Day 141, Sara Chai

Have you ever felt like a celebrity, with constant greetings and smiles?  I admit I had never really understood the celebrity feeling until a few months ago.  Teenagers were constantly smiling at me and saying hello.  Several asked how I was doing, and what was new at Montgomery Middle.  You see, I was surrounded by former students as I participated in SUHSD’s first Family STEAM Night at Montgomery High School!   I shared the scientific process of making ice cream and watched Genius Bar students share about helping with tech and participating in our district’s First Annual Solar Sprint.  This reminds me of why I am a science teacher and have taught for more than single digits at Montgomery Middle.  What I want to express to my former students in this moment is: you make me smile and make me proud!  Thank you for being so welcoming to me and reminding me why I teach!


Sara Chai is a science and technology resource teacher at Montgomery Middle School.  She recently completed her masters in educational leadership, with an emphasis in technology.  In her time when she is not at school, you can usually find her tide pooling or trail running! 

Day 140, Confidential Unit of the Sweetwater Union High School District

What we learned today…..

Did you know the district has eleven (11) Confidential employees that strongly support and assist the district management team in a variety of levels?  You may be asking yourself, “What IS a Confidential  Employee?”  In short, we work in areas that on occasion deal with employer/employee matters or whose duties normally require access to confidential information that is used to contribute significantly to the development of management positions.  We do not have a bargaining unit and work in departments such as the Superintendent’s Office, Fiscal Services, Human Resources, Leadership Development and Systems Innovation, Legal Services, and the Office of the Clerk of the Board.   We are ambitious and work diligently to remain current on all aspects of our jobs.  We believe in customer service, loyalty, dedication, efficiency and integrity.  Most importantly we work as a team putting students first.


From the Confidential Unit of the Sweetwater Union High School District:


Superintendent’s Office:

Imelda Genovese, Executive Assistant to the Superintendent – 20 years with the district


Fiscal Services:

Carolina Zimmermann, Sr. Executive Assistant – 31 years with the district


Human Resources:

Kim Ruiz, Personnel Analyst –  35 years with the district

Araceli Guzman, Sr. Executive Assistant  – 32 years with the district

Blanca Hernandez, Sr. Administrative Assistant  – 31 years with the district

Ligaya Quitilen, Sr. Administrative Assistant  – 25 years with the district


Leadership Development & Systems Innovation:

Yolanda Hernandez, Sr. Executive Assistant – 31 years with the district.


Legal Services:

Vanessa Quintero, Sr. Executive Assistant  – 20 years with the district

Yvette Farina, Sr. Administrative Assistant – 25 years with the district

Betsy Garcia-Pena, Sr. Administrative Assistant  – 8 years with the district


Office of the Clerk of the Board :

Karina Estrada, Sr. Administrative Assistant – 15 years with the district


Hello SUHSD Learns Readers,

If you enjoy reading our daily blogs, please consider writing one for us! Tell us what you have learned today. Blogs can include a narrative, pictures or a video segment. Click here to get started and you will receive an email about the details of your blog submission, including when your blog is due.

SUHSD Twitter Chat

Have you ever participated in a Twitter chat? It is a fun-filled hour where you can learn and share new ideas about education from the comfort of your own home.

The next SUHSD Twitter chat will take place on Tuesday, April 11 from 7:00-8:00 PM. To follow along and participate, please use the hashtag #suhsdlearns . We will be chatting about Digital Citizenship and our chat moderate will be Mari Venturino, a teacher from Mar Vista Academy (@MsVenturino).

For more information on Twitter chats, read here and here.

Day 134, Dr. Dianna Carberry

The best gift I’ve gotten in life is a love of reading.  My grandmothers passed it on to my parents, my parents to me, and me to our daughter. From my earliest memories I can still see the library in my grandparents’ home full of books.  My favorites back then were comic books, (Popeye, Donald Duck, Buck Rogers, The Green Flash to name a few) but the shelves were full of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys mysteries, Ellery Queen, Perry Mason, Sherlock Holmes, Little Women, Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, AA Milne, and a plethora of other books.  On blustery Saturday’s I recall taking down a book, grabbing a blanket, and sitting by the warm fire immersing myself in my choice.  My grandmother and mother would be reading too.  No one spoke, we just read.  Sometimes my mother would scold me when she would catch me finishing a spellbinding book under the bed covers with my trusty flashlight. I really think she was proud that reading was such a joy to me. In high school I still found time to read, sometimes staying up all night until I would finish the book.  I still do that sometimes.  My tastes in genres and my love for reading has never changed.  Years later my mother, daughter, and I would repeat this memory.

