When Garvey school officials met six teachers from Spain at Los Angeles International Airport in 1986, the educators had high hopes that the Spaniards might help alleviate some of the problems in a district where half the students are Latino.
Six more Spaniards arrived the next year. But now, controversy swirls around the teacher recruitment program, whose future in Garvey is in doubt.
Eight of the 12 Spaniards have failed the state's competency test, which all teachers in California must pass to continue teaching. Five of the teachers hired in 1986 were not rehired because they failed the test. The other three took the test this year and the results are pending. They have until June to pass.
The district's superintendent has resigned, partly over a dispute with the school board over his recommendation that two of the former teachers be retained as substitutes. The teachers union and some board members have voiced wariness of the program, saying there are qualified bilingual teachers in this country who could fill the positions.
'Needed Teachers Like Us'
"We know they needed teachers like us. Or we thought so," said Carmen Lopez, one of the teachers who was not rehired last fall.
Lopez still hopes to pass the test. She works part time to make ends meet and spends hours with her colleagues studying English in her San Gabriel apartment.
Because of the criticism of the program in the Garvey School District, the teachers may have to look for jobs elsewhere even if they pass the test. Garvey has 7,404 pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade in Monterey Park, San Gabriel and Rosemead.
"If this program has been successful, I haven't seen too much evidence of it," said former school board member Judy Chu.
Added Garvey school board Chairman Jim Smith: "From the start, I had problems with bringing in unknowns from Spain."
'Hasn't Been Successful'
Even board member Gil Barron, who supports the program, says: "It hasn't been as successful as we needed it to be."
Larry Walsh, president of the 300-member Garvey teachers union, agrees. "Let's put Americans to work, before we do this hands-across-the-sea business," he said.
The issue came to a head last month during an angry debate among school board members. Supt. Andrew J. Viscovich, complaining that Smith had called him a liar during the debate, resigned and stormed out of the room.
"The chief executive officer of this place may not be impugned in public," Viscovich said in a later interview.
"My intent was not to call him a liar," Smith said in an interview.
After Viscovich left the room, the board voted 3 to 2 not to allow Lopez and one other Spaniard to return as substitute teachers, even though they had not passed the competency test.
The board announced Thursday night that it had accepted Viscovich's resignation, effective at the end of the school year. Viscovich had said earlier that controversy over the program was only one of the reasons he resigned. The main issues, Viscovich said, center on board members' constant questioning of his integrity and administrative abilities, and their desire to be involved in day-to-day operations of the district.
With Viscovich leaving after nine years as superintendent, the program "is almost a moot issue," Walsh said.
Despite the problems in Garvey, education officials from elsewhere in California praise the program, which started statewide in 1986. Although only 26 of the 105 Spaniards hired in California districts have passed the California Basic Educational Skills Test, there are plans to expand the project.
"It seems to be working well," said Fred Tempes, an assistant superintendent for the state Department of Education in charge of the program.
Tempes said the percentage of teachers from Spain who pass the test is increasing as better-qualified teachers are recruited.
'Working Really Fine'
Jose Anton, who heads the program for the Spanish Ministry of Education and works in that country's consulate in Los Angeles, said the program is "working really fine at this moment. The first year we had many problems because, you know, everything that begins has some problems."
Now, he said, "Our best teachers are coming here." Most of the teachers have the equivalent of master's degrees, he said, and many of them majored in English.
The teachers, who have work visas, are hired on a temporary basis, and state education officials do not expect them to get permanent jobs.
As examples of increased interest in the program, Anton cited school districts in Los Angeles and Oakland.
This year, he said, four Spaniards are teaching in Oakland and the school district wants 10 more next year. Officials from the Los Angeles Unified School District, which initially expressed reluctance about the program, said they would take as many as 35 teachers from Spain next fall. Spaniards are also teaching in Burbank, Lynwood, Paramount and Palm Springs, he said.
Recruiting in Spain