bilingual, Cavness said.

“About 75 percent of the students were Hispanic and we talked to the graduates who said they speak Spanish at home and asked, but aren’t you bilingual certified. Every one of them said they thought the test would be too hard to pass,” Cavness said.

Assistant superintendent Marc Keith said the test covers both speaking and writing.

One reason the district mulled the idea of offering a signing bonus was because district officials had initially thought they would have problems attracting qualified candidates.

“People don’t associate PNG with a bilingual program,” Gonzales said. “And some don’t think PNG would ever have a bilingual program. After we got the word out, we got some calls and now they’re looking.”

Speaking the language is not enough to be able to tackle the job. Gonzales, who speaks Spanish, is not bilingual certified, he said.

Certified bilingual teachers will now be phased in, beginning with the new PK hire. The next step will be adding a kindergarten teacher, then first, and so on until the fifth grade.

The idea of offering a signing bonus may be off the table at this point but will likely be revisited in the future as harder to find teachers are sought.

The state is seeing an influx of non-English speaking persons and PNGISD is no different.

In 2014-2015 there were 172 English as a second language students, in 2015-2016 there were 199 and this school year there are 247. These are just the ones in the ESL services program. There are also students who have moved through the ESL program and are being monitored.