The All-Island School Committee was introduced to a plan to recruit teachers from Brazil during a Thursday evening meeting. Discussion and decisions about the plan will be made at each of the Island’s local school committees, according to Martha’s Vineyard Superintendent Matt D’Andrea.
“We are always looking for opportunities to bring more diversity to our staff on the Island,” D’Andrea told the committee. “We’ve had a substantial increase in the number of our English language learners” (ELL).
To meet the educational needs of the Island, a plan was hatched to partner with the Maryland-based nonprofit Teachers Council to bring in teachers from Brazil with H-1B visas. According to Boundless, an immigration assistance firm, the H-1B visa is a “nonimmigrant work visa that allows U.S. employers to hire foreign workers for specialty jobs that require a bachelor’s degree or equivalent.” The visa is for three years, and can be extended for up to six years. The H-1B visa holder’s spouse and children under the age of 21 can accompany them with H-4 visas. H-1B visa holders can apply for a green card later on if they choose.
Leah Palmer, the ELL director for Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools, said this plan would help the Island find people for positions that have been difficult to fill, such as bilingual school counselors, English as a second language teachers, and Portuguese language teachers.
“These positions have been really hard to fill, and they’d really benefit from having a multicultural and multilingual perspective in there,” Palmer told the committee. She said that there are two bilingual counselor and a Portuguese language teacher positions open at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School this year.
By bringing educators from Brazil to the Island, Palmer said it would allow the schools “to really have staff who mirror our students.” Among the 2,191 students attending public schools on the Island, 21 percent of them are English learners. A graph Palmer presented showed that the total number of students attending Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools has remained steady (2,133 students in 2016 and 2,191 students in 2022, as of January). However, the number of English learning students has more than doubled over the same time period (210 students in 2016, and 461 students in 2022).
Palmer said the English learning students have primarily been Brazilian over the past 10 years. In another graph, Palmer showed the number of students with a native language other than English. Portuguese speakers dwarfed the other language-speaking populations with 398 students. The schools have 15 Spanish-speaking students, and four Mandarin Chinese–speaking students.
“Really promoting the assets of multi-bilingualism and being multi-bicultural is really something that we’re trying to embrace within our school system,” Palmer said. “It will also diversify our staff and educational experiences.”
Each H-1B hire will cost Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools $1,560 because of legal, visa, and fraud prevention fees, according to Palmer. Successful applicants may only receive the H-1B visa with the stipulation that they must work in the Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools system.
“Housing isn’t a component of [H-1B]. Have you looked into requirements we may have in the housing?” up-Island school committee member Robert Lionette asked.
“We do not have housing requirements with this one. We would obviously, just like anyone we’re hiring who’s new to Martha’s Vineyard, we want to make sure we are helping them as much as we can with the housing crisis we have,” Palmer replied.
Palmer said there are already people applying to Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools positions from Brazil, so the plan is to roll out the process as soon as possible.