The Rochester City School District and Buffalo has enrolled 1267 new students from Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria struck the island in September, and school officials are preparing for as many as 2,000 total by the end of the school year.
“When you really think about it, 1267 students, that’s two or three new schools,” says Carlos Garcia, assistant to the superintendent. The district is also receiving some students from Texas due to the hurricane in that region of the country earlier this year, Garcia says.
The sudden influx of students has led to a flurry of activity around placement and determining instructional needs for the students, since some speak English well, some speak no English, and some have both language and special education needs.
The districts regularly enrolls students that move to Buffalo or Rochester from other parts of the country or have left a neighboring school district or charter school, but this is a much different type of challenge, Garcia says.
“We’re currently making arrangements to expand classes for bilingual and special education services,” he says. That not only involves finding space for the extra students in city schools, but finding bilingual teachers.
Longtime School of the Arts Principal Brenda Pacheco has left the school to help the district’s central office with its recruitment efforts. Currently, Garcia says, there are fewer people going into the teaching profession, and Western New York is competing for bilingual and special education teachers like most other urban districts.