Carmel Valley resident named as e3 Civic High’s new CEO

Dr. Cheryl James-Ward

e3 Civic High school, a public charter high school located in the San Diego Central Library, has named Dr. Cheryl James-Ward as its CEO and chief engagement and innovation officer. James-Ward, a Carmel Valley resident, served as chief impact officer and principal of the school prior to the new position.

Ward began her professional career as a software engineer for NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. Her educational experiences include junior high math teacher, math and science director for Cal State Long Beach University Upward Bound Program, as well as vice principal, principal, and director of academic initiatives for the Long Beach Unified School District. She has been a consultant for schools and school districts throughout California and China and a tenured professor of 11 years for San Diego State University.

Ward has published numerous articles in various journals and is the lead author of the book Using Data to Focus Instructional Improvement.

Recognized as one of the nation’s top 50 most innovative schools in the country by CNN Money, e3 Civic High’s mission and vision is to “engage, educate and empower students to be passionate, lifelong learners and civic leaders who are prepared for college, the workforce and life.” This newspaper caught up with Ward recently to find out more about her new position as CEO.

How will the responsibilities of your new position as CEO differ from when you were principal?

Ward: As CEO, I am responsible for the overall management, operations and safety of our educational organization, and I answer to a board of directors. As chief impact officer and principal, I was and continue to be responsible for the academic oversight, professional development of staff, day-to-day engagement with staff and students and academic outcomes of our scholars. I was and remain responsible for keeping an eye on innovation in industry, the impact of artificial intelligence and virtual reality and their influence on education.

I’m responsible for understanding, to the extent possible, the workforce of 2030 and ensuring that our staff is clear that we are not preparing kids to graduate in 2020, but to be a successful part of the workforce in 2030, to prepare students for a world that we cannot yet imagine.

Why did you choose to devote your career to a charter school after working in traditional educational models for so long?

Ward: My research as a professor at San Diego State University was focused on 21st century learning environments. e3 was intriguing because it has been ranked as one of the most innovative schools in the nation. It’s project based, provides every child with a Macbook Air computer and leverages technology to accelerate the learning of scholars. It was a haven for the research I am in love with.

What do you think is missing in the public education model for students today?

Ward: To answer this question, we need to look at how human history evolved from the agricultural age to the industrial age, then to the information age, and now in the data age, heading to the augmented age. The industrial age is knowledge-driven and knowledge-based; the data age is driven by wisdom, competition between creativity and imagination, competition for leadership, responsibility and competition for independent thinking. Education in the industrial age pays attention to standardization and scale, and current education must pay attention to individualization and specialization. The public-education model now is unfortunately still driven by and designed for the industrial age.

How do you choose your students?

Ward: We do not choose students, they choose us. They choose us for Design Thinking, year-long internships for seniors, personalized learning through the use of technology and a small-school environment where every child is known by name.

They choose us because we have a 100% graduation rate, and 96% of students are accepted into two- or four- year colleges and universities. They choose us because our college counselors work side by side with our seniors to complete their college applications and financial-aid applications.

We require all ninth, tenth and eleventh graders to take the PSAT, and then we work with them to set up their personalized study plans. We require and pay for every junior to take the SAT and every senior to apply to at least one four-year university. They choose e3 because of our mission and core values that drive us. We believe strongly in the 3 e’s - Engage, Educate and Empower.

Share with me a couple of student success stories.

Ward: Sienna Watras-Dimuro and her mother were homeless, but that didn’t stop the scholar from graduating and attending her dream school, Emerson College in Boston, where she was accepted early.

Pedro Estrada, who graduated from e3 in 2018, says one of the defining moments in his academic career was during a school visit to a biotech company and seeing some of their advancements in spinal implants. Through e3 Civic High, he was able to take courses through a Johns Hopkins University program for gifted youth. He says it was such a remarkable experience that it sparked his interest in medical science. He is currently studying Behavioral Neuroscience at Tulane University.

Why are you so passionate about leading this charter school?

Ward: I’m passionate about leading e3 because I love our students and their tenacity, resilience and ability to arrive every day ready to learn, in spite of the myriad challenges many of them face. I love how our students interact with and care for one another. I love my amazing staff and their belief in the children we serve.