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Lighthouse Awards


Lighthouse Awards

The San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) is celebrating San Diego County equity champions in the community and the classroom with the Lighthouse Awards presented to honorees at the 2021 Equity Conference.

A lighthouse helps guide navigation and often provides a beacon of hope as we sail through potentially rough waters. Our challenges may be financial, personal, business, or spiritual in nature. The lighthouse metaphor speaks of safety and security in the face of adversity and challenge in a unique way.

The SDCOE Lighthouse Awards are given annually to people who are beacons in the educational community by channeling and leading others in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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Award Categories

  • The Equity Champion award is for a community leader or organization who encompasses the light necessary for people to come together and create multiple opportunities for all students and families in pursuit of equitable outcomes.
  • The Turnaround School Leader award goes to a school administrator who fosters and leads equitable outcomes for all learners and is a beacon of light for an entire community.
  • The Turnaround Teacher award is for a classroom teacher who embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion and has helped achieve positive social and academic outcomes for all students.
  • The Turnaround Support Staff award goes to a school counselor, nurse, school psychologist, paraprofessional, or other person who actively supports all students, in pursuit of academic and/or social emotional excellence.
  • The No Place for Hate Leader goes to an active member of their school’s No Place for Hate® advisory committee and demonstrates leadership ability in their role on the committee and throughout the school community. This person embodies the values of No Place for Hate® laid out in the Resolution of Respect by ADL.

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Cox Communications

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 the San Diego County Office of Education, 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.




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Nathan Fletcher

Equity Champion

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 would go to providing satellite and cable Internet, and wireless hotspots to local schools to be used to 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.




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Dr. Julie Vitale

Equity Champion

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.




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Carol Osborne

Turnaround School or District 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.




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Melissa Blitzstein

Turnaround Teacher

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.




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Luis Lopez

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 student-to -teacher. 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.




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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 Daly MakerSpace Lab, 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."