Melissa Valenzuela-Stookey

Director of P-16 Research

Melissa (she/her/hers) joins The Education Trust–West with a background in education research and policy advocacy across the birth through the postsecondary continuum. As the Director of P-16 Research, she leads the development and implementation of the organization’s research agenda. In her previous role as a Senior Policy Advisor at Advance Illinois, a nonpartisan education policy advocacy organization, she designed and conducted analyses of K-12 funding gaps and helped lead a successful campaign to secure both equitable funding reform and an historic multi-year increase in Illinois’ investment in K-12 public schools. She designed an inclusive process to set the organization’s policy priorities and worked to improve statewide assessment data reporting, strengthen transitions from early childhood to the elementary grades, and ensure a focus on racial and socioeconomic equity in Illinois’ learning renewal efforts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before her work at Advance Illinois, she conducted research and evaluation as a consultant for the Research and Policy Support Group at the New York City Department of Education. Melissa is a proud product of Miami-Dade Public Schools and holds an M.A. in Education Policy from Teachers College, Columbia University.


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  • Oakland, CA
Research & Data Analysis
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Karla Fernandez

Communications Manager

Karla Fernandez (she/her/hers) joins Ed Trust–West as a Communications Manager with over 11 years of experience advancing social impact initiatives.

Karla started her career as a teacher at Chicago Public Schools and UIC College Prep. After teaching, Karla joined United Friends of the Children to support LA County’s youth in foster care as a college counselor. Through Leadership for Educational Equity, Karla also served as a Policy Advisor Fellow for the office of a Los Angeles Unified School Board Member. She solidified her interests in policy analysis and quantitative research during her time with the Price Center for Social Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and the USC Presidential Working Group on Sustainability. Before joining The Education Trust–West, Karla was the Associate Director for the Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) Collaborative, a network of nonprofits advocating for communities in SELA.

Karla holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, a Master of Public Policy from the USC Price School of Public Policy, and a Graduate Certificate in Policy Advocacy from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Karla is based out of southern California and is passionate about using data analysis, communications, and digital strategies for policy advocacy and social justice efforts.