Iranian School of San Diego

Iranian School of San Diego

Serves students in pre-kindergarten through grade 6 and adult learners.

School Administrators

  • Ali Sadr, Principal
  • Fariba Babakhani & Shahnaz Ahmadeian Fard, Vice Principals

Program Description

The Iranian School of San Diego (ISSD) which is a Heritage Language School undertook the responsibility to connect Iranian and other Persian speaking immigrants’ descendants with their heritage culture and language. ISSD, which is the first accredited Persian heritage language school in the United States, was launched in 1988. Since then, thousands of youth and adult learners have acquired Persian (Farsi) language literacy skills. The typical profile of heritage students includes the following three major groups. (1) Third-generation U.S.-born Persian students who are English dominant and understand some spoken Persian at various speaking proficiency levels. (2) First or second-generation bilinguals who have different degrees of proficiency in Persian. Again, they are English dominant but had more exposure to Persian language and culture and developed higher skills in speaking and listening in Persian. (3) Recent immigrants to the United States who are Persian dominant and possess high-level of proficiency in all four modalities in Persian. They have different degrees of proficiency in English. The school focuses on developing students’ reading, writing, listening, speaking and cultural awareness development that are required for more academic and formal discourse based on National Standards. It offers language-learning opportunities for students of elementary, middle, high school, and college level. Beginner, intermediate, and advanced language instructions are provided to an average of 240 youth and adults annually.

Program Features


The Iranian School of San Diego (ISSD) offers language-learning opportunities to heritage and non-heritage students of elementary, middle, high school, and college level. The school’s curriculum aligns closely with both the California World Languages Standards and American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) standards, aiming to deliver a curriculum based on these standards and Framework. The curriculum allows students to attain a sense of identity, cross-cultural understanding, and civic engagement. The school focuses on reading and writing skills, cultural awareness, vocabulary, and the listening and speaking skills development required for more academic/formal discourse based on National Standards. Class materials are meaningful, age-appropriate, and intellectually engaging. Teachers communicate the value and advantages of knowing more than one language and of being not only multilingual, but also multicultural. These advantages are framed in terms of family ties, intellectual development, and career possibilities.

Catering to students from prekindergarten through grade 6, the school tailors its program to ensure progression towards specific proficiency levels at each grade. The teaching staff undergo continuous professional development to become acquainted with both California World Languages Standards and ACTFL guidelines.

Grade levels are organized according to proficiency level goals.

Persian 1 and 2 focus on equipping students with fundamental listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in Persian, aiming for Novice-Low to Novice-Mid proficiency in Persian 1 and Novice-Mid to Novice-High proficiency in Persian 2. Students will enhance their understanding of the Persian language and culture, engaging in simple conversations, introducing themselves, comprehending information, and expressing needs and preferences.

Persian 3 and 4 courses aim to broaden students' abilities as intermediate language learners in everyday topics, targeting Novice-High proficiency in Persian 3 and Novice-High to Intermediate-Low proficiency in Persian 4. Students at these levels are expected to participate in face-to-face communication, independently create statements and questions in both speaking and writing, comprehend main ideas and details in familiar topics, fulfill limited practical and social writing needs, and utilize grammatical knowledge to enhance expression.

Courses at the Persian 5 and 6 levels are strategically crafted to enhance students' proficiency in reading, writing, listening, speaking, and cultural understanding. These comprehensive courses delve into diverse subjects, including Iranian history, arts, geography, literature, and culture. Their primary objective is to equip students with the skills necessary for effective verbal and written communication in Persian. The curriculum spans both Formal and Informal registers of the Persian language, addressing advanced comprehension and communication requirements through the incorporation of pertinent Persian terminology. Students engaged in these levels operate at the intermediate level of proficiency, with the specific goal of reaching Intermediate-Low proficiency in Persian 5 and Intermediate-Mid proficiency in Persian 6.

ISSD courses are accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and by all local school districts. High school students can take Persian at ISSD to fulfill their second language requirements. In addition, the school provides dance, drama, and music instruction, further emphasizing the cultural aspects. The Persian Dance Academy, as a part of ISSD, has been teaching Iranian folk dances and performing dances at various cultural events. Students of ISSD celebrate major cultural events such as Nowruz, Mehregan, and Yalda.


