Kia Johnson: Education Leadership and Advocacy Insights

Tune in to the ML Chat podcast for an interview with Kia Johnson from the Center for Applied Linguistics! Discover her journey from paraprofessional to education leader, perspectives on family engagement, Title III compliance, and teacher advocacy. Get valuable information on alternative certification and teacher assistant pathways. Don’t miss this enlightening conversation on critical education topics!

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Kia Johnson: [00:00:00] Family engagement. Family engagement. I, I cannot express enough the importance of getting the families of your multilingual learners in your schools and you getting, not necessarily like visiting their homes, but making sure that you are acknowledged in their homes. A lot of times, the students come to school and they’re with you a big chunk of their day, but then they go home, their home environment is not going to mirror their school environment.

Their cultural practices and their native country educational experiences, they’re, they don’t carry over without the education of the family of what that expectation and what that, those practices look like. So if you’re only just doing your required title one math night and they come in and do some math activities and you send them home but you’re not giving them like a full overview of navigating the American school system and how [00:01:00] you can support that integration at home and in your community.

Then there’s no retention, there’s no follow up, there’s no practice and enrichment so that students are in that environment outside of the school environment. They’re in school for six hours, what is, what’s happening those other hours? What can you do with them when you’re grocery shopping, when you’re cooking, when you’re playing games, when they’re doing a sport?

What type of education can we do for whole family experiences so that it trickles into the home? And then that way it’s consistent for students in both environments. Hey everybody. 

Justin Hewett: Welcome to the ML chat podcast. My name is Justin Hewett. I’ll be your host. And we’ve got Mandi Morris as my co host, and we have an awesome interview today.

Awesome conversation with Kia Johnson from the Center for Applied Linguistics. What a, what an interesting conversation, right, Mandi? Kia is awesome. [00:02:00] 

Mandi Morris: Awesome. And if anyone is equipped to talk about everything from family engagement to Title III compliance, it’s Kia. And how informative and interesting that conversation was.

Justin Hewett: It was so cool to hear how she went from working really from driving the bus and being a paraprofessional to being an English learner teacher, an EL teacher for a few years. And then shortly thereafter, she’s like running things for WIDA. She became the WIDA wizard for the Department of Education in Virginia.

Are you kidding me? What a meteoric rise. And it’s really just interesting to, to hear her kind of Tell that story, but also just how powerful that was to have someone who really understood what it felt like to be on the front lines going from one year you’re on the front lines teaching and working with your students to the next year, coordinating things at a state level, and it really made her an [00:03:00] advocate for students and teachers.

And I just I loved hearing that process and what she thought about. That, and some of the things she tried to put in place 

Mandi Morris: and really connecting her experience going from an alternative certification process and the passion that she has for providing space and grow your own programs. for teacher assistants to be able to also find paths and funding for alternative certification into education.

It was really neat to hear her talk about that journey. 

Justin Hewett: Well, especially with all the teacher shortages that we’re seeing really across the nation. I think you have shared some really practical ideas as, as far as how to grow your own department. At the end of the day, and I love that. Well, I think you are in for a treat.

You’re going to love this conversation with Kia Johnson from the Center for Applied Linguistics. Let’s get into it. Kia Johnson has 16 years of experience serving, teaching, and supporting English learners. She has served as an ESL teacher, ESL [00:04:00] department chair, and ESL lead teacher. Kia is currently the Director of Pre K 12 Language and Literacy at the Center for Applied Linguistics, otherwise known as CAL, and there she oversees professional development services nationwide and internationally.

She was previously the English Learner Assessment and Title III Specialist For the Virginia department of education. Kia holds a master of education in teaching English as a second language from Jones international university, a master of education and an educational administration from California university of Pennsylvania, otherwise known as Penn West and a bachelor of arts in Spanish from Fayetteville state university.

She is currently a doctoral candidate at Loyola Marymount university, pursuing a doctor of education and educational leadership for social justice. Her research focuses on funding equity and quality of language acquisition services provided to specialized Multilingual populations in low incident districts [00:05:00] in Virginia.

In her free time, Kia enjoys spending time with her husband and their five daughters, having five daughters. Kia, you do not have a lot of free time, but welcome to the ML chat podcast. We’re thrilled to have you here with us today. 

Kia Johnson: Thank you so much. Really happy to share how I juggle all of those things.

things and still make space for advocating for our multilingual learners. So thank you for having me. 

Justin Hewett: We’re thrilled to have you join us. And we know we’re going to have a great conversation because we were in the green room chatting for 20 minutes, having a great conversation before this even started, we figured we might as well hit record and jump in here, but just.

If you don’t mind, give everyone a little bit of background on what the Center for Applied Linguistics is and what you do there if you don’t mind. Just give everyone a little bit of context. 

Kia Johnson: Excellent. Here at CAL, Center for Applied Linguistics, we’re about a 60 year old organization, non profit research based organization where [00:06:00] we cover all facets of supporting multilingual learners.

At all stages in education. So we have units that support world language, adult education. Our assessment department is also the test developer, the item developer for WIDA assessments. We have a dual language unit that does professional development and program evals for dual language. And then I’m that partner department where we do the professional development for programs that are non dual language in nature that support our multilingual learners.

