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Should Our Principals Be Bilingual?

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PHILIP SALDIVAR

Principal, San Fernando High School

Depending on the demographics of the community, a bilingual principal would enhance the communication in the neighborhood. If there’s a parent meeting about instructional or operational issues and the parents are at a school that is predominantly Korean, Chinese, Spanish or Armenian, it would help to have the parents speak to and be responded to in their own language.

I worked with an African American teacher and he spoke Chinese, but I didn’t know it. I needed a Chinese translator once, and when he spoke up, my mouth dropped. The family focused on him and it made an impact. This illustrates how [bilingualism] made our communication so much stronger.

I was a principal in South-Central and East L.A., and the populations were Spanish-speaking. When I dealt with any aspect of our school setting, if I was able to get the information out in their language, the parents were more with me. It’s very, very productive.

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CECILIA COSTAS

Principal, Maclay Middle School, Pacoima

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I think it would be optimal if all of us were bilingual. But a lot of a principal’s success has to do with people skills, not language skills. It’s important that I communicate with the parents, but I’ve been in schools where a variety of languages were spoken. It’s important to have people around me who can communicate appropriately with everyone from the community.

I have used my Spanish as well as I can, but I can’t say that it’s my survival. My survival is my ability to be a part of my community, to let them know I’m vitally committed to them. If my part in this school were only my ability to speak more than one language, then I think that I would be a handicapped principal.

I’m very fortunate to be surrounded with staff who are bilingual. No one has to walk into this school and look at a blank face. If [bilingualism] is all someone is looking for in leadership quality, then they’re in trouble.

KATHY KNIGHT

North Hollywood resident, parent at Lankershim Elementary School, North Hollywood

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Principals definitely should speak more than one language. That way they can speak to children who are struggling to learn English, and both of them will have fewer communication problems.

The principals don’t have to be bilingual, but they should be so that everybody has an equal opportunity to hear what’s coming from the principal, instead of having to be translated by another person.

I also believe, by the way, that children should learn English so that they can communicate with their teachers, the principal and their friends.

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DAY HIGUCHI

President, United Teachers-Los Angeles

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Clearly it’s desirable for principals to be bilingual. It’s desirable for everyone in California to be bilingual, because we live in a multicultural society. The real question is whether it’s essential, and I don’t believe it is.

As a teacher, I worked with a number of principals. The key to whether they were good, and were supported by the community, was the principals’ leadership abilities, not whether they spoke the second language, which in my case was Spanish.

It’s more important that principals work with teachers to help produce the best educational program possible than it is for them to communicate with parents in the parents’ native tongue. As a classroom teacher, I used students or parent assistants to translate.

I don’t think there is a correlation between a principal’s bilingualism and student achievement. The bottom line is, is the school working for the kids?

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