My family favorites are mysteries and I warmly recall trading them with my mother as a young mother myself. But I also love historical novels and books about other cultures and communities.  Our daughter’s friends thought it was odd that she didn’t have video games as a child.  Our deal was we would buy her any book she wanted to read so she too would curl up with a favorite book.  I remember the days of walking to the library to check out Babysitters club books and later the book store where we’d pick out a few and hurry home to start reading.  Today her library is larger than mine and much more eclectic.

The love of reading has made us good readers; reading to learn is critical.  Because I read a lot I believe I can learn anything I put my mind to. However, reading for fun is what I wanted my daughter and students at my school to value.  Sometimes books teach us about our past, present and future.  I learned a lot about the outdoors from Scrooge McDuck comics, like what poison oak looks like and that it grew down in our creek.  The comics covered life lessons, science, problem-solving, trust, and mischief.

Each time we moved homes as a family we dragged boxes of books to the new home.  It’s like having our friends with us. The bookshelves in our home are full. Today some of my friends are Kay Scarpetta, Alex Cross, Rita and Harry Decker, Eve Duncan, and Amy Underwood (the main character from the book our daughter wrote last year).  Over Spring Break I plan on pulling out the newest books of some of my friends for the sheer pleasure of being entertained.  In the staff lounge on 5th street there is a book case where you can borrow or share a book.  I’ve shared a few of mine. I urge you to do the same. Go make your own new friends!


Dianna Carberry, Assistant Superintendent Leadership and Systems Innovation.

When she is not reading she is riding her bike, hiking, gardening, sewing or playing in the water.  This year is her 39th year in education and this December she and her husband will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. 

Day 123, Steve Rodriguez

Have you found yourself feeling a bit stale in the classroom?  Are you searching for new instructional ideas?  Or do you just frequently experience a sense of professional curiosity, wondering if there are fellow teachers out there somewhere doing interesting things that might benefit your classroom of students?

If so, I highly recommend attending a professional teachers’ conference. Two weekends ago I attended the 2017 California Association of Teachers of English (CATE) state conference held in Santa Clara, CA. What I re-learned from the experience was the value of spending time amongst my own teacher tribe, exposing myself to new ideas, new faces, and intense energy.

The three-day CATE conference involved over 800 English teacher attendees from throughout the state. I attended general sessions featuring prominent speakers, and a number of smaller presentation sessions featuring teachers like myself willing to share their experiences and findings.  Though I didn’t find all ideas applicable to my classroom situation, the presentations provoked me to reexamine what I currently do with my students—and that alone made the conference worthwhile.

In addition to attending, I also actively participated by delivering an hour-long presentation session to fellow 12th grade teachers. My presentation was on Olympian High’s Common Senior Experience—a theme/project-based curriculum my school has administered for the past 8 years. Though preparing for the presentation was time consuming and a bit intimidating, I actually enjoyed stepping out of my comfort zone while conducting the event.  Once done, I was on a mental high for the rest of the day after fielding enthusiastic questions and comments from the audience.

Next year’s CATE conference will be held right here in San Diego (at the Town and Country Hotel in Mission Valley) during March 9-11, 2018.  For English teachers it will be a great opportunity to expand one’s perspective and spend time with fellow teachers.  And you won’t have to spend money on airfare or a hotel room.  I highly recommend attending!  Chances are good you too will leave such a conference, if not full of new ideas, at the very least intellectually stimulated and mentally refreshed—not to mention, motivated by the high level of energy possessed by motivated peers excited to share their theories, opinions, and experiences.

Steve Rodriguez teaches AP English Literature and English-12 at Olympian High School.

Informational Meetings for AAA

Dear Teachers, Counselors & Psychologists with a Preliminary Administrative Credential and Current Assistant Principals:

The Aspiring Administrator Academy (AAA) wants you!  We are looking for a few good men and women who want to make a difference as leaders and mentors.  We are asking you to join our growing platoon of innovators in the Sweetwater Union High School District.

If you are a current assistant principal, we would love to recruit you as a year-long mentor.  In your role as a mentor, you will help aspiring administrators learn more about the assistant principal position.

