Hilda Maldonado, executive director of the Office of Multilingual and Multicultural Education, met Friday with Fresno Unified school board President Luis Chavez for an in-depth discussion of L.A. Unified’s approach to supporting English-language learners.

Fresno Unified Board President Luis Chavez
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Fresno Unified Board President Luis Chavez

“We have been watching with interest what Los Angeles has done to help English learners grasp the fundamentals of language and literacy,” Chavez said. “I wanted the chance to meet the person who has been driving this work.”

An English-learner himself, Chavez attended San Pedro and 28th Street Elementary Schools, John Adams Middle School, and Jefferson High School before transferring to Fresno Unified where he graduated and pursued a career in education.

“I taught at the post-secondary level and became concerned about the number of students without the fundamental skills in literacy they needed to be successful,” he said. “So, I decided to seek a position where I could make a difference.”

Maldonado sat down with the board president for over an hour in an in-depth conversation about L.A. Unified’s continued work to promote student language proficiency. Like Chavez, she is a firm believer that teaching the English language goes hand-in-hand with reading proficiency.

“We have re-framed the conversation around reclassification as a benchmark,” she said. “At the same time we are prioritizing academic achievement and long-term success among our English learners as the goal.”

The two discussed the importance of supporting educators in using data to know how students are progressing at any moment as well as their long term trajectories.

“One of the first questions I asked as board president is how many of our English learners are graduating from high school, applying for college and actually attending college,” Chavez said. “The reports we attained had low numbers. But what mattered is that we were now having a meaningful conversation with the data in front of us.”

He acknowledged that while the two districts have similar demographics, Los Angeles is implementing strategies on a massive scale and thus serves as a model for smaller districts.

“We see a lot of trends that come and go in education, some more effective than others,” Chavez said. “When we notice practices that show steady progress in serving English learners, we do our best to stay in touch with the experts and practitioners who are making it happen.”