Eagle County School District’s Jessica Martinez garners award

Photo courtesy of the Eagle County School District
Dan Dougherty |

English Language Learners

Eagle County schools has Colorado’s highest percentage of English Language Learners, students learning English language in addition to their native language

• Eagle County: 36.9 percent.

• Lake County: 36.7 percent.

• Denver: 36 percent.

• Colorado statewide average: 14.4 percent.

* Source: Colorado Children’s Campaign

Jessica Martínez watched her high school classmates struggle because of their poor English skills and made it her career goal to do something about it.

A few short years later, Martinez is director of the Eagle County School District’s English Language Learner program, and is Colorado’s English Language Learner Director of the Year. The Colorado Department of Education presented the award at its annual Language, Culture and Equity Academy.

It’s the school district’s second statewide award. Superintendent Sandra Smyser was named Colorado’s Superintendent of the Year.

“To understand this, you have to think about your child being dropped into a Japanese classroom and expected to achieve at the same level as native Japanese students,” Martinez said. “They want to learn and succeed. They want their mom and dad to be proud of them. Helping them achieve this makes a difference. It makes a difference in their lives, in my life, and in our lives.”

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Eagle County has the most ELL students in the state

Eagle County’s student population has Colorado’s highest percentage of English language learners, 36.9 percent, according to data from the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

Lake County has the second highest percentage, 36.7 percent. Denver is third at 36 percent.

Colorado’s statewide average is 14.4 percent. The data is based on 2011 student data.

Federal guidelines define an English-language learner as someone learning the English language in addition to their native language. The term is used to refer to learners of English as a second language in mainstream schools where English is the language of instruction.

Smyser said Martínez and her staff inspire these students to perform at a level that keep the district’s total performance equal to or above state averages.

“She understands the importance of actively collaborating to help all learners reach high academic success,” said Sandra Smyser, superintendent

Avon Elementary turnaround

Martínez became ELL director for Eagle County schools in 2008, and helps teachers and administrators develop and refine their English Language Learner skills.

Martinez was instrumental in Avon Elementary School’s turnaround, which saw it recognized as one of five Colorado schools to win a National Blue Ribbon School in 2012 for substantial gains in student achievement.

Avon Elementary was one of only five Colorado schools to win National Blue Ribbon School Award, and one of only 269 across the nation.

Of Avon Elementary’s 235 students, 87 percent are English Language Learners and 206 qualify as low income, based on their eligibility for free/reduced meal programs, according the school’s data.

Principal Melisa Rewold-Thuon implemented dual-language instruction in English and Spanish. Students quickly became bilingual and so have the teachers — 75 percent of the faculty is bilingual.

Reading scores soared from 25.53 percent proficient and advanced in 2007 to 67.83 in 2011, as measured by Colorado’s annual CSAP test. Math scores were up from 38.85 percent in 2007 to 69.23 percent in 2011.

Martinez has been an educator for 12 years. She earned her Master’s degree in Reading from the University of Wisconsin. She has been a bilingual classroom teacher, English as a Second Language teacher, and Spanish for Educators instructor at the university level.

She won a Northeast Wisconsin Golden Apple for meeting the needs of diverse learners.

“Jessica is the kind of director everyone needs — proactive, passionate, and determined,” said Heather Eberts, the school district’s executive director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935, and

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