Cajon Valley Union School District shares lessons learned on reopening with schools across country

The East County district was asked to participate in a national summit designed to help other districts follow their lead.

***REPOST FROM CBS8.COM - Read Original Story HERE***

EL CAJON, Calif. — With COVID-19 numbers dropping and more and more people getting vaccines, there's a strong push to get children back into the classroom. One San Diego County school district is doing such a great job with their reopening, they were asked to participate in a national summit designed to help other districts follow their lead.

“Getting our kids safely back to school is essential,” President Biden said Wednesday at the National Safe School Reopen Summit.

Cajon Valley Union School District presented at the event, sharing lessons learned during the pandemic. The East County district has been at the forefront in this area, opening four schools full-time in September. The district is also on-track to resume full-time in-person learning at all of its 27 schools April 12.

District leaders said it's all about trust.

“We have to create relationships,” said Nerel Winter, Principal of Bostonia Language academy. “We have to focus everything on the relationship.”

Administrators said if students and parents know they're being heard and valued, it knocks down barriers that create a better learning environment.

“Our teachers in Cajon Valley were vulnerable enough at their sites to get on calls with parents from a school and listen and facilitate the feedback directly from parents,” added Assistant Superintendent Karen Minshew.

The district serves 17,000 students in the East County. Some of their schools have been back for months with barriers on desks in the classroom, mask-wearing, and a lot of hand washing. It's worked. They haven't had a single case of COVID-19 spread from one student to another.

“Even families that weren't ready to come back - or don't feel comfortable being back - we're seeing minds shift with the evidence of this is safe... it's good for students... my child's thriving,” Minshew said.

Students agree. They say their time on campus has been invaluable, especially when they talk to their friends in other districts that are still doing all remote learning.

The Biden administration said their goal is to get nearly every K-8 school open by the end of next month and provide money for districts to offer summer programs for students who fell behind during online learning.

Cajon Valley school district’s COVID-19 reopening strategy spotlighted at national reopening summit

Cajon Valley students, teachers, administrators joined the U.S. Department of Education’s ‘National Safe Schools Reopening Summit’

***REPOST FROM SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE - Read Original Story Here***


Transitioning to online learning and navigating the changes brought on by the pandemic was tough for El Cajon eighth-grade student Anisha Ward.

However, Anisha, a student at Bostonia Language Academy, said it was the support from her teachers that helped her get through the unprecedented challenge.

“They are not only our teachers now, they are our counselors, they are our friends,” Ward said. “We can go to them, we can talk to them ... time has been difficult, and they’ve been helping a lot with that.”

The Cajon Valley Union School District student joined teachers and administrators, as well as thousands of educators on Wednesday for the U.S. Department of Education’s first “National Safe Schools Reopening Summit” virtual series.

Educators from across the country shared how they are addressing academic, social, emotional needs of students, while implementing reopening plans that keep students and staff safe.

Cajon Valley Union’s focus on the emotional well-being of students, outreach to parents and community was recognized during a panel discussion on reopening.

Cajon Valley Union announced last week that it would return to full-time in-person learning after spring break on April 12. The school district, however, will still offer a distance learning option.

The district serves more than 17,000 students in 27 schools in East County. About 69 percent of its students are low-income. The students are 49 percent White, 34 percent Latino, 7 percent Black and 4 percent Asian.

The district was one of the first in the state to bring students back to campus, not for school but for free child care services for essential workers in May 2020. It also offered summer school to more than 6,500 students.

Those programs allowed the district to prepare for a larger reopening in September, when four schools opened to in-person instruction five days a week, with the rest offering hybrid options, school district officials said.

The district reported one case of COVID-19, with zero cases of student-to-student transmission.

Karen Minshew, assistant superintendent of Cajon Valley Union, said that when the pandemic hit, the district made an effort to hear from families and teachers.

She said the district hosted about 100 listening sessions and town halls to identify needs and concerns from families.

“Engaging our customers was the key and that has provided us the steps and the guidance to reopen, and it has created trust with each of our groups,” Minshew said.

Nerel Winter, principal of Bostonia Language Academy, said that as a result of feedback the school placed additional focus on connecting with students to ensure that their emotional needs were met.

Cajon Valley Union was one of several districts spotlighted during the summit for their reopening efforts. Educators from Cleveland, Tulsa and New York City shared examples that worked and others that did not.

The virtual summit is one of many the Department of Education plans to host to provide school districts with support and resources to reopen quickly.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona led two panels about reopening strategies, alongside Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cardona emphasized reopening strategies must be mindful of inequities nationwide.

He said only 28 percent of Black students in the United States are back to in-person learning, 33 percent of Latino students are in-person, and only 15 percent of Asian students are back — that’s compared to half of White students.

