NextGen Leader Sophia Mendoza champions tech in the district where she was educated


Since she was a student there herself, Sophia Mendoza has observed — and, in part, led — the evolution in the way Los Angeles Unified School District uses technology.

Mendoza, director of Instructional Technology Initiative at LAUSD, went through the system as a student beginning in kindergarten — and she never left.

“I am homegrown LA Unified,” she said in an interview. “It was very important for me to give back to the district that gave so much to me. It opened up so many doors around leadership.”

Mendoza — who helps lead technology efforts at the country’s second-largest district, with more than 400 schools — has been named a NextGeneration Leader by EdScoop and CoSN. She will be honored at the CoSN annual conference March 12-15.

After teaching for about seven years in the San Fernando Valley, Mendoza switched gears and tried out administrative positions. From there, around 2012, she started learning how to leverage technology for learning.

“I was invited to join the central district office to share my experience and I was also exploring the concept of digital citizenship,” she said. “When I joined the team in 2013, it was really an invitation to learn what was happening with the district’s movement toward instructional technology and to support ongoing efforts.”

The district has since adopted the ISTE Standards for Students, the Computer Science Framework and the National EdTech Plan, which provides a foundation on which to build different models that work for each of the 589,000 or so K-12 students.

“We create all of our own content, but one of the major shifts is we lead with instruction,” Mendoza said. “So we’re shifting away from the device and more around pedagogy and lesson design.”

She added that the district is also embracing personalized learning for students rather than a one-size-fits-all system.

“We use to get questions around usage rates, and we’re turning it around to ask, ‘How are students leveraging technology in the classroom? How are they integrating it into their learning environments?’”

‘We have a calibrated message’

Technology professionals in the California district will take a concept like computational thinking, which is included in the ISTE Standards, and introduce digital resources and tools that teachers can use with their students around the topic.

Mendoza and her group have also designed a three-day series for principals and their core leadership teams to set their instructional technology vision. They will also take a deep dive into digital citizenship, organizational change management and personalized learning.

“We have a calibrated message,” said Mendoza. “There is an opportunity to unpack the ISTE Standards, which is a very powerful session. Then they go back to their schools and share all of this information in a way that is comprehensible to their staffs.”

Under Mendoza’s watch, the district also has a partnership with Common Sense Media and recently started collaborating with Teachers have received professional development from local agencies that are certified through the popular computer science education nonprofit.

“There is a call to expand computer science course offerings,” she said. “We are now providing support for over 20 different professional development sessions where teachers in pre-K-12 are invited to participate.”

Teachers who successfully partake in the sessions receive robotics kits for their classrooms.

Emphasis on communication

Another big change established under Mendoza is the occurrence of frequent meetings across the information technology and procurement departments to ensure that everyone in the district is on the same page.

“We’ve strategized so we can streamline digital tools that schools are interested in, and that was borne out of a unified digital instructional procurement plan,” she said. “We’re communicating, and that’s a major change. Prior to my arrival, we were very siloed.”

She added that she would share with others in the field to “always lead with instruction, and reach out to external and internal partners for this work.”

Mendoza feels confident sending her own children, ages 6 and 9, to the district that helped shape her.

“Someone saw something in me that I did not necessarily see in myself, and I try to do the same for others,” she said. “I’m so grateful to this district for all these opportunities.”

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