Legacy of School Board Member and Education Advocate to Live On

cazaresSara Cazares served with passion both in the classroom and community

 By Rhashad R. Pittman

Stockton native and education advocate Sara Cazares was known for her dedication to providing an equal education to all. That dedication was never more evident than early last year when she returned to her role as a Stockton school board member only a few short weeks after suffering a brain aneurysm and stroke.

Fellow Stockton school board member David Varela recalled pleading with her to rest as she recovered in an area hospital. Other friends and colleagues urged her to do the same. They told her there was no need to rush in returning to the school board, but she was not hearing any of it.

She was back to work a few days later.

That commitment and passion was on full display throughout her years as a Stockton schools volunteer, parent, and school board member.

“She believed in equality for all students, and she worked hard to make that happen,” Varela said. “Nothing would get in her way.”

Stockton Unified School District will hold a memorial service in honor of Cazares on Friday, May 10 in the wake of her passing at age 48 late last month due to medical complications from a health procedure. The public service will be from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Franklin High School.

Cazares was one of seven members of the Stockton Unified School District’s board of education, the governing body for all schools in the district. In the midst of her four-year term, she oversaw Area 6, which includes Cesar Chavez High School and seven elementary schools. She was planning to run for reelection after her term expires in 2014, friends and colleagues said.

“She cared deeply about our students and worked tirelessly to help them,” said School Board President Gloria Allen shortly after Cazares passed away. “She came to every meeting prepared to make a difference, and we believe she did that.”

In her short time on the board, Cazares developed a reputation for quickly grasping complex issues and working tirelessly to help students and parents. If she was not visiting schools and attending community events, she was meeting with local elected officials and attending Stockton City Council meetings to ensure their decisions benefited local schools. In 2012 she served as school board president.

As a member of the school board, Cazares was deeply involved in numerous initiatives, including mentoring programs at the district’s high schools, career training at Chavez High School, and online learning at Edison High School. She also was part of the district’s Cultural Efficacy efforts and programs designed to get students more involved in science, technology, engineering, and math.

“She was a true friend to me and a true friend to the city of Stockton,” Varela said. “She really did give everything she had to her family and to the people around her, and when I say the people around her I mean the entire city.”

Before joining the board of education at the urging of local community leaders, Cazares was an active volunteer in the schools as well as the community. Both of her sons attended Stockton schools as did she. Her son Ricardo was one of the first graduates of Cesar Chavez High School, and her son Luis graduated from Franklin High School’s International Baccalaureate program and is now attending Stanford University.  Her husband Larry Hernandez is an instructional math coach for the district.

Cazares was herself a graduate of Franklin High School, where she attended with former NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez. Cazares went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University.

In addition to her work within the Stockton schools, Cazares was also a supporter of educational efforts in the community, such as the San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s annual college awareness and financial aid workshop and events put on by Hernandez’s Reaching for the Stars Foundation.

Hernandez, the first NASA astronaut from the Stockton area, recently proposed that the school board name a school in honor of Cazares instead of following its original plans of doing so for Hernandez.

“Sara, with the ability to accept any of the high-paying jobs offered to Harvard graduates, decided to come back to Stockton,” Hernandez wrote. “Her belief that quality public education is the great equalizer in America drove her to come back and make Stockton a better place.”

During a recent interview, Hernandez recalled a conversation with Cazares where she spoke passionately about providing every child an equal opportunity to pursue their education. She said to him, “I just want every student, like you Jose, to be able to reach for their own stars.”


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