Day 101, Amy Illingworth

Have you noticed that your inbox has been missing the daily SUHSD Learns post? We need your contributions!  We know that each member of the Sweetwater community has learned something this year. Please take the time to share your learning with us all.


To contribute all you have to do is:

  • Write (hand write, type, email, or call us directly to type for you) a short description of what you learned *OR*
  • Record a short video where you talk about what you learned *OR*
  • Send in pictures with captions about what you or your students learned
  • Create an infographic of something you learned
  • Submit student work (as long as we have parent permission to post it) demonstrating learning

Blogs can be in list format, in video format, or in narrative.  Blogs can be created by one individual or by a team of people. We are open to all styles and appreciate hearing from a range of district students, staff and community members.

For questions or support, please contact Cynthia Acuna ( or 619-585-4431).


Dr. Amy Illingworth is the Director of Professional Growth. She loves reading about others’ learning experiences and looks forward to new community members contributing. 

Day 97, Lauren McLennan

At our district-wide assembly last Monday, I realized that our sense of the “Sweetwater Family” is returning to us.  Each time we gather together, we strengthen our connections.

The lesson that sank deepest into my heart came from our keynote speaker, Jeff Andrade-Duncan. Jeff beckoned us to a deeper level of familial connection—to treat our students as the central part of our family.  He challenged us to look at our students—all of them—as though they were our own children.  We often refer to our students as “my kids,” but I need to take that sentiment to new levels.  Jeff told us that liking them is not enough; we must love them.  What does this love entail?  I have to love them enough to listen to all that they have to say.  I have to believe that there is a reason for everything they say and do—and those reasons are important.  I must examine my beliefs, altering those that would hinder my ability to care for each of my students.   In their eyes, I need to see “mi otro yo”—to wave away the smoke that clouds the mirror and see how deeply we are all connected.

Today, our lives change.  Familiar challenges will intensify; new challenges will arise.  Together, we will face them all and we will rise to new levels of dedication to our students—our children—and our entire Sweetwater Family.  We will focus on that which unites us and together we will become more than we ever thought we could be.

Lauren McLennan is an English and Peer Mediation teacher at Mar Vista High School and also a SEA representative. She in her 17th year of teaching for the SUHSD at MVH.


Day 96, Leighangela Brady

The Power of a PLN

 What would education be without another acronym? PLN? What is that?

PLN is short for Personal Learning Network, or as some refer to it as a Professional Learning Network. It is a group of individuals that you build over time centered around common learning. Over many years, I have built a robust PLN through Twitter, interdistrict networking, and personal connections.

Anyone currently working in education would agree that it is a time of unprecedented change. We are drastically transforming the landscape of education in wonderful ways, however it is not without its challenges:

  • Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards are calling for teachers to move beyond memorization, and push students to explain their thinking and apply skills to authentic tasks.
  • Increased digital access is forcing educators to shift away from content-based instruction, and focus more on process learning and critical thinking skills.
  • How students must demonstrate learning is drastically changing our assessment and grading procedures.

While exciting, these ambitious changes are daunting and require time, resources, and support. One of the best places I have found this support is through my PLN.

Each day I learn something new from my PLN. Like today, for example, I was able to learn about different ways Superintendents are planning to communicate California’s new school accountability system to stakeholders. What was once a single Academic Performance Index (API) number will now be a colorful dashboard representing not only current achievement, but also progress from the prior year.

This is a big change for our constituents, and I am thankful that I am not alone in figuring out how to explain it to them…thanks to my PLN.

This is just one example of the power of a PLN. Get started building your PLN today, and realize the power of support a PLN can offer you!


Dr. Leighangela Brady is an author of two books, Transforming Ice Age Schools: A Practical Guide for School Leaders and Test Less, Assess More: A K-8 Guide to Formative Assessment. Currently working as the Superintendent of National School District, Dr. Brady’s favorite time is spent visiting classrooms and witnessing innovative education in action. Using the Twitter hashtag #NSDnow, Leighangela and her team are sharing the story of how National School District is striving to create successful learners now. National School District is one of the elementary feeder district of SUHSD.

