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Esperanza Arce Ed.D. | 2024 Latina of Influence

Hispanic Lifestyle is honored to recognize Esperanza Arce Ed.D., Chief Academic Officer, Moreno Valley Unified School District as a Latina of Influence. Dr. Arce will be recognized for her leadership in our community during Hispanic Lifestyle’s Connecting Latinas of Influence | Inland Empire to be held on May 23, 2024 in downtown Riverside, California.

Dr. Esperanza Arce has been an educator for over 20 years. She began as a Spanish and English Language Development teacher at the high-school level and transitioned to the roles of instructional coach, district coordinator, and high school assistant principal.

In the Spring of 2013, she embarked on a new journey as a middle-school principal in the Val Verde Unified School District. Under her leadership, the middle school earned the National Forum of Middle Schools Schools to Watch Designation; earned the AVID Demonstration School Designation; was selected for a GEAR UP grant; opened an innovation and research center for STEAM; and developed a parent center for families to access technology and other resources. She transformed the school to include school-wide use of Google products to enhance communication and collaboration between staff, and encouraged everyone to be part of their school’s overall goals and objectives. Dr. Arce also sought ways to increase and strengthen family engagement by focusing on creating events that brought everyone together such as the Annual Parent and Student Symposium. As a result of these innovative strategies and her deep passion for students, staff, and families, she was named the Principal of the Year by the Riverside County Office of Education in 2017.

In 2018, she became the Director of Secondary Education for the Moreno Valley Unified School District. In her new position, she co-chaired the middle-school initiative and Magnify the Middle for the Riverside County Office of Education, and has served as the Region 10 Trustee for the California League of Middle Schools. She introduced several new initiatives and programs, such as the Junior Scholars program and Portrait of a Graduate.

In 2022, she was appointed as the Chief Academic Officer for the Moreno Valley Unified School District, becoming part of the school district’s executive leadership team. Under her leadership, the district recently exited the differentiated assistance program from the state, earned a Green Ribbon Schools award from the California Department of Education and was named a 2023 U.S. Department of Education Sustainability Awardee.

Dr. Esperanza Arce has earned two Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of California, Riverside, as well as a Single Subject Credential and Master’s in Education from Chapman University. She also obtained a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership for Educational Justice from the University of Redlands.

Dr. Arce’s expertise includes creating systems where all students feel they belong as they prepare for college and/or career.

She has been married for over 20 years and has four children who attended Moreno Valley schools. All four children have graduated and are pursuing their post-secondary education or career goals.

Message from the nominator

In honor of Women’s History Month, I am inspired to nominate a Chingona that deserves recognition for everything she does that she doesn’t want to publicly take credit for – which is why I am submitting this nomination. Please note: this is only a glimpse of what she has done or accomplished.

Dr. Esperanza Arce comes from humble beginnings. She is one of six siblings, second oldest in her family. Her parents gave her the perfect name that resembles everything she represents – hope.

I do have to admit that she would have stopped me if she knew that she was being nominated as a Latina of Influence. Not only because of her humbleness, but because she stands for people of all different backgrounds.

Dr. Arce is the Chief Academic Officer of the Moreno Valley Unified School District. The district serves nearly 32,000 students across 40 schools, with 73% of those students identifying as Hispanic/Latino and 13% identifying as African American. As a Moreno Valley resident herself, she is able to connect with families on a different level and she works each and every day to provide her community with the best she can offer.

Dr. Arce is a Latina of Influence because she challenges staff and students to reach their fullest potential. She doesn’t tell you what to do. She asks you questions and guides you to see where you can be more intentional and impactful.

She is absolutely and undoubtedly fearless. She is not afraid to speak up for others – to give voice to the voiceless. To do what is right. When she is involved in something, there is no room for fear. Everyone has strength and the ability to make a positive change.

She is full of passion and every time she speaks is like an excerpt from a TedTalk – my chest rises, feeling like my heart swells from happiness. She leaves us feeling full of hope, optimism and the belief that anything is possible.

