New Central-Wilson Campus Named for Civic Leader Unveiled in City Heights

George Walker Smith Education campus
San Diego Unified School District dedicated the new George Walker Smith Education campus, the rebuilt Central Elementary and Wilson Middle School in City Heights Wednesday. Photo via @RepJuanVargas Twitter

San Diego Unified School District welcomed back U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten Wednesday as it dedicated the complete rebuild of Central Elementary and Wilson Middle schools into the George Walker Smith Education campus.

Named after the first African American elected to office in San Diego County, the Smith Education Campus brings the Wilson Middle and Central Elementary campuses together in City Heights.

“We dedicate this campus to past, current and future students, but also to the City Heights community,” said SDUSD Superintendent Lamont Jackson. “We acknowledge Mr. Smith for his devotion to young students and bringing people of all ethnicities together.”

Wilson was originally built in 1924 as a two-story schoolhouse, serving the then-suburban community along El Cajon Boulevard. Now located along Orange Avenue, the new campus provides seven modern buildings, including a Performing Arts Center and a parking structure with roof-top playcourts to the Wilson Middle site, and nine new buildings to Central Elementary.

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, a district statement read.

“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,” said Marten, former superintendent of San Diego Unified and principal of Central Elementary.

“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.”

Central’s upgrades include 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. Specialized classrooms include five kindergarten classrooms, five special education classrooms and four preschool classrooms.

“Bond funds have single-handedly transformed City Heights and communities within my district and beyond,” said Richard Barrera, a 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 was elected to the Board of Education in 1963. Serving for 16 years, he initiated a diversity campaign to encourage trustees to travel to historically black colleges to recruit black teachers and educators, the district statement read.

“George personified equity for all students and spent his life building civic engagement throughout San Diego,” said Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, board of education trustee. “He was a legend then and his legacy lives on to this day.”

City News Service contributed to this article.