Staff

Pia Allen Headshot
Executive Coordinator for Operations

Pia Allen

Jennifer Coco
Senior Director of Strategy & Impact

Jennifer Coco

Lauren Davies
Strategy and Research Assistant

Lauren Davis

Djenaba Figueroa Headshot
Director of External Relations and Communication

Djenaba Figueroa

Li Ma Headshot
Research Analyst

Li Ma

Jacy Nary Headshot
Director of People Operations

Jacy Nary

Paul Headshot
Senior Fellow Emeritus

Paul T. O’Neill

Lauren Morando Rhim Headshot
Co-Founder & Executive Director

Lauren Morando Rhim

Kate McElligott
Manager of Strategy and Impact

Kate McElligott

Gretchen Stewart Headshot
Senior Director of Educational Leadership

Gretchen Stewart

Wendy Headshot
Senior Policy Fellow

Wendy Tucker

CLE Vacant Graphic
Director of Research

Pia Allen Headshot

Executive Coordinator for Operations

Pia Allen

pallen@centerforlearnerequity.org

Pia Allen serves as the Executive Coordinator for Operations at the Center for Learner Equity (CLE). In her role, Pia provides operational and administrative support to the CLE team, contributing to the day-to-day operations and organizational initiatives.

Before joining CLE, Pia worked in the hospitality design field, providing administrative and office management support to C-suite executives and managing administrative teams. During this period, Pia also volunteered her time as a child advocate, offering support to families navigating the challenges of domestic violence.

Jennifer Coco

Senior Director of Strategy & Impact

Jennifer Coco

jcoco@centerforlearnerequity.org

Jennifer Coco is the Senior Director of Strategy & Impact at the Center for Learner Equity (CLE). At CLE, Jennifer supports the initial piloting and implementation of specialized CLE programming and various projects within the policy team.  Her recent projects have focused on leading a consortium of New Orleans stakeholders to improve special education coordination and capacity in the city’s all-charter school system, and deepening CLE’s policy investments in issues of school climate and discipline in order to eradicate inequitable impacts on students with disabilities. Jennifer comes to this work with a passion for education law and policy and achieving equity for kids.

With a background as a civil rights attorney, Jennifer’s career has been dedicated to achieving systems change to improve outcomes for vulnerable children, particularly within the areas of special education, ending the school to prison pipeline, and English learner programs. Prior to joining the Center, Jennifer was the founding Director of Policy and Advocacy at New Pathways New Orleans and an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Her proudest accomplishments include the groundbreaking lawsuit P.B. v. White, which produced systemic improvements in special education in New Orleans’ all-charter school system, and serving as the first elected Chairperson of the Louisiana Advisory Council on Student Behavior and Discipline, where she led negotiations with diverse education interests to overhaul the state’s school discipline statute. Jennifer is also proud to have served as the volunteer Chair of the Board of Directors for the Children’s Bureau of New Orleans, a local organization that provides mental health and trauma interventions to children and families.

Jennifer received her law degree from the DePaul University College of Law and her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. When Jennifer is not working, she enjoys being a doting mother to her two young children, cooking and baking, and being a critical consumer of TV pop culture.

Lauren Davies

Strategy and Research Assistant

Lauren Davis

ldavis@centerforlearnerequity.org

Lauren Davis is the Strategy and Research Assistant at the Center for Learner Equity (CLE). At CLE, Lauren is responsible for assisting the CLE team in alignment with our vision and mission, ensuring daily operations run smoothly as well as providing support to programs.

Lauren received her bachelor’s degrees in History and Political Science with a minor in Human Rights and Public Service from the University of Montevallo. During this time she served as an intern for the David Mathews Center for Civic Life, in addition to leading a program working to civically educate youth in the city of Montevallo called the Students’ Institute. Lauren continued her education at the University of Texas at Austin to earn a Masters in Public Affairs. During graduate school, she worked with the City of Austin through Leadership Austin and their Conservation Corps program. The program’s goal was to gather diverse populations and facilitate robust conversations around difficult and biased subjects while avoiding conflict.

When Lauren is not working, she enjoys spending time with her friends and family, time outdoors, and exploring new places.

Djenaba Figueroa Headshot

Director of External Relations and Communication

Djenaba Figueroa

dfigueroa@centerforlearnerequity.org

Djenaba Figueroa is the Director of External Relations and Communication at the Center for Learner Equity (CLE). She is a multifunctional professional with a history of developing innovative marketing techniques and events that increase revenue, build solid brand image, drive individual and corporate contributions, and foster collaborative relationships. Using a creative lens, she develops and executes CLE’s communication strategy, and collaborates with internal and external partners to effectively raise awareness of CLE’s mission and vision to position the organization as a trusted expert in the field. Djenaba is passionate about developing inclusive and compelling messaging and works to ensure that the organization’s key activities and initiatives resonate with diverse audiences. Her goal is to enhance CLE’s digital assets and outreach systems and optimize its online presence to effectively reach new and current audiences, stakeholders, and potential funders.

