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Forum airs outlook for reforms to aid limited-English students

About 20 people showed up Monday at Hispanics United of Buffalo on the city's West Side to learn what reforms might be in the works for the city's low-performing public schools where a significant percentage of the students have limited proficiency in English.

Casimiro Rodriguez, an organizer of the forum, said he had heard from numerous parents about the future of state-designated persistently low achieving schools, particularly those with a significant enrollment of English language learners.

"A lot has been said in the last several weeks regarding the current crisis in the Buffalo Public School system, and nothing is being said about the population of English language learners, [who] account for 3,500 students, pretty much 10 percent of the school [district] population. The graduation rate of this population is 36 percent," Rodriguez said.

School Board President Ralph R. Hernandez and Christopher L. Jacobs, an at-large board member, attended the forum.

Hernandez said a variety of programs deal with the needs of limited English speakers.

"The problem is that we don't have continuity [or] uniformity across the district with regard to these programs," Hernandez said.

Jacobs questioned the fairness of applying the same performance standards to schools with large native English-speaking populations and those with a large number of refugee students who might not have any previous formal education.

School 45 "has done incredible things in a short amount of time," Jacobs said. "We don't want to [offer] excuses, but we need state oversight that understands the challenges and uniqueness of an urban population."

Kelly Navarro, a member of Hispanics United's board of directors, criticized the district for failing to have a uniform plan to meet the needs of Spanish-speaking students, who make up far more than half of its English language learners.

"For Spanish [speaking student], in this day and age, in 2011, to say that those students, based on the language barrier, [who] are not making it, is unacceptable," Navarro said.


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