If you are a current teacher with a preliminary administrative credential, not only will you gain valuable field experience, but you will collaborate with fellow cohort members to learn about the assistant principal position from a variety of perspectives.


To learn more, please preview the SUHSD Aspiring Administrator Academy website.  In addition, please plan to attend one of our informational meetings:

  • March 6 – 3:30 PM in the PDC
  • March 7 – 4:00 PM in the PDC
  • March 14 – 7:00 AM in the PDC

Give us a year… we will give you an experience that will prepare you to thrive as an administrator.

Purpose:  The purpose of the Aspiring Administrator Academy is to recruit, train, support and retain high quality site-level leaders who will increase student achievement, close the achievement gap, and support innovative efforts to improve learning within the SUHSD.  The Academy will offer training, mentoring, and a year-long apprenticeship to program participants for the purpose of advancing equity in the SUHSD.  

Day 115, Operation Grit

Tiffany Howerton, MOH English teacher and Operation GRIT advisor

Michelle Beauchamp, MOH English teacher and Operation GRIT advisor

Operation GRIT is a club and a mentoring program at Montgomery High School. We match 11th and 12th grade GRIT mentors with 9th and 10th grade protégés in Aztec Checkout.  Our goal is to help students with their academics, but also to make sure they know they have a community of peers that care about them. Mentors and protégés meet 2-4 times a week to ensure overall success. GRIT stands for Growth, Resilience, Integrity, and Tenacity, which are the 4 pillars of our mission statement.

Gia Jaramillo, MOH Senior and Operation GRIT Vice President/mentor

Initially when I started mentoring I simply wanted to complete my community service hours and be done with it. But after 3 years I’ve gotten into the routine of going 4 days a week, multiple hours a day. Operation GRIT has changed from a dinky after school program to the largest club in my school. Not only have I grown more sociable, but also it has expanded the value of my school and community. Through this program I found that I enjoy helping my protégés and seeing the moment when they understand a problem.

I’ve decided that I will continue helping students to reach their full potential through teaching. My favorite part of GRIT is that we celebrate the success of all the students, both small and tremendous. This helps unify us as a whole as well as incite a passion within the individual students. I hope to help Operation GRIT prosper and grow in the future as I plan to continue the tradition when I am a teacher.

Oscar Soto-Castelo, MOH Freshman, Operation GRIT protégé

Operation GRIT has helped me a lot to improve my grades. Currently, I have been getting really good grades because of the program. I meet with my mentor at least twice a week to make sure I stay on track. If it wasn’t for my mentor and Operation GRIT I wouldn’t be going to the college trip during Spring Break. I can’t wait to visit universities in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The trip will be fun especially since I get to go with my mentor Gia and other students in the club.

Last semester, I felt proud every marking period because we would have a party to celebrate good grades. I always have fun. I hope to one day become a mentor in the club. I know I can do it.

Day 114, “Sweetwater Sisters”

Thanks to Dr. Carberry, a cohort of new SUHSD counselors have had the opportunity to attend the New Counselor Leadership Institute, offered by the San Diego County Office of Education.  The Institute is a series of six workshops where topics range from preparing our students to be college/career ready to building positive student development.  Our last workshop held on January 31st focused on “Strengths-Based Student Group Facilitation.”

During the day, we were exposed to many different approaches to providing groups on campus, including counseling groups, support groups, and educational groups.  As “The Sweetwater Sisters,” we represented 4 different high school sites (Eastlake, Olympian, Mar Vista, Hilltop) and practiced our facilitation skills around the topic of “stress management.”  Not only were we able to role-play and provide feedback, but we were also able to make valuable connections to one another.

“The most exciting aspect of this training is bringing the knowledge back to our sites to plan our own support groups to meet the needs of our students,” exclaimed Carla Jacobo.

According to Kristen Ereno, the training helped remind her of how important and powerful groups are for students.  She plans to increase the number of groups offered on campus and personally seeks to implement an empowerment group for young ladies.

“Receiving a binder filled with resources and ideas made this one of the best training in the series so far,” said Ilyana Castaneda.  Furthermore, Ilyana expanded upon the fact that the activities presented during the training could easily be used for our students and at staff meetings.

