LEWISTON — Veteran teacher Kristie Clark, who won a national teaching award in 2010, will be the new director of English Language Learners for Lewiston schools July 1.

She’ll oversee the progress and education of non-native students learning to speak English and learning other subjects.

Clark accepted the job, she said Tuesday, because she’s been inspired by ELL students she taught for years at Montello Elementary School.

“I’ve watched the magic happen as they learn how to read and speak English at the same time,” she said. She’s been impressed by how hungry ELL students are to learn, citing their “positive attitude, how hard they work and how quickly they learn.”

Clark has been an elementary teacher for 20 years, most of that time at Montello. Last year she was promoted to assistant principal at Geiger Elementary School. She will replace ELL Director Sue Martin, who will become chief academic officer for Lewiston schools.

Since Somali refugees began arriving in Lewiston in 2001, the number of ELL students has climbed every year. They now make up 21 percent of Lewiston’s total student population, or 1,058 out of 5,013, according to December 2011 enrollment numbers.

Superintendent Bill Webster said Clark, who won the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award in 2010, is well suited to become Lewiston’s second ELL director.

“Her passion is what’s best for kids. She comes with great classroom experience, and now has had a year of administrative experience,” Webster said.

Webster lauded Clark as an educator who makes decisions on “what would be best for the child, and then she works with teachers on what might we do in the classroom and school.”

Clark’s philosophy is “the best place for an ELL student is in the regular classroom.” Clark has had success at Montello immersing students in regular classes, he said. “That’s something we want to enlarge and expand,” Webster said.

There are 13 native languages represented among Lewiston’s ELL students, the majority of whom are Somali.

Clark recalled some who showed up in her classroom, “brand new to the country,” knowing little if any English. They learn much from their peers, she said. By the end of the school year “they’re talking, speaking, interacting with friends, with me, smiling. Some are beginning reading.”

When she won the Milken Foundation award in 2010, she said she individualized lessons by finding out where her students were academically in math and reading, and built on what they knew. “That’s the key to taking them as far as they need to go for the next grade,” she said.

As ELL director, her goals include working with teachers to help students progress academically and socially. Clark said she hopes to see all schools do what the Longley Elementary School has done, create a school-parent program.

More school-parent groups would get more ELL parents involved in their students’ school work, which could make a huge difference, Clark said. When parents understand the school’s expectations, they’re better able “to have discussions at home and support their children with school work.”

Clark, who graduated from the University of Maine at Farmington and Walden University in Minnesota, will be paid an annual salary of $70,800.

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