U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has appointed Lorena Orozco McElwain to lead the federal office for English-language-learner education, shaking up a long-standing tradition of selecting candidates with significant experience in bilingual or federal education policy.
While she once worked as a bilingual education teacher, McElwain, unlike her predecessors, made her mark as a high-ranking civil servant in several agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, Library of Congress, and U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Since 2018, she had served as a political appointee in the Agriculture Department.
McElwain succeeds José Viana, who left the post in December. Dating back to 2001, previous directors, including Viana, have come to the office directly from jobs tied to K-12 schools, academia, education advocacy, or within the federal Education Department.
She takes over as the director of the office of English language acquisition just as language and access barriers threaten to shut many of the nation’s nearly English-learners out of the learning process during the widespread coronavirus-related school closures.
McElwain joined the federal government in 1999 as a statistician for the Census Bureau and later the Drug Enforcement Administration. During her time at the Census Bureau, she oversaw design and pre-testing of the 2010 bilingual questionnaire, according to her resume.
McElwain worked as a bilingual teacher in Hatch, N.M., in the 1990s for a year before attending graduate school at the University of Texas, El Paso, where she worked as a bilingual teaching assistant.