Lighthouse Awards 


The San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) is celebrating San Diego County equity champions in the community and the classroom with inaugural Lighthouse Awards given to honorees at the Equity Conference 2020.

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 will be presented to people who are beacons in the educational community by channeling and leading others in diversity, equity, and inclusion.


Award Categories

  • Turnaround School 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 and opportunities.

  • No Place for Hate Leader goes to an active member of his/her/their school’s No Place for Hate® advisory committee and demonstrates leadership ability in his/her/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


The Association of African American Educators

Equity Champion Organization

The Association of African American Educators (AAAE) was founded to promote equity in education within the ethnically diverse pupil population of San Diego County. African American educators, by the nature of their ethnicity, bring a unique perspective to the education of African American children. The unprecedented intensity of societal demands on the nation's schools emanates from diverse needs and sources. Recognizing that education must serve the interests of all community, the AAAE affirms its commitment to quality education for all children, specifically as it affects the opportunities of African American youth.

The primary objective of our association is to address the educational needs and conditions of African American students enrolled in Pre K-12 schools and to provide training and professional development opportunities for teachers, school administrators, and other school staff. The association has been existence since 1983. 

The Association of African American Educators, San Diego County (AAAE) was founded with two primary purposes: 

    1. To advocate for equity in educational opportunities and outcomes for African American students. 
    2. To insure equal opportunity and fairness for African American staff within the ethnically diverse school districts of San Diego County. 

To accomplish these purposes, AAAE will fulfill the following functions: 

    1. Support educational programs that enable African American students to realize their highest potential. 
    2. Assist African American students in developing a sense of responsibility toward self, others and society. 
    3. Support improvement of educational conditions for all students. 
    4. Promote increased understanding and valuing of African American history and culture. 
    5. Stimulate professional and personal growth of members by encouraging participation in appropriate programs. 
    6. Interpret to the broader community the needs and desires of the African American community as they relate to educational matters, and conversely, interpret and clarify for the African American community, the goals and policies related to students of African descent of the greater San Diego County school districts. 
    7. Serve as a resource to the Superintendents of San Diego County School Districts, in interpreting the educational needs of African American students; and provide assistance to teachers, other school employees, administrators, supervisors and districts as a whole in fulfilling the educational needs of African American students. 


Lallia Allali

Equity Champion Individual

Lallia Allali, received her Bachelor in Electronics from the Institute of Technology in Algeria, Master of Art in Leadership Studies from University of San Diego and a Leadership Coaching credential from USD, taught Physics, Chemistry, Math and Statistics in High School for 9 years. Since 2013, Lallia has been the voice of the English Learners in San Diego Unified School District through the District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC) as an English Learner Advisory Committee (ELAC) Liaison, Parliamentarian, and recently Chairperson for a second term. Lallia is also a member of the San Diego Unified School District Ethnic Studies Advisory Committee to promote diversity and inclusiveness. Lallia is leading the Committee to support Religious and Cultural Diversity, an inter-religious and intercultural team of educators, from different faiths and cultures committed to address the Islamophobia and its impact on Muslim students in San Diego Schools Districts.

Lallia Allali started the first Girl Scout troop of Islamic Faith troops at the Islamic Center of San Diego and helped create GS troops in City Height, North county and other states. in 2017, Lallia participated in the International Leadership Association Conference in Belgium, with her research on a model of Leadership in Turbulent Times.

Lallia Allali received the Outstanding Scholar Recognition award by the Department of Leadership Studies, University of San Diego for her research. In 2012 Lallia also received Interfaith Center for Worker Justice award for lobbying for AB 1964, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, protects and safeguards the right and opportunity of all persons to seek, obtain, and hold employment without discrimination or abridgment on account of race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, or sexual orientation.


Lisa Chohany

Turnaround Teacher

As a Navy wife, Lisa Chohany has had the privilege to live all over the world and teach in various states and overseas. When she was lucky enough to join the staff at Mt. Carmel High School, she knew she had found her true “work” home. As a general education teacher, she had taught in many different programs with students who had struggled to learn and find academic success. So when she applied for a job in the Poway Unified School District and she was asked if she had ever considered teaching Special Education, she took this opportunity and began teaching special education at MCHS. She concurrently enrolled at CSUSM and earned her Special Education Credential and a Master’s Degree in Education. She has worked at Mt. Carmel for 2 decades and has been the Special Education Department Chair for the last 17 years. During this time, she has been able to work with some incredible teachers and foster a community of acceptance and collaboration that is unique to the Sundevil Community.

Lisa has been an advocate for inclusive learning practices for students for 20 years. She has been the driving force behind the Linked Learning and SPED Collaboration model at Mt. Carmel. Her leadership voice has shaped the culture at Mt. Carmel and has helped countless educators, in and out of the SPED department, to better serve all students, including those in Special Education. In 2016, she was recognized by the PUSD Community Advisory Committee for Special Education, for her outstanding commitment to providing great service and learning opportunities for Special Education students and families.

