Cynthia Peña of Pacific Grove, an award-winning Salinas educator and former elected member of the CTA Board of Directors, died Sunday after a long and courageous battle with cancer. She died at a hospital in Burlingame, surrounded by family and friends. She was 56.
Her enthusiastic dedication to her students and to the thousands of coastal-area educators she represented on the CTA Board for 10 years, up to June of 2012, was an inspiration to many, said Dean E. Vogel, president of the 325,000-member California Teachers Association. “Cynthia will be remembered for her love of the teaching profession, her passion for union work, and her classroom commitment to her countless students over the years.”
In 2002, Peña finished one partial term on the CTA Board, and then was elected to three, three-year terms before returning to her classroom teacher work at Bardin Elementary School in the Alisal Union School District in Salinas. She served for decades as a special education teacher and received the district’s Outstanding Teacher Award from her peers in 2000.
Her CTA Board coastal region stretched from Monterey County to Ventura County to western Fresno County. She was also a past president of the Alisal Teachers Association, which is affiliated with CTA. Local teachers are starting a college scholarship in her name for local students who want to become teachers. Checks can be made out to the Alisal Teachers Association and mailed to John Aaron, 246 Massolo Court, Salinas, 93907.
Cynthia Alma Peña was born in McAllen, Texas. Her father died when she was 16, and her mother struggled successfully to put all five children through college. Peña earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies, a master’s in special education and her teaching credential from the California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo.
“She remained an advocate for human rights, and justice for children and teachers throughout her professional life and never wavered in her advocacy for education,” her family said in a statement. “While we are deeply saddened by the loss of a very caring and loving woman, we also celebrate her wonderful life and hope that it serves as an example to current and former students, and colleagues in the education field.”
She is survived by her four siblings, aunts and uncles and numerous nieces and nephews. Funeral services are pending.