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New Spanish-English school begins to take shape

Published: Monday, January 28, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 11:12 a.m.

His school doesn't have a name yet, and the campus must still be refurbished inside and out, but principal Carlos Ulloa is definitely excited at what is going to happen at what is, for now, generically labeled “the school” on Maria Drive.

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Carlos Ulloa is principal of “the school” on Maria Drive formerly known as Bernard Eldredge Elementary School. The school is going to be renamed.

John O'Hara/For the Argus-Courier

Ulloa, 44, was hired last week to serve as principal of the Old Adobe School District's new dual immersion language school to be located on what was formerly the campus of Bernard Eldredge Elementary School. The school was closed in 2010 as a cost-reducing measure. The incoming school will have a new name to more accurately reflect its dual language curriculum.

The dual immersion program has been offered at Miwok Valley Elementary School for the last three years, but has outgrown the facilities available at that school. The school will open next fall on the Maria Drive campus with kindergarten through fifth graders. Each year it will grow by one grade level until it becomes a kindergarten through eighth-grade program.

Ulloa is well qualified for his new position. He brings not only 21 years experience as an elementary teacher to his new position, but also a continuing drive to learn: He recently earned his doctorate degree from UCLA. He has worked as a director of curriculum and instruction, parent involvement specialist, middle school assistant principal and elementary school principal.

He started and taught in a dual immersion program in the Escondido Union School District and later was instrumental in founding a district-wide dual immersion program in the San Ysidro School District.

He received his bachelor's degree from San Diego State University in liberal studies with a Spanish bilingual emphasis and a master of education degree from Harvard University before earning his doctorate in educational leadership.

“We had a very rigorous selection process,” said Old Adobe District Superintendent Cynthia Pilar. “Mr. Ulloa impressed us greatly. He has great experience in dual immersion programs and as a principal.”

The principal isn't the only one eagerly anticipating opening a new school. “Every day I meet children, parents and teachers who are excited about having their own school,” he said. “They are excited about a chance to name their school, pick a mascot, choose school colors and all the other things that go with a new school.”

Ulloa explained that the dual immersion program starts with a kindergarten class where Spanish is spoken 90 percent of the time. The first-grade class speaks Spanish 80 percent of the time, and the mix continues to change until, by the fourth grade, the class speaks Spanish and English for equal amounts of time.

Ulloa's presence in the Old Adobe School District is a testimony to the success of the dual immersion program. “Opening the new school was based on demand,” the new principal said. “The program has grown to the point where we don't have room for so many students (at Miwok Valley).” We are drawing students not only from Petaluma, but from Santa Rosa, Marin County and other areas because of the quality of the program and the support of the parents.”

There will be two classes for each grade level, which means, among other things, that the Old Adobe School District, after years of cutbacks, is now in a position to be hiring teachers and staff. Ulloa said the district is going all out to find qualified teachers. “We're not only recruiting in California, but we've gone into Spain and into Latin American countries to find qualified teachers,” he said.

Ulloa is no stranger to the Petaluma area. His aunt and uncle, Irene and Fernando Espondo, have lived in the area for 40 years and he has a cousin on the Petaluma Police Department. “I envisioned retiring here. I just had an opportunity to come here sooner than I expected,” he explained. Although the year is less than a month old, 2013 has already been quite a year for Ulloa. He finished his doctorate dissertation on New Year's Eve and began his new job two weeks later.

Ulloa has an adopted son, 30, who is a musician in Portland, Ore.

He is a published author, with several non-fiction books in Spanish, and has just completed his first fictional book.

Ulloa is Gov. Jerry Brown's appointment to the state Instructional Quality Commission, an appointment that required nine interviews. “It is quite an honor,” Ulloa said. “It is something that will benefit my school and our district.”

(Contact John Jackson at johnie.jackson@arguscourier.com)

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