School district to add third ELL teacher

Monday, March 6, 2023

LE MARS — The Le Mars Community School District will add a third English Language Learner (ELL) instructor for the 2023-24 school year.

The LCS Board of Education gave its approval to Superintendent Dr. Steve Webner’s recommendation that a third teacher was needed at its Feb. 14 meeting.

“This is a program that continues to explode in terms of number of students enrolled,” Webner told the board. “As you can see, our community is changing as well.”

The focus of the ELL program is to teach students how to not only speak English but then to also start utilizing it in their education, he said.

“So we have spoken English, which research says takes about five years to really master, but then academic English, which takes about seven years. That’s a lot of time and a lot of man hours,” he continued.

According to Webner, in FY 2018 the district had 76 students in the ELL program.

In 2019, that jumped to 113, and at that point, the district hired a second teacher midway through the school yer since the load was getting too high.

“Since 2019, we’re now at 200 students and we still have two ELL teachers,” he said.

Students are spread among every single building in the district, which means the teachers have an extremely difficult time getting to those buildings and providing the services needed.

LCS Curriculum Director Rachel Leavitt collected data on the program.

In going over the data with teachers and building administrators, Webner said this is an area which will not be losing students any time soon.

The program needs more teachers right now, and will need more in the future, he added.

“At this point in time, it is my recommendation that the board consider approving one additional ELL teacher for the district,” he said. That will bring the total to three full-time instructors.

While he indicated he could recommend more, he noted the board had just added some other positions and he felt financially it would be in the district’s best interest to just go with one ELL teacher at this time.

Leavitt explained to the board students in the program are scored between 1 and 5, based on formative assessments.

A score of 1 is a student just learning to speak English, meaning the time spent by the teacher with the student is significant.

“But if the district has a lot of 3’s and 4’s, those kids are progressing, so the teacher’s time spent with those students is far less,” Leavitt explained. “It truly does depend on where they are at on that scale, but that is a difficult decision to determine.”

Board member Kyle Plathe asked if it is hard to find ELL teachers.

“We will find out,” Webner said. “The teacher shortage is hitting Le Mars. We are not getting the applications like we used to.”

Board member Makenzie Lang asked if there were other programs in the community that help with English Language Learners.

Webner indicated Western Iowa Tech used to but he did not know if they still do in the community.

Webner pointed out a program like ELL is not just good for students in school, but it makes them better citizens and helps them communicate better.

“It also helps them learn better. A lot of the kids are going to stick around. We need to help them so they can become the best citizens for Le Mars,” Webner said. “It’s a win-win, not just for the students, but for the school district and community as well.”

Leavitt later provided a breakdown of students receiving ELL instruction.

Currently there are 51 students at the high school; 43 in the middle school; 51 at Clark Elementary; 20 at Franklin Elementary and 35 at Kluckhohn Elementary.

“These are rough estimates and could change tomorrow,” she noted.

Spanish, Portuguese, Lingala, Dinka, Amharic, Tigrinya, French, Pohnpeian, Chuukese, Vietnamese, Japanese are a few of the dozen languages which are spoken by students at this time.

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