If there is one public institution in the Orlando-area that Latinos have had trouble penetrating it is the Orange County School Board.
There are Latino(s) on the Orlando City Council, the Orange County Commission, in the State House, the State Senate and last year a Hispanic became a member of Congress representing Orlando.
Despite a 40 percent Latino student body – the highest of any group – the Orange County School Board does not have a Hispanic elected to the eight-member school board. Millions of dollars in annual funds are allocated for bilingual education – for English-language learners – and yet parents have little say about the funds, which can be, and often are, used for other purposes. About 167 languages are spoken in the the Orange County school district, with Spanish being the second most common, behind English.
Clearly, Hispanic parents should be able to exercise clout at every level of Orange County schools. But they do not.
Change Is Afoot
That may be about to change.
A coalition of groups working under the umbrella coalition Vamos4PR has set its sights on Orange County schools, with the aim of helping parents and students navigate the nation’s 10th largest school district as well as obtaining more help for those who are Spanish-dominant.
“The focus starts with Orange County because it is bigger and because Osceola is seen as friendlier,” said Ericka Gómez-Tejeda, organizer of Vamos4PR Florida, an offshoot of the national organization that advocates on behalf of the nation’s growing Puerto Rican population. Puerto Ricans make up half of Hispanics in Central Florida and number over 1 million in all of Florida.
Indeed, Osceola, with one-third as many students as Orange – and 60 percent of them Latino – counts one Hispanic school board member.
During a recent day-long workshop at the Acacia Network building in east Orange County attended by about 100 people, Vamos4PR organized parents, teachers, students and others to begin making demands of the Orange County School Board.
An estimated 50 people committed to attend the May 23 school board meeting with about 10 prepared to tell impactful stories of their experiences. They are planning to send nearly 300 post cards to school board members representing districts with high Hispanic student populations.
‘We need to own our power and we need to build on it,” explained Denise Díaz, a Vamos4PR organizer who is also executive director of Central Florida Jobs with Justice.
Vamos4PR is pushing for:
- More Spanish-speaking school staff
- Bilingual written communication with parents
- Certified interpreters
- Orientation about the rights of parents
Many attendees at the Vamos4PR workshop spoke of feeling alienated and excluded from actively participating in school or school district affairs. A Vamos4PR survey of Orange County Hispanic parents showed that communication – or more precisely, lack of communication – is a top issue.
“Frustrated,” wrote an attendee in a note.
The organization has created a timeline in which the end game is electoral mobilization for the 2018 election cycle. Vamos4PR was part of a large 2016 coalition that successfully boosted Latino voter turnout in Central Florida in the presidential elections.
In 2018 three school board seats are up for election, including Districts 1, 2 and 3, each with a heavy Hispanic student presence.
Jacqueline Centeno filed this month to run in District 2, which represents heavy Hispanic schools in east Orange County such as Chickasaw Elementary, Jackson Middle School and Colonial High School. Centeno ran unsuccessfully for the school board in 2010 under the name “Jackie SchoolBoard,” earning 30 percent of the vote in an August election, which typically has lower turnout. (There was 21 percent turnout in that election but only about 17,000 votes decided the outcome of the school board race, according to the Orange County Supervisor of Elections.)
Demographics and conditions may be more favorable to Centeno next year, including no incumbent competition. (Centeno is not connected with the Vamos4PR workshop.)
Said Denise Díaz about the upcoming school board challenge: “I’m excited to see how we do this and do this through this campaign.”
˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor
Below is the response from Orange County Public Schools:
Dear Orlando Latino readers and Vamos4PR group members,
Regarding the recent article in Orlando Latino about a survey conducted among Orange County Public Schools Hispanic parents, we would like to share some facts.
- Please know the Orange County School Board does have a board member who is of Spanish heritage. District 2 School Board Member M. Daryl Flynn is Spanish.
- Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) is proud of significant gains made by our Hispanic students including, but not limited to:
- Graduation Rate
- In the 2015-16 school year, the graduation rate for Hispanic students increased by 5.1 percentage points. This is larger than the 2.0 percentage point growth of white students.
- Since 2013, the graduation rate for Hispanic students has increased by 6.1 percentage points.
- The Hispanic graduation rate in OCPS at 80.8 percent is now higher than the state overall graduation rate for all students.
Advanced Placement (AP) Course Participation
- Since 2011-12, there has been a 119 percent increase in the number of Hispanic students taking an AP course.
- Hispanic student participation has grown nearly twice as quickly as the district average.
Advanced Placement (AP) Course Performance
- Since 2011-12, there has been a 101 percent increase in the number of Hispanic students scoring 3 or higher in at least one AP course.
- Hispanic student performance in AP has improved over twice as quickly as the district average.
- The district has 30,092 English Language Learners (ELL) learners which is 15 percent of the total student population.
- Resources for Parents of ELL Students
As part of the resources for parents of ELL students, OCPS has made available the software InSync. The program provides resources in multiple languages for class and home to support the academic achievement of every student. The link to the software is available at the Multilingual Student Education Services department website, and is provided here: https://www.insyncedu.com/en#how.
- Two-Way Dual Language Expansion
Based on the success of the Helios VPK Two-Way Dual Language Program, OCPS will expand the program at six schools (Chickasaw ES, Apopka ES, Zellwood ES, Ventura ES, Wetherbee ES, John Young ES). In addition, we will be opening a new VPK Two- Way Dual Language program at Union Park ES and Washington Shores Primary Learning Center. The objective of this evidence-based program is for students to learn to speak, read, and write in both languages, helping students to become bilingual and bi- literate.
- Each school has a Multilingual Parent Leadership Council (MPLC) comprised of parents of ELL students who facilitate opportunities for parental involvement and decision making at their school. In addition, the District MPLC, comprised of representatives from school-based MPLCs, share feedback on services provided to our students. When parents participate in the school or district MPLC, they receive information about the services provided to ELL students within OCPS, parents are encouraged to become actively involved in their child’s education, and parents are empowered to become advocates within their community.
- We hold Parent Academies every month during the school year in which messaging goes to parents in three languages – English, Spanish, Haitian-Creole, Portuguese, and Vietnamese.
- OCPS Superintendent Barbara Jenkins recently received the Hispanic-Serving Superintendent of the Year Award from the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS). The award is given to superintendents who have shown growth in the achievement rate of Hispanic students.
- The district has certified interpreters available for parents or guardians to connect with in order to speak with principals, teachers, or other school-based employees.
- Our website www.ocps.net is translated into seven different languages including Spanish.
- Schools with high Spanish-speaking student populations regularly communicate ConnectORANGE messages in both English and Spanish.
Thank you for sharing this letter with your readers or with your members.
Katherine P. Marsh
Director, Media Relations Orange County Public Schools