Schools Search For Spanish-Speaking Teachers

Monday, September 3rd 2007, 2:50 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- With explosive growth in the number of Hispanic students in public schools in Oklahoma, school districts are searching for more bilingual teachers and classroom assistants. In a 10-year period from 1996 to 2006, the population of students in pre-kindergarten through the 12th grade in public Oklahoma schools went up 2.8%, while the Hispanic portion of that population jumped 135.5%, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics.

And to teach students the English language, school districts need a growing number of professionals who speak Spanish.

The problem is, there aren't enough Oklahomans graduating from the public universities to fill those spots.

Some school districts are turning to other countries for help.

In a few weeks, representatives from Tulsa Public Schools will fly to Puerto Rico and offer contracts on-the-spot to December graduates of the University of Puerto Rico. In March, they'll go back to lure some of the May graduates, said John Harris, director of human resources for the district.

"It's kind of like the NFL. If you've got a starter player, you try to get them in their junior year," Harris said. "You snooze, you lose."

The district has offered about 15 contracts to Puerto Ricans in the past two years, he said.

Tulsa also recruits teachers from 33 universities in five states, he said, but there are a limited number of Spanish-speaking education majors and a lot of competition for them.

The Oklahoma City school district hasn't made the offshore trip yet. But school board member Wilfredo Santos Rivera, the District 7 representative and a native of Puerto Rico, said he suggested the idea to some colleagues a while back.

"Puerto Ricans are already citizens, so you get that off the table right there, so you don't have to do a lot of paperwork. And their universities are bilingual, so it's a win-win situation.

"This is going to be a long-term need, so we should be developing relationships with the Puerto Rican universities. ... If we were willing to make that effort, I think it would pay off."

State Superintendent Sandy Garrett said incentives could help. She said she is exploring an idea to create a grant that would encourage teachers to become bilingual, much the way doctors receive incentives like loan forgiveness for practicing in rural areas.