For Bibiana Jones, the workshop was enriching in helping her identify how she can deliver more authentic services to her students.  She also acknowledges the value of teamwork and collaboration with her colleagues.

As for Liliana Barron, she was reminded about the power of connection that groups can provide with staff, peers, and their school.  “In strengthening these bonds,” she says, “we are building an essential component to student success.”

As new counselors, we are proud to be members of this school district and appreciate the support of the district in providing us with professional development opportunities to better serve our students.  Our own counseling teams at our site have been incredible mentors and invaluable to our growth as counselors.  We look forward to the remaining three trainings of the Institute — a School Counselor Leadership Conference at the University of San Diego, Building Asset Based Relationships with Youth, and Youth Mental Health First Aid.

This blog was written by the following “Sweetwater Sisters”: Carla Jacobo, second year counselor at Hilltop High School; Bibiana Jones and Kristen Ereno are second year counselors at Eastlake High School;  Ilyana Castaneda, first year counselor and 13 year SUHSD educator. Liliana Barron has been at Olympian High School since 2015.  Edrey Ledezma is a second year counselor at Mar Vista High School.

Day 113, Elvia Estrella

This week is “National School Counseling Week.” The theme for this week is “Helping Students Realize their Potential.” #NSCW17

“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds” Mexican Proverb

Quisieron enterrarnos, pero se les olvido que somos semillas.” Mexican Proverb

Education! We all come into the field of education for different reasons. Many people at a young age know that they were made to teach, counsel and others say they were born to lead. Whichever the case may be, school has been the one constant for all children and some children enter school as young as three-years-old. I believe in the field of education because it is the one place, other than home, that we as educators have the greatest impact on a child’s development. My philosophy is that all children can and will learn, and all children can and will be successful academically and in life.

As school counselors, we have the most important role and many times a more impacting role on a child’s life to shape a child’s mind, thoughts, and behaviors. When children enter school for the first time, many enter with a story and a dream. Each story a child enters with is unique to them and separates them from others. Economical resources may vary but it is the quest to satisfy a dream through the world of education that unites all students. As school counselors, I believe it is our duty to help each student understand that their story builds their character even when they can’t see the potential that illuminates them. We all need to be willing to help each child reach beyond their dream so one day they can say they had the opportunity to achieve their dreams through receiving an education.

Many often do not fully understand our role as school counselors in education. However, I often state that “I have the best job in the world!” My daily duties and responsibilities are to be a dream maker and a life changer. I have the role and responsibility to help each student not only graduate high school, but to help them make their academic/career dream a reality. I get to be part of each student’s story when a student answers the common question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Every time that I ask this question, I learn a little more about each student to build our relationship and help them reach that dream. As school counselors, we hold the ability to inspire each student to achieve by the power of our words, our actions and our encouragement to transform a student’s educational experience. My most memorable statement from a student was when he received his letter of acceptance to college and he said, “Ms. Estrella, you have changed my life forever!” I love being a school counselor because every day I get to plant seeds.

Elvia Estrella is currently a counselor at San Ysidro Learning Center and is currently the president of Sweetwater Counseling and guidance associations (SCGA).

Day 110, Lysabeth Luansing-Garcia

Philosopher Confucius once said, “The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.”

This week is “National School Counseling Week.” The theme for the week is “Helping Students Realize Their Potential.”

Being an alumnus of Sweetwater High, I understand the stigma my students feel about not being “good enough” for highly selective college admissions. They have heard the narrative too many times: kids from National City don’t go to “those types of schools.”

Building a college-going culture is more than increasing A-G rates and building AP programs. It’s about building each student’s belief in their ability to achieve their college dreams. They have to believe kids like them DO go to schools like Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.

As a teacher turned school counselor, in every interaction I have with students, I am reminded of the power of my words and actions to guide students towards the realization of their potential. I have learned that I must acknowledge a student’s hard work and dedication in making their education a priority. I have to express my admiration a student’s resilience amidst the trauma they have experienced.  I have to call attention to a student’s talents that make them unique.

Each student inherently has the will to win, the desire of succeed, and the urge to reach their potential, yet many need us to help them realize their potential.

Lysabeth Luansing-Garcia is a former AVID Tutor from GJH, once ELA teacher at CPH, now school counselor at SUHI where she maintains the website She is also the co-chair of the SUHSD Counselor Standards Committee. Outside of work, she shares the diversions of life on her lifestyle blog