A One-Time English-Language Learner Puts Premium on Bilingual, Bicultural Education

Madeline Will | February 24, 2015 | EdWeek.org

Richard A. Carranza first stepped into a Tucson, Ariz., kindergarten classroom not speaking any English. By 2nd grade, the now-superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District was fully bilingual.

Mr. Carranza’s experience—growing up in a Spanish-speaking home with parents who were also bilingual—has shaped his passion for language. It’s also the driving force behind his commitment to ensuring that English-language learners in San Francisco’s public schools not only become fluent in their new language, but also have the opportunity to become fully fluent and literate in their native one.

That passion has stuck with him throughout his career in K-12 education: first as a bilingual social studies teacher and principal and then in various administrative roles, including a stint as a regional superintendent in Clark County, Nev., before becoming superintendent of the 53,000-student San Francisco district in June 2012.

Language, he believes and says repeatedly, is an asset, not a liability.

“I think it’s so important that language becomes depoliticized and becomes what it is—a vehicle for communication,” Mr. Carranza, 48, said.

“We take the approach that everybody deserves an excellent education,” he said. “It’s not the student who’s at fault [regarding] whether they’re learning or not. It’s really the system being able to meet the needs of the students.”

Lessons from the Leader

  • Value Language, Culture: By valuing the language and culture of English-learners, you can build on their assets. Students should be given the opportunity to graduate bilingual and bicultural.
  • Power of Data: When schools have access to disaggregated data by classroom, leaders and teachers are able to use the data to inform and adjust their instruction and identify any gaps in curricular resources for English-learners.
  • Family Support: Providing English-learner families with translated information, community resources, and culturally competent support services is essential to supporting students.
San Francisco Unified’s English-language-learner services are governed by the Lau Action Plan, which outlines steps the district must take to ensure students with limited English proficiency receive sufficient language instruction in English and full access to the mainstream curriculum. That plan stems from the 1974 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the landmark civil rights case, Lau v. Nichols, that ordered San Francisco’s schools to provide Chinese children who didn’t speak or understand English with a bridge to the curriculum. That case greatly expanded the rights of all children with limited English skills to receive special language instruction to learn English.

Read more at SFUSD.edu