José Antonio Montesinos Perez is the Councillor for Education for Torrevieja. He is also in charge of Citizen Participation (Participación Ciudadana), Co-ordination of Areas and Urbanisations (Co-ordinación de Barrios y Urbanizaciones) as well as being deputy mayor and mayor's spokesperson.
He has been part of the local government in Torrevieja for the last 12 years and, as part of the recently re-elected Popular Party (Partido Popular), is now commencing another four-year term of office. We met at the Torrevieja council's education office where he explained to me some of the responsibilities involved in such a varied position, starting with Participación Ciudadana.
What is Citizen Participation?
This consists of a regular meeting of the twenty or so Neighbourhood Associations within the town of Torrevieja. Representatives from each association meet once a month along with other groups such as Neighbourhood Watch, a number of multi-cultural organisations and NGOs. In this meeting we debate all aspects of civic life from public lighting and cleaning to social and cultural activities. The group has been inactive for six months during the period of re-election, but it is now due to recommence and the aim is for it to become a broad discussion forum dealing with all aspects of Torrevieja society.
Over the next four years we have a particular project in mind which is to divide the town of Torrevieja into administrative districts, as exist in large cities. Each district would have one town councillor to represent it, and a local delegate working from offices where a lot of the functions of the town hall would be decentralized. There would be a total of ten or twelve such areas divided up along the lines of existing electoral districts. We would be careful to respect the town's traditional trade boundaries such as the fishing, agricultural and salt working districts. This is a big job to complete in four years, but I would like to have at least one or two pilot offices working by the end of that time.
And Co-ordination of Areas and Urbanisations?
This is to do mainly with improving the green areas of the town. Abandoned areas that are not publicly owned at present will be given over to the Town Council who in return will become responsible for cleaning them up. The idea is to improve the image of Torrevieja in general, to make it more attractive and with a better infra-structure. In order to do this we have to co-ordinate with the traffic, police and environmental departments.
This is what takes up most of my time.
Could we talk about the new primary school - Colegio 10?
Yes. We already have 300 children enrolled at the school. It is situated in Las Torretas and we are finishing off work on preparing the terrain in order to start installing the pre-fabricated buildings. We intend to have it up and running for the beginning of term.
That's next week.
Yes. Well, what we foresee doing, if we can't use the installations straight away is the have the children starting in the afternoons at other school buildings first. We expect to have the work absolutely finalised by the twenty second of September, so that when the full morning and afternoon timetable starts on the first of October, the new premises will be fully functioning. In any case, the children of Colegio 10 will be starting school as normal on the eighth of September.
What are the future plans for school buildings in Torrevieja?
We are currently getting approval for the construction of Colegio 9 (primary school) and Instituto 4 (secondary school). These schools are already functioning in pre-fabricated buildings, so it is the construction of permanent buildings for these schools we are talking about. Colegio 9 will be in an area called Hondo de Garrofero, near Torreta III, and Instituto 4 will be near Avenida Baleares. These are due for completion for the 2004/2005 academic year. And then we can stop building.
Do you mean that you don't expect Torrevieja to grow any more?
No I don't mean that! What I mean is that when these two schools move into their permanent buildings, their two pre-fabricated sites will be available for two new schools to be opened. This gives us at least one year when we don't have to worry about constructing new school buildings. No, Torrevieja is set to grow more and more – I don't think it will ever stop.
How many new students enroll every year?
Last year we had between 400 and 500 new students enrolling during the prescribed registration period in May, but then more than 1000 students enrolled during the following three months. This year enrollment numbers were similar in May, and by September we are expecting between 700 and 800 more.
Are most of these foreigners?
A lot are foreigners, but there are also Spanish children from all over Spain. As there is so much growth in Torrevieja, people come with their families from other provinces to work.
What is the proportion of foreign to Spanish children in Torrevieja schools?
Approximately 25 per cent of children are foreigners. In Romualdo Ballester school in Los Altos the figure is 60 per cent, which is very high. There is a maximum ratio of 25 children to 1 teacher in Educación Infantil (3-5 years) and 30 to 1 in Educación Primaria (6-11 years). These limits can be surpassed with special permission from the regional educational authorities, which means that we can guarantee school places for every child who registers. There are many demands on our resources.
Are there as many new students enrolling in secondary schools?
Yes, it's just the same, but we still have enough places available in Instituto 4. Basically, when terms starts on the eighth of September for primary and the fifteenth of September for secondary, we will be starting off in a very similar position to the last 10 or 15 years in Torrevieja. Every child in Torrevieja will have a school place.
What are the main problems for you in the area of education?
The problem is foreseeing the future, and the speed with which we have to work. We have three months in the summer to provide new school buildings. The town hall is responsible for preparing the land, putting the infrastructure in place, renting the pre-fabricated buildings and employing support staff. The Valencian Community education authorities recruit the teaching staff, which come from all over Spain.
What are the language problems for children in the classroom?
We are operating a three-month adaptation scheme which is working very well. Each non-Spanish speaking child is paired up with a Spanish classmate who is responsible for helping him or her to settle in. There is an hour a day of extra support for children outside school hours, and each school can organise some Spanish teaching to fit in during the school timetable.
I would like to say here how much these school teachers deserve our applause and appreciation. Teaching is a difficult job at the best of times and the teachers in our schools are faced with extra problems which require a great deal of tolerance and patience. Torrevieja is very different from other places and part of our identity as a town is the ability to live and work together through all these language and communication problems. Our teachers are doing a great job in educating children for adult life in such a multi-cultural community.
What are the difficulties of integration at secondary level?
At secondary level it is less difficult as young people are more adult and can adapt quicker and more easily.
I was under the impression it was more difficult for children of this age to adapt.
Well, the problem with the secondary age group is that they have a lot more freedom, and this complicates the job. Parents don't tend to get involved with their children's education in the same way, so it is more difficult to deal with problems. We need to encourage parents to get involved in the school council (Consejo Escolar) the parents' association (AMPA) and to communicate with school tutors who all have two periods a week set aside to speak to parents.
What about the language barrier for parents who don't speak Spanish?
There is always someone in the school who can interpret for them. I really do want to take this opportunity to ask for an extra effort from parents to involve themselves in their children's education at secondary level.
Have you got a final message for parents of children reading this article?
Yes. Please be patient and tolerant. Don't expect everything to be done on the same day. We try and solve problems as fast as we can, but sometimes this might take ten or fifteen days. Please understand that Torrevieja is a town that is continually growing. The town council is working to improve education everyday as this is vital for all of us and for the future of our town.
Article published courtesy of CB Friday in association with thinkspain.com