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Teachers Recruited From Vancouver Find Welcome Short-Lived

Times Staff Writer

Wooed by recruiters from San Diego city schools, Kenneth Tang moved to San Diego from Canada with his wife and three children nine months ago. Now he’s fighting to keep the job that school officials persuaded him to take.

School officials say Tang, a native of Burma who could help the district meet its affirmative action goals, doesn’t communicate well enough with students and parents. But Tang said his English has improved since he moved to San Diego, and he is appealing his dismissal.

Tang is one of six minority teachers from Vancouver recruited by the San Diego school system in 1985 to teach math and science. Three of the six have since resigned because of “dissatisfaction with assignments” and another will leave for personal reasons, according to George Flanigan, certificated personnel director.

“Basically, we heard Canada had quite a supply of teachers,” Flanigan said. “We had affirmative action objectives, too.”

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But Tang says the school district misled him, and teachers association leaders contend that, with only one of the six Canadian recruits returning for a second year, district recruiting trips like the one to Vancouver are a waste.

“This district has 1,900 teachers on the substitute rolls,” said John Felicitas, executive director of the San Diego Teachers Assn. “I would think some of them are qualified. I’m a little bit at a loss to explain why they are not recruiting more locally.”

Personnel officials say finding minority and science teachers locally is difficult.

“The board has affirmative action objectives, and there is just no way to achieve those objectives, no matter how much effort we concentrate on local teachers,” Flanigan said. “It isn’t possible to satisfy our needs in bilingual education and in natural sciences. We’re certainly not overlooking anyone. To say we have overlooked local sources is categorically untrue.”

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He said about 80% of new hires for next year are local.

Tang, formerly a part-time teacher at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and a substitute high school teacher, moved to San Diego in September with his family.

But an internal evaluation in March said Tang’s spoken English required improvement, and school officials have decided not to renew Tang’s contract and the H-1 temporary visa that allows him to teach here. The visa runs out next week.

Tang and the teachers union have filed for arbitration over the evaluation.

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“I was under the impression that it would be a permanent job because of the teachers shortage,” Tang said. “They never mentioned that it would be temporary.”

It was school officials, Tang said, who persuaded him to set up for a long-term stay in San Diego. “I was thinking about moving to San Diego by myself, but they told me I should move my family here because of the good environment and the good elementary schools for my children and that there was no need to hesitate.”

When he showed up at school in September, Tang said, his assignment was unclear.

“Nothing was ready,” Tang said. “No assignment, no written contract, no school.”

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A school official said processing the H-1 visa and translating Tang’s foreign credentials into a salary level may have caused delays.

After parents and students complained they could not understand him, Tang agreed to a transfer from his first assignment at Point Loma High School to Garfield Independent Learning Center. “When I went to Garfield, everything went smoothly and the personnel department told me the principal was happy with me,” Tang said.

In May, Tang was notified that he still did not meet language standards.

Officials in the teachers association contend Tang’s speaking skills are sound. “I talk to him and I can understand him,” said Felicitas. “He has the ability and he has the skills. He’s a top-notch teacher.”

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Tang has a master’s degree in mathematics from Simon Fraser and an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Taiwan University. He is a native of Burma and is a Canadian citizen. Chinese is his native tongue.

Susan Izu, a personnel administrator who interviewed Tang before he was hired, said Tang’s English was a concern. “There were concerns about whether he would be an effective teacher in terms of his skills in English,” Izu said. “We didn’t think the problem was insurmountable.” She said a school principal who interviewed Tang also believed his English was acceptable.

Felicitas said the district shouldn’t have hired Tang if there were concerns about his language abilities.

“My response is: You bring him down here, he brings his family and now you want to fire him?” Felicitas said. “I think it’s kind of dirty pool.

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“Our biggest point is that if you are going to recruit teachers, and you have concerns, why offer a contract?”

Izu said Tang’s contract was temporary and that responsibility for improving his English was his. “Just because a school district offers a contract is no assurance that a teacher will be 100% effective,” Izu said. “Apparently, the way he was received in the schools indicates communication is a problem.”

Regardless of the outcome of the arbitration, Tang must pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test to continue teaching here. He has passed the math and reading sections, but failed the writing requirement three times. He will take the skills test again Saturday.

Tang said he wants to continue to teach here. “I like the San Diego schools very much, except for the disputes.”

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