Southlawn Principal Gloria Quattrone and USD No. 480 Director of Federal Programs Laura Cano came to the UTB-TSC spring teacher job fair in the hopes of recruiting bilingual teachers for their school district in Liberal. Courtesy photo
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
The Liberal community has seen a significant shift in its population over the last two decades, and the numbers are no different for the local school district.
About 75 percent of the students in Liberal’s schools are Hispanic, and 56 percent of all the youth are English language learners.
Because of these figures, there is also a growing need for bilingual educators in local classrooms, and one USD No. 480 principal traveled to South Texas recently, along with a district administrator, to help fill that teacher gap.
Along with representatives from 28 school districts, Southlawn Elementary Principal Gloria Quattrone said she and USD 480 Director of Federal Programs Laura Cano saw many applicants at their booth at a teacher job fair hosted by the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College.
“We ended up totaling about 45 resumés that we actually collected and we brought back to the district,” Cano said.
She added 40 of those applicants were bilingual, and she said the state of Texas is unique in its certification for such teachers in that they can be general teachers or be specified for a particular grade span.
“What happens with those applicants is if we are successful enough to get them to move here, we know that they truly are going to have that academic Spanish we’re looking for so that they are able to help the students like we want them to be able to,” Cano said.
She did say many of the recruits have roots in South Texas, however, and many do not want to leave their families. The teacher fair does provide some advantages to Liberal, though.
“They have a lot of applicants, a lot of teachers,” Cano said. “One of the things we tell them is if you cannot get placed here, please make sure to consider us, please make sure to get in touch with us. We’ll follow through, and we’ll call some of them and stay in touch with them. The ones that we say were truly interested.”
Quattrone said with many districts in Texas laying off educators, dedicated teachers will find their way to Kansas.
“Even though it seems like it’s really far from us, we have to go to places like that if we are going to be recruiting people that do have the bilingual skill that we’re looking for, in particular for the Dual Language program and any classroom in general with the kind of population we have,” Cano said.
She added the district can make in-state recruiting trips to places such as K-State or Fort Hays State, but only one or two applicants will be available. Many of those, Cano said, are not bilingual and generally do not want to come to Southwest Kansas unless they are from here.
Quattrone said bilingual teachers can effectively work with parents.
“Many of our parents here are non-English or limited English,” she said. “If you have a teacher that is bilingual, they are going to work with those parents very well.”
For a district that has a majority of its students learning a second language and being Hispanic, USD 480 only has 10 percent of its faculty speaking two languages. Cano said recruitment is the extra step to building bridges between home and school.
“If we can find good quality bilingual candidates whenever we can, we will try to place them even in a regular ed classroom,” she said. “It’s very likely that three-fourths of the class is going to be Spanish speaking even though they know English.”
Primarily, Cano said recruiting helps with relationship building. She said the district is not looking at a specific percentage as its aim, but rather to increase the 10 percent number currently in place. Quattrone said with a staff of 22 in place at Southlawn, only one teacher is bilingual.
“I would like to have at least five,” she said. “It would help us out tremendously.”
Cano pointed to West Middle School which has two bilingual teachers, one a Spanish teacher and the other an English as a Second Language teacher.
“There’s a lot of schools that have one of two,” she said. “We kind of have them scattered all over, but we’d like to get a few more.”
Quattrone and Cano also attended last year’s teacher fair in Brownsville, Texas, and their recruiting efforts brought back one bilingual educator for USD 480. Quattrone said at that time, Texas had a hiring freeze in place for teachers, but despite this, eight districts were recruiting, including Liberal’s.
Quattrone said applicants were told about the hiring freeze and to submit resumes in the event the freeze was lifted, but she and Cano told them that there was no such freeze in place in Kansas.
“We are hiring,” Quattrone said regarding what was told to Liberal’s applicants. “I spent a great deal of time there even after it was over interviewing candidates.”
The principal said in addition to UTB, Pan American University also had potential teachers at the fair, and she said both of those schools have quality applicants and some of the best teacher education programs in Texas.
Cano said representatives from other districts have made the trek to Brownsville for several years, creating a base of teachers from the fair, and this is something she hopes will happen locally.
“We’re hoping that as we go next year and the following that we’ll be able to make a name for ourselves there, and they can see that yes, we are a good solid school district where they can make a difference,” she said. “Hopefully, we build that base where they feel like they can come over here.”
Cano said many of Liberal’s schools are in need of bilingual educators.
“West, McKinley, Lincoln, Garfield,” she said. “All of them have one or two tops. The one that would be the least lacking would be McDermott, but that’s because they have Dual Language. We have to have bilingual teachers there. I think Sunflower has three out of 500 kids and 42 teachers or so. We’re kind of that way across the district. They’re very sporadically placed.”
Quattrone said she appreciates the district’s efforts to find bilingual teachers.
“It is needed very much,” she said. “It says a lot to the parents. When parents know that there are bilingual people who are someone they can talk to at their school, they’re more apt to go there. I’ve seen that happen over the years.”
Cano extended the appreciation to families, teachers and the USD 480 Board of Education for allowing recruiting trips such as this.
“You can’t just get there and come right back,” she said. “We’re going where we know we can find the candidates, and they’re allowing us to do that. We are very appreciative of that fact.”