This is our second “Innovation in action” piece (find the first piece here), where we ask leaders in the postsecondary and K–12 space to discuss what innovation looks like within their community, institution, or school; why they believe it has the potential to help students; and tips for successful implementation or scale. At the end of each piece, we ask one of our education researchers to weigh in on what Theories of Disruptive Innovation have to say about the innovation. Stay tuned! We aim to have one “Innovation in action” piece each month!

This piece is authored by David Miyashiro, superintendent of the Cajon Valley Union School District

On Monday, April 4th, more than 200 superintendents, education policymakers, futurists, workforce, and university leaders toured 11 Cajon Valley Schools as part of The ASU+GSV Summit. They toured these schools as they’re well-regarded in the field as innovators in K-12 education that produce notable student outcomes. 

The impressive list of visitors included executives from fortune 500 companies and major philanthropy and nonprofits, such as Zoom, Edutopia, The Hechinger Report, and The Brookings Institution to name a few. Most attendees were leaders from the top universities and K-12 school systems around the world learning about the latest educational innovations in practice at my school district, the Cajon Valley Union School District (CVUSD) in San Diego County. Our district serves a diverse community over 60 square miles of San Diego’s East County and focuses on personalized learning and whole-child development to help each student discover their unique strengths, interests, and values. (To learn more about us, I encourage you to visit the district at, and follow CVUSD on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram)

Our teachers were excited to share their creativity in how they were using Beable and our “World of Work” curriculum to increase student literacy and advance career development simultaneously. Students preparing for our annual TEDxKids@ElCajon event were eager to share their TED talks and talk about their ideas. In every classroom, visitors observed highly-skilled applications of blended and personalized learning in a 1:1 technology environment. 

What we heard over and over from our visitors were statements, such as “The kids here are so happy!”, “Everyone is so engaged!”, “Kids have incredible self-awareness and vocational identity!”, “The teachers know their students so well!” and “There is so much alignment with the World of Work!” These statements directly reflect our district vision: “Happy Kids, Engaged in Healthy Relationships, on a Path to Gainful Employment”.  

Innovation as a practical service

What occurred to me as I observed our visitors and listened in on conversations is that the curriculum, tools, and technologies in our learning ecosystem were byproducts of our ability and action plan to abandon some of the outdated and irrelevant malpractices and structures of the current K-12 school system. Before we could ask the question “What do we need to start doing?” we had to determine what we would stop doing.  

Innovation most often refers to the practical application of ideas to improve or create goods and services. But, what if the “goods and services” currently in practice in American public schools are poor? What if federal and state education policies have caused our schools to become misaligned with the promise of a brighter future? The answers to these questions are obvious—it’s why so many leaders in K-12 education are asking that we don’t go back to “normal” as we resume post-COVID school.  

Thankfully for CVUSD, our Governing Board and community have empowered us to abandon some ways of delivering education. While we are still required to administer state assessments and abide by the federal accountability system, we have the flexibility to value those measures less and explore new metrics, that, if applied well, could break the cycle of poverty and provide a path to financial freedom and a tangible “American dream” for each of our students.

American Founding Father John Adams is credited for the quote, “There are two types of education… One should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live.” We’ve taken these words to heart in Cajon Valley and rather than innovate on a poorly performing system, have instead decided to apply innovation practically by returning to an educational ideal conceived in liberty and aimed at goalposts far beyond graduation. The modern school system as we know it isn’t designed to teach kids how to live nor how to make a living. In Cajon Valley, we’ve walked away from that system so that we can embrace “Happy Kids, Engaged in Healthy Relationships, on a Path to Gainful Employment”.   

Defining an innovative education ecosystem

Based on the Science of Learning and Development, here’s how CVUSD defines its core mission:  

Happy Kids—Children develop a strong sense of self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-efficacy based upon the context-rich experiences with their peers and adults who care about them at school and in the community.

Healthy Relationships—Deep connections (strong ties) are formed at all levels—with students at the center—that include parents, district employees, business professionals, faith groups, public service programs, the department of defense, government agencies, and everyone else that we call our community.

Path to Gainful Employment—From the words of our partner American Student Assistance (ASA), “Students know themselves, know their options, and make informed decisions to achieve their education and career goals.”  The World of Work solution that we’ve created here in El Cajon has created a bridge between education and The World of Work. Hope is not a strategy. We ensure each child has their needs met, according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, towards self-actualization.  

We are excited about the next steps in our evolution that include Dr. Pamela Cantor and Turnaround for Kids, Tufts University, The San Diego County Office of Education, Getting Smart, and several others committed to a new way of measuring and delivering education toward a promising future for every child and family whom we have the privilege to serve. We are especially grateful to our parents who have entrusted us with the wellbeing, human and career development, and service to our children.

Let’s all embrace the notion of education as a service, an essential service, to our children—a service that we can improve by returning to the practical application of ideas toward ensuring every student is prepared for a life post-graduation…aka educational innovation.

A new vision’s innovative potential (by Thomas Arnett, senior research fellow, education, at the Institute)

Innovation within school districts isn’t easy. Many districts across the US recognize the need to better serve their students—ensuring that all are thriving on paths to postsecondary success. Yet few districts have been able to accomplish what Cajon Valley has accomplished.

Some of the greatest barriers to innovation for any organization are the influences within its value network. A value network is an organization’s ecosystem of stakeholders who influence its sources of funding, affect its access to resources, and expect it to follow certain practices. The varied influences in a school district’s value network—student and family populations, school board members, staff, government agencies, vendors, etc.—are often what make innovation difficult. The status quo has momentum because it’s a stable state of equilibrium that balances as best as possible the competing interests of all stakeholders.

One of the keys to Cajon Valley’s success seems to be its effectiveness in aligning the stakeholders in its value network around a new vision of what education should be. As Miyashiro points out above, the district’s “Governing Board and community have empowered us to abandon some ways of delivering education.” For other districts looking to accomplish what Cajon Valley has accomplished, the best place to start will be learning how Cajon Valley unified a critical mass of the stakeholders in its value network around common goals and a shared vision for how to achieve those goals.

Interested in contributing to the “Innovation in action” series? Contact Meris Stansbury, director of communications,


  • Christensen Institute
    Christensen Institute