PMP345: Equity for Multilingual Learners with Carlene Thomas

Carlene Thomas is the CEO and founder of an educational consulting company that advocates for equity for multilingual learners (MLs) and specializes in support for bilingual education and English as a second language (ESL) programs. Carlene also currently serves on the executive board for the National Association for English Learner Program Administrators (NAELPA), coordinating with other states and the U.S. Department of Education to advocate for MLs across the US. 

Throughout her career, Carlene has been able to impact MLs through multiple perspectives. After teaching as a Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) professor at a university in Bejing, China, she returned to the states with a clear passion for MLs. In Texas, Carlene has worked in various roles including ESL teacher (in both elementary and secondary school settings), ESL curriculum writer, ML compliance coordinator, ESL director, regional ESL/migrant educational consultant, and the ESL Program Coordinator for the state of Texas. 

In her work at the Texas Education Agency, Carlene developed extensive compliance guidance resources, program implementation and evaluation tools, training materials, and comprehensive guidance on instructional practices for MLs. She is dedicated to serving MLs and their families by promoting additive bilingualism within all programs for MLs.

Below is a summary of our conversation. Listen to the entire episode to hear the full context of Carlene’s responses! 

Can you please fill in the gap on the introduction and share anything else listeners may be surprised to know about you? 

  • Thankful for varied perspectives along my career
  • Specialize in support for newcomers at secondary 
  • Parent of students in two-way dual language immersion program
  • Personal – play competitive soccer

What led you into ELL, and what are some key takeaways in your work that may help school leaders to keep in mind?

  • Teaching experience in China
  • Hallway conversation with principal
  • Look for those who show investment and care – other skills can grow

What feedback do you have for schools who have the majority of their students who speak a different language from the language intended for direct instruction?

  • Number 1 priority is cultivating culturally sustaining practices, including family involvement and outreach
  • Asset-based approach – leveraging what students bring to the table (linguistic, academic, experiential)
  • Content-based instructional methods are essential
I have a listener who is an Assistant Principal in El Paso whose school serves mostly Spanish speaking students. Through my Grow Principal’s Academy, I also know a principal in Ohio whose school serves Russian speaking children, many of them whose families have fled the war in Ukraine. I reached out to both of them after scheduling you as a guest, and they sent these questions:

Do you have any suggestions for secondary-level resources?

  • Focus on grade level appropriate and high interest materials – (such as graphic novels)
  • Use the grade level content and expand with linguistic focus (rather than focusing on separate materials)
  • Use English language development software and materials as supplements, not replacements of content

Any tips for improving parental involvement and educating families as to what an ESL program entails?

  • Ask/survey parents on how they want to be communicating with and how they could best be involved
  • Use communication tools that support in the families’ primary language (such as Talking Points)
  • Based on finding out what parents/families’ priorities are for their child(ren), emphasize how the ESL or bilingual program will support those goals
  • Demonstrate how parents/families that are not proficient in English can support English acquisition as well

Any tips for helping language learners when their parents live across the border?

  • Reinforce asking/surveying parents on how they want to be communicating with and how they could best be involved.
  • Consider district/campus positions such as a parent liaison or social worker who can specifically focus on supporting families.

Connect with me on social media

  • LinkedIn – Carlene Thomas
  • Facebook – Carlene Thomas Consulting page
  • Twitter – @carli_thomas21
  • Email:

Be sure to listen in for more takeaways!

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker