The Los Angeles Unified School District is the second largest school district in the United States. However, it serves the nation’s largest English language learning enrollment with students fluent in 93 different languages. While exposure to a vast multitude of cultures through language alone is supremely fascinating, why haven’t our public schools in general been able to achieve higher literacy rates in American English and improved literacy in other languages?
Hilda Maldonado is the Senior Executive Director of Diversity, Learning, and Instruction Education Department at the Los Angeles Unified School District. She oversees policy, leadership and instructional issues that affect a student’s capacity to continue to university and possibly a life out of poverty. Hilda was a former teacher and school principal. In her role, she examines how students can leverage the multiple languages spoken in Los Angeles and turn those verbal skills into assets that can be applied to career opportunities.
Hilda came to the United States as an eleven-year-old from Mexico. She didn’t speak English. Spanish was her primary language. Her parents enrolled her in elementary school, and she was assigned to fifth grade. Because her class instruction was taught in English only, Hilda was assigned to attend an English as a second language class for one hour per day. Her memories of this English as a second language instruction are very positive. Hilda credits this experience as her motivation to become a bilingual teacher.
“I was developmentally at a stage when I was still an eager learner and I already knew how to read and write in Spanish so I just needed to learn the words. It wasn’t that hard for me, but I know it can be challenging for other students who don’t yet know how to read,” Hilda reflected.
Hilda attended Cal State University in Los Angeles, where she received her B.A. in speech communication and rhetoric, and her M.A. in educational leadership and general administration. She received her PLD (Professional Leadership Development) certification from Harvard Business School in 2014.
Transforming instruction is the mission and Hilda’s goal at LAUSD. She focuses on systemic changes to accelerate the learning and academic success of students who either do not speak English or do not speak it proficiently when they start school. She believes in the power of educating students from an asset based whole child perspective.
A leader among leaders, Hilda’s research and practice has resulted in differentiated and effective instruction for English Learners, newcomers, and immigrants who are new to this country. She has also initiated system-wide improvements to professional development for teachers to assist them in providing instruction and support needed by English language learning students. Her successes, over a six-year period, include a significant increase in the rate of students becoming proficient in their new language. At the same time, there has been a significant decline in the number of long-term English Learners.
During her career with the school district, she has worked as a bilingual teacher, a bilingual coordinator, an advisor in the Language Acquisition Branch, an assistant principal and a principal at two schools–both of which experienced growth in academics, safety and school culture under her leadership. After serving as the Director of Elementary and Early Education schools, she advanced into the Executive Director of the Multilingual and Multicultural Education Department. Her success in English Learner work has been recognized at the state and national level.
Hilda received the Stanton Fellow award from the Durfee Foundation in 2016, and she explored the question on how might we view multiple languages as assets in Los Angeles. She recently decided to go back to school to earn a doctorate in Social Justice Leadership at Loyola Marymount University. Ms. Maldonado most recently led the development of the English learner and Standard English learner Master Plan for Los Angeles Unified School District.
Hilda is the highest-ranking Latina serving in the LAUSD, and she is doing critical work around language and improving the outcomes for our students. We honor her as a luchadora – someone who views our students’ language skills as an asset and looks for ways to strengthen their knowledge.
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