Grantee Corner  |  San Diego Unified School District



A girl wears gloves in a garden and holds a gardening spade
Montgomery Middle School seventh grade student relocates a caterpillar to a new home

A boy and a girl wearing gloves each hold a sheep brain
Linda Vista STEAM Magnet School students explore sheep brains during the NW Noggin outreach event

A girl holds a structure made out of pipe cleaners
Montgomery Middle School student creates an artistic representation of neurons

Three students wear gloves and stand around a bucket
Montgomery Middle School students prepare pots for a new aquaponics installation

Four women and one man stand in a row outside
SDUSD district and magnet school administrators gather for a press event

Three women and a man stand in a row outside
SDUSD Office of School Innovations team

Headshot of Maria Nichols
Maria Nichols, SDUSD Project Director

Since first opening in 1854, San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) has grown into the second largest district in California, serving more than 130,000 students in PreK through 12th grade. The SDUSD student population is extremely diverse, representing more than 15 racial/ethnic groups and 60 languages and dialects.

SDUSD strives to “ensure that all students graduate with the skills, motivation, curiosity, and resilience to succeed in their choice of college and career, prepared to lead and participate in the society of tomorrow.” To help achieve this goal, the district offers magnet pathways in creative, visual, and performing arts; International Baccalaureate and global citizenship; language immersion; and science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM), among others.

SDUSD’s 2016 Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) grant is developing three new STEAM magnets—Carson Elementary, Linda Vista Elementary, and Montgomery Middle—to create a K-12 STEAM pathway that leads to the existing Kearny High STEAM Magnet School. The MSAP project will support approximately 1,626 students and 92 classroom teachers, support teachers, and administrators by the end of the grant period.

The new STEAM magnet pathway is located in Linda Vista—a community developed in 1940 as part of a government project to house aircraft manufacturing workers in San Diego for the war effort—has evolved into one of the most diverse areas in San Diego, with residents now speaking more than 20 languages. However, the community’s diversity is not fully reflected in the student populations of the three MSAP schools; hence, the goal of the MSAP project is to develop compelling STEAM teaching and learning that draws the rich diversity of the Linda Vista community to the three schools.

As a first step in transforming Carson, Linda Vista, and Montgomery into STEAM magnet schools, SDUSD has partnered with a range of local organizations to develop a STEAM learning ecosystem that provides students with access to real-world STEAM experiences and educators with access to high-quality STEAM-related professional learning. 

The University of San Diego’s (USD) Mulvaney Center will function as the nucleus of the STEAM ecosystem. USD is a Changemaker Campus—a designation awarded to higher education systems paving the way in social innovation education by transforming traditional learning experiences into world-changing experiences. The Mulvaney Center, which serves as USD’s Changemaker hub, has pledged extensive academic support for teachers through the Mathematics and Computer Science Department, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering. Teachers will have the opportunity to work with these experts in professional learning communities. In addition, the MSAP schools will take advantage of the Mulvaney Center’s community outreach to design place-based STEAM curriculum that incorporates community input and needs in a problem-seeing, problem-solving process.

World Savvy, an organization focused on developing global citizenship through the design of interdisciplinary, problem-based inquiries with community outreach, will support the middle school teachers in developing interdisciplinary STEAM curricula to maximize the opportunities presented by The Mulvany Center. The development of an Early Learner Collaborative, with the support of Professor Emeritus Peter Johnston from State University of New York at Albany will bring a focus on the reciprocity among inquiry, agency, and student engagement to teachers at the elementary sites.

SDUSD’s MSAP project is led by Maria Nichols, Director of School Innovations. Maria has 28 years of experience with SDUSD and is the author of several professional books and articles focusing on the development of thoughtful curriculum and instruction. She works alongside the School Innovations team of Sarah Trueblood, Rob Corona, and Jeralyn Johnson, as well as the leadership and staff of the MSAP schools, all of whom are fully focused on the design and implementation of innovative and richly diverse teaching and learning environments.