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A Leader with Heart

Sarita Fuentes, a 1990 graduate of the College of Education, advocates for underserved youngsters.
Sarita Fuentes
Sarita Fuentes
Sarita Fuentes, ’90, knows first hand the transformative power of education.

A high school dropout and single mother of two, Fuentes did not take the traditional path to becoming a teacher and school administrator. She pursued a different track until the powerful words of an educator inspired her to change her life.

Fuentes recalls working as a clerk at a junior high school where the principal, Maida Torres-Stanovick, Ph.D., “saw potential in me. She told me, ‘Sarita, you could be running this school.’” Those words were prophetic. For the past 17 years, Fuentes has realized her dream of becoming a school principal while advocating for underserved populations and inspiring at-risk students with her unique personal story.

This year, Fuentes assumes a new role as principal of the Juvenile Court and Community School (JCCS) Mesa Region, serving juveniles in the detention facilities at East Mesa, Sarah Anthony and Sierra Vista. She understands the importance of creating pathways for incarcerated youth because her oldest brother grew up in the system.

Fuentes joined JCCS seven years ago as principal for the Hope Region in San Diego County, where she oversaw the day-to-day operations of four public schools for students affected by homelessness, including the celebrated Monarch School.

“What motivates me is how we can make a difference by helping one student at a time,” Fuentes said. During her tenure, Academic Performance Index test scores rose steadily each year, and the Hope Region posted the highest academic gains in the JCCS.

When asked where she sees herself in 10 years, Fuentes responded warmly, “I want to be a grandmother and schedule play dates for my grandchildren.” Her two children, Damian and Paula Zamudio, are both SDSU alumni and were the first grandchildren in her family to graduate from college.

Fuentes’ success has been recognized by the San Diego community. Among the tributes she has received are San Diego Metropolitan’s 2011 Women Who Rock award, a feature spot in CNN’s 2010 “Leader with Heart” series and KPBS’ 2009 Hispanic Heritage award.
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