So we cover a lot of different areas, but essentially if you need support working with a multilingual learner from pre k all the way through adult ed, we’ve got a unit and a team that’s ready to support. 

Justin Hewett: And so do you have consultants all around the country that do provide professional development in districts?

Yes, that kind of model. What 

Kia Johnson: does that model look? Yes. So our model is we have a Cal team. There are five of [00:07:00] us that work behind the scenes. That’s myself and four colleagues. And then we have a team of about 20 consultants who help facilitate all of our projects. And they are from East coast to West coast, from here, from where we are in DC, all the way out to California.

And we have consultants all over and they help deliver either virtually In person our international projects, whatever comes our way, we usually have a way to support their PD needs. 

Justin Hewett: Wow. What a flexible program, but I love the mission that you all are on and to be able to provide different tools and resources.

And I didn’t realize how extensive the Center for Applied Linguistics was even helping write items for WIDA. That’s significant. 

Kia Johnson: Yes. That’s a very big part of our work. Absolutely. Absolutely. 

Justin Hewett: I want to know a little bit about your story and how you got there. So before you were working at the state, Virginia state department of education.

How did you end up there and how did, maybe walk us through your journey just real [00:08:00] quick, if you don’t mind. 

Kia Johnson: My story is probably one of my favorite openers when I’m talking to educators, because believe it or not, I started out driving school buses. I was a school bus driver and a kindergarten teacher assistant.

I was fresh out of college. I had my oldest in my senior year of college and graduated 10 days later and said, well, I need a job to take care of my kid. And my degree was in Spanish. So I took it. I had a bachelor’s, they took me as a teacher assistant and a requirement at that time was that you also had to get your CDL to drive school buses.

And then I ended up getting a bus route. It wasn’t a guarantee, but lucky me, I ended up getting a bus route and I absolutely loved driving a bus, by the way. It’s a lot of fun. 

Justin Hewett: I have to say, I bet your kid, those kids loved getting on your bus, Kia. You have such amazing energy. I wouldn’t surprise me if you like had secret handshakes with every single one of [00:09:00] us, like had songs you guys were singing or something.

Kia Johnson: If they were older kids, I mean younger kids, probably. I ended up getting a route that drove like the secondary, the high school kids. So they’re kind of like, just don’t talk to me. Or they would talk to me because some of them, I was similar in their age. I was like young 20s when I started in education.

I think I was 22 when I was driving a school bus. So there were very well kids who were just a few years younger than me on my bus. But yeah, I was a sub bus driver for a while. So I drove anything. And then I ended up replacing a driver on a route about halfway through the year. And it was high school or so didn’t get to have as much fun as I would have liked.

But it was still a pretty, it was a nice smooth route, I will say, but yeah, no, from there I was working, supporting a kindergarten teacher and with my background and my degree in Spanish, one part of my day was supporting. We had one student in our class who. Spoke only Spanish at home [00:10:00] and would come to school and was very reserved and the participation, the speaking especially was just an area of growth for that student.

So I was tasked of doing one on one small groups with that student every day. And a couple times a week, another teacher would come and pull him from my classroom and I wouldn’t know where he was going and I was very protective of him. So I’m like, who is this person who keeps coming to take this kid out of here and I’m trying to take care of him.

And so one day I stepped out in the hall and I was like, hey, I see you here a couple times a week. Who are you and why are you taking him? And she’s like, I’m his ESL teacher. And I said, please tell me more. I have this background. This is my bachelor’s. So you think this, I would love to do this. I wanted to be a Spanish teacher.

I thought in college. And she said, Oh, sure. No, you have the great background for that. We do lateral entry for teachers here, where if you have a bachelor’s, they give you time to get your license. And I literally went home that day and signed up for a master’s program that would [00:11:00] also issue me teacher licensure and ESL.

And then that next month, I interviewed at a high school in our district and they hired me. As a high school ESL teacher in the last month of the school year. Yeah. So that’s where it all started. And I tell that story to people and they’re like, no way. I’m like, no, really, that is exactly how it happened.

And so that first three years of teaching, I was also going to school for my master’s and to meet my licensure requirement and I got my teaching license and here I am. Yeah, no, I did that. I taught high school. And then I moved to districts and did elementary, fell in love with elementary, then moved to Virginia.

That was all in North Carolina, and thought I wanted to be a school administrator. So I got that master’s degree somewhere in there, but then ended up skipping that completely and got hired by the Virginia Department of Education, straight out of the classroom. So I guess, while I was six months pregnant.

So I showed up to the interview pregnant in a black dress, tried to hide it. Didn’t work, but they hired me anyway. Heheheheh [00:12:00] And yeah, and I did that and so Virginia lovingly called me the WIDA wizard for five years. I answered and fielded all WIDA questions. WIDA participation was my wheelhouse as well as EL participation in our state assessment.

I managed that for five years and then came over to Cal. I felt like I had all these coincidences that kind of lined it up, but it was it’s a story that I just love to tell because it’s like a big push of mine of making sure that You also pay attention to your paraprofessionals because I literally wouldn’t be in the seat in this role if I didn’t make that connection with the EL teacher to ignite that idea for me.

Justin Hewett: Amazing. I love hearing your story. That is so fun. It leaves like so many questions that I want to ask about it. 

