The number of Hispanic students who attend Oak Park Elementary School District 97 has steadily increased in the last three years, prompting district officials to implement a variety of measures designed to accommodate their instructional needs. 

Since 2015, according to district data, D97’s Hispanic student population has doubled. In 2015-16, Hispanics were just 6 percent of the student population. In the 2017-18 school year, they made up 13 percent of the student population. 

District officials said there has been a parallel increase in the number of students who require English language services, such as translating and interpreting. The number of those students have increased from 138 in 2015-16 to 155 in 2017-18. 

It should, however, be noted that English language learners aren’t necessarily Hispanic. District officials could not provide more detailed data on those students by Tuesday afternoon. 

“Those numbers are significant,” said Laurie Campbell, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, referencing the rising Hispanic population. “This is something we’ve got to watch.” 

English learners even garnered a section in the most recent teacher contract, which was ratified this year — something that was not in the 2014-15 contract. 

According to the new contract, D97 administrators are charged with working with the Oak Park Teachers Association to “develop an understanding of the hiring and workload practices” for English learners that are required by state education law and that the district considers effective. 

In addition, teachers who are authorized to provide translation or interpretation services for students that are outside of what is considered a contractual working day must be compensated for their services by the hour. 

Beyond the contract, said Amy Warke, the district’s chief academic and accountability officer, the district has worked all year with English language teachers to make sure that the district’s curriculum for English learners are up to national standards. 

The district also increased staff to accommodate English language learners, adding another teacher who is fluent in Spanish. In the future, Warke said, the district hopes to secure federal grant money to beef up its English language learner curriculum. 

The rise of Hispanic students in Oak Park public elementary schools shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise, considering the 2016 information from the U.S. Census Bureau, which shows that people of Hispanic descent make up at least 17 percent of the U.S. population, or an estimated 55 million people. They account for more than half of the country’s population growth from 2000 to 2014, an analysis by the Pew Research Center shows.

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com    

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