Hispanic Heritage Month Profile: Longtime educator and leader says ‘dual language is the most powerful tool we can leverage’

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National Hispanic Heritage Month gives us a chance to recognize the stories, contributions, achievements, and lived experiences of those leaders who embrace the culture as their own and educate our youth.

Richard Heffernan is currently the executive director of the Bilingual ESL department. Heffernan supports the development of bilingualism, biliteracy, and biculturalism for all participating students in the Dallas ISD, which currently leads the largest dual language program nationally, serving 158 schools.

“Dual Language is the most powerful tool we can leverage in serving historically marginalized students,” said Heffernan. “For Spanish speaking students, the Dual Language program not only validates their culture and identity, it is the key pathway to developing English proficiency and academic success. For non-Spanish speakers, the program expands access to all the benefits of bilingualism and biliteracy.”

Heffernan’s passion for Hispanic culture embarked him on a journey to Spain and the Canary Islands, where he lived for one year and learned how to speak Spanish.

“Not many people spoke English in the towns where I lived, so I had to learn Spanish,” said Heffernan. “That experience allowed me to understand the complexities of learning a second language.”

Heffernan began his career as a first-grade teacher at Walnut Hill Elementary School where he taught the very first cohort of students to go through the two-way Dual Language program. He served as a campus principal for 11 years before joining the District’s Bilingual ESL department. This is Heffernan’s 20th year in public education, all served here at Dallas ISD

Heffernan attributes learning Spanish to bridging a stronger connection with students and the families he has served as an educator.

“If I were just a monolingual English speaker, there are so many families I would not know or have relationships with,” Heffernan said. “Through these relationships, I have come to develop a deep appreciation and respect for the many facets of Hispanic culture.”

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