Kia Johnson: Yes, a lot of people do. They’re like, they look at me and they’re like, what? How, huh? Where, where’d you start? What were you doing? It’s a, it’s an amazing story to tell. I’m just, I’m happy to share it anytime someone asks.

Justin Hewett: It takes a lot of grit and a lot of [00:13:00] drive, right? To do what you did and to get where you’ve gotten at this point. And that’s really fun to hear. Mandi, I know you want to get in here, but I’m going to ask one more question and then I’ll let you get in. I just want to know, how did you go from, What led you to apply for the role at the state after being in the classroom for five years or three years or whatever that was what made you think, Oh, I should do 

Kia Johnson: this other fun part of my story, everything that I have applied to or participated in or done since meeting my husband is because he Like, he’s got the ultimate faith in me because I, like I said, was pregnant at the time.

I saw this, uh, position come across my inbox. I think I was subscribed to some. Something cause I was still looking for like school administration jobs at the time while I was teaching. So it came through my inbox and I click on it and it says English language proficiency assessment specialist supporting participation in WIDA [00:14:00] assessments.

Somewhat supporting title three. There was like things in there that I knew, I knew WIDA. I had coordinated, I had been teaching since WIDA started. So, I grew with WIDA and I was ESL lead teacher at my school at the time. So I was overseeing a lot of things and had done a lot of PD and I was reading it like, this is making sense to me.

I think I could do it. And so I present it to my husband and I’m like, what do you think of this job that came across my inbox? And he was like, Oh yeah, he’s like, apply. He calls me the I everything. So he’s like, that’s all you. And I’m like, are you sure? I haven’t even been an administrator. I’m still in the classroom.

And he was like, just apply. And then they asked me for the interview. And then by then I applied when I was like really early pregnant. So I thought they would be interviewing a little sooner than they did. I was like, Oh yeah, I’ll apply. Interview that we’ll never know. But then they don’t start interviewing until I’m like six months pregnant.

So when they call and they’re like, do you want to come in for an interview? I was like, yeah, sure. And [00:15:00] I’m like, what do I do? I’m just going to show up looking like this. They’re never going to hire me. So I throw on this black dress cause I wasn’t wide. I was just really long from the front. So I was like, if I just stay facing forward the whole time, they would never know it’s a black dress.

It’s like, if I just don’t turn sideways, Don’t let them see me sideways. They’ll never know. And I brought in, I made like a whole binder portfolio. I brought in a binder. And left them with that. There was some writing piece, but the interview went really well. Despite me being late, I got a parking ticket.

I cried in the car cause I couldn’t buckle my shoe. It was all things that were just saying here, you are not getting this job today. And then they called me and said, we’d like to offer you the position. And I was just like, Holy moly, that actually worked. And my husband’s looking at me like, why wouldn’t it?

And that’s pretty much the same story of how I got here to Cal minus the like Pregnant part. 

Mandi Morris: I love hearing you talk about your story and having a champion in your court for [00:16:00] you and just the confidence that built for you to be able to connect to those pieces. I, my very first teaching out of college was in Northern Virginia.

I lived in Fairfax for a year and it was a really wonderful place to live and definitely the most culturally and linguistically diverse place that I’ve ever lived. And I would love to hear you talk about your experience working just with the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Department of Education.

What was that like supporting one of the largest multilingual populations in the nation? 

Kia Johnson: I loved it. Fairfax, actually, a third of Virginia’s English learners. Are in Fairfax County schools. So that’s how many English learners Fairfax has. I would always say that I had a job because of Fairfax County. I got really close with their assessment department.

They’re E. S. L. coordinators because they had 30 plus 1000 E. [00:17:00] L. S. out of our 100. 15, 000 at the time when I was there, and so if they needed something, they’re the ones who kept me busy, because if they had the question, or if they needed the assistance, then it was something that was going to benefit all of the other districts for sure.

So they were, we had a really close working relationship because I would bounce a lot of things off of them of like, Hey, I’m thinking of moving these things forward. How would this impact you all? Does it make sense? And then I check and see if it’s something I could do. And I worked in the assessment department the first year and a half, and I somewhat supported title three.

And then I really fell in love with the title three part of the job. They let me rework my position to where half of my Time was spent doing the assessment, and half of my time was supporting Title III applications and funding. So I was able to support all of the districts in some way, and I was able to see parts of Virginia I didn’t even know we had.

I’ve been all the way out [00:18:00] to Southwest Virginia, out through the mountains, almost in Tennessee. I was like, man, I’ve been everywhere, and it was so humbling to know that All of the ESL coordinators in the state knew that they could email me or call me directly. They would get a response from me directly, and I would troubleshoot whatever it is they needed.

I would listen to their concerns. I came in, I think the benefit of me coming into that role, Was that I came straight from the classroom, and so everything that came out of the department is what was impacting me as a teacher or would give me questions. So as soon as I came into that role, I asked my supervisor, why is this this way?

Why does this take so long to come back? What do I actually have like power over? So I can try to see what I could shift for the other teachers who are still in the classroom because these were some gripes of mine when I was in the classroom just last week. And so I came in with this checklist of what are some things that I would have [00:19:00] appreciated as a classroom EL teacher and what parts of this position with the state can make those changes.

And I got all of those changes done in those five years. And once I had finished those things, I was like, okay, job well done. And then that’s when I found my position here at Cal. But some of those things that came in, I wanted our WIDA scores back sooner. They weren’t coming back until we were all going on summer break in June.