Cardona encouraged school districts to prioritize the emotional well-being of students, as well as their safety moving forward.

He announced plans to tour schools across the country.

Guest speakers Wednesday included President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Dr. Jill Biden and Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute.

Cajon Valley Schools recognized nationally for reopening

Posted at 3:14 PM, Mar 24, 2021

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – A San Diego school district is in the national spotlight for getting kids back to the classroom safely. Teachers, administrators, and students from Cajon Valley Union took part in a summit Wednesday hosted by the Department of Education to share their success with the rest of the country.

The Cajon Valley Union School District has been pioneering what learning looks like in a pandemic from the start. They have consistently been the first public school district in the county to reopen while other districts remained closed.

On April 12th, they’ll reopen their 27 schools to pre-pandemic levels with in-person learning five days a week.

Cajon Valley Union School District to Participate in National Safe Schools Reopening Summit hosted by the US Department of Education

Cajon Valley Union School District to Participate in National Safe Schools Reopening Summit hosted by the US Department of Education

EL CAJON, Calif., March 24, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- On Wednesday March 24th from 9:00 am - 12:30 pm PDT, members of the Cajon Valley Union School District will join...

  • President Joe Biden
  • Vice President Kamala Harris
  • Dr. Jill Biden, First Lady of the United States
  • Dr. Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Education
  • Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, President and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute

along with a few other spotlight districts for the National Safe Schools Reopening Summit hosted by the US Department of Education.

The Summit is one of a series of steps the Department is taking to provide support and resources to schools as they work to reopen quickly and safely and equitably address the academic, social, and emotional needs of students most impacted by the pandemic.

Cajon Valley has earned global recognition for its innovative practices in modern curriculum, technology, and The World of Work, a comprehensive K - 12 solution for career development, financial empowerment, and social & emotional well-being.

ABC10 News Story: Innovative Cajon Valley curriculum setting students up for success

Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, President and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute, will moderate a panel with representatives of Tulsa School District and Cajon Valley Team Members…

Anisha Ward, 8th Grade Student of Bostonia Language Academy
Shelly Smith, Teacher at Rios Computer Science Magnet School
Nerel Winter, Principal of Bostonia Language Academy
Karen Minshew, Assistant Superintendent Educational Services
as they change the conversation from "learning loss" to "hope and engagement" for our nation's youth beyond the pandemic.

The National Safe School Reopening Summit is a public event, and all attendees can register here. Closed captioning and ASL interpreters will be available throughout the entire Summit, and the event will be livestreamed on the Department of Education's YouTube channel.

Media Contact:
Howard Shen

How Cajon Valley Union School District Bridged the Communication Gap

Technology played a crucial role, of course. But the single most important factor turned out to be trust.

Cajon Valley first began to embrace the digital age long before the pandemic shuttered its schools. In 2014, more than 90 percent of the district’s teachers committed to implementing a blended and personalized learning approach. With this, Cajon Valley was able to launch a one-to-one program to provide students with laptops equipped with the necessary programs and tools for an adaptive curriculum.

A Less Tech, More Human Approach

When the district initially embarked on its blended and personalized learning venture years ago, some stakeholders were concerned that kids would spend too much time in front of screens. Others worried that school officials were attempting to replace actual teaching with computers.

Fortunately, these fears were quickly put to rest when people saw that the focus of conversations and professional development revolved around increasing time for teachers to work with students individually and in small groups.

To emphasize how vital personal interaction is to our blended learning endeavor, we adopted the motto “Less Tech, More Human.” We also looked to other tech-infused industries where computers took on administrative or routine tasks so that employees could focus on the creative and human aspects of their work.

In the medical field, for example, advances in X-rays, scans, arthroscopy, radiology and robotics have allowed breakthroughs in technology to radically improve outcomes for patients. The nurses and doctors haven’t been replaced, but the time and efficiency created by these innovations have allowed them to invest more time in patient care, consultation and well-being.

The same is true in the classroom. Today’s educational technology, for instance, enables more vigorous diagnostics, progress monitoring, adaptive curriculum and corrective feedback. This, in turn, allows teachers to more accurately personalize learning for students and spend more time coaching and mentoring.

Supporting Students with Technology and Communication

The technological proficiencies our teachers and students built over the past several years served us well in March 2020, when stay-at-home orders took effect all over the nation. In a matter of days, our teachers and support staff transitioned smoothly to remote learning — but we had another significant challenge ahead.

Early on, we realized that not all of our students had equal access to the tools they’d need. It took a few weeks before we were able to ensure all students had devices and were connected to Wi-Fi at home. That barely scratched the surface, however, of the enormous challenges our students and their families faced. In most students’ homes, both parents work. Many students were tasked with taking care of their younger siblings and were sometimes left home alone. Some parents quit their jobs because they had no access to childcare. Knowing this, we did everything in our power to provide constant support and communication.


