Logan Heights transformation brings new schools and hope to one of San Diego's most underserved communities
There is an educational transformation happening in Logan Heights to bridge the achievement gap for underserved students.
San Diego Unified has made an investment in the historically Hispanic neighborhood near downtown with the construction of the new Logan Memorial Educational Campus, known as LMEC.
About $180 million in taxpayer-funded bond money was used to demolish two former schools on the city block between Ocean View Boulevard and Logan Avenue. Logan K-8 and Memorial Preparatory School were closed and replaced with state-of-the-art structures, including the first-ever high school in Logan Heights, which will open in August.
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In 2019, Logan and Memorial Preparatory were designated as two of the lowest-performing schools in California.
LMEC is designed to close that achievement gap and keep more children from leaving to find better education in other parts of the county.
Hector Robles, 14, attended Memorial Prep for two years. He will now be part of the LMEC Class of 2026. “I feel excited to be a freshman,” he said, “to be the first graduate of a high school and to be the first in this high school they’re building.”
The LMEC lower schools opened virtually, last year. They include preschool to 8th grade this semester. This is the first year students are on campus following the pandemic shutdown and ongoing restrictions and challenges.
“Now we can teach kids all the way from kindergarten to high school,” said Serafin Paredes, the LMEC band instructor. He previously taught music at Memorial Prep for eight years and decided to stay and help build what he hopes will become an award-winning school.
“We’re hoping to be able to have a mariachi program, a band, and orchestra,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll also offer jazz and Latin jazz. Music that reflects our community and something that reflects the background of our students.”
LMEC teachers are using the Montessori method exclusively in the elementary school, starting with a mixed preschool class of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds. Montessori education encourages student independence and creativity with more hands-on learning. The method uses teachers more as guides in the classroom instead of just lecturers.
The nontraditional pedagogy was developed by an Italian physician named Maria Montessori in the 1900s. Her approach and curriculum are often used through fifth grade in elite private schools in the U.S.
Montessori died before she could expand her learning methods to secondary students. San Diego Unified plans to continue Montessori principles in the new high school using the district’s own curriculum.
Adriana Chavarin-Lopez is one of the school’s strategy and instruction support officers who helped implement the model. “That’s why it was really important to use Montessori in Logan Heights, where we are working with children marginalized in education systems,” she told KPBS News. “We really want to show these students are just as capable as any other children to have that academic and social success.”
Chavarin-Lopez said it will be at least a year before they have assessment data to see how they’re doing in reaching that success.
Melanie Kray is the principal who is also called the Designer of Learning for the new high school. Construction crews are still completing the final details before opening in the fall.
There are high expectations that LMEC will eventually stop the flow of parents sending their children to other schools they believe are better for their education.
“To a certain extent, I think we are a little bit of a question mark," said Melanie Kray, the principal and designer of learning for grades six to nine. "The feeling among the community is they want to wait and see and make sure we are really going do what we say we’re going to do.”
Eighth-grader Amani Fulton, 14, is confident that her school is on its way to greatness.
“Everybody's watching us because we’re so new. They’re seeing is this going to work out? I’m like yeah it’s going to work out,” she smiled.