And I said, how was that helpful for me as an EL teacher, when I’m already planning on where I need these kids to be next school year. So now they come back in May. I managed to work out the calendar and get the scores back in May. And. Make a test window that worked. I got implement a way to make sure all of our students who couldn’t participate in all four domains of the WIDA test could still get an overall score so they could show progress and exit.

Because when I came in, if you had a disability that prevented you from doing, maybe, say, the reading domain without accommodations. You wouldn’t get your overall score. [00:20:00] You would only get your three domain scores and without the overall score, you can’t exit or get counted for progress. I led that push of getting that change.

So now they can request exemption from up to two domains and still show progress and exit if they’re by getting overall scores. And I just really led the push of marrying title three to assessment. And so when I felt like I did everything that I thought would impact the classroom, I said, okay, I can go make change somewhere else.

And then I started looking around and that’s how I found Cal. 

Mandi Morris: I’d love to talk a little bit more about. the WIDA aspect and you made the connection of being a teacher and knowing how that impacted your work in your role. Could you unpack a little bit more about how did that impact specifically your experience as a an ESL teacher with the WIDA assessment?

How did that impact your role in your thinking around assessment in the role that you have now? Or even in [00:21:00] that Department of Ed position that you had, just the way that you thought about assessment and how would you communicate that to other teachers now? 

Kia Johnson: Coming into that role, my initial, my first initial thought was, I need to be able to make informed decisions.

Decisions for my students as soon as possible. We essentially, as an EL teacher, depending on your state testing window where I have been in North Carolina and Virginia, you really pretty much just get a semester to teach your kids before you take your WIDA test. You’ve got to crunch in a lot before you then have to stop that instruction and focus on assessment.

And then you get back to instruction, but you don’t know how your kids did on that test until they’re already gone from you for the summer. And so that was the biggest gripe of mine when I came to the state was like how is that helpful for anyone because some districts let out in May and then some we let out in June, but the scores, you couldn’t do anything with them until you came back to school week.

So you don’t really [00:22:00] know how your students did, who made progress. It’s hard to evaluate your own work and how you did when you don’t know how your students did. And you just need to know those things also. And for staffing. I need to know how many level 1s, 2s, 3s, and 4s am I going to have when I am making my class rosters over the summer for next school year.

And if I don’t have those scores, I’m not going to have balance in my classroom clusters when I make my things. So I came to the state and I asked Ouida, I said, how does this, who makes the texting calendar? You do. Oh, you don’t say. I was like, Oh, that’s me. Great. Well, what could we do to get? And I outward asked him, I said, how do I need to adjust our state testing calendar?

If I want my teachers to have their scores back at least online in May. And so we kind of played with it, then COVID happened. So I had the plans, they were supposed to go into play in 2020. So we had to push it off a year. But they [00:23:00] helped me shift the window. I didn’t want to take away testing time just because I knew in the districts where I worked, they needed those weeks, but I was able to shave it just a little in the beginning, just a little at the end.

So they still had a good window. And I shortened their validation periods to go check all of their stuff. I was like, you guys, I can get them back to you in May, but you’re going to have to be really quick about these tasks if you want that to happen. And we made it happen. 

Justin Hewett: I love that. I love that you did everything you could to adjust the game to your needs, right?

To make it fit what you could for your teachers and advocate for them. And I love that that was your perspective. What a perfect way to segue into that role is to go from being a teacher, right? Because then it gives you the perspective on the front lines. That was what you were most familiar with.

You weren’t as ingrained with all the politics that might happen at a district level. And so then it allowed you to focus on what was going to impact. Kids and [00:24:00] teachers the most, and I just I love that it’s interesting what you were talking about. As far as gosh, we take the assessment in January, February.

We’re not getting the data back till May, June, and then we’re losing kids. Anyways, we’re not going to see him again till August, September before we can actually impact that. That really Yeah. And that was one of the big reasons that led to our starting Flashlight Learning and starting Flashlight 360 was to be able to provide the right now data for our teachers on speaking and writing, do a formative assessment, do a benchmark assessment that allows teachers to understand where are my students right now and what do they need next, right?

And I think those are the things that. Really allow a teacher to have a powerful impact because now they’re able to meet the needs of students in their proximal, zone of development right now with their language development and anyways, but I love that focus. I love that focus of being able to get more data for teachers, get it in a timely manner so they can actually utilize it to inform their [00:25:00] instruction, create lesson plans, et cetera, super powerful stuff.

So I wonder Kia, when you made the transition. To the state, you started working with a number of different districts, and you had insight into kind of how they operated, how they served students. Now you’re at Cal at the Center for Applied Linguistics, and you’re doing the same. Like you get these insights into these different districts.

It’d be fun to unpack a little bit, maybe a couple of things. One, let’s start with where do districts fail? Where do they come up short and when they do fail? Like, when they’re not serving English learners, they’re not meeting the needs of our students. What does that look like? 

Kia Johnson: Whew. That is a loaded question because it depends on the district and what state that district is in.

I’ll say, for example, because I know a lot about Virginia’s districts, but a lot of what it is is. Evaluating your programs, [00:26:00] there’s a little bit of politics to it as well, but there is some district, local ownership to program evaluations, and then implementing the feedback from the evaluations. I know here in Virginia, we would, we do our Title III federal program monitoring, and biggest piece is following through with those protocols.

