Sacramento Area Youth Speaks

Related profiles

Image of Vajra Watson
Staff Profile

Vajra Watson
Director of Research & Policy for Equity

Dr. Vajra M. Watson, Director of Research and Policy for Equity, has been developing praxis to improve education for well over two decades. At the crux of her praxis is a commitment to close the achievement gap, to close the gap between research and practice, and to actually heed the call to leave no child behind.

Dr. Watson’s current work focuses on holistic reform efforts for chronically under-performing schools in rural, suburban, and urban communities. In these settings, she specializes in supporting the achievement of at-risk and high-risk youth alongside transformative culturally relevant professional development for teachers and leadership training for administrators. She has found that larger system changes must be teacher-driven, but that learning must always be student-centered, especially for students who have disengaged from school.


  • Ph.D., Graduate School of Education, Harvard University
  • M.A., Learning and Teaching, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University
  • M.A., International Education, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University
  • B.A., Political Science/International Relations and Education, University of California, Berkeley

Grants and Projects

  • (2010-2014). $1,000,000. California Postsecondary Education Commission Improving Teacher Quality grant. A culturally responsive professional development and research program for middle and high school teachers in a high-poverty district.
  • (2012-2013). $75,000. Sierra Health Foundation Positive Youth Justice Initiative. A research grant to examine best practices and systemic barriers for crossover youth in Solano County.
  • (2009-2013). $200,000. Sacramento City Unified School District contract for SAYS programming in after-school programs throughout the district.
  • (2009-2012). $75,000. Student Improvement Grant. A program grant to Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (SAYS) to conduct classroom residencies at a low-performing high school.
  • (2012). $10,000. California Wellness Foundation. A general program grant to support Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (SAYS).
  • (2009-2011). $60,000. Twin Rivers Unified School District contract for SAYS professional development and classroom residencies.
  • (2010-2011). $14,000. Elk Grove Unified School District contract for SAYS after-school programming at Jackman Middle School and Valley High School.
  • (2010-2011). $50,000. Sponsorship received to initiate annual Equity Summit. Among the consortium of institutional support: the UC Davis Office of Campus Community Relations, UC Davis Center for Regional Change, California Teachers Association, Yocha DeHe Wintun Nation, Davis Joint Unified School District, UC Davis Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, Yolo County Office of Education, Sacramento County Office of Education, Sacramento City Unified School District, and the Sierra Health Foundation.
  • (2010-2011). $15,000. Sacramento County Office of Education contract for SAYS programming at Juvenile Court and Community Schools.
  • (2009-2010). $50,000. Sierra Health Foundation program grant to build the capacity of SAYS.
  • (2009-2010). $40,000. Youth Speaks, Inc. contract to launch SAYS.

Publications and Working Papers

  • Watson, V. (2012) Learning to Liberate: Community-Based Solutions to the Crisis in Urban Education. Published by Routledge, 2012.
  • Watson, V. (Fall, 2003). Reflections on the Juvenile In-justice System. Community Justice Network For Youth newsletter.
  • Watson, V. (1999). Lighthead in Starvation. In We are the ones we have been waiting for, J. Jordan (Ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press.