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Meet research partnership member Jessica Villalobos

Meet research partnership member Jessica Villalobos

By Leslie Nail | June 28, 2018

Jessica Villalobos, a member of our Southwest English Learners (SWEL) Research Partnership, is senior director of the Language and Cultural Equity (LCE) Department at Albuquerque Public Schools (APS). The largest public school district in New Mexico, APS serves 84,000 students in 142 schools spread across nearly 1,200 square miles. More than 15,000 of the district's students—approximately 18 percent—are English learners (ELs).

Villalobos has been with APS for the past 16 years, beginning as a teacher and athletic coach. As LCE director, she oversees a department that is charged with providing leadership, technical assistance, and professional resources to support schools in implementing language services for students with linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds. The work she leads is crucial to advancing EL success and includes bilingual and multicultural education programs, English language development, and assessment and identification of EL students.

When forming the SWEL partnership, the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) and REL Southwest reached out to potential members from higher education, nonprofit education organizations, and New Mexico school districts—including Villalobos. Asked why she decided to join SWEL, Villalobos points to the productive, collaborative environment that already existed between NMPED's Language and Culture Bureau and APS and to the promising results of that collaboration seen in district schools.

"The most rewarding part of the work is knowing that what we do for English learners in our department is reflected in our schools, in how school leaders and teachers are serving our students," says Villalobos. "The policies and procedures and systems of support we are putting into place are raising the expectations and providing access to a quality education for our ELs," she explains. "For example, five of the last six valedictorians at the largest high school in the district have been English learners. This is something we are proud of at Albuquerque Public Schools."

With such encouraging outcomes emerging from joint APS and NMPED efforts, Villalobos appreciates the expanded opportunities for collaboration presented by the research partnership. She notes the "positive collaborative space" created by SWEL and the value of teaming up with "individuals from across the state who are all very involved at the state and national level." As SWEL develops a research agenda to plan its scope of work and identify research questions to study, Villalobos is looking ahead. She hopes the five-year partnership will result in evidence-based guidance on New Mexico's EL programs as well as recommended best practices for implementation. She also would like to see the group focus attention on best practices for serving students with disabilities within EL programs.

Villalobos envisions that the SWEL partnership will help "renew our commitment to advocate for effective programs for these students. English learners and their families are at the heart of everything we do."

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Author Information

Leslie Nail

Leslie Nail

Communications Specialist | REL Southwest

lnail@air.org