Melinda Melendez, Senate’s chief education consultant, dies at 61

Melinda Ramona Melendez, a 27-year veteran of the Capitol staff and the chief education consultant in the Senate, died unexpectedly last week of a stroke.

Melendez, who began her education career in 1973 as a primary and middle-school teacher in the Napa-Sonoma area, worked in the Legislature for former Assembly Speakers Antonio Villaraigosa, Bob Hertzberg and Herb Wesson Jr., among other legislative leaders. During the 1980s, she served as a consultant in the Senate Office of Research and on the staff of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

Melendez published dozens of research papers and analyses on education policy, particularly on minority education and English learner practices. Melinda taught and lectured at Stanford University, Sonoma State University, and California State University, Sacramento.  She also served as the Director of Research and Policy Analysis for the Association of California School Administrators.

In addition to her legislative career, Melendez served on some of the nation’s preeminent education councils and advisory boards, including those of colleges and universities, women’s and Latino organizations. In 2003, Melinda was presented the “Spirit of Hope” Award for extraordinary achievement in promoting Latinas.

In 1990, Melendez was one of 25 Latinas in the United States selected to participate in the National Hispana Leadership Institute.  In 1995, she was appointed by the late Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna Jr. to serve on the Mayor’s Commission on Education and the City’s Future.

She served as a member, chairperson or president to numerous groups, including the University Advisory Board for California State University, Sacramento, Journal of Latinos and Education, a six-year term on the Girl Scouts of America National Board, Sacramento City Education Foundation, Mayors Blue Ribbon Commission on School Excellence, Hispanic Advisory Task Force, California Joint Statewide Vocational Education Equity Advisory Committee, Task Force on Selected LEP Issues, Hispanic Women’s Advisory Council for Circle Project, and Association of Mexican American Educators.

Melendez, a graduate of  San Jose State University, where she received her teaching credential, received a Bilingual Cross-Cultural Specialist Credential from  Sonoma State University and her Master of Arts in Education and Administrative Services Credential from California State University, Sacramento.  She later attended Stanford University’s School of Education for her Doctoral Studies in curriculum and teacher education.

A California native, Melendez was born in Dinuba where her maternal grandparents were the first Mexican family to settle in 1916.  She leaves behind one son, Joaquin Peterson, daughter-in-law Donna and granddaughter Madeleine, her mother Lupe Martinez Melendez, sisters Vera Palmer and Stephanie Connor, and her foster brother Frank Sandoval.  Melinda was preceded in death by her father, Mel Melendez.

Without a doubt, Melendez’s work had a profoundly positive impact on many thousands of children.  Many minority, disabled and English learner students—without   her unfettered determination—would not have had the opportunities to live their dreams.  Mostly importantly, she taught all that knew her, how important it was to follow their own.

Memorial services include a vigil to be held Friday, Jan. 29, at 6 p.m. at Cusimano Family Mortuary, 96 El Camino Real, in Mountain View.  A mass will be held at noon Saturday, Jan. 30, at Saint Simon Church, 1860 Grant Road, Los Altos.

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