Many can agree that she has a radiant smile and captivating presence. She lifts your spirits, even when you don’t want to! It is nearly impossible not to smile and feel a rush of energy. For that very brief moment of time, it’s like the world slows down and she makes you feel like everything will be okay. Despite any challenges that are happening, knowing that she is part of the top leadership team gives you peace that there is a true advocate for our kids with a seat and voice at the table – working on building a stronger future.

Much of the work is done behind-the-scenes, but we can still tell when she’s involved. Sometimes she does a “happy dance” when she sees positive results and outcomes of something she was part of. Other times, in public, she clamps her hands together and brings it to her face to hide her smile. But her genuine pride and happiness can’t escape her eyes.

During her time at Moreno Valley alone, she helped the district with its development of the strategic plan, vision statement, portrait of a graduate, anti-bullying efforts, distance learning, Junior Scholars program, parent engagement initiative, environmental sustainability programs, college and career focus, Hispanic Heritage Month events, Saturday Innovation Camps, and much more. Under her leadership, the district and schools have gained state and national awards and recognitions such as the California Model Continuation School, California Green Ribbon Schools, and the U.S. Department of Education Sustainability Award.

One important detail I want to share is that the Moreno Valley Unified School District has historically served predominantly Hispanic students. However, it wasn’t until she became Chief Academic Officer that families and staff felt seen and heard. The district did not have district-level events for Hispanic Heritage Month until she came along. She is helping the district value and increase diversity, equity and inclusion.

Previously, she served in the Val Verde Unified School District for 17 years and was even selected as a county employee of the year when she was principal of Vista Verde Middle School. As a principal, she worked closely with GEAR UP, a federally funded grant program aimed to support underserved students to promote the importance of a college education and prepare students for college. Although she understands that college may not be the pathway for all students, she wants to at least ensure they are on track to meet the requirements to increase their access and opportunities.

All of these reasons are why I believe she is a Latina of Influence. The first time I learned about this program was in 2015. I was in college. I was inspired and felt that these women were paving the way for others. I felt that these women were approachable and supportive to other Latinas, bringing them up instead of seeing them as competition. Well, that’s exactly who Dr. Arce is and how she makes me feel.

In 2016, I became a victim of domestic violence and sexual assault. I was silent until I realized the impact it had on me. I sought help from a variety of people, mental health resources and officials. I tried to move forward and one of the people I reached out to was one of the 2015 Latinas of Influence due to some of her background. Although she was a complete stranger, she was open to providing me with guidance during a time of need. In 2017, unfortunately, I experienced another tremendous pain – the loss of my newborn niece who was the only source of light that I saw at that time. My case did not move forward to a criminal case and I was only able to secure a temporary one-year restraining order against my ex, while dealing with that loss.

Not until a few years ago I came to realize that I had numbed myself from pain and lost hope for any goal or dream that I had in my life. I was living in constant fear and anger, reserving my love and care to a very small handful of people in life. I stopped talking to most friends and family. I didn’t trust anyone. Everything seemed dark and I knew that I wasn’t performing at my fullest potential. So, I accepted my new self, until I met Dr. Arce.

She inspired me to become myself again. She showed me that good people exist. But most importantly, she showed me that God is always with us and that I have the strength within me.

I had to face my ex again in court last year due to some concerning activity. I chose to represent myself this time versus using an attorney. I went up against a lawyer with over a decade of experience. I was shaking the entire time and there were so many reasons that should have discouraged me. The attorney cited laws that should’ve led to a dismissal of the case. He was the same attorney that I “lost” against 7 years ago. But all I can think of is her and God. So, despite feeling like the word was crashing in front of me again, she gave me hope. I stayed, fought back and I won. This happened in front of a room full of other domestic violence victims, so I hope that my case also provides them with some strength and hope.

If that’s not a Latina of Influence, I don’t know what is. And of course, she will never take credit for any of that. However, I know 100% that I would have never had an ounce of hope without her impact and I would not have fought for myself as I did this time around.

Although this nomination seems lengthy, this is only a fraction of what she has accomplished for our future leaders and for other Latin@s. She serves as an inspiration to many and deserves to be recognized.


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