Case study

San Juan Unified Newcomer Support

Promising Practices
Cover image
Magaly Lavadenz
Loyola Marymount University
Linda Kaminski
Loyola Marymount University
Elvira G. Armas
Loyola Marymount University


This case study identifies promising practices for newcomer education implemented in San Juan Unified School District (SJUSD), one of 12 local educational agencies (LEAs) funded under the California Newcomer Education and Well-Being (CalNEW) project between 2018 and 2021. This report was developed through a partnership between PACE and the Center for Equity for English Learners (CEEL) at Loyola Marymount University (LMU).

SJUSD is the fifth largest immigrant-enrolling district in the state, with 2,982 newcomer students who speak a wide variety of languages, including Spanish, Russian, Pashto, Arabic, Farsi, Ukrainian, and Turkish. The case study was conducted during a 2022 summer program for approximately 500 recently arrived immigrant students. Using interviews with 32 school and community leaders and educators, a review of 65 program documents, and observations of 15 classrooms using a tool focused on effective instructional practices for newcomer education, we identified four overarching themes that illustrate promising practices:

  • “How big can you make your village?”—building on community cultural wealth: SJUSD recognized the need to listen first, then act; hire staff from the immigrant community; engage parents as leaders and partners; and expand its support through strong community-based partnerships.
  • “Match dollars to needs”—leveraging multiple and differentiated resources: SJUSD implemented braided funding across funding sources to maximize the scope of programming and supports for newcomer students.
  • Developing educator capabilities to teach and support newcomer students: Training was provided on establishing a welcoming environment, effectively teaching English language development (ELD), and learning other languages and cultures to enhance family communication.
  • Designing newcomer program and placement practices: SJUSD developed specific data sets to monitor attendance, academic progress, course scheduling, and progress towards graduation. The district recognized the need to align resources as well as to sustain community engagement to support newcomers.

SJUSD’s support for newcomer students faced challenges resulting from societal conflicting ideologies about immigrants and the long-term sustainability of program and funding commitments. Addressing these challenges requires upholding assets-based narratives about immigrant students and communities as well as supportive local, state, and national newcomer education policies.

This publication is part of a series on newcomer education in California that was produced by the PACE Research–Practice–Policy Partnership on Newcomer Education. Additional publications in the series appear under "Related Publications" on this page.

Suggested citationLavadenz, M., Kaminski, L., & Armas, E. G. (2023, August). San Juan Unified newcomer support: Promising practices [Report]. Policy Analysis for California Education.