Jennifer Altavilla / Research Assistant

Jennifer Altavilla is a doctoral candidate in the Educational Policy department within the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Previously, she was an elementary and middle school ESL teacher and an ESL program director. Jennifer has also worked for the state of Massachusetts as a professional development facilitator and for the Massachusetts Charter School Association as an ESL coach. Most recently, she was Dean of Faculty and an instructional coach for Breakthrough Silicon Valley, a nonprofit that prepares underserved middle and high school students for college. She holds an M.Ed. in Teaching and Curriculum from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a B.A. in English Literature, Journalism, and Spanish from New York University.

Paulina Biernacki / Research Assistant

Paulina is a doctoral student in the Developmental and Psychological Sciences (DAPS) program within Stanford's Graduate School of Education. Her research focuses on the assessment of English Learners, especially English Learners with exceptionalities. She is passionate about examining cultural and linguistic issues in assessment, especially as they relate to issues of accessibility and fairness in testing. Previously, she earned a Master’s of Education in School Psychology and practiced in Canadian K-12 public schools as a school psychologist. Paulina has extensive experience assessing diverse learners and consulting with school-based teams, parents, and district leaders regarding academic, behavioral, social-emotional, and adaptive skills.


Annie Camey Kuo / Director of Research-Practice Partnerships

Annie Camey Kuo is the Director of Research-Practice Partnerships for the Understanding Language. Before coming to Stanford, she worked with teachers and international school leaders in supporting culturally and linguistically diverse students at the University of Washington, where she received her Ph.D. in Language, Literacy, and Culture. She also holds an M.A. from New York University in TESOL and Foreign Language Education and a B.A. in Mandarin Chinese and English from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Annie is a 1.5-generation immigrant from Taiwan and has taught at the secondary and community college level in New York and Los Angeles. Her areas of interest include project- and problem-based learning, addressing the needs of English learners at the classroom, school and district levels, and design thinking.

Preetha Menon / Lead Researcher

Preetha joins Understanding Language as the Lead Researcher. She will support mixed-methods research efforts involving students, educators, and administrators. She will also help produce a variety of resources and practices that schools and districts can implement to help support the simultaneous development of language and content among traditionally underserved students with a focus on English learners. Preetha has worked as a researcher in education relating to issues with English Language Learners in science education and completed her PhD at UC Santa Cruz and postdoctoral work at Stanford.

Sofía González Otero / Instructional and Research Associate

Sofía González Otero is an Instructional and Research Associate at Understanding Language and a Ph.D. candidate in the field of Equity and Innovation in Education at the University of A Coruña (UDC), Spain. Sofía's doctoral thesis focuses on analyzing and assessing the linguistic variation of reading comprehension in English language learners. She holds a master’s degree in Curriculum Innovation, Orientation, and Educational Evaluation from UDC and a master's degree in Educational Psychology from UDC. Sofía grew up in Spain in a bilingual context, where she had to learn at a native level both Galician and Spanish languages. Her work is at the intersection of three areas: literacy, bilingualism, and technology. Her previous experience in these areas includes conducting literacy research on a heterogeneous population of English language learners (ELLs), teaching Spanish language to a culturally diverse population, and grading and designing massive open online courses (MOOCs). In her role, Sofía supports educator-focused professional development efforts geared towards the simultaneous development of language and content, online course administration, and quantitative and qualitative research efforts.

Steven Weiss

Steven Weiss / Director of Leadership Initiatives

Steven Weiss is the Director of Leadership Iniatives at Understanding Language. His work cultivates leadership capacity at the school site, district and state level to lead systemic change for English learners.Prior to joining Understanding Language, he worked at the Quality Teaching for English Learners (QTEL) program at WestEd, where he was a professional developer and instructional coach for secondary teachers and administrators in urban school districts such as New York City, Austin, San Diego and San Jose. He has also worked as a K-8 school administrator, a bilingual/ESL resource teacher, and a high school Spanish/History/ESL teacher. Steven is bilingual in Spanish. He holds an M.Ed. from U.C.L.A., an M.A. in Educational Administration from San Francisco State University, and an M.A. in Spanish from Middlebury College. More information about Mr. Weiss can be found here.

Photo of Jeff Zwiers

Jeff Zwiers / Director of Professional Development

Jeff Zwiers has worked for more than fifteen years as a professional developer and instructional mentor in urban school settings, emphasizing the development of literacy, thinking, and academic language for linguistically and culturally diverse students. He has published books and articles on reading, thinking, and academic language. His most recent book is Academic Conversations: Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understandings. His current work at CSET focuses on developing teachers’ core practices for teaching academic language, comprehension of complex texts, and oral communication skills across subject areas. He holds a BA in Psychology from Stanford, an MAT in Language and Reading from Stanford, and a PhD in Education from USF.