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 2022 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.

Lighthouse Awards logo 2022

Award Categories

  1. Turnaround School Site Leader award goes to a school administrator who fosters and leads equitable outcomes for all learners and has been a beacon of light for an entire community. 
  2. 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. 
  3. Turnaround Support Staff award goes to a school counselor, nurse, school psychologist, paraprofessional, or others who actively supports all students, in pursuit of academic and/or social emotional excellence. 
  4. Equity Champion a district administrator who encompasses the light necessary for people to come together and create multiple opportunities for all students and families in pursuit of equitable outcomes.
  5. The No Place for Hate® Leader award goes to an active staff member of their school’s No Place for Hate® committee and demonstrates leadership in their role on the committee and throughout the school community. This person embodies the values laid out in ADL's No Place for Hate® pledge and has continued to put the commitment of No Place for Hate® at the forefront of their school community even in these challenging times.
  6. Student Equity Leadership award goes to an individual student or student group who advance diversity, equity, inclusion and  have led meaningful and significant equity initiatives in their school community.

2022 Honorees

SDEquity2021-Lighthouse dr Amy Illingworth

Dr. Amy Illingworth

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, Encinitas Union School District

Equity Champion

Dr. Amy Illingworth is committed to supporting a culture and climate where students have what they need to succeed. Her work has led to the adoption of districtwide equity policies and practices through a student-centered lens. She spearheaded an equity committee, implemented a three-year plan with the help of the SDCOE Equity department, and recently led 25 professional learning sessions to engage and support every school site and district employee in equity learning. Illingworth works to ensure all educational partners are involved and informed regarding the district’s intent and progress and prioritizes equity. 

SDEquity2021-Lighthouse Mayra Gonzalez

Mayra Gonzalez 

District Social Worker, Escondido Union High School District  

Turnaround Support Staff

Mayra Gonzalez provides students in acute and chronic crises the support they need to learn and grow. She is regularly called on to guide families through dark days: helping students navigate a mental health crisis, work through a death in the family, and process trauma. When working with “Ms. Mayra,” families and students feel cared for. She goes above and beyond to support students and staff by delivering food and resources to families in need. 

Jennifer Koller

Jennifer Koller 

English Teacher, Teacher on Special Assignment, Steele Canyon High School, Grossmont Union High School District

Turnaround Teacher

Jennifer Koller is committed to equity curriculum and instruction. She designed and developed an innovative "a-g" approved literature and social justice class at Steele Canyon High School, where students explore equity and intersectionality through a range of texts and multiple perspectives. Her class supports students to develop a working concept of social justice, helps them view systemic injustice and social inequality through an inclusive and dynamic lens, and encourages students to develop an empathetic and well-developed understanding of the similarities and differences present in the human experience.

Dr Cynthia Larkin

Dr. Cynthia Larkin

Principal, Morse High School, San Diego Unified School District

Turnaround School Site Leader 

Dr. Cynthia Larkin's student-centered approach is reflected in her mantra: "We must build relationships with students." She intentionally and strategically guides her team to create an inclusive, supportive school environment where all students can succeed academically, feel cared for and supported, learn, and grow. Dr. Larkin launched a dynamic Equity Leadership Team as part of a collaborative project with SDCOE’s Equity department, and she continues to inspire her staff through engaging, cutting-edge equity learning focused on the needs of Morse’s diverse student population. She fully embraces the district’s restorative justice policy and created a committed Response-to-Intervention team focused on the specialized needs of struggling students. Dr. Larkin is dedicated to supporting a culture and climate where students have a voice, know they are loved, and are prepared to thrive. 

Clara Cho

Clara Cho

No Place for Hate Leader®

Clara Cho has been a champion of the ADL's No Place For Hate® program at Miller Elementary in the San Diego Unified School District. Throughout last year, she created virtual opportunities for children, teachers, and parents to participate in the program. From offering lessons, to communicating with community members, to writing articles in the local periodical and communicating with parents ––  the No Place for Hate® campaign continued during challenging times. Once students were back on campus, the program was implemented fully in every classroom. The No Place for Hate® program is an integral part of the school community, and Clara ensures the highest standards. 

California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center

Community Equity Champion California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center

The California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center was approved in May 2009 and opened its doors on Nov.17, 2011. The center is the first of its kind in the state of California and focuses on serving the unique needs of American Indian students by conducting original research and preserving the cultural heritage and languages of tribal communities.
The California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center facilitates a sense of community and belonging among the Native population both on and off campus. It prepares students to give back to their tribal communities upon graduation.

Del norte high school

Del Norte High School Student Equity/Anti-Racism Task Force

Student Equity Leadership

The Del Norte Equity/Anti-Racism student task force includes 50 students who represent the Black, White, Asian, Middle Eastern and North African, Latinx, and LGBTQIA + communities at Del Norte High School in the Poway Unified School District. Their goal is to change the culture of their school and community to show their school’s commitment to celebrating diversity and creating an equitable learning environment where all students are valued. Through diversity campaigns, student panels, and awareness videos that educate students on campus on issues marginalized groups face, they provide valuable resources to teachers. Their many accomplishments include collaborating with administration to create a see-something-say-something form that students can report to administration if they are a victim of racist or hate-related behavior or if they witness it. The students have taught staff and students a lot about inclusion, empathy, and bravery –– and they inspire others to do the same.  

2021 Honorees


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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."