Cajon Valley Union School District reflects on a successful year of online learning and community building.

Our parents wanted to hear from us and wanted answers to a lot of questions about COVID-19, the future and what to expect. While we didn’t always have the answers, we agreed to meet regularly to stay connected and provide whatever answers and assistance we could.

With this in mind, we strived to establish avenues for active, two-way communication. We held biweekly meetings for educators and school staff, and we shared video of those meetings online. Our principals and teachers offered town hall–style meetings for their school communities as well. Cajon Valley also had a well-established social media footprint, which provided additional layers of communication and outreach.

Online Learning Creates Stronger Connections

From the onset, the actions we took were a direct result of live, weekly videoconferences we held with our stakeholder groups. This rhythm and consistency were essential to establishing the kind of connection and collaboration we sought with our community, and allowed us to respond agilely to problems as they surfaced.

When several families shared that they had no options for childcare and were stressed about balancing work and their kids’ classes, we launched a program offering free childcare for essential workers. Similarly, when our stakeholders expressed concern for the mental and social well-being of our students, we introduced free summer learning and enrichment camps for any families who felt safe sending their children.

Ultimately, our ability to provide wide technology access and regularly engage with our families allowed us to safely reopen schools for families and teachers who were comfortable attending in person, while still providing distance learning options for those who weren’t.

For years, we’ve wanted stronger connections between our school system and the families and employees who rely on us. Who could have guessed that we would accomplish that by going online?

What we do know is that we will continue leveraging the power of technology to enable more human connection, and that even as we spend more and more time in the digital realm, our “Less Tech, More Human” approach will remain a welcome concept for the end users we serve.

Hear more about how Cajon Valley Union School District is reinventing career training and education at

Cajon Valley to resume full schedule on April 12

Posted at 10:51 AM, Mar 17, 2021 and last updated 10:51 AM, Mar 17, 2021


EL CAJON, Calif. (CNS) -- Cajon Valley Union School District will return to a pre-pandemic schedule of full-time school, five days a week, after spring break on April 12, it was announced Wednesday.

The district serves more than 17,000 students in 27 schools in the East County of San Diego. It has consistently been the first public school district in the county to move toward reopening and returning to "normal" while other districts take a cautious approach, including becoming the largest county district to get a waiver last fall for in-person education.

Read Story on 10 News Here

Cajon Valley Union School District Update March 12, 2021

Dear Cajon Valley Employees, Families, and Community,

This District update comes on the one year mark (364 days) of the global pandemic and will include information on the return to full-time school for all Cajon Valley students selecting “in-person” learning, Camp Cajon (Free summer learning and enrichment for Cajon Valley Students), and planning for the 2021-21 school year.


Michelle Hayes, Assistant Superintendent - Personnel
Karen Minshew, Assistant Superintendent - Education Services
David Miyashiro, Superintendent


Cajon Valley Sycuan Joint Vaccination Clinic.

On Saturday, March 13, Cajon Valley Union School District had the pleasure of hosting a Vaccination Party, all made possible by our generous community partners, Sycuan. Shortly after announcing the event, we had 120 volunteers that included staff and vital school volunteer groups, PTA, School Site Council, English Learner Advisory Councils. Cajon Valley Health Specialists came together with the Sycuan Medical and Dental staff under the exceptional leadership of the Sycuan staff to administer 570 vaccines! The cheers, expressions of appreciation, and relief were heard and felt throughout the day. Sycuan brought more than vaccines with them on Saturday, they brought hope and confidence to our staff as they transition to a full 5-day a week school program for our students.

Cajon Valley school testing students for COVID-19 using saliva samples

Rios Elementary is participating in a bi-weekly pilot program that relies on student saliva samples to test for the virus, with results back the same day.

**** Read Entire Article on CBS 8 Here ****

EL CAJON, Calif. — While several school districts in San Diego County remain closed, Cajon Valley Union has been open full-time since the fall with several safety measures in place.

Now, they’re taking it one step further by participating in a unique pilot program to test kids on campus for COVID-19.
Normally, kids are told not to spit at school, but at Rios Elementary in El Cajon, it’s now encouraged as part of the bi-weekly program, which uses saliva samples.

Parent Erika Platt has a first and third grader at the school.

“I honestly feel so blessed for this opportunity. It helps me to know that they’re safe,” Platt said.

Platt says not only does the bi-weekly testing put her mind at ease, but doing it using saliva is something her kids actually look forward to versus a nasal swab.

“I think this way they’re more eager and willing to participate. It’s not as intimidating and they’re excited,” she said.

It’s also convenient, especially when you consider the school’s location, and the hoops some families have had to go through to get tested.


**** Read Entire Article on CBS 8 Here ****