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Martha's Vineyard public schools hire 1st international teacher

Leah Palmer
Leah Palmer, English Language Learning director for Martha's Vineyard schools, is working to diversify staffing by recruiting multicultural teachers.

Brazilian candidate will teach Portuguese as a temporary non-immigrant, a first for the district.

A Brazilian teacher has signed on to teach Portuguese at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, the first international hire for a district struggling to fill bilingual positions and keep pace with the island’s growing immigrant population.

The teacher, from São Paulo, will begin his temporary employment in August, pending visa processing. H-1B visas apply to foreign nationals who perform specialty occupations and are valid for up to three years.

One in five Martha's Vineyard public school students is an English Language Learner, with at least one in every classroom, said Leah Palmer, the district's ELL director.

On Wednesday, Palmer filed the employment and visa contracts with the Maryland-based nonprofit Teachers Council. It works with public schools, which qualify as nonprofit organizations, to establish temporary employment for non-immigrant teachers. Teachers Council also sponsors J-1 visas for educators under the State Department's Exchange Visitor Program.

Palmer said she was inspired to pursue the H-1B option after learning about Teachers Council's work with Framingham Public Schools and its dual-language programs.

"Before that, I thought our only option was to do a teacher exchange, where there wasn't a path to more consistency and stability for the teachers coming in," she said. "And so, knowing there was an H-1B option, I jumped on that."

Hiring from Brazil allows the school district to diversify its field and enables many students to be reflected in their teachers, and to provide them with language access and equity, Palmer said.

This year, the island's public schools have seen their largest enrollment of English Language Learners in a decade, with most in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury classrooms.

Palmer pointed out that teaching positions are open to all qualified candidates.

"It is the same process that it would be for any teachers—it could be someone from Brazil or someone who lives here on Martha's Vineyard," she said. "It's enlarging our pool. The schools are hiring the best applicants."

Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.