For years, a San Diego-based center has helped struggling schools in Florida, Missouri and Arizona to improve — but has had little involvement in schools in its own backyard. Now that could change.

The National Center for Urban School Transformation, a center at San Diego State University, does research and helps spur change in low-achieving schools. While it has only a few staff members, it also hires consultants who have experience changing schools to work with school districts across the nation.

Executive director Joseph Johnson said it’s talked with San Diego Unified in the past about getting involved, but the district’s revolving door of superintendents meant those talks were abandoned when each leader left. This year, Superintendent Bill Kowba has reignited that discussion again, mentioning at a school board meeting that he’d met with Johnson to talk about how they can partner.

NCUST has a philosophy that seems to gel with the San Diego Unified take on school reform: Johnson said they don’t focus on a specific program or curriculum, but try to help schools focus on improving instruction by fostering better relationships among the staff. Focusing on trust is a key idea that school board President Richard Barrera has touted, saying it is a crucial ingredient in schools that work.

The school district is loath to start up a new program with new costs as it faces another year of state budget cuts, but Johnson said the goal is to “get results but be as inexpensive as possible.” They’re still hammering out an agreement. Johnson is hoping to begin working with San Diego Unified in the fall.

— EMILY ALPERT

Rob Davis

Rob Davis was formerly a senior reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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