Day 95, Jessica Lloyd

Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.–Robert Collier (1885-1950), American self-help author

Today, I learned how delightful the SUHSD Rainbow Graduation was in the Montgomery High School gym. Experiencing the graduation and ceremony is appreciable because it was filled with many jaunty folks who have been involved in the success of the students graduating. Witnessing students who are unable to attend a traditional classroom environment is inspiring because they flourish, persevere and follow through with their education. At SUHSD, students, parents and teachers are partners in fulfilling the students’ educational goals and dreams. A good friend and colleague, Cinthya Cassani, is a counselor at ORHS Learning Center. She has encouraged, supported and praised her students for fulfilling the standards-based instruction despite their personal and educational obstacles. Our students have been learning that you don’t have to be perfect because nothing has to be perfect or easy. Life isn’t about being easy, life is about endurance and finding ways to succeed in what we aspire to be.

Jessica Lloyd is a Psychology Teacher at Otay Ranch High School. She’s the Chair for the Hearts & Flowers social committee, Adelante Mujer, School Site Safety and FAC. She enjoys building relationships with the school and community through raising awareness, fundraising and bringing people together for celebrations/causes such as JDRF, the MS Society and the MUSTANG family.

Day 94, Xavier Balladarez

I see success as the measure of one’s impact on others. In order to be successful I set as a daily goal to make a difference in someone, whether that is as simple as smiling at that person or encouraging the individual to pursue a tertiary education. The reward of success does not come into appearance immediately but rather blooms in the future, when you see how your actions have become a crucial and influential component of the complex instrument to society that person has become. Teachers are a model of this, as they educate copious students, which become the leaders of our society and build a better community for future generations. In my opinion, there is no equivalent satisfaction than seeing a student progress and succeed.

In a mentor program at my school, where high school students educate middle and elementary school students in STEM and careers within the field, students are exposed to the experience of a teacher, where they get a sense of a teacher’s responsibilities and their love for education. This mutuality impassions the students to pursue higher education, have closer relationships with their teachers, and consider a career in education. Being more understanding of the role, the students admire the teachers for their outstanding efforts and ability to teach, creating respect and aspiration.

As the student board representative, I find as my responsibility to voice the opinions of all student with equity, leading me to live my life in the shoes of others. I listen to their concerns and ideas and discuss with the schools’ leaders to design a proposal that would allow for the betterment of the students’ educational experience: didactic, environmental, and socioemotional. A beauty of being the student board representative is being able to witness the complex structure of the district, composed of devout and dedicated individuals who work passionately to create a better future for the students and the community. In addition, to have the opportunity to make a district-wide contribution alongside the amazing district-staff generates happiness of ineffable magnitude, that which inspires me the same way I hope it inspires other students for them to follow this feeling.

Xaiver is a Junior at Southwest High School . He was the first sophomore to attempt AP physics, he currently is taking 5 AP classes and is in VEX Robotics and FIRST Robotics as well as serving as the student board representative. Xaiver is an active member of the ASB.

Day 93, Karla Sanchez

As a senior at San Ysidro High School I am a couple of months from graduating. I have worked hard to keep up with all my assignments in my classes as well as AP classes and therefore applying to colleges was not a simple task to do. However, I managed my time wisely and as a result, it took me less than five weeks and a checklist to finish my applications. I got help from Talent Search, my tutors, and my counselor.  Being in AVID gave me lots of time where I had the benefit to complete my applications. Furthermore, my teacher was there to check my essays and my writing portions. I not only learned to be more punctual with due dates, but I learned that in college all of my assignments have to be on time and no late work will be accepted. I grew as a student because I realized that my education is very important and that I have to follow through with my work and not be lazy. I grew as an individual as well because now I am more independent and I know that my educational career from now on within college is going to be a lot more serious in my life.
Karla Sanchez is a senior in the AVID program at San Ysidro High School.  She aspires to become a role model for her four siblings by earning a college degree and pursuing a career in the field of medical forensics.

Day 92, Ebony Virgle

Lead by example

“Teachers can be a living example to their students…Everyone needs to see that you not only teach human values but you live them. It is unavoidable sometimes you will be idealized — it is better for children to have a role model, or goal, because then the worshipful quality in them can dawn.”

― Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

I’ve learned that what I say and the way that I act towards my students influences them.  I’ve always known this, but being a former 1st and 2nd grade teacher, the impact I made on my students’ lives wasn’t always apparent.  Standing in front of 36 students each period teaching a 55 minute lesson, I often forget that I am making a difference daily.  The last day of school before Winter break, I was given letters from some of my students and was humbly reminded that I am doing something right.

Period 4, 7th grade student:

Dear Ms. Virgle,

I want you to know the impact you have made on my life. You have inspired me to be more kind, understanding and forgiving to others. My family and I are truly grateful about the kindness you have given me. Thank you! Ps: Happy Holidays!

