With growing numbers of immigrants moving into the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District, the number of students using English as a Second Language programs has almost tripled in the past decade.

Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District students this year speak 57 languages and dialects, and a little more than one out of every eight students use ESL services.

Since the 1997-98 school year, however, the district's total enrollment has declined and the district has tried to better coordinate its curriculum, rather than leave it up to each school.

On Thursday, the school board plans to consider implementing several programs developed by a committee charged with evaluating the district's ESL offerings.

The more than $100,000 in proposed changes include professional development for all classroom teachers -- not just ESL teachers.

"The more the numbers of [students learning English] increase, the more and more teachers are affected by students in their classroom," said Assistant Superintendent Sandi Novak. "The teachers have to have the skills necessary to continue to meet high expectations."

Also being recommended: special math courses that teach vocabulary and give students the foundation to meet math standards later in school.

"I look at diversity as a wonderful, positive thing for the district," Novak said, "as long as we have the resources to meet all the needs of the students."

For Pat Flynn, principal of Edward Neill Elementary, professional development for the classroom teachers is essential. Students learning English spend much more time with their classroom teacher than their ESL teacher.

"For the teacher to be able to see what language skills they could include or incorporate as part of the lesson will end up benefiting the [student learning English], as well as other at-risk learners whose vocabulary isn't as developed."

The ESL committee came up with a total recommendation of about $300,000 that the district could spend to improve them, but the district can't afford that, Novak said.

Committee members wanted to include a program, based on one in the St. Paul School District, that puts kindergarten students learning English in an all-day kindergarten program. Students would spend a half-day in the mainstream classroom, focusing on reading and literacy development, and a half-day with an ESL teacher focusing on oral language development. St. Paul's program has been successful, the committee's report said, because it gets to students when they're young.

Instead, Novak said, the district is focusing on the professional development and content-based courses to help comprehension.

"Certainly we know that the need for additional resources continues to grow," Flynn said. "As we become more diverse, we need to find additional ways to meet the diverse student population that we serve."

Emily Johns • 952-882-9056