EDITORIAL — Thomas Jefferson won’t give up yet

Published 12:06 am Saturday, August 24, 2019

If success isn’t happening, it may be time to try something different.

That seems to be the attitude of the Port Arthur Independent School district when it comes to Thomas Jefferson Middle School, which received the district’s sole grade of “F” in the release of new A-F accountability ratings for 2019.

In fact, PAISD superintendent Mark Porterie has already put in place a new principal at Thomas Jefferson, one who has experience dealing with specific challenges the school faces.

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The new principal, Dr. Melissa Oliva, comes from an administrative position in bi-lingual, English as a Second Language and foreign language instruction in Beaumont. Oliva told The Port Arthur News in a Friday story that she believes the school suffers from the gaps in achievement between English-speaking students and those students who are still learning the language.

At Thomas Jefferson, this problem is not insignificant. More than 400 of the 1,072 students at the school are English learners. These students may be U.S. citizens, come from other non-English speaking countries or haven’t attended school for some time, or not at all.

These challenges are daunting, but failing to educate these students is not an option. As Porterie said, the school system is committed to producing educated students. “We cannot and would not exclude any child,” he said.

So Oliva and her administration at Thomas Jefferson are going to try something different.

TJ teachers are training to provide sheltered instruction to English-learners, paying attention to lesson delivery in their classes, integrating reading and writing in lessons, and making sure to deliver instruction in a clear, simple, comprehensible way.

“The framework for teaching students has everything to do with making content comprehensible,” Oliva said.

Hiring someone with a background in English as Second Language as Oliva is definitely a step in the right direction for a school like Thomas Jefferson. But the attitudes of the administration and the school district toward facing this problem are especially commendable.

Put simply, it’s hard to teach someone when that student doesn’t even understand the language. For PAISD and Thomas Jefferson, that’s not an excuse to leave these English-learning students without a proper education. They seem determined to teach everyone that passes through their door.

Thomas Jefferson received a failing grade, but rather than give up, they are taking the bad grade and using it as a motivation to do better.

Learning sometimes means making mistakes and trying new things. PAISD and Thomas Jefferson know this quite well and they’re making the best of it.