Lisa and her team recently wrote a plan for a model SAI Instructional Service Plan for Mt. Carmel that built on her team’s two decades of work. This service model is built with the idea that an inclusive learning experience built to meet the needs of the individual student will support a positive school culture and build pathways that support all students in pursuit of their personal learning and life goals. It was accepted as a model program and is currently being implemented with the support and resources provided by Poway Unified School District.

Lisa has been married to Tom for almost 38 years, has 4 children, and 3 grandchildren.


Kelly Pallitto

No Place for Hate Leader

Kelly Pallitto is a lifelong learner who is centered in her values of inclusion, equity and always taking a student-centered approach. Over the course of her 14-year career as an educator, Ms. Pallitto has served in a number of roles that have allowed her to live these values and serve students, families and communities.

At Spring Valley Academy she was trained in the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme, embracing the core principles of IB, which were in accordance with her values of inclusion, equity and students at the center. At SVA, she took on leadership with Eagles Service Club, facilitated student-led community service events and opened the Eagles Emporium - a warehouse for food, clothing and toiletries for homeless and foster students and families and anyone needing extra help.

Ms. Pallitto has taken on the opportunity of serving as English learner teacher and coordinator at SVA in seventh and eighth grade. During this time, she became a fierce advocate for multilingual students and immigrant families in the community. She also became a leader of the No Place for Hate (ADL) Leadership Club with students. She feels strongly about embracing the tenets of No Place For Hate, by working to ensure that all students feel safe and comfortable at school, regardless of their educational placement, family background, or lifestyle choices.

Each year, Ms. Pallitto continues to grow her passion and commitment to equity and the community she serves. She is relentless in advocating for those without a voice and she always puts students at the center, pushing herself and her professional growth.

Dr. Carlos O. Turner Cortez

Turnaround School Leader

Dr. Carlos O. Turner Cortez, Ph.D., presently serves as the president of Continuing Education with the San Diego Community College District, where he oversees more than 40,000 students annually at seven campuses and over 200 off-site locations. He most recently served as dean of academic pathways, workforce development, and student success and acting vice president of instruction at Berkeley City College (BCC). Turner Cortez is also as adjunct faculty at Central Michigan University, John Hopkins University, and the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests center on the role of educators and administrators of color in the historical development of American social welfare and education policy. He is also an expert in the area of promoting equity and access in urban education through literacy and policy initiatives. Before BCC, he also served as director of Education Extension at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Prior to UCLA, he worked in education at the P-12 level as a classroom teacher, administrator, and researcher.

Turner Cortez began his career in education as Teach for America Corps member. His experience spans the public, private, and charter school sectors in Washington DC, Houston, New York City, Los Angeles, and Berkeley. Turner Cortez served as principal of New Village Charter School in Los Angeles and as assistant principal at Grape Street Elementary School. In these positions, he was known for his dedication to teachers and students, the development of innovative programs and services, astute fundraising, and sound fiscal management. He has worked primarily with underserved student populations from low income communities and has been a staunch advocate for policy and finance reform as a member of various state and federal level legislative task forces, including his current service on the California League of Community College’s Advisory Committee on Legislation and the Noncredit Coalition. His commitment to social justice drives his passion for urban education reform.

Turner Cortez sits on several regional and national non-profit boards, including the Trevor Project, the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship, the San Diego Workforce Partnership’s Workforce Development Board, the Jackie Robinson YMCA, and Goodwill San Diego.

In 2017, Turner Cortez was awarded the Martes Award for Excellence in Research by the Association of California Community College Administrators and was recognized as San Diego Male Leader of the Year by California State Assembly Member Shirley Weber. In 2018, he received the Excellence in Continuing Education Award from the Association of Community and Continuing Education (ACCE); the 2018 Innovation of the Year Award by League for Innovation in Community Colleges; and The RP Group Research and Planning Project Award. In 2019, he was awarded the Teach for Innovation McGrory Award for Innovative Alumni Leadership and his organization was awarded the 2019 Heather Van Sickle Entrepreneurial College of the Year Award.

Dr. Turner Cortez’s educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in History and Sociology from Georgetown University; a master’s degree in Race and Gender Politics from New York University; and a doctor of philosophy in Education Policy and Administration from the University of Southern California.


Cielo Villasenor

Turnaround Support Staff

Cielo Villasenor has served the Ramona Unified School District for over 20 years, working alongside students, teachers, and families as a classroom aide, mentor, guide, and parent liaison. Her work with the bilingual community has been invaluable in building bridges of communication and ensuring educational opportunities and academic success for all students. Cielo is the proud mother of three children, all of whom were educated in the Ramona Unified School District. She is also the proud and very patient mother of two chihuahuas, Tater-Tot and Wilbur. In her spare time, she makes a mean ponche!