Occasional Paper Series #39

Administrators' Roles in Offering Dynamic Early Learning Experiences to Children of Latinx Immigrants

Alejandra Barraza and Pedro Martinez

Principals and school administrators play a critical role in creating learning environments that are sensitive to the needs of students from immigrant families. School administrators, particularly principals, are tasked with making decisions that directly and indirectly impact what happens in a classroom. They act as instructional and visionary leaders as well as resource managers and so they determine both the culture and pedagogy of the school. They determine whether the main focus of the early learning classrooms will be academic skill development (literacy, numeracy), cognitive skill development (social competence, behavioral self-regulation, problem-solving, and decision-making), socio-emotional processing (helping others, empathy, sharing), cultural development (positive identity construction, community connection, and values), physical development (gross and fine motor skills), or a combination of these domains.

This article outlines our approach both as administrators and as Latina/o immigrants ourselves who work within Latinx immigrant communities in San Antonio. Our identities as well as our experiences as superintendent (Martinez) and principal (Barraza) inform the ways in which we conceive of high-quality early learning for young children of Latinx immigrants. We would like to help principals recognize and think carefully about their influence on the culture and pedagogy of their early childhood programs (preK-2). To do this, we describe how one early childhood school serves Latinx immigrants as well as Hispanic and African-American families and consistently performs well above the state average for early learning benchmarks while offering children dynamic, agentic learning experiences.

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About the Authors

Alejandra BarrazaDr. Alejandra Barraza is the principal of Carroll Early Childhood Education Center, a large, public pre-kindergarten program that is jointly funded by the San Antonio ISD and the federal Head Start Program. Alejandra received her PhD from the University of Texas-Austin in Curriculum and Instruction in Early Childhood Education. Her work focuses on how administrators see high quality early childhood education particularly for the young underserved population. She worked full time as she pursued her doctorate, which allowed her the unique opportunity to bridge theory with practice. As part of her doctoral work, she interned at the U.S. Department of Education during the time the Office of Early Learning was being established at DOE.

Pedro Martinez is the Superintendent of San Antonio Independent School District. Joining in 2015, Martinez has helped bring to the district a focus on improving academic achievement so that more students are performing at higher levels. In January 2016, he unveiled the SAISD Blueprint for Excellence: Target 2020, which outlines the strategies the district is using to achieve 10 academic goals by the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Martinez has more than 20 years of experience in the private, nonprofit, and public education sectors. He holds an MBA from DePaul University, a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy.