Listening to Learners to Drive Districtwide Learner-Centered Innovation

Santa Ana Unified School District

Listening to Learners to Drive Districtwide Learner-Centered Innovation

Urban/Suburban public school district
Second largest school district in Orange County, CA serving 45,000 students from early childhood through high school


Framework for the Future, Guiding Coalition, Learning Walks, Student Forums, Personalized Learning Pathway, Leadership Coaching, Enabling Conditions


Santa Ana Unified tapped Learner-Centered Collaborative to support a learner-centered journey guided by learner input that would prioritize areas of greatest need and scale from there. Through this approach, the district is on its way to better meeting its learners where they are, including the most vulnerable populations, including the 45% of English Language Learners and 87% of low-income families across its schools. 


This collaborative partnership works to elevate the voices of all learners as the district implements its graduate profile in pursuit of more learner-centered experiences throughout the learning community. Voices from educators and students experiencing learning in practice shape and inform the innovation and change happening throughout the district.

In the first two years, our work together has focused efforts on incorporating both student and educator feedback into existing structures to better meet the current needs and goals of all education partners. To illustrate, their Summer school redesign started with an initial goal of simply understanding the summer school experience by listening to learners and educators. The insights from student forums and educator interviews have enabled the work to progress with application throughout the entire year. Similarly, Learner-Centered Collaborative helped facilitate Learning Walks with the Educational Options Innovation Cohort that uncovered bright spot practices that could be replicated across the district and identified opportunities for growth. Driven by reflections from the internal team, these observations of learning in practice helped align professional development and coaching needs with fidelity to their framework. For example, the district is now embarking on a personalized professional learning pathway for educators to deepen practices in this specific area that has emerged as a priority.  

The district’s leadership team is also prioritizing greater coherence of their mission, vision, values, and goals. Learner-Centered Collaborative is supporting the development of a learner-centered scorecard to gain clarity and alignment on priorities and track progress toward the desired outcomes. 

Santa Ana recognizes that this work builds on the relational trust among the leadership team and, as a result, we are working directly with all principals on developing relational trust and building coherence throughout the district experience.  

With each effort focused on learners and the learning experience, the district is building internal capacity and  deepening leadership alignment as we collaboratively model a learner-centered approach to education, leadership development, and change management. The asset-framing orientation of this partnership builds upon what is already working, allowing for prototyping, iteration, and proof-of-concept before scaling. The team is now engaging in replicable protocols and practices that will serve future work as the district scales its efforts to reach all learners.


  • Led Student Forums to hear input from over 40 students in grades 1-8.
  • Gathered anecdotal and quantitative benchmark summer school data to measure success of evolved design.
  • Facilitated Learning Walks across 4 campuses with nearly 100 leaders  from across the district.
  • Team has developed internal capacity and desire to expand on Learning Walk practice as a way of learning and identifying strengths and opportunities. 
  • Co-facilitated monthly meetings with over 50 principals from all schools are building relational trust and increasing collaboration.
  • Professional development aligned to goals is underway. 
  • Leadership team is more aligned on strengths, opportunities, and priorities. 
  • Streamlined goals and metrics from a variety of sources into an aligned scorecard with focused and clear success metrics that can be gathered over time. 
  • More school leaders and educators know each other and have had meaningful, collegial, interactions.

Learner-Centered Collaborative has been instrumental in the transformative journey that we are on in Santa Ana Unified School District….We’ve taken a multi-pronged approach to the work, with Learner-Centered Collaborative serving as thought partners for district leadership, supporting and facilitating principals meetings as well as instructional learning walks at school sites across the district.

– Dr. Lorraine Perez, Deputy Superintendent Educational Services, Santa Ana Unified School District

I have really enjoyed this opportunity to work with the team from Learner-Centered Collaborative. The brainstorming and feedback sessions help me to improve my practice, and support my team as we make instructional shifts.”

– Kimberly Garcia, Principal, Círculos High School, Santa Ana Unified School District

Learner-Centered Collaborative has created a learning environment for site leaders and their teams to plan with intent, focus keenly on how improvement efforts align and support instructional areas of focus, and find common points of interest with other sites to ensure quality collaboration.

Rachel Gil, Instructional Coach, Santa Ana Unified School District

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