We make a protocol of All of the title three requirements that we look for when we’re evaluating your programs. How are you identifying who your English learners are? How are you placing them in classrooms? How are you serving their parents? Um, assessment participation? How are you spending your time?

There’s a list of things that we’re looking for and we have them submit their evidence. And submit documents, handbooks, whatever they have to show we are doing these things. And then we peruse through all of these things, set up a formal meeting with them, either in person or virtually. And we walk through all [00:27:00] of those things in the protocol.

This is what you’ve submitted. This is where we see great things happening. Here is some room for improvement. Here are some recommendations. We’ll check back with you in five years. Get them done. And you have us at your disposal. Throughout those 5 years, however, you need us, I don’t know what that process looks like in every state, but districts can do that for themselves.

They don’t have to wait for a state to say, here’s your protocol. Here’s what you check for. They can go pull up the title 3 toolkit. The English learner toolkit and go through and see how are we meeting these 10 chapters go through that dear colleague letter and I’ll align that with your program. Okay.

Dear colleague letter says we should making sure that we’re pushing extracurriculars. One big push for mine, for example, when I would go look at districts, you could be compliant and everything. I was really good or big on looking at what does it look like? Yeah. Your gifted numbers for multilingual learners, your AP [00:28:00] courses, your honors courses.

I’m not just looking at are you over or under identifying for disabilities, but where are your ELs in those advanced placement options? Because you’ve got to make sure that you really are paying attention to your student performance and you’re not also You could be a barrier to their success. You could hinder their success.

You’ve got to know what are your options to make sure that they’re represented across all student populations. And what are you doing to make sure that you have a good gifted referral process for multilingual learners? Are you just using cOGAT test or do you guys have alternate screening options to check for giftedness to make sure that there’s representation there?

What’s college placement courses honors courses? How do you determine if they can participate in that? Do they have that option? But you really just look through everything. So I feel like a big piece of this, not necessarily how they fall short, but what I don’t see a lot of and [00:29:00] what I am really trying to push districts because Cal helps with that.

They’re there. If you need help with that, you don’t need to wait for the state to come in because when the state comes in, they’re doing it as federal program monitoring. Then when they find it, they have to formally write it up. And now you’re on some plan. And if it gets past that, it goes to DOJ. And now you’re on a settlement agreement with the office of civil rights.

It’s like, before you get to any of that, look at your program yourself. And if you don’t know how to look at your program yourself, ask for help. And you’ll catch the things that you either don’t realize you should be doing or how you can improve what you’re doing. 

Justin Hewett: I love that. I love that. And I appreciate you breaking that down.

There’s a number of different ways and places where people can fall short. But ultimately what it comes down to is like doing that self assessment yourself, figure out where you’re doing well, be honest with yourself. And then if you do need some extra help, pull someone else in and have them give you feedback on it.

I love that. So I want to ask the kind of the [00:30:00] converse of that or the inverse, which is if I’ve got a district and they do this one thing really well, It will make the biggest difference. Or it will really move the needle. What’s that one thing that if you do that, well, it’s okay. If you don’t get everything right.

Cause you know what? No, one’s going to get everything right. Okay. But if you do this one thing, it’s going to have a big impact. What’s that one thing, Kia? 

Kia Johnson: Family engagement, family engagement. I cannot express enough the importance of getting the families of your multilingual learners. In your schools and you getting not necessarily like visiting their homes, but making sure that you are acknowledged in their homes.

A lot of times the students come to school and they’re with you big chunk of their day, but then they go home their home environment is not going to mirror their school environment, their cultural practices. And their native country [00:31:00] educational experiences there, they don’t carry over without the education of the family of what that expectation and what that those practices look like.

So if you’re only just doing your required title one math night and they come in and do some math activities and you send them home, but you’re not giving them like a full overview of navigating the American school system and how you can support that. so much. integration at home and in your community.

Then there’s no retention. There’s no follow up. There’s no practice and enrichment so that students are in that environment outside of the school environment. They’re in school for six hours. What is what’s happening? Those other hours. What can you do with them when you’re grocery shopping, when you’re cooking, when you’re playing games, when they’re doing a sport?

What type of education can we do for whole family experiences so that it trickles into the home? And then that way it’s [00:32:00] consistent for students in both environments. I feel like that’s just common knowledge.

Mandi Morris: What advice would you give to a school district that. Is just ticking the boxes for I need to do this for compliance and they want to go deeper.

They want to do a better job with family engagement and they don’t know where to start where we do encourage that school district to start. It can be a little bit overwhelming and there are a lot of barriers, like transportation and funding personnel. It takes the right person to be able to coordinate those large.

Get together family engagement activities, and maybe it takes a group of people to be able to pull all the pieces together. So how would you give advice to somebody to get started with that?

Kia Johnson: I would say start with having a liaison designated. to do that work for you. There are ways you can find even a part time position to have their sole purpose is to nurture that homeschool connection.[00:33:00] 

And that can be your person who is not only reaching out to families individually or by classroom, but also reaching out to the community, because it’s not just a school’s responsibility to make sure families are being engaged, but you could have that person, Your teachers, whoever it is, I’ve seen it happen several ways where you reach out to community spaces that are safe spaces for your multilingual families, and also reach out to them and see how they would like to help where they think they could help.