Before joining CLE, she worked for Purdue University as the Director of Strategic Diversity Communications where she led a robust communications strategy to support the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (ODIB) and the Purdue Equity Task Force (ETF). Formerly, at Rutgers University, she was the Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives for University Equity and Inclusion where she executed communications initiatives that embraced and showcased diversity as an institutional value. At Rutgers, and prior to that role, she was responsible for driving media relations, developing solid marketing initiatives, and strengthening collaborative partnerships as the Director of Marketing and Communications at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology.

Djenaba holds a bachelor’s degree from Rider University in Journalism and Interpersonal Speech Communications, is a Thomas Edison Leadership Fellow, and holds a Marketing Management Certification from the Rutgers Institute from Management and Executive Development (IMED). In addition to her professional career, Djenaba Figueroa is a motivational speaker, writer, and certified meditation teacher who works to help others discover their unique life purpose. She resides in Trenton, NJ, with her adult son, loves the outdoors, and is committed to improving the health and wellness of her people.

Li Ma Headshot

Research Analyst

Li Ma

lma@centerforlearnerequity.org

Li Ma works as a Research Analyst at the Center for Learner Equity (CLE). Li leads in research design and collaborates with other members of the CLE research team in data collection, analysis, and report writing. She brings over a decade of research and data analysis expertise in system change and community development, advancing equity.

She specializes in synthesizing strategic policy recommendations based on both quantitative and qualitative data. Coming from an immigrant background, Li has been passionate about inclusion and equity for historically marginalized groups. While teaching and conducting research projects in higher education institutions (Cornell University, Tongji University, and Calvin University), Li also worked with nonprofits and philanthropic foundations in strategic planning and community-based social justice work. She is a published author of seven academic books. Before joining CLE, Li was a Senior Consultant leading research projects at a social justice consulting firm. Li Ma received a Master’s degree in Sociology of Education from the University of Oxford and a Ph.D. in Sociology from Cornell University.

In her spare time, Li enjoys swimming, hiking, singing karaoke, family movie time, and traveling with her husband and two very active and artsy children. She likes to cook and host friends to share good food together.

Jacy Nary Headshot

Director of People Operations

Jacy Nary

jnary@centerforlearnerequity.org

Jacy Nary (she/her) is the Director of People Operations for the Center for Learner Equity (CLE). Jacy’s primary responsibilities include talent strategy, talent acquisition and onboarding, project coordination, human resources operations, organizational culture, and Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion.

With more than 15 years of leadership and HR experience, Jacy brings her passion for equity and healthy workplace cultures to CLE. Jacy believes that the most productive, effective, and engaged team members are those who are empowered and supported in all aspects of their lives. Prior to CLE, Jacy served Boise State University, leading several people operations-related teams. While at Boise State, Jacy served five terms on the Professional Staff Association, holding multiple leadership positions, including Vice President. Under her leadership, the Association advocated for equity and inclusive opportunities in the workplace. Jacy used the experience of COVID-19 to develop effective strategies for building and leading cohesive teams in a remote and hybrid environment, focusing on each employee’s individual experience as well as the collective team. Before Boise State, Jacy was the City Clerk for Meridian, Idaho. Through this role, Jacy developed a passion for community, youth, and making space for experiential learning. As a founding board member for the Children’s Museum of Idaho and Commissioner for Meridian’s Historic Preservation Commission, Jacy focused on developing learning opportunities that encourage curiosity and growth while building and supporting the family relationship.

Jacy holds multiple Human Resource certifications, including the Society of Human Resource Management Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP), and is a certified human rights professional through the Wassmuth Center. When not working, Jacy enjoys spending time with her husband, teen, bonus adult children, and mini dachshund puppy named Chandler. She can often be found at the beach, eating tacos or enjoying copious amounts of coffee.

 

Paul Headshot

Senior Fellow Emeritus

Paul T. O’Neill

ptoneill@centerforlearnerequity.org

Paul O’Neill is the Co-founder and Senior Fellow Emeritus of the Center for Learner Equity. His commitment to equity and opportunities for all students to learn comes from his lifelong grappling with learning disabilities and ADHD.

Paul is an education attorney, professor, and author. He has extensive experience in guiding education organizations through challenges and growth. Throughout his career, he has advised schools, authorizers, networks, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and philanthropies on the rules and complexities that apply to educational organizations as well as on effective board governance. Paul’s professional experience spans the education sector. He served as General Counsel of the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, one of the nation’s leading charter school authorizing offices. He has also served for years as a lawyer in private practice, for boutique law firms specializing in education law as well as large corporate law firms, and as in-house counsel for a large charter school management organization.

Paul is currently a Partner and Co-Chair of the Education Law practice group at Barton Gilman LLP, which features the largest charter school law practice east of California. He is a former Associate Director of the Newgrange School and Educational Outreach Center in New Jersey, which serves individuals with learning disabilities. On the academic side, Paul serves as an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, where he teaches courses on education law and policy. He is a frequent guest lecturer at other universities on a range of education reform topics and is the author of several books and numerous scholarly and professional articles.

