One of the largest public investments in City Heights’ history is officially complete, as the George Walker Smith Education Campus was formally dedicated recently.
Named after the first African American elected to office in San Diego County, the George Walker Smith Education Campus houses the completely rebuilt Wilson Middle and Central Elementary schools.
San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Lamont Jackson welcomed U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten, the family of the late George Walker Smith, Central and Wilson students, and community members Sept. 27 to help celebrate the new schools and their namesake. Students from Hoover High School’s Army JOTC, drumline, mariachi band, and cheer team performed during the festive event.
“We dedicate this campus to past, current, and future students, but also to the City Heights community,” Jackson said. “We acknowledge Mr. Smith for his devotion to young students and bringing people of all ethnicities together.”
Opened in 1938 as a one-building school along Polk Avenue, the former Central campus was expanded throughout the years to keep up with growing student enrollment. Predating Central, Wilson was originally built in 1924 as a two-story schoolhouse, serving the thriving suburban community along El Cajon Boulevard.
Now located along Orange Avenue, the new campus provides seven modern buildings, including a new performing arts center and a parking structure with roof-top playcourts to the Wilson Middle site, and nine new buildings to Central Elementary.
On the Central side are 26 new general-purpose classrooms, 14 specialized classrooms, a library learning center, a multipurpose room, an after-school program room, a community clinic, a health center, student services offices, and three new play areas. Each of the general classrooms has access to an approximately 280-square-foot collaborative space designed for pull-out instruction. Specialized classrooms include five kindergarten classrooms, five special education classrooms, and four preschool classrooms.
A large, centrally located soccer playfield will be built and included in a joint-use area that will also include the roof-top hardcourts at Wilson Middle. Along with a promenade connecting Orange Avenue to El Cajon Boulevard, this innovative play area will be shared by both schools and with the broader community as a park after school hours.
Former San Diego Unified Superintendent and Central Principal, Marten advocated for the campus rebuild project.
“San Diego and Central Elementary will always hold a special place in my heart, and to return to a campus that has been completely transformed is awe-inspiring,” Marten said. “San Diego Unified’s commitment to quality facilities that foster high-quality teaching and learning, its intentional involvement of staff, families, students and neighbors in the design process, and the outcomes these projects are producing, demonstrate how the school district is raising the bar for its students.”
The new Central opened to students in August, and plans are underway to redevelop the former Central campus.
“Bond funds have single-handedly transformed City Heights and communities within my district and beyond,” said Richard Barrera, a San Diego Unified Board of Education trustee. “We’re transforming the lives of our students while also transforming communities at the same time.”
Barrera and the board of education voted unanimously to name the campus that hosts Central and Elementary and Wilson Middle after George Walker Smith in March 2021.
Smith made local history when he was elected to the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education in 1963. Serving for 16 years, Smith initiated a diversity campaign to encourage trustees to travel to historically black colleges to recruit black teachers and educators.
“George personified equity for all students and spent his life building civic engagement throughout San Diego,” said Dr. Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, Board of Education trustee for San Diego Unified. “He was a legend then and his legacy lives on to this day.”