CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Officials are embracing growing cultural diversity in Cleveland City Schools.
In a recent planning retreat, the city school board discussed how better to engage students from various cultural backgrounds, especially those who speak English as a second language, and how to help those students excel.
"Our ESL [English as a second language] population continues to climb," said Dr. Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland City Schools. "I think we need to really focus on that; I believe that will continue to be a topic for discussion."
Immediate plans include the formation of school advisory groups. Long-range plans may include the implementation of a magnet school, school board officials said.
Nearly 600 students in the system speak English as a second language, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the student population, Ringstaff said. The growing ESL population includes students of Hispanic, German, Indian, Chinese and other ethnicities.
Ringstaff said the percentage of ESL students has been steady in recent years, but the numbers have gone up as the overall student population has increased.
While school board members noted that Arnold and Mayfield Elementary schools taught the highest concentrations of ESL students, all city schools have ESL students.
How to use ESL resources, including staff and technology that are spread across the system, is a challenge, officials said. Another challenge is that ESL students still have to pass core tests in English.
"The [ESL] teachers are all over the place," said Ringstaff, who recommended that the school system consider taking "a massive step" on the issue soon.
Possible actions may be to establish a magnet school or partnering with Lee University to concentrate resources, he said.
However, school officials said they do not want to isolate ESL students
Ringstaff said students with adequate English language skills can test out of ESL classes.
High ESL student transition into mainstream classes should be attainable, said Steve Morgan, vice chairman of the city school board, who added that he had encountered English-speaking children "in the remotest parts of the world."
Regardless of how the school system meets the needs of its ESL student population, officials agreed that students and their families need to participate in the process.
It has been proposed that each city school form a diverse populations committee composed of two faculty and staff members and at least three parents to advise the principal on issues regarding "recruitment and advancement, academic performance and other issues that promote diversity within the school," Ringstaff said.
The embrace of diversity should be comprehensive, board members said.
"It goes beyond language," said Tom Cloud, school board chairman.