The National Institute for Latino School Leaders-California (NILSL-CA)

Advancing Education Equity

Almost five million students across the country are English learners (ELs), making up about 10% of the public-school student population. California has the highest number and share of this student group—20% of the state’s total public elementary and secondary school enrollment in 2018 were ELs. While progress has been made in academic achievement, EL students are still graduating at lower rates than their peers. In fact, 67% of ELs in California graduated in 2017 compared to the statewide average of 83%.

In 2017, the California State Board of Education passed the EL Roadmap, and two years later, there are local educational agencies (LEAs) who have struggled to and/or have not begun to implement the EL Roadmap. UnidosUS, with the generous support and investment from The Sobrato Family Foundation, will seize the opportunity to prepare practitioners and school leaders working with and on behalf of Latino students, dual language learners, and ELs to advocate at the state and local level.

With longstanding partnerships with equity-focused organizations; dozens of engaged Affiliates across the state; and deep roots in the state of California, UnidosUS is committed to advancing education equity for all students. That is why we launched the National Institute for Latino School Leaders-California (NILSL-CA).

Bringing experienced education leaders to the policy arena

The National Institute for Latino School Leaders-California (NILSL-CA) infuses the voice of school leaders, who work with and on behalf of Latino students, dual language learners, and English Learners (ELs), to influence the education policy arena.

Members of the inaugural NILSL-CA cohort will examine how education and civil rights laws at the state and federal levels have impacted the education of ELs, and how the EL Roadmap creates opportunities for advocacy and local leadership in California. By the spring legislative session in 2021, fellows will be prepared to meet with their representatives in the state legislature to discuss policies that align to the EL Roadmap and advance equity for ELs.

Our mission and guiding principles:

NILSL-CA fellows provide insights, elevate best practices, and inform policies that directly relate to or impact youth in K-12 public education. The NILSL-CA seeks to bridge the divide between practice and policy by providing school leaders the tools they need to:

  • Shape the education reform debate by including a Latino perspective
  • Advocate for policies and reform efforts that render increased educational outcomes for Latino and English learner (EL) students
  • Educate decision-makers and influence national policy to shape effective accountability measures geared at Latino and EL students

There are five principles that guide the mission and vision of NILSL:

  • Access to quality education
  • High standards, high support
  • Respect to the Latino community, culture, and values
  • Rigorous accountability systems
  • Responsible advocacy


Transforming education leaders into education advocates

The NILSL-CA prepares leaders in education to become well-equipped advocates and spokespeople for Latino students, dual language learners, and ELs at the local, state, and national levels, defining the narrative in these respective spaces. Fellows select an issue area or challenge to elevate and address during the fellowship. Example issue areas include school funding transparency, teacher diversity, assessing ELs with disabilities, and equity-based accountability measures.

For a portfolio of project ideas, please view previous NILSL memoranda on the UnidosUS publications page. The fellowship includes the following components:

  • Training modules provide fellows the opportunity to explore topics such as legislative advocacy, education policy, power mapping, developing advocacy strategies, public speaking, blog post and policy writing, and preparation for legislative visits. Four training modules will be included in the fellowship.
  • Group work allows fellows to learn from each other, sharing their experiences and perspective by engaging (in-person or remotely) outside the scheduled training modules.
  • Deliverables include a blog post, written policy recommendations, community engagement events, and legislative visits.

The NILSL fellows also:

  • Join a national network of civil rights advocates, passionate about advancing opportunities for Latino students, dual language learners, and ELs.
  • Develop leadership skills while participating in a statewide community of practice.
  • Develop skills in writing, public speaking, team building and legislative advocacy.
  • Participate in, in-person training modules and legislative visits at the California Capitol.
  • Represent UnidosUS in various education forums to help advance the organization’s policy positions.

Our goals:


  • Establish and sustain a cohort of school leaders who can serve as spokes people and address pressing education issues that impact our target populations.


  • Solidify a pipeline of culturally competent school leaders.
  • Establish a respected and credible source of school leaders that are actively engaged in advocacy efforts on behalf of Latino students and effectively influence the field of education.
  • Raise awareness of Latino education issues and build support to address identified issues at the national, state, and local levels through tailored, training modules and a culminating policy project.


Our partnership with The Sobrato Family Foundation

In 2019, UnidosUS partnered with The Sobrato Family Foundation to expand the National Institute for Latino School Leaders (NILSL) to California, a priority state for the organization given the state’s Latino and English learner (ELs) population. The Sobrato Family Foundation’s values of leadership, integrity, innovation, service, and stewardship are embodied in our signature education and leadership development program: NILSL-CA.

Las Madrinas Council

To support the work of the NILSL-CA program and provide guidance on the implementation of California’s EL Roadmap, UnidosUS has convened the Las Madrinas Senior Advisory Council. The Madrinas Council is made up of state and district leaders as well as national advocates who have championed education outcomes for Latino Students, dual language learners, and ELs.

Members of the Madrinas Senior Advisory Council include:

  • Catalina Cifuentes, Riverside County Office of Education
  • Hilda Maldonado, Los Angeles Unified School District
  • Dr. Karla Estrada, California Collaborative for Educational Excellence
  • Dr. Rosita Ramirez, NALEO Educational Fund
  • Delia Pompa, Migration Policy Institute
  • Martha Zaragoza-Diaz, Zaragoza-Diaz and Associates.

View their bios here

Eligibility and how to apply

UnidosUS invites applications from seasoned educators, administrators, and nonprofit professionals from schools, districts, and community-based organizations. Interested individuals should apply for the NILSL-CA fellowship if it aligns with their priorities, goals, and schedule. 

Current Application Opportunities: CLOSED

Application Deadline: July 1, 2020

For more information about the National Institute for Latino School Leaders-California, please contact Washington Navarrete at


Washington Navarrete

Application Status: CLOSED

Deadline: July 1, 2020

NILSL-CA Fact Sheet