Katherine Acosta-Verprauskus

Executive Director, Area 1, West Contra Costa Unified School District

2024 JWCA Honoree

Katherine Acosta-Verprauskus is a veteran West Contra Costa educator and instructional leader. She currently serves as Executive Director, Area 1, in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. In this role, Katherine leads more than two dozen principals to develop site-level systems and practices that strengthen their instructional leadership. Katherine served as principal at Montalvin Elementary School for 11 years, and began her teaching career at Lincoln Elementary School in Richmond. She serves on the district’s Literacy Taskforce, and has advocated for the adoption of curriculum and instructional practices that are known to drive academic growth for students.

Katherine Acosta-Verprauskus 1
Proud of her success as Principal of Montalvin K-8 School, Katherine Acosta-Verprauskus now supports principals at 18 West Contra Costa Unified Schools. Katherine's instructional approach aims to support students who need added support to achieve their full academic potential.
Katherine's Story

An animated voice carries over the heads of seated students whose eyes scan the pages of the picture book their teacher holds before the class. For one student, the stuffed animals and picture books feel puzzling rather than exciting.

Katherine Acosta-Verprauskus sits among her classmates, her head and shoulders towering above them and her gaze reaching easily over their heads. Her hands are clasped tightly because she doesn’t yet know why she is here. Two months ago, she was in the 4th grade, and now she sits, confused, as the lone nine-year-old in an unfamiliar Kindergarten classroom. Katherine, a recent immigrant, knows she doesn’t belong there, even though she doesn’t yet speak the language to express it. 

From Peru to the Plains

The bustling city of Lima, Peru was Katherine’s home for much of her early childhood. In the early 1990’s all that changed. Political instability in both Peru and Venezuela shook her family’s sense of security. Pushed by fears of closing borders, a lack of safety, and dwindling opportunities, Katherine’s family gathered their belongings, left their home, their community, and all that they had known for a small town called Syracuse in western Kansas.

Gaps and Growth

Hoping for greater opportunity, her family traded palm trees and mountain peaks for endless grassy plains. This was only the beginning of the cultural shock that Katherine experienced when she entered the American public school system for the first time. 

“I was actually the first English language learner that the school ever had. They didn't know what to do. They saw this child that they wanted to help, she didn't speak any English, not a single word.”

Unprepared for a student like Katherine, school leaders placed the bright newcomer in a kindergarten class.

“I felt like there was something wrong with me, and that I wasn't prepared to be in the place that I was at.”

Despite the immense gaps in the system, her mother’s advocacy and the kindness of teachers helped fill them. With this support both inside and outside of school, Katherine was able to make accelerated progress in her English skills allowing her to find friendship and community in this new country, and in this new chapter.

Breaking the Cycle

Often, people are defined by their circumstances, but Katherine defied them. As the daughter of a cow-feeder and a housekeeper, Katherine’s ascent through college to commencement at the University of Kansas was a victory for her and her family. Walking across the stage to accept her degree, her eyes swept across the audience. Her family was impossible to miss. They were a sizable group, holding a conspicuous cluster of celebratory balloons. It wasn’t just her family, either. The faces of former teachers, family friends, and neighbors beamed at her as she received her degree. As she looked out at her supporters, it dawned on her that a community effort demanded a community celebration, and the spirited cheers signaled that one had indeed begun. 

Initially, she set her sights towards becoming a professor. Her heart called her towards service, yet her mind also pulled her towards a financially rewarding career. As she moved between affluent graduate students on weekdays and fieldwork with migrant farm workers on the weekends, the pull of her heart grew stronger.

“Every day I felt like I was getting a little bit farther away from the actual work that I wanted to do, which was to help people break the cycle."

One day a poster caught her eye. ‘‘Do you want to make a difference? Teach!’ Katherine was at a crossroads. She desired to be an agent of change for other Latinx families, and yet she had started on a path to impact the already-privileged members of our society. A defining moment called for decisive action. The financial rewards that she thought she should pursue no longer called her as strongly as the children that she knew needed a champion who saw herself in them. Her hesitation was short, and she said ‘yes’ in her heart, and with her life.

Making a Difference

It was her first day teaching at Richmond’s Lincoln Elementary, and Katherine was nervous. What if she let these students down? She couldn’t shake the feeling. She was teaching special education, which meant students with gaps in their learning, and different accommodations and needs. It also meant the students that needed that extra-mile the most. As she walked into the classroom her nervousness was replaced by the joy she felt as she was welcomed with huge smiles and hugs. Katherine was a natural in the classroom, and it was here that she began to realize her desire to make transformational change. 

"I learned that kids could grow dramatically very quickly as long as adults were very intentional about the support that they provided them, and it lit a fire in my belly. I knew that education wasn't just going to be a moment or a few years in my life, it was going to be something that I was going to be dedicated to forever."

Katherine Acosta-Verprauskus 2
Katherine stands in the couryard at Montalvin K-8 School, where she served as principal for 11 years.

It didn’t take long for Katherine to ascend to the position of Principal at Montalvin K-8 School in West Contra Costa. Katherine spent 11 years making the impact that she saw in her classroom a reality throughout the school. As Montalvin’s leader, she was able to realize her vision of focusing teachers on instruction to create equity.

“I knew at that moment that this could happen, if leadership was pushing teachers to do right by students and planning well-tailored lessons that transformative changes could happen in a single building.”

As Katherine transformed the hallways of Montalvin by centering instruction in the classroom, she saw the progress not only in the students, but also in the teachers, the classrooms, and the systems. These changes didn’t go unnoticed.

“In my new role, I get to coach principals and I get to support them. I get to support removing barriers that are holding them back and help them get to the vision that they're trying to achieve for their schools.”

Widening Impact

Katherine’s impact as a teacher and in turn a principal has led to her recent promotion to Executive Director, serving the educators and students of the West Contra Costa Unified School District in Area 1. In this role, she leads principals at 18 schools to focus their primary effort on effective instruction for hundreds of students across the district. Who better to lead that charge than someone who has made it their life’s work to become a transformational leader?

While we work towards improving the systems that support students, she knows that some children are still falling through the cracks. Katherine was almost one of those students. Since then, she has dedicated her life to creating more equity within schools, one classroom at a time. She poured into her students as a teacher, grew her practice through the halls of Montalvin, and she’s excited to amplify her instructional focus throughout West Contra Costa schools. 

From Peru to Kansas, to Richmond, California, Katherine’s experiences have shaped her, and in turn shaped her impact on young people like her. 

Katherine's Supported Organizations

JWCA honorees are invited to direct grant funds totaling $10,000 to one or more local schools or nonprofit organizations that provide services or support to West Contra Costa youth.

Montalvin Manor K-8

Montalvin Manor K-8

About the Chamberlin Education Foundation

The Chamberlin Education Foundation supports initiatives that advance education equity and academic excellence in West Contra Costa public schools. CEF’s grants and programs support effective education leadership, high-quality curriculum and instruction, educator talent pipelines, and help create and sustain a student-centered public education ecosystem.

Click here for more about our team, our vision, and our foundation’s guiding principles.