The Iranian School of San Diego teachers are native Persian speakers, many of whom hold the California World Language Project (CWLP) Fellow. This recognition is earned through the completion of 120 hours of rigorous professional workshops facilitated by the Southern Area International Languages Network, the CWLP site in the San Diego region. Many teachers have furthered their expertise by participating in the STARTALK Summer Teacher Training program, a federally funded initiative led by the Language Acquisition Resource Center at San Diego State University. The Education Committee, mainly the principal and vice-principals, manage teacher recruitment and initial training and onboarding.

A continuous teacher orientation and retraining workshop occur before, after, and during the program, covering the latest tools in language education and age- and heritage-based differentiated language instruction. An intensive workshop is also conducted to reacquaint teachers with the curriculum and their responsibilities during the program.

New teachers joining the ISSD teaching staff undergo a structured on-the-job training process, often beginning by assisting experienced educators. This initial phase provides ample opportunities for observation, allowing them to grasp the school's culture, approved teaching methods, and effective language instruction practices for heritage students. Throughout this period, new teachers familiarize themselves with school safety plans, internal communication procedures among teachers and administrators, and available school resources.

As they progress, new teachers gradually engage with students in various activities and assume instructional responsibilities. The transition to becoming a lead teacher is determined by the school's needs and the recommendation of the veteran teacher, with this progression spanning anywhere from six months to two years.

Ongoing teacher orientation and retraining workshops occur before, after, and during the program. These sessions cover the latest tools in language education, strategies for differentiated language instruction based on age and heritage status, and intensive workshops to re-familiarize teachers with the curriculum and their responsibilities.

Furthermore, some school staff and teachers are also employed in K-12 public schools, fostering a connection that keeps ISSD attuned to protocols and common procedures in different areas.

Instruction & Assessment

All heritage students undergo evaluations before, during, and after the program, encompassing the five key skills: listening, speaking, reading, writing, and cultural understanding. The initial pre-assessment of language proficiency acts as a vital benchmark, influencing the initial placement of students and serving as a baseline to measure progress. This data is not only instrumental in documenting achieved milestones but also aids in setting a threshold, especially for returning students.

Throughout the program, teachers diligently craft individual portfolios for each student, compiling homework, tests, quizzes, and both oral and written assignments to track progress. These portfolios are shared with fellow educators and the educational committee, providing valuable insights for future lesson planning and assessments. School administrators, if necessary, intervene to ensure students' success based on these assessments.

Homework, tests, quizzes, and assignments administered during the instructional period are recorded, serving as tangible evidence of ongoing progress. Monthly individual and group projects, ranging from creating scrapbooks and PowerPoint presentations to poetry recitals and plays, are designed to propel students towards their projected level of proficiency, ensuring a comprehensive and dynamic learning experience and enriching cultural understanding.

The assessment approach at the Iranian School of San Diego is tailored to the proficiency level and age of the students, with a curriculum closely aligned with the California World Languages Standards and ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. Our teachers implement both formative and summative assessments to comprehensively evaluate student progress.

Formative assessments, embedded within engaging class activities, provide continuous insights into students' development. These ongoing evaluations guide teachers in tailoring their instruction to meet the needs of individual students. On the other hand, summative assessments occur at the conclusion of each semester, employing diverse methods such as poster presentations, video presentations, and final tests to gauge overall proficiency.

For novice-level students, a holistic assessment strategy including oral proficiency tests and spelling tests are employed to reinforce vocabulary recognition and comprehension. Throughout the six years of study, comprehension assessments persist through quizzes and various evaluation formats. Importantly, to ensure fairness and consistency, teachers within the same proficiency levels employ identical final tests, fostering a standardized and equitable evaluation process.

