• Professional Development
Creating Schools Where Multilingual Students Thrive

Building a Multilingual Network in Puget Sound Using Continuous Improvement

About the Network | Apply to Join

Karina Vanderbilt
Director for Multilingual Services
Puget Sound Educational Service District

About the Network

The Puget Sound region is the most diverse in Washington State with over 207 languages spoken, representing 39% of the state’s K–12 public school students. Multilingual students bring a wealth of academic, cultural and linguistic strengths to our learning communities. Yet data reveals the failures of our education system to effectively support multilingual students, with only three out of five multilingual learners (MLs) graduating from high school in four years.

“Language is power — languages spoken by Black, Brown and Indigenous people have been systemically erased in this country because of that power. I believe in centering the gifts of MLs to directly challenge White supremacy in schools.”

-Nicole Shimizu, Design Team member

The Multilingual Learners Network was developed in order to reimagine our approach toward supporting multilingual students. In June 2020, Puget Sound Educational Service District partnered with Shift Consulting to begin planning for a network that would use tools from continuous improvement to support a cohort of schools in improving outcomes for their multilingual learners. At the center of the design process was our belief that our theory of change needed to be developed by those most deeply impacted by the system itself — our multilingual students, families, and educators. The following is a brief journey through our inclusive design process which utilizes strategies and approaches from the Puget Sound Continuous Improvement Summit Series Workbook.

Inclusive Design Process

We built a diverse Design Team that included teachers, EL specialists, parents, representatives from community organizations, school leaders and a multilingual graduate of Highline Public Schools. Over the course of six meetings with asynchronous work between meetings, our Design Team met to study the system, build empathy and capacity, and develop a theory of change for the Network. We started our first meeting with sharing our “why” behind the work. This planned short activity consumed our entire meeting and we realized that this was the most powerful way that we could have spent our time. Sharing our stories built empathy across our group, helped us understand different experiences across the system, and began building trusting relationships.

Using activities such as reflecting on the ideal school conditions for multilingual learners, the Design Team began developing an overall aim, or goal, for the Network. From the beginning, members shared a common emphasis on the need for regional shifts in mindsets, culture, and practices in order to create school environments which value the identity, culture and language of multilingual students.

Network Aim: Our network aims to center multilingual learners so that they thrive in their academic and personal development. We will accomplish this through fostering school environments where multilingual students are affirmed in their language, identity and culture (belonging), and where multilingual students develop English language proficiency in a manner which values and leverages their home language(s).

Along with the aim, the team developed a list of key drivers that would lead towards the aim, and more granular change ideas under each driver that schools test and measure the impact of using PDSA cycles.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

Our design process was iterative as we continuously revised our key driver diagram and aim. We learned to leverage the unique strengths of each Design Team member, and frequently broke into smaller groups based on areas of expertise. As we neared the planned launch of the Network in fall 2020, we heard widespread interest from schools but that the timing during remote learning was not feasible. We were forced to embrace the truth that transformational equity work takes time and revised the launch date to be responsive to the needs of schools.

As we transition back to in-person learning, a whole-child, asset-oriented approach will be critical for all students, and in particular multilingual learners. The Multilingual Learners Network will launch in June 2021 and we invite elementary, middle and high schools to apply by the May 3 application deadline. Participation in the ML Network will provide an opportunity for school teams to learn improvement methods and tools, as well as to apply them (with coaching) to achieve results together within a community of educators, students and their families. 

Please contact Karina Vanderbilt for more information.

We wish to recognize the members of the Multilingual Network Design team for their hard work in designing the Network, and their commitment and passion for improving our systems to center multilingual learners. Members of the Design Team include: Yushen Liu, Nancy Yi-Cline, Eve Chan, Ana Garcia, Teresa Garcia, Alejandra Cruz, Nicole Shimizu, Daxa Thomas, Ury Salinas, Brian Chu, Angelica Alvarez, Dave Sunich, Liliya Stefoglo, Chitra Bhardwajc.

Apply to Join

The Multilingual Learners Network is now accepting applications for our 2021–2022 school cohort. The Network was developed to support regional shifts in mindsets, culture and practices to foster school environments which value the identity, culture and language of multilingual students and lead to more equitable conditions and outcomes for multilingual learners.

What is it?

The MLL Network, hosted by PSESD and Shift Consulting, will consist of 8–10 school based teams who work together to learn and test new approaches to support multilingual learners using continuous improvement methods.

Why is it important?

As we transition back to in-person learning, a whole-child, asset-oriented approach will be critical for all students, and in particular multilingual learners. The MLL Network is designed for teams to learn through Learning Sessions, monthly webinars and coaching over the course of a 9-month period.

When will the Network meet?

Four sets of Learning Sessions will take place between June 2021 and June 2022.

How can I sign up?

Review the information on the MLL Network Application overview, then submit an application via the Google form by May 3, 2021, to be considered for participation.

Learn more

Drop in office hours on Zoom are available on April 14, from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. Join by using this link. Please contact Elisabeth Smith if you have any questions.

Learn more about Multilingual Services at PSESD.



Image of Seattle skyline with PSESD logo

The Puget Sound College & Career Network at PSESD was selected as the King County Promise System Supporting Organization. King County Promise is a bold, public-private partnership to increase equity in college access and success for historically underserved students in King County. The goals of King County Promise and the role of the System Supporting Organization closely align to PSESD’s End: Success for Each Child and Eliminate the Opportunity Gap by Leading with Racial Equity.

Read More about PSESD to Serve as the System Supporting Organization for King County Promise
U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools 2021 Award Winner logo

Congratulations to Anderson Island Elementary School of Steilacoom Historical School District No.1 for their selection as a Green Ribbon School honoree! Anderson Island Elementary School’s garden and outdoor classroom created valuable opportunities for students to continue their learning in a sustainable way.

Read More about Congratulations to Anderson Island Elementary School of Steilacoom Historical School District No.1
Image from OSPI of a George Floyd memorial painting

OLYMPIA — April 20, 2021The verdict today was the right and just response to George Floyd’s murder, and it is progress. But the work doesn’t end here. Our children are watching, and we owe it to them to be fully committed to equity and justice every day.

Read More about OSPI Superintendent Chris Reykdal’s Statement on the Guilty Verdicts in the Derek Chauvin Murder Trial
Multilingual Learners Network text with circle of hands holding one another

The Multilingual Learners (MLL) Network is now accepting applications for our 2021–2022 school cohort. The MLL Network was developed to support regional shifts in mindsets, culture and practices to foster school environments which value the identity, culture and language of multilingual students and lead to more equitable conditions and outcomes for multilingual learners

Read More about Creating Schools Where Multilingual Students Thrive
Critical Reflections on Becoming an Antiracist Multicultural Organization

PSESD currently experiences collective amnesia, a characteristic of white supremacy culture, as it relates to our racial equity transformation. We sometime forget what happened last year, three years ago, ten years ago. Critical Moments Reflection helps us build our capacity to regularly reflect and learn collectively and interrupt this amnesia. We engaged in a pilot this summer to develop our Critical Moments Reflection approach. We met with the groups formally engaged in leading implementation our racial equity policy (TTeam, SDATs, ELT, the Board) to try out the reflection process and also capture our collective story about our transformation.

Read More about Critical Reflections on Becoming an Antiracist Multicultural Organization