ENCINITAS — The San Dieguito Union High School District announced plans to hire three bilingual community liaisons in the coming school year after creating the position to better support English-language learners and their families.
According to Bryan Marcus, associate superintendent of educational services, the liaisons will increase communication between families and district staff by translating district messages and events, and connecting families with information about their child’s studies and activities on campus.
Though the district has not yet developed a timeline for hiring these individuals, staff is currently evaluating the impact of bilingual liaisons in other districts, including the Escondido Union District, to develop a job description for the new role. The district plans plan to hire both Spanish and Mandarin-speaking individuals who will serve all of the district campuses.
According to Marcus, the addition of bilingual community liaisons will bridge the gap between support for English Language Learning students during the school day and outreach to their families outside of instructional hours.
Currently, the San Dieguito school district utilizes two assessments – a home language survey required of all students and a language proficiency assessment given to those who do not speak English at home to determine a student’s English proficiency upon their registration in the district, according to Miguel Jacobs, the district communications coordinator.
If the assessment indicates the student is not proficient in English, the student is designated as an “English Learner” and enrolled in language development courses and connected with an English Learner Lead – a liaison between the student and staff.
“Where the instructional day ends with the [English Learner Lead] is where the community liaison … would pick up and there would be overlap [and] some sort of outreach to provide the families with resources and supports and services that they may need outside of the school day,” Marcus said.
Lisa Montes, a prominent community member of La Colonia de Eden Gardens – a historically Mexican-American neighborhood in Solana Beach – advocated for the addition of bilingual community liaisons earlier this summer.
Though bilingual aides may support students throughout the school day, Montes said the district’s previous lack of bilingual liaisons left the families of these students unsupported.
A retired employee of Miracosta Community College specializing in diversity outreach programs, Montes has attended multiple parent-teacher meetings with Spanish-speaking families in the district and helped others communicate via email with district staff.
Through these interactions, Montes said she observed a “communication gap,” including a lack of communication with families before meetings, leaving parents unaware of issues to be discussed.
At other parent-teacher meetings, Spanish-speaking families have not been provided with interpreters, according to Montes. At one meeting between an administrator and a Spanish-speaking family, Montes, who was asked by the family to attend, was asked to translate, despite not being certified.
“The parents come in blind; they can’t prepare for a meeting because they don’t know what it’s about,” Montes said. “[Community liaisons] work really well because then you don’t have parents saying we weren’t told this or we weren’t told that. These liaisons are the ones that help get the message out to parents and students, and fill in that [communication] gap that has existed in San Dieguito.”
According to Montes, this lack of communication and support extends beyond parent-teacher meetings.
“It’s not just the community liaisons, it’s a lot of different things where the San Dieguito school district has failed … not only our Spanish speaking community, but our Mandarin-speaking community,” Montes said.
At a June 9 board meeting, Fabiola Baylon-Garcia, the executive assistant to the board and superintendent, was asked to translate public comments spoken in Spanish, despite not being a district-employed translator.
Carmen Blum, a Spanish translator, presently serves as the school district’s interpreter at some board meetings this year, although there is currently no requirement for her to attend every board meeting.
Moving forward, Montes hopes to see a bilingual interpreter present at all board and parent-teacher meetings when translation is needed.