Grantee Corner  |  Ventura Unified School District

Students stand along a river bank while two adults stand in the water teaching.
DATA students learning about preserving the Ventura River from local experts

Female students in Mariachi dresses dance in a courtyard.
DATA students in the Ballet Folklorico and Mariachi perform at Ventura County Museum of Art

Two female students work on laptops.
DATA students work on their netbooks in Language Arts class

Three male students work on a wind turbine.
DATA students build wind turbines as part of a Project Based Learning unit in math class

A teacher stands at a whiteboard with Arabic writing and three students watch.
DATA students learn Arabic in the World Languages class

A class gathers around a large table where the teaching artist works on some papers.
DATA students work with a teaching artist from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Two students walk across the quad in front of the DATA building
DATA students walk on the quad

Elisabeth Denger-Harris, VUSD Project Director
Elisabeth Denger-Harris, VUSD Project Director

Ventura Unified School District (VUSD), located northwest of Los Angeles, serves approximately 17,500 students attending 28 schools. VUSD’s mission is to ensure that all students pursue their chosen life paths and become responsible and contributing members of society.

The Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) grant serves one school. De Anza Academy of Technology & the Arts (DATA), a magnet middle school, challenges students to think and work flexibly, and prepares them to live in, work in, and make a better global society. 

DATA’s transformation through the MSAP grant has been remarkable. Prior to receiving the grant, the middle school  had 450 students, of whom 95 percent were Hispanic. Because of the low student enrollment, VUSD  was actually considering closing the school. Today DATA has a bustling population of more than 850 students, and it has increased student diversity by 25 percent. While growing in size, DATA has maintained its small school culture with Dr. Marvin Marshall’s Raise Responsibility positive behavior system. Staff and students focus on positivity, choice, and reflection in both assignments and interactions. The school’s success can be seen in many measures, including a 57 point gain in Academic Performance Index in just 2 years, a sweeping win in multiple categories at the Young Entrepreneurs’ Challenge, and a waiting list of families wanting  to enroll students.

The 1:1 computing program has been a huge contributor to DATA’s success.  Online programs make it possible for students to join the class for instruction, even if they are at home sick!

DATA teaches students skills for a global society. They can learn languages such as Mandarin, Arabic, and Spanish. The school emphasizes visual as well as performing arts, involving students in digital graphic design, cultural dance, and a thriving music program. The students’ work is often featured in local museums. Art and critical thinking are infused into pedagogy every day through the use of Project Zero’s Visible Thinking Strategies. In preparation for the future, each year every student has the opportunity to visit a college campus.

Elisabeth Denger-Harris is the MSAP Project Director at VUSD. She had never been a part of magnet schools before working at DATA. Now she sees the power of school choice and community engagement to cause far-reaching change. “It’s an honor every day to come alongside staff, families, and a community who are deeply invested in the success of this school. Our school board, superintendent, and whole district’s commitment to looking closely at racial integration shows their courage to take action in doing what is right for the education of all students in our community.”

See MSAP Grantees Page