The Education Committee

One of the unique features of Iranian school of San Diego is its Education Committee. The establishment of the Education Committee in 2013 was the official beginning of the development of specialized curricula and textbooks that address the needs of heritage language learners. In addition, the committee, which is comprised of some members of staff, veteran teachers, and professional linguists and language specialists, spearheads instructor development, focusing on enhancing instruction, planning professional growth, and strategizing for the school’s future improvements. This involves organizing and overseeing meetings, workshops, and seminars to continually elevate instruction quality and foster instructor development.

In response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to online teaching and learning, the Education Committee provided targeted professional development sessions on effective online teaching strategies. Teachers were introduced to a variety of online applications, with the committee ensuring the acquisition and implementation of these tools in their virtual classrooms. To streamline support, the committee members divided the teaching staff into three groups, with each admin member overseeing and fully supporting their respective group during this transitional period.

Students’ Learning Support

The Iranian School of San Diego (ISSD) consistently showcases academic "value add" for its students, offering diverse benefits. Some students find their language education translating into college credits or aiding in job opportunities. Those enrolled in the arts education program gain additional value by delving into ancient history and culture alongside their focus on arts and culture.

Engagement extends beyond the classroom through extracurricular activities exposing students to Iranian culture. The encouragement for students to share their own cultural traditions creates a dynamic learning environment. Teachers play a pivotal role, identifying students who might benefit from extra support and communicating these needs to the Educational Committee and school administration.

The Reading Olympic competition serves as a motivational learning activity, with the school library providing weekly Persian storybooks. At the Norouz Gala and end-of-year celebration, students with the highest pages read receive prizes, fostering a sense of achievement acknowledged in front of peers and parents.

ISSD is committed to inclusivity, offering scholarships to low-socioeconomic students funded by the school's budget and community donations. Outstanding performers are also recognized through scholarships, identified and selected by teachers at each level.

Collaboration is deemed essential for student success. Monthly meetings between ISSD leadership and teachers prioritize the review and evaluation of student learning and teacher feedback, fostering a collaborative spirit. Outcomes are shared through teacher feedback, surveys, grades, and parent and student feedback, ensuring ISSD remains dedicated to providing a quality education.

Collaboration With Outside Organizations

The Iranian School of San Diego maintains enduring partnerships with various universities, including San Diego State University (SDSU). These collaborations enable ISSD to deliver standard-based training across multiple areas, such as understanding and addressing student needs, enhancing learning outcomes through diverse instructional strategies, incorporating technology effectively in language classrooms, and cultivating reflective teaching practices for continuous improvement in teaching and learning.

Within these partnerships, program directors, faculties, and staff from these universities actively engage with ISSD, fostering a mutually beneficial relationship. The Language Acquisition Resource Center at SDSU, for instance, facilitates professional development for Less Commonly Taught (LCT) language teachers through the STARTALK program and California World Language Project workshops. STARTALK, a federally funded initiative, promotes the teaching and learning of LCT languages, offering innovative language experiences for students and professional development/certification opportunities for teachers. Notably, over 80% of ISSD teachers have participated in at least one of these training sessions, and since 2008, many students have taken part in STARTALK Summer Camps at various universities including SDSU.

The California World Languages Project (CWLP) focuses on strengthening academic content knowledge, fostering teacher leadership, and supporting professional communities and networks. The Southern Area International Languages Network, which is the CWLP site at San Diego, provides trainings structured in three tiers that involves mastering the organizing principles of the language learning continuum, understanding various world languages standards, and developing standard-based lesson plans and activities.

Program Contacts

  • Ali Sadr, Principal,
  • Fariba Babakhani, Pharm. D., Vice Principal,
  • Shahnaz Ahmadeian Fard, PhD, Vice Principal,
Dance Academy (Credit: ISSD) Dance Academy 2 (Credit: ISSD) End-of-Year Celebration (Credit: ISSD) Students coloring eggs in preparation for Nowruz celebration (Credit: ISSD) Students learning classroom rules (Credit: ISSD) Mehregan Celebration (Credit: ISSD) Students learning Persian (Credit: ISSD) Teacher Appreciation Day (Credit: ISSD) Youth committee toy drive (Credit: ISSD) Yalda Celebration (Credit: ISSD)

Published: Monday, January 22, 2024