School District Highlights Expanded English Learner Positions and Immigration Services

Posted on October 24, 2017
Categories: News from SDP

Superintendent Hite joined by City Councilors Blackwell, Parker, Sánchez and Gym, and Immigrant Student Advocates tour Woodrow Wilson Middle School and observe English language learner classes

PHILADELPHIA – Dr. William Hite, Superintendent of The School District of Philadelphia, joined City Council leaders and Immigrant Student Advocates at Woodrow Wilson Middle School to celebrate expanded English learner positions and immigration services in District schools.

“Our diversity is part of our strength. We will always celebrate our differences and ensure members of our school communities have opportunity and the right to access a free and public education that develops their fullest potential,” said Dr. William Hite, Superintendent of The School District of Philadelphia.  “We have made additional resources for English Learners and for immigration services a priority and I am proud to say that by working with City Council and immigrant student advocates, we are making progress.”

Woodrow Wilson Middle School is a very diverse school of nearly 1,300 students with over 18% ELL students.  This year the school saw an increase of an additional ESOL teacher and added time with a Bilingual Counseling Assistant (BCA) to assist families.

“Wilson Middle School is a multilingual school with other 40 different spoken languages, including Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic, Bengali, Urdu, Pashto and Chinese,” said Principal Stefanie Ressler. “On any given day at Wilson you will observe ESOL teachers working to academically support our students individually, in small groups or within regular education classes, while the Bilingual Counseling Assistants are supporting families with a smooth transition into the community.”

Over the last year the District has worked to expand positions that work directly with English Language Learners and increase immigration services.  Those efforts include:

  • Increasing the number of total ESOL positions to 288 for the 2017-18 school year, an increase of 10 over last year.
  • Increasing the number of Bilingual Counseling Assistants by 16 for a total of 75 district wide.
  • Working to hire seven bilingual psychologists.
  • Nearly doubling the enrollment to approximately 150 students of the District’s federally funded Immigrant Children and Youth Summer Program and expanded to two sites, Francis Scott Key School and Gilbert Spruance School.
  • Creating an immigrant tool kit which has become a model for other school districts.
  • Hosting a Diversity and Inclusion Forum at district headquarters and co-hosting a town hall with City Council leaders on immigration services.
  • Professional Development for Principals or their representatives on best practices that ensure the rights of students are protected so our school communities will be safe for all students and families.

“I’ve been extremely pleased to work with the District and our communities on this effort to strengthen services for immigrant students and families in our schools. Earlier this year, Council heard from students and families at a town hall meeting co-hosted with Dr. Hite about immigration issues. Staffing issues in schools were at the forefront; we heard about the need for more staff who are bilingual and can communicate with and translate for immigrant families. I am very encouraged by this year’s investment in staffing and in training,” said City Councilwoman Helen Gym.

Attendees also observed a 6th grade math class where English language learners are provided assistance in the classroom, and an English for Speakers of Other Languages class of comprised of all English language learners.

“Real investment in language access and multi-lingual supports for students and families is critical for the success of Philadelphia’s school community. We all benefit from the cultural richness and diversity that new Philadelphians bring to our city, and no child or parent should be unable to access our education system due to a language barrier,” said City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez.

“I applaud Dr. Hite and his team for responding to concerns from parents and families, especially those regarding the need for additional ESL resources,” said City Councilwoman Cherelle Parker. “Students at Wilson and all schools deserve access to resources and supports to ensure that they have optimal learning conditions.”

Additional important District facts:

  • Philadelphia has one of the most diverse school districts in the nation.
  • There are more than 14,000 English language learners in our schools who speak 126 languages.
  • Over 130 countries are represented among our students in the ESOL program.
  • Out of 1.556 million inhabitants, 14% of the population in Philadelphia is comprised of immigrants.
  • More information about these resources can be found online at the Office of Family and Community Engagement’s website at