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WIDA's Featured Educator is a monthly interview with a classroom, district, or state-level educator on how he or she is making a difference for language learners. You can honor an exceptional colleague by emailing with "Featured Educator Nomination" in the subject line.

Briefly tell us why you think he or she is doing an amazing job. Please include the person's name, what they do, and contact information we can use to set up an interview. Thank you for helping us feature amazing educators of language learners.

Victoria Saldala: Featured Educator

January 2017

WIDA “Featured Educator” January:Victoria Saldala serves as the Director for the Bilingual/ESOL Department in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In this role, Victoria has been instrumental in helping the district increase their effectiveness in supporting language learning across the content areas and increasing educators knowledge about language development.

photo of Victoria Saldalae
Victoria Saldala

What is your current position and how long have you been in this role?

VS: I have been an educator for 29 years. I’m currently the director for the Bilingual/ESOL Department of Broward County Public Schools in Fort Lauderdale, FL. I have served in this role for nine years. Previous to this position, I was the Title III coordinator for four years. I also worked in Miami-Dade County as a district resource teacher for six years and elementary classroom teacher for 10 years.

What is your district like? Can you tell me a little about its location, size, and about the composition of the student body?

VS: Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) is the sixth largest school district in the nation and the second largest in the state of Florida. BCPS is Florida’s first fully accredited school system since 1962. BCPS has over 271,000 students and approximately 175,000 adult students in 236 schools, centers, technical colleges, and 101 charter schools. BCPS serves a diverse student population, with students representing 208 countries and 181 languages. English Language Learners comprise almost 14% of our student body.

Why are you an educator? What do you love about your job? What frustrates you?

VS: I wanted to be a teacher since I was a young girl. I knew I wanted to teach others and I have a passion for the work I do. I’m the daughter of immigrant parents who fled communism for a better life. They wanted freedom and the opportunity for my brother and I to have an education. I’ve been a classroom teacher, a district resource teacher, ELL coordinator, and now director. Each of these roles allowed me to learn from students and colleagues. I love the job I have because I get to advocate every day for our immigrant students and for those learning English as a second language. I love stories and strongly believe we can learn from each other’s stories. It frustrates me when educators don’t believe in each student’s potential. Our students come to us with so many experiences but due to their English proficiency they are perceived to have a “deficit.” Having a first language other than English is an asset and it is a message we strongly promote every day.

What is your approach or philosophy towards supporting language learners?

VS: English language learners are students who are intent on succeeding in English while maintaining their language and culture. They want to become part of American society while maintaining their own culture and language both in and out of school. BCPS has made a commitment to bilingual education. The district currently offers a dual language program in Spanish at 35 elementary schools and French in one school. In addition, our high schools offer 10 different world language courses. One of the department’s roles is to ensure students have a pathway to biliteracy and ultimately graduate with the Florida Seal of Biliteracy.

How do you support collaboration among educators across your district?

VS: When Florida joined the WIDA Consortium in 2015, we immediately recognized the opportunity to have a common language when it came to providing instruction to ELLs. It was time to change our role as “compliance specialists” to “educational specialists.” We collaborated with other academic departments to integrate the WIDA Standards Framework in all professional development and curriculum. From there, we have been working with leadership teams at schools to present to their staff on language acquisition and to redirect the focus on what ELLs can do. Our department’s ESOL Instructional Facilitators are instrumental in coaching classroom teachers; facilitating professional development with a focus on WIDA; and providing guidance with academic language development. I am very fortunate to have a team who is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure our students are treated fairly and are receiving comprehensible instruction. They have dedicated countless hours to learning about WIDA in order to develop and deliver professional development. I attribute our success to their work.

As a newer WIDA State, have you seen or enacted any changes to enhance the support your district provides to educators, students, or their families?

VS: In addition to the work described above, there is now more emphasis on the Language Domains in planning of instruction. Schools offer a Language Enrichment Camp with a focus on the WIDA Can Do Philosophy. Our state required ESOL endorsement courses have been updated to include WIDA Guiding Principles and the resources available on the website.

What benefits or strengths do language learners bring to your classrooms? What benefits do their families bring to schools or the surrounding community?

VS: Their home language, their culture, their story. If you take the time to understand where the students are coming from and why they are here, you will be empathetic to their needs. You have to get to know their stories. We partnered with I Learn America last year to capture our students’ experiences and share on social media. We developed a video of student testimonials and have integrated it in our professional development to inspire teachers as they cultivate learning communities and safe learning environments. Two years ago we had a group of non-English-speaking parents who formed a group called ESOL parent ambassadors. With our support, they serve as volunteers at schools to help other new families learn about the American school system and how to contribute to their community.

How do you advocate for your language learners and their families?  Why do you feel this type of advocacy is important?

VS: We have a bilingual parent outreach office dedicated to working with non-English speaking families. We offer a 4-week family game night series where families play educational games (literacy, math, science, and social studies) with their students and get to keep the games. We also host parent leadership meetings every other month on various topics such as Learning About Broward County Public Schools and Road to College. The department is also responsible for ensuring documents are translated in the top three languages and we have bilingual intake facilitators who serve as interpreters at meetings.

At the district level, how do you use assessment results to inform your decision-making?

VS: We used the results from ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 to write our Title III grant initiatives with a focus on academic language development. We were able to work with school leadership teams to analyze their data and direct them to the plethora of free resources in the WIDA library. There is a connection between the data and how it can impact classroom decisions. We also partner with ELLevation to use Collaborate and Instructional Strategies as part of the shift to academic achievement. All assessment results are available for teachers on the platform, which then identifies activities and strategies for students based on their English language proficiency levels.

Do you and your colleagues have the resources you need to teach ELLs adequately? What would you most like to add to your available resources or training?

VS: We work diligently to collaborate with our academic peers and to assist with integrating the resources available through WIDA in daily instruction. Although we have resources, we are a district of approximately 15,000 teachers and 337 schools (including charters). It’s important for everyone to continue learning about language development and to embrace our students for their contributions. Bilingualism benefits all students!