Period 5, 7th grade students:

Dear Ms. Virgle,

Thank you for teaching us great things and enforcing the rules that need to be enforced. I like how you speak to us nicely and are respectful to us. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas filled with joy and love. Ps: English is superb!

My students are human beings before any other title placed upon them so I inherently treat them with the respect they deserve. Leading by example is one of the most integral parts of teaching and I am glad my students are positively being impacted.

Ebony Virgle earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Studies with a specialization in Ethnic Studies from SDSU. She, subsequently, earned her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential with an English authorization and her Master’s Degree in Teaching also from SDSU. This is her first year working in the district as an English teacher at Chula Vista Middle.

Day 91, DR. Janney

This is my second SUHSD Learns blog entry. My goal is to share “what I learned in my first year as superintendent” from each stakeholder group during my visits across the district.

As I reflect on the voices and messages I heard from families and community members I can confidently proclaim that students are #1 in the minds and hearts of family and Sweetwater District supporters.  It is humbling to know and understand that our families entrust their student to us each and every day. They trust that we have their student’s best interests as our priority. They trust that we make decisions that positively impact their child’s academic and socio-emotional well-being. And, they trust that we believe their student is capable and that we care.

Parents and families want us to know that they do care about what’s happening at their student’s school. And, they may want to be more involved than their schedules allow.  When parents and families do attend a school function, they ask for respect, honesty, and that we listen to their concerns.  I learned that parents sincerely respect and honor us as educators.

Sweetwater community members have taught me that just because they may no longer have students in our district, they continue to demand we provide the best education and the best environment for learning.

We are fortunate that so many of our parents, families, and community members are Sweetwater alumni! As a result, we can build on the strength that helps us all be part of the Sweetwater family.

All stakeholder voices matter! The powerful opinions of our family and community members about how our students and schools can be successful are worth listening to by all educators!


Dr. Karen Janney is the proud Superintendent of the Sweetwater Union High School District. With over 37 years of secondary teaching and administrative experience, Dr. Janney brings a demonstrated record for creating and sustaining dynamic organizational capacity and educational equity. Dr. Janney is a consummate learner and she looks forward to reading about other community members’ learning experiences throughout the year. 

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.

Day 90, Unified Sports- Janet Tope

“Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding. In Unified Sports, teams are made up of people of similar age and ability,” (  This past month there were four Unified Basketball Games across our district where eight schools brought together students with and without disabilities on the same team.  This week’s SUHSD Learns Daily Blog will showcase what students, teachers, and community members learned from these games.

Unified Sports from the Perspective of a Teacher Who Teaches Students with Moderate/Severe Disabilities

By Janet Tope

On Wednesday, November 16, 2016, our Otay Ranch High School students with special needs participated in an amazing event- a Unified Basketball Game against Olympian High School.  This game gave our students their first opportunity to play in a basketball game with their peers in general education!  Eight of our Otay Ranch High students with special needs teamed up with four students from our Otay Ranch High School basketball team-two players from the boy’s team and two players from the girl’s team.

In the 34 years that I have been with the Sweetwater Union High School District, this is the first time in my experience that our students in special education participated in a real competition with their general education peers on the same team.  Our whole squad of Otay Ranch High School cheerleaders, our ASB officers and members, and all of our students in our moderate/severe programs rode the buses together to Olympian High School.  Our students were so proud and excited to ride the bus and attend this game with their general education peers.

This was also the first time that a community trip for our students with special needs was organized by our general education administration.  As a teacher in special education, this was very refreshing.  I had a sense that I belonged to something bigger than just the special day class on a comprehensive campus.  If I felt this, I can only imagine what my students must have felt deep within their souls.  They cannot express many of their thoughts and emotions in words, but the look on their faces, the joy streaming from their hearts was enough to express to us that they felt part of their school.  They were so proud to be a MUSTANG!  The whole day, I had to fight tears of joy from streaming down my face.

I am so grateful for this opportunity for our students.  I want to thank our ASB Advisor-Dean Nafarrete, our Cheerleading Advisor-Janis Redmond and our Basketball coach-Coach Tsuda for making this all possible.  And, Valerie Ruiz at Special Services- thank you for persevering in your vision for Unified Sports.

Janet Tope has taught students with moderate to severe disabilities for the past 21 years. She started as an instructional assistant at SOM then moved to BVH to be a instructional health care assistant.  Currently, she teaches at Otay Ranch High School.