More than a third of students in the Merced City School District are learning English as a second language and the district’s superintendent says schools are making good progress in helping them achieve English proficiency by sixth grade.
About 4,000 of the 11,000 students at the district’s 18 campuses either are learning English or have attained proficiency, according to Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran, who spoke Wednesday at the Eggs & Issues State of Education Breakfast, hosted by the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce.
The two most common foreign languages spoken by Merced elementary school students are Spanish and Hmong, state data show. The district aims to have such students become proficient in English by the time they move into middle school, Parga Duran said.
So far this school year, 250 sixth-graders are English learners, and half of them are on track to shed that classification by the end of the school year, she said.
Last school year, nearly 500 English-learner students were reclassified. Having those students proficient in English by middle school helps them when they move on to high school and college, she said.
“We are doing our work, and we are succeeding,” Parga Duran said.
The issue of educating students who are working toward English proficiency will go before California voters in November when they consider Proposition 58. The measure would roll back the voter-approved 1998 ban on teaching English learners in any language other than English, giving school districts the option of bringing back bilingual education.
Four of the five candidates running for two seats on the Merced City School District board of trustees have expressed support for Proposition 58: Area 1 candidates Michael Crass, Marian Navarro Ledesma and Shane Smith; and Area 2 candidate Miguel Lopez. Area 2 incumbent Gene Stamm told the Sun-Star he is neutral.
In her address, Parga Duran said other priorities for the district include improving student attendance and, as always, boosting test scores.
Alan Peterson, superintendent for the Merced Union High School District, also spoke to the gathering of business leaders and government officials.
Peterson discussed the high school district’s focus on career technical education and the need to prepare students for both college and the workforce.
Peterson said he’s more interested in “the fate of our students” than graduation rates. “I’m most interested in what happens to our kids four, five, six years after they leave us.”
For that reason, he said, Merced-area high schools are focusing on developing career skills for industries such as agriculture, public service and STEAM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477