The San Diego County Office of Education's (SDCOE) annual Lighthouse Awards are presented to people and organizations who are beacons in the educational community that channel and lead others in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Congratulations to the honorees, who will be feted at the virtual
2021 Equity Conference on Jan. 19 to 22.
Lighthouse Awards website for details on the award categories.
2021 Lighthouse Award Honorees
Equity Champion - Organization
For many years, and especially during the pandemic, Cox Communications has been a critical partner in bridging the digital divide for students in our county. Cox’s Connect2Compete broadband program in San Diego is a low-cost internet service for students and families in need. With the service, which includes initial free months, young people could access virtual learning while schools were closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Cox also partnered with SDCOE, Computers 2 Kids San Diego, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and San Diego Councilman Chris Cate, District 6, in the Meet the Need computer drive to get more affordable devices into the homes of students.
San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher has been the face of the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic with daily press briefings and regular communication with SDCOE. Fletcher also proposed that a portion of $2 million in County of San Diego general fund money go to providing satellite and cable internet, and wireless hotspots to local schools to help bridge the digital divide. Some 4,303 students and their families from 19 different school districts and charter schools in San Diego County received access and a stronger connection to the internet to help them with distance learning activities during the pandemic thanks to Fletcher’s leadership.
Dr. Julie Vitale
Dr. Julie Vitale is the superintendent of Oceanside Unified School District (OUSD). Vitale has adopted policies and practices with a true equity lens that include creating board resolutions that acknowledge OUSD is a safe place for students, regardless of their immigration status; ensuring LGBTQ students have safe and supportive spaces on each campus; and supporting her district in adopting an ethnic studies course that reflects the district’s demographics. Her breadth and depth of understanding of leading school systems with a student-centered focus is an incredible asset to the work of creating real equity in schools.
Turnaround School Leader
Carol Osborne is the associate superintendent of Learning Support Services at Poway Unified School District. Osborne has taken on the challenging role of leading Poway Unified efforts to implement a districtwide Racial Equity and Inclusion Plan. Under her leadership, the district hosted community forums on race-related issues and experiences, inviting school administrators, teachers, and parents to hold honest and open discussions. Osborne and her team are working to create significant shifts in district and school culture, including implementing the Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate program, introducing ethnic studies and diversifying the curriculum, revising discipline policies to expand restorative justice practices, and hiring more diverse staff.
Melissa Blitzstein is a teacher at the Motivated Youth Academy, a non-classroom-based charter school with 170 students. Blitzstein is committed to learning the unique social, emotional, and academic backgrounds of each student and family. She mentors students in credit recovery, connects stakeholders with wrap-around services, and facilitates college enrollment, career training, or post-graduation employment. In the classroom, Blitzstein engages students in project-based learning opportunities and ensures that students understand responsibility and accountability. She implements restorative solutions rather than punitive actions. She works to create an environment where students gain self-confidence, learn commitment, express empathy, experience humility and resiliency, and prepare to become their best selves. Out of the classroom, she leads numerous committees, coordinates countless community initiatives, and inspires her colleagues to be agents of change.
Turnaround Support Staff
Luis Lopez is the Sweetwater Union High School District’s equity curriculum and instruction teacher on special assignment. In this role, Lopez wears many hats, from curriculum writer to webmaster. As a curriculum writer, he has created a semester's worth of daily social and emotional learning (SEL) activities for more than 1,800 teachers and 40,000 students in the district. Lopez also works to embed SEL and equity strategies in each subject area so that all students feel included and positive relationships are built between students as well as between students and teachers. He also works with LGBTQ students and the community to provide resources and curriculum to ensure that all voices are heard and all needs are being met.
Maria Arroyo and Carla Sandez
No Place for Hate® Leader award
Maria Arroyo and Carla Sandez, a counseling team at Daly Academy in the Chula Vista Elementary School District, are co-winners of this award. During weekly group counseling sessions, they teach compassion, understanding, and equity, as well as integrate the No Place for Hate curriculum lessons. When they supervise in the makerspace lab at Daly Academy, students often use the phrases, "I understand how you feel," "I want to understand you better," and "I am sorry. What can I do better next time?" Arroyo and Sandez are both individually, and as a team, superb examples of "walking the talk."