Magnolia School District is the latest in Orange County to receive a bilingual education waiver from the state. Such a waiver allows districts with students whose English-speaking skills are limited to employ teachers who do not speak a second language, provided there are bilingual instructional assistants in classrooms. Supt. Paul S. Mercier said he has been sharing with officials of other districts Magnolia’s techniques for teaching students with limited English skills. Mercier, 52, came to the district five years ago. Before that, he was an assistant superintendent in the Ocean View School District in Huntington Beach. He spoke with Times correspondent Jennifer Leuer about his district’s strategy.
Q: Why did the district apply for a waiver?
A: When I got here, they had a sink-or-swim approach, and the kids were succeeding in that total English immersion program. The state came in and said we were out of compliance, so we started making some changes, like buying more bilingual instructional materials. But our teachers felt it was wrong that they were being forced to be bilingual. The teachers pulled together and saw that we were already doing a lot of what the state wanted, which was just good teaching, and it was working without the teachers being bilingual. . . . The key for us was that every teacher has to be trained to work with second-language learners, unlike other districts.
Q: How has the waiver changed instruction in the classroom?
A: In terms of saying we focus on transitioning kids to English, that hasn’t changed. The waiver really doesn’t change much because it enables us to do what we were doing before. It’s caused us to supply more resource materials for second-language learners. We have the bilingual teaching assistants do a lot of preview-review of lessons with students, and the teachers use a variety of charts, visuals and mapping. Those are materials that English- and Spanish-speaking students both benefit from. We also have a number of teachers who are learning a second language because they want to. When you talk to our Hispanic parents, they love what we’re doing because they see the success of the kids being able to speak English and Spanish.
Q: How are you measuring the success of your program?
A: We got a two-year waiver, and we’re in the process right now of capturing student improvement so we can go back and show the state board the success of the program. We’re tracking students’ progress a couple of ways. We pretested them at the beginning of the year with a standardized test, and we’ll test them again at the end of the year. Additionally, teachers keep their own records.