Mexican teachers to buttress local schools

They will help Spanish speakers do better in school; no Utahn is being deprived of a job
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At least a dozen teachers from Mexico are expected to arrive in Utah this August to help with the state's growing population of English language learners and its teacher shortage.

Human resource representatives from Granite, Davis, Tooele and Salt Lake school districts traveled to Mexico City last week to meet with 50 preselected applicants seeking teaching positions in Utah.

The job placements were created by an agreement forged by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. during his 2005 visit to Mexico.

The arrangement is also intended to develop a better understanding of both countries' educational systems, history and culture while helping Spanish-speaking students in Utah do better in school.

Richard Gomez, coordinator in the state's Office of Educational Equity, said that due to the state's teacher shortage, no Utahn is being deprived of a job. Gomez has been working with all parties involved to recruit the Mexican teachers. "It has been a long time coming," he said.

The agreement, known as the Memorandum of Understanding on Education, was signed last week by the Utah State Office of Education and is scheduled to be signed by Mexican consulate officials in Salt Lake City on Monday before being sent south to Mexico.

Mexican officials were notified last month to begin interviewing interested teachers. But Utah administrators have the final say on which teachers will fill the jobs.

District staffers arrived in Mexico City June 5 and conducted interviews for three days. Mike Fraser, executive director of human resources at Granite School District and one of those conducting the interviews, said he was impressed with the applicants' qualifications and English proficiency.

"We are very happy. We've had some great success," Fraser said. "What is best about this is they've got proven teaching experience and, more than anything, they're fluent in Spanish."

At some Granite schools, 30 to 40 percent of the students are Spanish speakers, Fraser said, so having qualified Spanish-speaking teachers will be beneficial.

"The ultimate goal is to make sure we have enough teachers and find teachers who are going to meet the needs of our risk populations," Fraser said.

Fraser also referred to the impact of Utah's teacher shortage, which means some districts started the last school year with substitutes filling teaching positions. "This is not going to solve our teacher shortage but this is going to be one way to work on it," he said.

The Utah State Office of Education will work with the Consulate of Mexico and the Mexico Secretariat of Public Education throughout the process, which will include visa acquisitions.

Larry Shumway, assistant superintendent in the Office of Education, said the teachers will fill needs in the participating districts. "We've been working on it for about a year," Shumway said. "We have it [Mexico] as a neighbor and we have lots of students who have connections to Mexico. And it just seems like a good idea."

Once hired, the teachers will arrive in Utah in August and will spend a weeklong orientation with the Office of Education that will include finding housing and placing them in their appropriate districts.

According to Fraser, four will be hired as secondary teachers to work in "hard to fill" areas such as math, physics and chemistry. The others will go to elementary school and dual-immersion programs.

Similar visiting teacher programs have been used in other states, including California, Texas and New Mexico, he said.