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Celebrating Education Leaders in the Central Valley

Javier Gomez teaching in Cutler-Orosi (Photo courtesy of Javier Gomez)

Every April, voices across the education ecosystem come together to raise awareness around Bilingual and Multilingual Learner Advocacy Month. At JBMF, we are grateful for the honor of working with education professionals that advocate for learners, not only this month, but throughout the year. Students who speak another language at home bring the tremendous assets of culture and language to the classroom, school and their classmates. The diversity of experiences and perspectives promote creativity, cognitive flexibility and improved problem solving – crucial skills all students need. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing the stories of some of these extraordinary people who lead and advocate for a quality Multilingual Learner (ML) educational environment. They are passionate teachers, administrators, educational coaches and social emotional learning coordinators. They each have compelling lived experiences that sparked and deepened their love for education and the Central Valley. Most remarkably, they each view their work as a calling – not just a job or career – but as something they were meant to do.

These transformative leaders are desperately needed. Over the last two years, Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Legislature have delivered one of the largest changes to the California education system in decades – the addition of an entire grade, Transitional Kindergarten (TK), and the promise of universal preschool to any family that wants it. Staffing and preparing for the influx of more 4-year-olds is a monumental task. Fortunately, we have

Bethany Mukai teaches her class in Washington Unified in Fresno (Photo courtesy of Bethany Mukai)

dedicated educational professionals in the Central Valley who will institute these shifts, centering the needs of the most vulnerable students, including Multilingual Learners, thereby making a better educational experience for all.

It is a privilege to be a partner with school districts, County Offices of Education, other funders, and nonprofits advocating for equity. We’re honored to share the stories of leaders across the Central Valley that demonstrate the diversity, commitment, and quality of human that we are so lucky to have in our schools. So please, join me on this journey of learning about the inspirational, talented, and transformational people we work with.

The Story Process at JBMF

Source: Loup Design for methodology photo https://storyengine.io/methodology/

The stories of each individual come to life through The StoryEngine Process, which goes much deeper than a standard question-and-answer style interview. This process prioritizes time for in-depth conversations and for participants to reflect, co-create, and co-edit their stories with the interviewer. Developed by Loup Design, a women-led consultancy, StoryEngine’s purpose is to, “uncover threads that transverse personal, community, and organizational boundaries, drawing strong connections between challenges, successes, and the participant’s “why.”

Through this story co-creation process, we are building on the work of JBMF’s prior LIFTing Local Leaders StoryEngine collection. Both were designed to amplify and uplift the voices of those doing the work each and every day. We use these lived experiences to inform and guide our programming as well as convey the rich culture, community and talented individuals of the Central Valley.

Meet our Story Coach

The James B. McClatchy Foundation was excited to partner with Copper+Tin Co. to facilitate the StoryEngine process for our grantees. Principal Leah C. Taylor, guided the participants, weaving defining moments, revelations, dreams, and plans together to create a reflection. Leah was seamlessly able to draw out the inner workings of the individual and their communities.

In her own reflection of the process itself, Leah shares her thoughts on how the life stories of our partners deeply inform their work and commitment to children.

“Our educators see immersion and multiple languages as bridges that allow communities to become stronger and more connected. They see early childhood learning as a path towards more equitable outcomes. They believe in a shared responsibility that involves all stakeholders in a community to guide the upbringing and development of our little ones. Their beliefs about the responsibility – and the possibility – of shaping what our little ones can do and who they become are a north star for policymakers, parents, business leaders, philanthropists, and community leaders who want to play a role in shaping our children’s future.”

We recommend you read Leah’s entire beautiful and thoughtful reflection here.

Welcome to the Journey

You can find the first five stories on the Education Leaders page on the James B. McClatchy website. JBMF will continually update the site with more participant stories and highlight these leaders, their stories and latest initiatives on social media. We encourage you to share within your own networks and celebrate these remarkable individuals alongside us. From the oral tradition of passing along stories used by our ancestors to the modern way of clicking the share button on social media, we believe the stories of the people of the Central Valley deserve to be heard in whatever way you choose.


This and all subsequent stories were produced as part of the Education portfolio of the James B. McClatchy Foundation. It is guided by the StoryEngine methodology, an open-sourced, narrative-based, data collection tool developed by Loup Design.

Thank you to the ten Education Leaders who participated in the StoryEngine process: Javier Gomez, Alma Ovalles, Cheri Doria, Bethany Mukai, Garth Lewis, Kuljeet Nijjar, Jose Kubes, Maria Melendez, Ruben Reyes and Laura Gonzalez