Excellence and innovation make up the tagline of the Vista Unified School District. With all the leading edge initiatives happening at Vista (see this and this), it isn’t hard to see why these words are merited.
With 29 schools serving nearly 22,000 students from preschool to 12th grade, and thousands more enrolled in charters authorized by the district, Vista Unified is the fifth largest school district (out of 42) in San Diego County.
To better prepare its diverse population of students for the world of higher education and careers, Vista Unified’s Innovation Department works to promote a future forward mindset for students, teachers and staff so that everyone can collectively create the conditions necessary for optimal learning environments and pathways.
The San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP) is a key partner with the Innovation Department in two of its initiatives: the P-3 Continuum, which aims to close education achievement gaps by focusing on the prenatal stages to the third grade, and Talent Cities, which infuses career learning in middle and high schools and connects students to work-based learning experiences with local employers, including internships.
Vista Unified Assistant Superintendent of Innovation Matt Doyle, Ed.D. convenes district and community leaders to set the agendas, build ownership and develop partnerships that fuel both initiatives. SDWP provides expertise and programmatic support on contract with Vista Unified in both initiatives.
The P-3 Continuum aims to close education achievement gaps by helping all young children in Vista access the supports and learning experiences they need to build a strong foundation. The P-3 Continuum changes the way schools and the district interact with families, connects early learning providers with schools in order to foster school readiness and third grade reading achievement and fosters smooth transitions and excellent teaching in preschool all the way to third grade.
“Achievement gaps emerge even before kindergarten and lead to income inequality,” said Dr. Doyle.
In addition to future earnings, achievement gaps affect graduation rates and health outcomes. However, even universal access to preschool is not enough; more aligned early education and elementary systems are needed to support Vista’s youngest residents, including greater incidences of parent engagement and supporting social and emotional development.
Laura Kohn, the director of the Center for Local Income Mobility (CLIMB) at SDWP, serves as a facilitator for the leadership group at the P-3 Continuum. “Laura is really the inspiration and driving force for P-3,” said Dr. Doyle. “We depend on her knowledge and expertise in the field of education research.”
Kohn often cites research from Nobel Memorial Prize winner in economics James J. Heckman, Ph.D., an advocate of early childhood development who found that the earliest investments in our future workforce generate the highest and longest lasting returns.
This partnership between SDWP’s CLIMB and Vista Unified’s P-3 Continuum strengthens each other’s efforts to prepare very young people for early academic and eventual career success. Similarly, SDWP’s CONNECT2Careers (C2C) and the school district’s Talent Cities are complementary efforts for Vista’s older young adults, primarily high school students.
To facilitate career transitions for the district’s high school students, C2C Program Coordinator Kerri de Jager spends much of her time stationed in Vista Unified’s Innovation Center, working with district career technical education (CTE) administrators, work-based learning leaders, teachers and youth to provide job-readiness training and links to jobs for young adults. The goal is to help students connect their strengths and passions with possible career paths, so they can make strategic choices about life after high school graduation.
Vista Unified and SDWP also work together on the International Center for Educational Research and Practice (iCERP), a new approach to closing some of the largest gaps in education and society.
A partnership between the University of California at San Diego, SDWP and the Vista Unified School District, iCERP is building action research and improvement strategies driven by teacher priorities. Its virtual museum allows visitors to interact with three halls that each feature projects and exhibits that are designed to close a gap: Early Learning, Personal Learning and Relevant Learning.
Ultimately, Vista Unified and SDWP believe in a lifelong arc of learning both academics and social-emotional skills demanded by employers. According to Dr. Doyle, “We believe essential skills like being flexible and nimble, having empathy and thinking critically will make our graduates employable, thus leading to success in careers.”