For Claire Hagen Alvarado, Ed.L.D., a lifetime of both personal and professional experiences have converged to inform her passion for bilingualism and literacy, and her dedication to providing students with the environment within which they feel safe taking the risks needed to develop those skills. Claire brings that passion and dedication, along with a broad, intentionally crafted skillset, to her new role as Director of Literacy First.
Growing up in rural Kansas, Claire recalls being awestruck by her first exposure to multilingualism, a Swiss exchange family that spoke five languages. As a high school and college student, Claire sought to expand her own language skills through Spanish courses, but was frustrated by the fear of error that permeated those learning spaces. When she spent spring break of her freshman year at the University of Kansas volunteering in a Teach for America (TFA) classroom in Houston, Claire saw that same fear reflected in her students. The desire to avoid making mistakes was keeping them from trying to learn in the first place.
Seeking direction after graduating with her bachelor’s in History and Spanish Literature, Claire returned to Houston as a Corps Member with TFA. Teaching a classroom of students who spoke more than ten different languages, Claire saw firsthand the impact of cultivating a welcoming learning environment, where multilingualism was embraced as a strength. As their confidence in language and literacy grew, so too did her students’ academic performance across subjects. When asked to identify the one thing that has most inspired her career path, Claire points to this group of students.
Fueled by her experience with TFA and YES Prep Public Schools, and drawn to stay in Texas by her now-husband, Jorge, Claire began more than a decade of work in Austin-area schools. She held various language and literacy-related roles within both charter and public schools, including teaching at several different grade levels and acting as KIPP Austin’s Literacy and ESL/Bilingual Coordinator. After earning her Masters in Language and Literacy Studies from The University of Texas at Austin, Claire worked for four years as the Language Arts Supervisor for the Austin Independent School District (AISD).
It was in that leadership role with AISD that Claire recognized the additional tools and frameworks that would be necessary to effect systemic change, and thus made the choice to pursue her Education Leadership Doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Shortly after beginning her doctoral residency as the Statewide Early Childhood Fellow with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 3, requiring Texas school districts to form HB3 Reading Academies that would provide literacy training to 120,000 teachers and principals within three years.
Claire was tasked with leading the advisory committee (made up of literacy experts from across the state, including then-Literacy First Director Mary Ellen Isaacs) that helped inform how the HB3 Reading Academies would function. And, for the first time in four decades of iterations of these academies, Claire was able to find the executive sponsorship, funding, capacity, and support for a Spanish-English Biliteracy Pathway. Because of her efforts and those of her colleagues at TEA, Region 13, and Region 20, Claire effected the systemic change she had sought, and educators have been afforded a pathway that truly embraces bilingualism and biliteracy.
With her residency completed and doctorate earned, Claire took on the role of Chief of Program and Strategy for a national education consulting firm, virtually consulting with schools across the U.S. on projects related to strategic planning, multilingual learners, Spanish literacy, family engagement, and liberatory Social Emotional Learning. At the same time, she and her husband supported the virtual learning and bilingual reading journeys of sons Óscar (now 6) and Máximo (now 4). The desire to re-engage in the Austin community then led Claire to seek out a new, locally-focused position, which she found in her role as Director of Literacy First.
In Literacy First, Claire sees the infrastructure, proven effectiveness, and expertise that has made nearly 30 years of incredible impact possible. She also recognizes the urgent need to expand that impact, and the potential of the program to do so. Claire has begun the process of engaging staff and partners in co-envisioning the future of Literacy First, and creating inclusive, equitable, and antiracist goals for both the program and its people. She may be just months into her tenure as Director, but a lifetime has prepared Claire Hagen Alvarado for this role.