And so that when the families are in those spaces, it’s still being addressed. So then all of the onus isn’t on just the district. Because they don’t live at the school all day, but they’re in our, they’re in our stores. These families use our, their com, the community is, it’s theirs as well. And so just as we’re able to go to the grocery store, go to the library, go to a park and we can engage in it completely.

I know when I take my kids anywhere, it’s a [00:34:00] learning opportunity. We’re doing multiplication when it’s four for 12. The grocery store, we’re talking about how much is one pack, all of those things, you can have those resources put in those spaces so that the families know to have those conversations, even if it’s just a little pamphlet or something.

Okay, while you’re here today, ask your kids about this. Talk about this. Count these out. My youngest is in kindergarten. We’re still talking about colors, numbers, grouping, counting, but you have to have those relationships with those other spaces to help you also nurture that for families so that the families are seeing it regularly and then it just becomes natural for them to forge those conversations and experiences with their kids outside of the school.

Mandi Morris: I’d love to go back for a minute and talk about the title three. Compliance piece, the evaluation piece. This is a big undertaking for our school districts and going through that evaluation is a big time commitment and it can be [00:35:00] scary. You’re worried about not checking all the boxes. You’re worried about not meeting expectation.

I was in a role previously where I was responsible for that evaluation and it was my first year in the role and it was, Oh, by the way, we’re being audited by the state this year. 

Kia Johnson: I have been in some of those audits where I’m like, Hey, you’re new here. Now show me all your stuff.

Mandi Morris: Right. I started the role in August and I had until May or June to get it done.

And our representative from the department of education gave me her cell phone number and said, you can text me with questions. I leaned in like, really? Can I really? She said, yes, you can. And some of my colleagues thought I was crazy that I was really texting her, but I really wanted to get it right. And I didn’t know how to get the help I needed to get.

I think some people are nervous to ask questions because they’re worried that if I ask questions, they’re going to think I’m doing it wrong. Whereas I [00:36:00] saw it more from the perspective of. I need the information to know how I’m going to do it, and maybe because it was my first year, I had no choice but to reach out.

What advice would you give for coordinators, for admin who are going through the evaluation process? And I know every district and state is different, but what advice could you give about how to think about that process? What’s the right, maybe even mind shift to have?

Kia Johnson: The state is your friend. That was my biggest thing.

Every state department wants you to succeed. They are in those positions to make sure that you succeed. They’re not just there. Oh, you’ve got to be compliant. And if you’re not, you’re in trouble. We, I say we, I’m not at the state anymore, but they are your barrier. To federal government. That’s the thing. So the state, they’re your friends.

They’re your best friends. And I really think states and districts [00:37:00] really have got to forge those relationships. And a lot of times, like you said, people think of, oh, you’ve got to call the state. You must be in trouble. It’s no, I need guidance. They are in the positions. of guidance for you. So do not hesitate to figure out who your specialist is for whatever area where you feel like you are either not doing well, or you need advice, or you want to make sure that you’re, doing things properly.

That’s what they’re there for. And after a while you get comfortable calling out to them. I know what, when I started at the state and Teachers would say, I really want to ask you a question, but I don’t want us to get in trouble. And it’s like, I, one don’t have the power to absolutely put you in the trouble.

I’m not the one who was like, okay, now you’re fired. And this, we are not those people. I think that’s the other, yeah, I think that’s the other piece. That’s we are not the people who are. Taking everything [00:38:00] from you. It’s when it gets to the people above us that you’re in trouble. So by bringing it to us first, we can help you.

And bring it to them, bring it to your state people, and talk it through. That’s how I was able to do that alternate access, the alternate exiting calculation, because I, people were asking for it. They asked for it when I was in the classroom, and when I got there, and they were like, When can these kids exit?

Now we have this progress model. And this kid can’t take this test. I have a blind student who can’t take these two domains. How are they going to show progress? You voice that enough to your people, they’re going to see what changes they can make, but you’ve really got to have that trust and you just have to first start by just approaching the conversation, but they really are there to help.

And it’s not just your title three state people. There are content area state people, but if you’re evaluating your program. Maybe for a title three audit, but you see that you are having trouble over [00:39:00] identifying students in your special education, and you think that’s going to be a conversation in your audit.

Then you also have the state special education department. It’s not just title three bring in. Other stakeholders who oversee the areas you’re evaluating, so don’t think that you can only go to Title III just because you’re having a Title III audit, but wherever you are seeing the areas for growth, look into those departments as well with your state, because they have additional specialists that can give you even more specialized support than we can give you just from the Title III standpoint.

Justin Hewett: That is so valuable, such good insight. And I think these are the little things though, that can make such a big difference for, especially for an EL director, that’s brand new in their position, and they’re trying to build out a program, they’re trying to put a department together, trying to figure out what’s going on, use the, your resources at the state and bring them in as a part of your team, right?

Use them as that phone, a friend lifeline who [00:40:00] wants to be a millionaire. Here’s one of your lifelines, call Kia. And she’s going to help you out. And so I love that. I love hearing that. 

Kia Johnson: Yeah. One thing we did when I was at the state that title three is of course, all of the funding for your EL programs, but based on how many students you have, you get a certain amount of money.

