When Libia Gil immigrated to the United States as a teenager, she could speak some English but struggled with a limited vocabulary, weak grammar skills and no knowledge of common cultural references. Now, she’s helping make sure more than 4.4 million English language learners in the nation’s public schools receive high-quality instruction.

Gil, who graduated with her doctorate from the University of Washington College of Education in 1989, is the principal advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on matters relating to the education of English learners as assistant deputy secretary and director of the Office of English Language Acquisition.

“Like many others, I came to this country as a young immigrant English learner, so many of my personal experiences mirror students who are newcomers to our communities,” Gil said. “I have gained strength from the many challenges I experienced and I am grateful for the opportunities to contribute and support learning of others who face language and cultural disconnects in our education system.”

Appointed to the position in 2013, her responsibilities include administering programs under Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. These programs support high-quality instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse students.

Gil is committed in improving English language education with the department’s educational initiatives, which include Investing in Innovation, Teacher Quality Partnership and Race to the Top.

“I am committed to pursuing equity and access for all students, in particular the underserved,” said Gil. “I have continued to learn significant lessons throughout my education roles and one key lesson learned is that improving learning experiences for all students requires a deep commitment and actions to challenge barriers and to alter the status quo.”

Gil's mother tongue is Cantonese, and it remains the only language she speaks to her mother. Her father is from Costa Rica, and Gil spent her early preschool years there speaking Spanish before starting her formal education in a Hong Kong Chinese public school and subsequently attending a Catholic school in Taiwan, where she began learning English.

Before joining the Department of Education, she served as the vice president for practice at the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning in Chicago. She was also an assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Seattle Public Schools, where she was responsible for bilingual education programs and services, and won the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education as superintendent of the Chula Vista Elementary School District in California.

Gil earned her PhD in curriculum and instruction, with an emphasis in bilingual education, at UW College of Education.


Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications

206-543-1035, dwunder@uw.edu