Five K-12 Leaders Who Are Impacting Education in California

By Brian Soika

June 4, 2021

Elias Vargas, School Director, poses for a photo in front of a blue backdrop

School director Elias Vargas EdD ’17 at City Heights Prep Charter School in San Diego, Calif. (Photo/Rebecca Aranda)

While their approaches to leadership may vary, K-12 educational leaders in California share a basic but essential trait: Dedication. 

In a state where per-student funding is low compared to the rest of the country, the majority of family income falls below the federal poverty line, and many students face barriers to learning, leaders need to be driven by an unwavering commitment to educational equity.   

Alum from USC Rossier’s Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (EDL) program who work in the Golden State are keenly aware of the challenges (and rewards) of leadership. 

USC Rossier Magazine has covered several EDL alum who exemplify dedication to lead through years of service, innovative approaches to equity and more. Here are five of their profiles. 

1. Gregory Franklin, EdD ‘97 

Superintendent Gregory Franklin stands behind a podium at the annual DSAG awards dinner in 2020.
Title: Superintendent, Tustin Unified School District, Tustin, CA

Known For: Decades of service to K-12 education throughout Southern California

Notable Achievement: Franklin has been inducted into USC Rossier’s Dean’s Superintendent Advisory Group (DSAG) Hall of Fame 

On Serving Students: “Every part of [students’] lives—every measurable part and many parts that aren’t measurable—will be better if [educational leaders are] doing our job well.” 

Read more about Gregory Franklin. 


2. Anthony Knight, EdD ’06

Anthony Knight, school superintendent and educational leader, stands outside

Knight checks on seedlings in the greenhouse at Oak Hills Elementary School. (Photo/April Wong,, @aprilwongphoto)

Title: Superintendent, Oak Park Unified School District, Ventura, CA

Known For: Transforming district schools into environmentally-friendly campuses

Notable Achievement: Knight’s district was the first in California to earn a Green Ribbon School distinction from the U.S. Department of Education for sustainability practices and environmental education

On the Connection Between Education and the Environment: “If you’re looking at trees when you’re working, you become more productive. It lowers your blood pressure; it makes you more relaxed. And it deepens the learning.”

Read more about Anthony Knight. 


3. Roxane Fuentes, BA ’94, EdD ’15 

Roxane Fuentes, Superintendent, in conversation at a professional networking event
Title: Superintendent, Berryessa Union School District, San Jose, CA

Known For: Creating comprehensive professional development and leadership programs, and supporting educational programs and student mentorship through partnerships in higher education. 

Notable Achievement: Designated Los Angeles County Curriculum and Instruction Administrator of the Year in 2015 by the Association of California School Administrators

On responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic: “Our district, already maximizing the support of school social workers, invested in even more partnerships to expand accessibility to mental health services, and frequently send messages of gratitude, support and wellness.” 

Read more about Roxane Fuentes.


4. Elias Vargas, EdD ’17

Elias Vargas, School Director, poses for a photo in front of a blue backdrop
Title: School Director, City Heights Prep Charter School, San Diego, CA

Known For: Executing curriculum focused on preparing students for life beyond school with a student population that is roughly 85% refugee

Notable Achievement: Helping to dramatically improve test scores among his school’s population of marginalized students

On the role of education: High test scores are important, but it’s just as essential to graduate good citizens who appreciate diversity and will “embrace and develop their talents to engage with the world.”

Read more about Elias Vargas. 


5. Elias Miles, EdD ’21

Elias Miles, Superintendent, crouches down near a student to review a class project

Students at A.E. Wright Middle School in Calabasas, Calif., share a robotics lesson with former principal, Elias Miles EdD ’21. PHOTO CREDIT: STEPHANIE YANTZ

Title: Assistant Superintendent, Fillmore Unified School District, Fillmore, CA

Known For: Life-long commitment to serving his community

Notable Achievement: Under his leadership in a prior position, his school earned a Gold Ribbon Award and Title I Achievement Award from the California Department of Education 

On choosing a career in education: “I began working with children at the local community center, when I was still in high school and have continued for my entire life. Being an educator is truly a calling and meaningful and rewarding work.”

Read more about Elias Miles.