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Superintendent of Duval County schools aims to improve ESOL program

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Updated: 7/25/2013 8:25 pm
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools, met with minority parents in a town hall meeting tonight.

It was the first time a Duval County superintendent has met to specifically address concerns of immigrant parents.

One of the main topics of discussion was about the English for Speakers of Other Languages Program, better known as ESOL.

Isaac Duh Nei Lian, 13, is one of the hundreds of students enrolled in the program.

His favorite subject is math because to him numbers are much easier to learn.

"It's hard to understand, a lot of sentences I don't know them," said Duh Nei Lian.

Duh Nei Lian is a seventh-grader at DuPont Middle School. He and his family moved to Jacksonville five months ago from Burma.

About two-thirds of Duval County schools serve active ESOL students.

But according to Vitti the program needs improvement.

"I'm looking forward to taking a lot of the things we learned in Miami, things that made it nationally recognized, and bringing them here to Duval County," said Vitti.

One of those things is to provide school letters and other communications in different languages and make them more accessible to parents who don't speak English.

Right now, an ESOL newsletter is sent to parents only three times a year in five different languages.

None are provided in Chinese, which Duh Nei Lian's father's native language.

"Sometimes I don't know more of the meaning so it's difficult to help [Isaac]," said Simon Sawn Lung.

Vitti tells Action News this program is personal to him.

"I grew up with immigrant parents and I knew how intimadated and afraid they were of their schools and how uncomfortable they were in advocating for my education not knowing how to answer the right questions not always being able to speak the language," said Vitti.

According to Vitti, improving this program will ultimately benefit everyone in Jacksonville because being bilingual only makes the city's workforce more competitive.

In the long run, it will be a skill that will help Duh Nei Lian reach his goals.

"I want to be an engineer and a soldier," said Duh Nei Lian.

Vitti eventually wants to have at least one bilingual employee at every school with a high population of ESOL students.

Funding for those changes will come from a combination of Title I funding for parent involvement and Title III which is federal funding for the ESOL program.
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