M. Terry / SFVS

Superintendent Byron Maltez (center)  takes in a dual language class at Vista del Valle.

It was the first day of school, and the elementary school students of the Vista del Valle Dual Language Academy in San Fernando were dutifully engaged in their first day of learning, receiving their teacher’s instructions in English and Spanish.

None of this was being presented as an English As A Second Language class or Spanish as some sort of elective. The students were being immersed in both languages — not just speaking them but also getting a foundation on how to read and write in both languages.

This is the kind of educational experience that Bryon Maltez, local superintendent for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), would like to develop for all 118 schools under his jurisdiction in the northeast San Fernando Valley.

“I really want to highlight these programs emerging in the Northeast Valley. I’m very committed to expanding these programs, and providing a seamless program for children, learning to be literate in both in Spanish and in English,” said Maltez, who toured Vista del Valley on Tuesday, Aug. 18, with several dignitaries including San Fernando Mayor Joel Fajardo, and Ruby Chavez, chief of staff for LAUSD Board Member Monica Ratliff.

“I’m also interested in expanding these programs to other languages that are key in the East Valley, such as Armenian. One of the things that’s a challenge is finding a feeder pattern so that kids matriculate from the elementary school where they’ve had a very rich experience, to a middle school and high school,” Maltez said.

Maltez was a LAUSD teacher and administrator for 32 years before becoming a local superintendent. He was previously in charge of all LAUSD schools in the San Fernando Valley.

But LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines decided to divide the area into two parts in an effort to create more local control.

“Because communities are different, the plans needed to be different,” Cortines said in a written statement. “Some districts may have more high schools or pilot schools than the others. The school board members and I wanted to be sure that our superintendents understand and address those differences.”

Maltez began his new duties in July, and his jurisdiction now stretches east of the 405 from Van Nuys to North Hollywood, and from Granada Hills to San Fernando.

He believes that having students learn in bilingual and bi-literate environments goes a long way in developing their abilities to perform well on standardized tests.

“We know that children who are bilingual and bi-literate score cognitively better on state tests,” Maltez said. “So we want to [make] an advantage, where coming with two languages is seen as an opportunity for enhancing their studies and academic growth.

“We know that when they speak in English — or in Spanish — that we can give them material to write with. And the purpose is for the children to conceptualize and discuss and write in their language, whether it be English, Spanish, or Armenian so they can communicate. I want to stress the importance of being bi-literate as well as bilingual, so that our children can have a huge advantage. It’s a unique opportunity to really build capacity for our society.”

Vista del Valle Principal Mary Mendoza said she, too, has seen impressive growth in students who take part in the dual language programs, which are offered from kindergarten to fourth grade.

“The students who participate are excellent problem-solvers and critical thinkers because they’ve had the capacity and flexibility to attack problems from a variety of vantage points,” Mendoza said.

“Some people have the misperception that is is only English learners who benefit, but that is not true. This is an enrichment program for non-English speakers as well as English speakers. Everyone benefits.”

Mendoza said the programs would include the fifth grade next year.