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TED-Ed Names our CEO as Innovative Educator

Shawn Loescher, CEO of Urban Discovery Schools, Named a 2019 TED-Ed Innovative Educator

One of 16 educators selected worldwide

SAN DIEGO, CA, March 27, 2019 – TED-Ed announced it has selected Shawn T. Loescher, Ed.D., chief executive officer for Urban Discovery Schools in San Diego, as one of its 16 extraordinary education leaders worldwide.

“We are extremely excited to introduce cohort four of the TED-Ed Innovative Educators program –16 amazing and influential leaders in education who together are setting out on a journey to improve education by elevating the most important ideas in education worldwide,” TED-Ed said.

Started in 2015, TED-Ed Innovative Educators program chooses educational leaders to participate in a year-long professional development program that connects outstanding educators from around the globe. As a member of the TED-Ed Innovative Educators cohort, Loescher also will attend the prestigious TED Summit in Edinburgh, Scotland from July 21-25.

TED-Ed selected Loescher for his record of successful educational redesign, recent educational research and innovative work at the Urban Discovery Schools, which include Urban Discover Academy, a TK-8 charter school and the newly formed IDEATE High Academy grades 9-12, both located in Downtown San Diego. Both schools incorporate innovative curriculum based on the tenets of design thinking.

Design thinking is a method and approach to problem-solving and learning, focusing on defining users’ needs before tackling a problem. It also avoids preconceived outcomes and assumptions, instead using evidence-based research and empathy to gain insights.

Loescher said design thinking can help address complex social, economic and infrastructure problems in society, and students at Urban Discovery Schools use design thinking to tackle real-world problems.

“Our high school team recently applied the approach to voting rights and equality, using a statistical analysis and geographic information system information in an attempt to develop a fairer and just voting redistricting map for California,” Loescher said.

Students concluded that current voting district systems are too antiquated for the digital age. Students then mapped out the implications for ballot initiatives, environments, services, social issues and various vested stakeholders.

“The results could not be predicted at the onset of learning; it was the design thinking process and disposition that allowed for students to construct these new understandings,” Loescher said. “What design thinking invites us to do is re-imagine what education can be. Instead of trying to perfect a centuries-old educational system, we can focus on designing one for the challenges and opportunities that our students will face within their lifetime.”

Younger students at Urban Discovery Schools also apply this approach to problems. For instance, the middle school team recently tackled the question of what it means to live in peace, and the elementary school team explored the lack of affordable, high-quality, fresh food in urban settings.

Ed Abeyta, Ph.D., vice president of the Urban Discovery School board of trustees and associate dean at UC San Diego Extension, said Loescher has strengthened Urban Discovery Schools long-held commitment to design thinking and brought an innovative approach to education that is especially important in a fast-changing world.

“We don’t know what the career skills of the future will be, but we do know what the mindset for success will be. It will be about having the ability to ask the important questions and thinking creatively and collaboratively to come up with workable solutions,” Abeyta said. “Adding Shawn to our leadership team ensures that our focus on design thinking is not only helping prepare our students for college but also for their careers and beyond.”

Michéle Morris, the associate director of the UC San Diego Design Lab, said Loescher’s work in augmenting Urban Discovery’s design thinking K-12 curriculum is helping create a pipeline of talent needed to address ongoing social challenges as well as equitably power the innovation economy.

“Design thinking, or human-centered design, provides students with the mindset and toolkit to think through complex issues and a roadmap for how to define specific challenges and explore solutions that make sense,” Morris said. “It is a testament to Shawn’s vision, mission and talent that he has been recognized as a TED-Ed Innovative Educator. He is a great ambassador and role model for design-driven innovation in our region and beyond.” 

Loescher, a graduate of Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, also incorporates his graduate research into the Urban Discovery Schools curriculum.  Key among that research is using “hope as strategy” for student achievement including the development of college and career readiness systems that relies on parent involvement, positive goal setting and planning.

“We’re delighted that Shawn has been selected as a TED-Ed Innovative Educator,” said Carole Basile, dean of ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “His work exemplifies our college’s conviction that palliative measures won’t do when it comes to education. We need systemic innovations. There’s a bigness to what Shawn does and an intimacy to how he does it. We think that combination of ambitious scope and contextual community grounding is what makes for effective, principled innovation in education.”

In announcing its newest cohort, TED-Ed said that Loescher and the other educators will play a vital role in catalyzing a movement to empower educators everywhere to develop, refine and share their best ideas in education, with the ultimate goal of improving education everywhere, for every student.”


Design Thinking – Design thinking, also known as human-centered design, is an in-demand skill set that is seen as critical to a vibrant innovation economy. At its core, design thinking is fundamentally user-centric, creative problem solving. Instead of drumming up demand and support for products, services, initiatives and solutions, design-thinking focuses on identifying the needs of stakeholders through contextual empathy building and evidence-based research. 

Urban Discovery Schools – In 2008, a small group of passionate community leaders, designers, design-thinkers who were all committed to making a difference in education opened Urban Discovery Academy. The UDS Board of Trustees is dedicated to advancing its mission to provide quality schools of choice by expanding Urban Discovery Academy (Tk-8) and adding IDEATE High Academy (9-12), with further expansion plans for the near future including the Design Thinking Education Center of San Diego. The organization is supported by a talented, connected group of design and entrepreneurial industry advisors, ensuring community connectivity and program relevance. More information about the schools can be found at www.urbansd.com

Shawn T. Loescher, Ed.D. – Dr. Loescher is the chief executive officer of Urban Discovery Schools. He earned his doctorate in leadership and innovation from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. In addition to his current assignment as CEO, Dr. Loescher has extensive professional experience and has served as a classroom aide, teacher, academy director, principal, district director, and district executive  director/chief of staff. He is a sought-after scholar with expertise in college and career readiness, urban education, and economic development and has appeared as an expert in think tank groups and before the California State Education Committee. He was selected as the CEO of Urban Discovery Schools in 2018 with the purpose of advancing design-thinking initiatives to further student achievement and provide a community setting to address complex urban issues.

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