Local Control Spotlight Blog
Escalon Unified School District
Back in spring 2014, the Escalon Unified School District, home to almost 3,000 students on the southern edge of San Joaquin County, held a community meeting to gather feedback and input from local community members to aide in the development of their first Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). At the meeting, many Spanish-speaking families asked the district to make it easier for them to become more involved in their children’s schools. Specifically, they asked for English for Spanish-speaker classes. While the district had previously been instituted, the structure and availability of the classes had been relatively ineffective. “This presented us with a dilemma,” recalled Superintendent Ron Costa. “Should we disregard the request from our community or invest the district’s limited resources into something that past experience had shown to have limited impact?”
The LCAP is part of California’s new approach to education known as Local Control. Launched in 2013, Local Control provides county offices of education, school districts, and charter schools (collectively known as Local Education Agencies or LEAs) with additional funding to support English Language Learners, low-income students and foster youth, and give LEAs greater flexibility in spending to address the specific needs of the community. Local Control also is designed to bring the voices and perspectives of different stakeholders into the local decision-making process.
Superintendent Costa, faced with this dilemma, opted to take a risk and listen to his community. As a result, Goal #4 of Escalon’s 2014-15 LCAP included “the need to provide ESL classes for the parents of our EL students.” This time Superintendent Costa and his staff were determined to get it right.
Anna Ellerson, a principal in Escalon, was instrumental in planning and facilitating the program. She made sure to incorporate feedback from families throughout the process, asking which days of the week and at what times worked best for their schedules as well as other accommodations, such as childcare, would make attending class easier.
Most importantly, Principal Ellerson wanted to make sure that the classes were effective in empowering families to learn English and become more involved with their children’s schools. In the past, Escalon had offered traditional English for Spanish-speaker classes to families, taught by non-credentialed bilingual personnel. While family members were more comfortable communicating with bilingual instructors, they spoke less (and, thus, learned less) English during class. Eventually attendance and enthusiasm had waned. So this time, Principal Ellerson decided to try ‘immersion’ style classes, which would be taught by Escalon teachers with only limited Spanish proficiency in order to maximize family members’ exposure to English.
The new English classes were an immediate success. In fact, the district had to keep a waiting list because of the high number of parents who wanted to participate. Parent enthusiasm and engagement stayed high throughout the four months of weekly classes because the parents where really improving their English proficiency. The program culminated in ‘Diner Night,’ where the classroom was set up like a restaurant, with food provided by the instructors and volunteers. The (adult) students brought their entire families and practiced requesting a table and ordering food in English.
After that last class, the family members asked to speak before the Escalon school board. In English, they thanked the district for the opportunity and asked that the classes continue. The district obliged: Escalon’s 2015-16 and 2016-17 LCAP includes supplemental funding for the continuation and expansion of English classes for Spanish-speaking families.
After two years of offering English classes to Escalon families, attendance at back-to-school night this year was the largest that Principal Ellerson could remember. The district now offers a first and a second year of classes. “Class allowed me to speak to teachers and principals at [my children’s] school,” said Escalon parent Maricela Esquivel. She has taken both the first and second year of English classes, and she is hoping to be able to take a third.