Executive Director of English Language Acquisition
Denver Public Schools
The Broad Residency was exactly the path that would allow me to leverage all the skills and experience I gained in the private sector to make a difference in a space that I care about deeply and pay forward the opportunities I received.
Jorge Robles’ parents raised him to believe that a quality education included academics and exposure to new and different opportunities. At age 16, Jorge left his home in Santiago, Chile, to explore such an opportunity in a year-long exchange program in the United States. St. Louis was far less homogenous than Chile, and it was here that Jorge became aware of a new identity, one he didn’t realize he had.
“Suddenly, I am ‘Hispanic.’ Navigating through what that means in the United States was eye opening. I grew up in Chile. We don't eat the same food or listen to the same music as someone in Colombia or Mexico. Yet, we're stereotyped and treated as if we’re all the same because of it.”
The trip also provided a contrast to the restrictions he’d grown up with under military rule in his home country. “As a young person, I couldn't voice my opinions about social or political issues. To come to a place where there is diversity of culture, diversity of beliefs — where people are able to talk about it and express it in a context of growing and pursuing something better for yourself and your families — that was inspiring.”
After completing the exchange program, Jorge returned to Chile to continue his studies and begin a career in financial services. Over the next decade, through a variety of positions and organizations in both Chile and the U.S., he looked for ways to support learning opportunities that helped young people develop their own voices. One day, he received an email about The Broad Residency in Urban Education.
“I went to the website and looked at my wife and said, ‘This is it.’ It was exactly the path that would allow me to leverage all of my skills and experience to make a difference.”
During the Residency, Jorge was director of the English Language Acquisition department in Denver Public Schools, building systems and structures to support the districts growing number of English-language learner students. Denver Public Schools is the largest district in Colorado and the fastest-growing urban district in the U.S. And for more than one-third of its students, English is not their native language.
Jorge and his team worked with schools to build on students’ native languages as a foundation for learning English. They also ensured that English learners followed the same curriculum used in mainstreamed classrooms. This approach helped English learners consistently outperform their native English peers once they exited the language acquisition program.
Jorge’s work as a Resident helped lay the groundwork for Colorado’s Seal of Biliteracy program in Colorado, which recognizes programs that promote student proficiency in two languages by high school graduation. In cooperation with state and local organizations and under Jorge’s leadership, Denver Public Schools was one of three districts involved in the launch. The following year, the program was expanded statewide.
After graduating from the Residency, Jorge has continued to work in DPS, now as executive director of English language acquisition. In 2016, the first group of students graduated from the Seal of Biliteracy program, which was tremendously gratifying for him. “I shook hands with 160 kids that earned the seal, and I heard how they felt valued — that their culture, through their language, and the skill sets they bring were valued and recognized.”
Not only has Jorge remained in Denver, he also remains close to his Residency cohort. “If I read about great work happening in another district, I can pick up the phone and we can collaborate and share ideas in a way that is safe, deep and meaningful. My cohort continues to organize our own informal ‘sessions’ since the Residency ended, so we can connect and support each other. I’m proud to say that my cohort and I are in session 10,” he said, less than a year after his cohort’s graduation.
The Broad Residency Class of 2013-2015
Residency Role: director of strategic initiatives, English language acquisition department, Denver Public Schools
M.B.A., University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business
B.S. agricultural engineering, Pontifica Universidad Catolica de Chile