And if you don’t get us, if you don’t hit a certain minimum, then you’ve got to. Usually create a consortium of divisions to share that money because we’re not just going to give you like 500 for one L and manage it. A 500 grant. Virginia had the title three consortium, so they all received less than 10, 000 a piece in title three funds.

But one piece that I added to that consortium, because one benefit is they get their own conference every year With the title three office just for consortium districts. But then we also had added in a webinar series just for those districts because oftentimes you have one EL teacher or a coordinator who’s got five other hats.

And so that [00:41:00] networking and relationship building isn’t there. And so we started quarterly webinars at the time. I think they’re more frequent now, but it was really a space for those low incidents. We don’t have a lot of L districts to have a safe space to ask the state questions, to build the relationship with the title three office and to bounce ideas and questions off of each other because they were usually isolated or independent contributors in their districts.

And it gave them an opportunity to get Specialized based on their context, but I think that’s another really important thing. To do with that, there’s not a lot for them to bounce off of if they’re alone. In Virginia, we have 133 districts and 68 districts qualify for the consortium. So that’s half of Virginia’s ELs are in a district where they get less than 10, 000 in Title III funds.

So the support available to them, if they don’t reach out to us at the state, is going to be minimum because they don’t have [00:42:00] people within their district to bounce off of. They have one EL teacher. Coordinator is also like a principal, a SPED coordinator, the attendance specialist, all of these things. And so those 68 divisions now have a safe space where they can come to the state once a quarter, bring their questions, get their ideas and talk to other people with their roles in other districts similar in context.


Justin Hewett: just becomes so valuable and being able to provide those the students who happen to be in those 68 school districts. Access to some of the same ideas and best practices and strategies and tools, et cetera. Right? 

Kia Johnson: Exactly. That’s what my dissertation focuses on is those 68 districts and making sure that they have the resources and that.

Other monies are trickling down to their EL students because they’re not getting the 10, 000 and plus dollars in title three funds. So what other dollars are supporting the service to those students in those districts is really my focus. 

Justin Hewett: And to give just an interesting perspective on that [00:43:00] as a small growing company, actually, one of the things that we’ve realized is.

It can be difficult to serve the smallest districts just because of from a cost perspective like sometimes like we realized we did an analysis this last year and in some of the districts that, are low incident school districts, not a lot of English learners. We ended up losing money serving them.

Just because of all of our costs to be able to get the product there and in the hands of the students and with, get teachers trained and all that kind of stuff. And so it is interesting. I think those consortiums add a tremendous amount of value and really can provide a key role in making sure that we’re providing a really inclusive and equitable experience for those English learners as well.

I want to switch gears a little bit, if I can, knowing that we’re starting to get towards the end of our time here together. But. You sit in a spot where you have seen a lot of change and in EL programming in the, in services and [00:44:00] funding and those types of things, I know that y’all are doing a rewriting some of your site out resources or redeveloping them a little bit.

And we’d love to hear from you. A little bit about that. One, one thing that I want you to do is I want you to go out five years from now. So it’s 2029, or we can go to 2030 if that just sounds like more 

Kia Johnson: even number.

Justin Hewett: Right. But if we go out five or six years from now what changes are we going to see what are some of our innovators doing right now that are going to become.

Really mainstream. Do you feel like in five or six years from now, or where do you think we’re going to be able to push things to be able to better serve our English learners? 

Kia Johnson: So I see two things happening. They’re starting to happen now. I see them happening even more effectively by 2030. And the first is grow your own programs.

Which is taking your paraprofessionals and working them on paths to teacher [00:45:00] licensure. Because often times, paraprofessionals, I like to think of them as your nurses. When you go to the doctor, who’s doing the most, the bulk of the work when they’re caring for you? Who are you building the relationship with?

Who’s answering the advice line? It’s usually the nurse and then the doctor just signs off on your prescription or your orders or whatever it is. I see paraprofessionals in the same way where when students need to be triaged, you’re using your paraprofessionals. And those paraprofessionals have just as much expertise.

And when you have those in house grow your own teacher programs, where you give them pathways to being fully licensed teachers, they are already there with those students. They’re familiar to those students and their passion is just as deep. And you keep them in that area with those students, but you give them that additional honor of being a full blown teacher.

And you fund that pathway for them. And I’m starting to see that happen. I know Virginia has issued several million dollar [00:46:00] grants or a few universities have partnered with school districts to fund to grow your own licensure programs and a few other states do that as well. But I think that’s 1 area that’s really going to start growing 1, because there is a national teacher shortage.

But you have paraprofessionals, so growing them into your teachers, you can fill, you can backfill those paraprofessional positions, build them into your teachers. I think that would be a really smart move because paraprofessionals, students really grasp onto them. Usually if a student has a breakdown, needs support, needs that extra attention, paraprofessional is the one putting the band aids on it, giving the hugs, giving the love and support.

And so turning them into a teacher and now students like, wait, I can be with you all day long. I just I could just imagine the joy for students to see that person still there, but in that now bigger capacity. And then the other. area that I see looking hopefully better as we go on, [00:47:00] is making sure that those culturally responsive teaching practices are part of just all teacher licensure programs.

