Luchadora Profile: Meet Valerie Cuevas, the First Latina To Serve on the West Contra Costa School Board

Valerie Cuevas is the first person of Latino ancestry to unanimously be selected West Contra Costa School Board President. Originally elected by the voters in 2014 as the first Latina to successfully make it onto the school board, she previously served as  the West Contra Costa School Board Clerk as well. Being the first Latina to hold board leadership is important given that one out of every two students in the mid-sized Bay area district is Latino.

With a lifetime of advocacy for educational equity, Valerie successfully championed a rotating board presidency policy in 2015 in order to ensure every member of the board has a chance to lead the district at the highest levels. Effectively convincing her board member peers to adopt this change not only means West County families now have their first Latina president, but also that the door is open for all others as well.

Working to open educational opportunities for all is not a new thing for Cuevas. Her vast expertise in education policy and advocacy is well known throughout the state. And she credits public education as the most influential experience in her life.

“Like many others, I  am able to look back on the unconditional care of teachers and school leaders, who were so transformative in my education growing up,” said Cuevas. “Having these role models helped place me on a path towards college and eventual career success.” Naturally this observation was very instrumental in her career path.  However, Valerie’s progressive journey did not begin there.

Valerie comes from humble beginnings. A child of teenage parents from the working-class community of El Monte in Los Angeles County, her multi-generational family including grandparents, aunts, and cousins worked together with local schools to provide the stability Valerie and her siblings needed to move forward socially and scholastically. In reflection, Val states, “Both my parents demonstrated as young adults the importance of education. They continually emphasized it to the degree it literally became destiny for me to achieve and progress academically. This destiny is not surprising given my first classroom setting was as an infant accompanying my mom in continuation school.”

Growing from infant to preschooler, Valerie’s parents enrolled her in the Head Start program. This provided her with access to early childhood development programs, thanks largely to LBJ’s “Great Society” federal programs to combat the societal inequalities that plagued lower socioeconomic populations. As an elementary student, her multi-generational family support always shined, whether attending parent conferences or with homework assignments whenever a certain question gave Valerie pause. This was publicly noted by Valerie’s elementary school teachers, who noticed her grandmother escorting her to school every morning during the early grades and her parents monitoring completion of all her homework tasks in the evenings. This promoted responsible academic performances throughout her public school career. This school behavior gave way to testing for the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program. Once in the GATE program, Valerie’s educational path became more focused and noticeably more rigorous.

The continued support of her teachers and family enabled Valerie to attend a private, four-year university directly upon graduating from high school. And it was her experience in higher education that opened her own professional journey in college student affairs. After receiving duel bachelor’s degrees in political science and sociology from the University of Southern California (USC), Valerie began working in higher education at Occidental College. As one of the only Latinas on staff at Occidental, under the mentorship of then President John Brooks Slaughter, her professional future fully displayed itself and what she wanted to specialize in. Valerie developed a plan and outlined the steps she needed to take to make that goal a reality. She returned to university student life and earned her master’s degree in educational psychology, administration and counseling at California State University, Long Beach.

After holding various positions at both four-year and two-year colleges throughout the state, Valerie moved into state and national level education policy work to ensure all students have the preschool to college supports they need to succeed. Over years of dedicated service, she has been an aide to the chair of the California Assembly Committee on Higher Education and has served as chief of staff to a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. Armed with expertise in educational equity, California legislative policy, and K-12 governance, Val is most proud of leading statewide advocacy efforts for passage of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) in 2013, the most significant policy change in education funding for K-12 schools in over forty years.

Valerie’s educational journey is a reminder of the strong impact of federal and state social safety net programs designed to advance the dreams and ambitions of all citizens, regardless of their ethnic background and social class. She is proof that high academic achievement is possible when we make every opportunity to help our students reach their highest potential. Her public achievements have fueled her inner need to give back to the community that embraced her talents and provided her with a platform to convey how you can follow your academic and professional dreams and make them a reality.

For her years of advocacy for quality education for all students across multiple sectors, we honor Valerie as a luchadora — a fighter for our community and an inspiration for educators and advocates.

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Adriana Maestas

Adriana Maestas

Adriana Maestas is a Southern California-based freelance writer and education professional. Her writing has been published in NBC Latino,,, Alternet, and The Electronic Intifada.

She has worked in the non-profit sector, in the K-12 system, and in higher education in various capacities. When she's not writing stories or working on media projects, Adriana trains instructors to teach online at the University of California, Irvine.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Irvine and a master’s degree in public policy from Claremont Graduate University.

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