I’m really hoping to see that it’s just a requirement for anybody who’s going through a teacher licensure pathway because SIOP being one of the models, there are a few others out there, but when you’re using a very strong research based practice like SIOP or framework like SIOP, I like to call it just plain good instruction.

So whether you have zero or twelve or thirty multilingual learners in your classroom, you’re always prepared to teach them, and they’re always going to excel. If that is your standard instructional practice every day and implementing that in teacher licensure, making it a requirement for teachers in their curriculum classes, their lesson planning classes, whatever your classes are, where you’re teaching them the delivery of instruction.

If that is a requirement for [00:48:00] everyone who’s going to become a teacher, then any classroom where a multilingual learner is going to enter it, they’re going to be supported. Because every teacher had to have that training, whether it be one course or two or whatever it is, but really filling it in, The educational piece, instead of putting it after the fact to get your license, but putting it in their programming is automatically going to set those students up for success and support all of the other diverse populations of students in the classrooms because it’s research based to work for everyone, but it is so absolutely meaningful for your multilingual learners.

So those, I see that hopefully by 2030 being a lot more standard in your licensure programs of just some sheltered, culturally responsive, something of those lines being in every teacher’s required coursework would make a really big difference. 

Mandi Morris: Thank you [00:49:00] so much. I love your perspective too on just bringing dignity to the IA role.

Those roles often don’t include benefits of health and health insurance and vacation time. They’re often held below at that like 0. 75 and not a 1. 0 role. And I really love that you spoke to that. I really appreciate that. And often our IAs are individuals who are from the community, who live in the community, and they’re not transient.

And that is so powerful. A lot of teachers are in my career. I’ve been very transient and I came across a lot of teachers who are there from a different state and they’re working here. The pay was better. The benefits where I moved here for college. So I relocated and that’s generally not the case with the population.

I think that relationship piece is It’s not possible to replace or replicate. 

Kia Johnson: Absolutely. And the other piece of IA’s, their relationship with the [00:50:00] families, because like you said, they’re not transient in that role. Sometimes they’re your child’s bus driver and then they get to school and they’re your kid’s IA.

They’re your kid’s IA. And then if they’re in tutoring, they’re working the after school program, and then they live in your neighborhood and you see them at the grocery store. And so these are, there are all these different angles and exposures to this one individual. And then if you bump them into that teacher role, but they’re still in your community space, That just makes, that helps the family feel even more comfortable about communicating with that individual, having their child in that environment, especially if they’re still new or they have another language at home.

But that comfort and relationship with that family is also going to embrace that homeschool connection a little more when you’re keeping the IE’s in the mix, but putting them in those more full time teacher roles. 

Justin Hewett: Oh man, this has been so amazing. Kia, like you are a wealth of so many good insights and ideas.

That are [00:51:00] hard won over a number of years and working in, in, in positions to help a lot of people. And I guess as we wrap up here, I guess I’m just, I would love to hear from you. If you were, if you had a chance to maybe talk with an up and coming EL teacher, right? They’re brand new to the profession.

They’re figuring some of these pieces out. What would you share with them? What advice would you share? What perspective would you share? Love to hear what you might impart. 

Kia Johnson: So this is going to sound like a plug, but it is not a plug. When I started teaching, remember, from bus driver to classroom, so I did not have a teacher’s license when I started teaching.

They threw me in a high school class, and mind you, I didn’t even say this, I had a high school EL class, but that I was also the EL teacher for the county alternative school. In my first year, and so they’re like, okay, you’re an EL teacher now, and I have never written a lesson plan. I have never done these.

I googled [00:52:00] ESL lesson plans, and the very first thing that popped up were the CalSIOP lesson plans, and I’m going to try to say this with a straight face and not get teary eyed, but the site that we have up right now was the same site that pulled up back then, but those were the lesson plans that got me through my first year of teaching.

And I am now running the department that writes those lesson plans on that website. So my piece of advice is use those lesson plans. We are revising those lesson plans. We are revamping that website, but those lesson plans Got me through my first year of teaching because like I said, SIOP is just plain good instruction, and it had all of the components right there for me.

They’re fully written. I could use one that was relevant to what I was teaching, and then I had that framework to then model anything else I wanted to teach. But it really was Cal SIOP lesson plans that helped me become a teacher before they certified me to be a teacher. [00:53:00] And That was probably the best thing I ever did for myself as a teacher.

And so I would say if you are new, look up SIOP lesson plans. Whether it’s from us or TeacherMade or what, wherever you find them. But SIOP lesson plans are going to give you all of the pieces you need to be a good teacher for your students. Um, and be on the lookout, of course, for updates from us as well.

And it’s a lifesaver. 

Justin Hewett: I think it’s a lifesaver, not just for those EL teachers, but I think also for a director that’s trying to build out their program. That’s a great opportunity for them to try and put some best practices, sprinkle throughout the district, and share it and do training for more than just our EL teachers, our multilingual teachers, our classroom teachers as 

Kia Johnson: well.

Exactly, yeah, those lessons have content area lesson plans, they’re not just But like specific to just teaching, ESL itself isn’t necessarily a content. So they are lesson plans for content instruction with the embedded language [00:54:00] focus. So they really are for any teacher, um, to go and pull from. 

Justin Hewett: Such good stuff. I love it. Okay. Thank you so much for being here with us. Thanks for being on the ML chat podcast. This was a lot of fun.


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