Paul holds a B.A. from Oberlin College, a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law, and an M.Ed. from Teachers College. When Paul is not working, he is committed to community service. He helped found charter schools in the South Bronx, Brooklyn, Washington D.C., and New Orleans. He is on the board of the NYC Autism Charter Schools and Digital Pioneers Academy Charter School in Washington, D.C., and the Board of Governors of Union College of New Jersey. He served for several years as Chair of the Education & Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association and on the Professional Advisory Board of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. He and his wife, Mari, had three kids – Katie, Tom and Jack. Paul likes to take unreasonably long walks, enjoys Antiques Roadshow, and is devoted to pizza.

Lauren Morando Rhim Headshot

Co-Founder & Executive Director

Lauren Morando Rhim

lmrhim@centerforlearnerequity.org

Lauren Morando Rhim is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of The Center for Learner Equity (CLE). She provides CLE strategic vision and oversees a variety of research, advocacy, coalition developing, and field-based capacity building projects. Lauren’s recent work includes conducting secondary analyses of the federal Civil Rights Data Collection, examining the challenges associated with developing equitable special education funding formulas, and developing a strategic city-based framework for effectively and efficiently educating students with disabilities. Lauren comes to this work out of a passion for and commitment to social justice and an optimist’s belief that we can make public schools work for all learners.

Prior to founding CLE, worked as a researcher, consultant, and advocate, striving to identify strategies to create and sustain high quality public schools for all students. She has published extensively about school reform and regularly consults with federal, state and local policy leaders as well as practitioners. As the founder of LMR Consulting, she specialized in pressing education reform issues pertaining to school turnaround, charter schools, special education, and state and district support for school improvement. She was formerly a Senior Consultant at Public Impact where she conducted her own work and led project teams to produce research, evaluation, and technical assistance, and provide direct support to clients. As a faculty Research Associate at the University of Maryland, she conducted both research and external consulting and evaluations. While at UMD, Lauren directed Project Intersect, a four year, federally funded study of special education in charter schools and was a consultant to three other related initiatives: Project SEARCH, SPEDTACS, and the TA Customizer.

Lauren holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont, a Masters from The George Washington University and a Ph.D. in Education Policy and Leadership from the University of Maryland. When Lauren is not working, she is committed to community service at the local level, having served on either her locally elected school board or a charter school board for the last eight years. She also enjoys swimming, cycling, and generally spending as much time outside as possible. She lives in Norwich, Vermont with her husband, her unrully dog Tucker and occassionally, her two adult children.

Kate McElligott

Manager of Strategy and Impact

Kate McElligott

kmcelligott@centerforlearnerequity.org

Kate McElligott is the Manager of Strategy and Impact at the Center for Learner Equity. Kate supports CLE’s implementation of state and local projects aligned with CLE’s field catalyst strategy, facilitating collective action for systemic solutions impacting students with disabilities in the priority areas of resources, access, and system capacity.

With more than 15 years of teaching, case management, and systems leadership in the New Orleans school systems, Kate believes deeply in what is possible for diverse learners when adults make the least dangerous assumption and build evidence-based, collaborative learning experiences designed to meet student’s unique needs and embrace their extraordinary strengths. As an experienced inclusive education leader, Kate cultivates this mindset in others, coupled with the systems, knowledge, and skills to manifest this high-quality, robust educational experience into reality and redefine outcomes for those who learn differently. Kate believes in the power of strategic change management and continuous improvement to transform schools to be authentically inclusive and accelerate the outcomes of students with disabilities.

Kate led systems-wide improvements in outcomes for diverse learners at Collegiate Academies, designing and launching co-teaching and specially designed instructional programming, resulting in improved academic outcomes for students with disabilities. Kate also developed systems, routines, and training for special education compliance and case management while developing leaders and teachers to design programming to support all learners more authentically. Kate began her career in education researching education systems in the country of Georgia on a Fulbright grant, and then joined Teach for America and taught at a juvenile detention center in Louisiana, where she discovered her passion and belief in the potential of students whom others often consider the most challenging to educate. Kate has experienced schools from various perspectives, understanding the challenges and opportunities of supporting all learners as a general educator, special educator, interventionist, case manager, and systems-level leader. Through these roles and experiences, Kate has countless proof points of exponential and unprecedented growth for students who historically struggled in schools, and this fuels her conviction of what’s possible when schools create high-quality, inclusive, and individualized learning experiences and are relentless in their pursuit of all students learning rigorous, grade-level content. In her school years, Kate taught phonics to high school students who struggled to read, catalyzing reading growth and access to rigorous content. Kate also led a therapeutic program for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, creating student-centered, innovative, social-emotional, and academic learning environments and collaborating to increase access and success in general education settings for students where behavior is a barrier to academics.

Kate holds a Master of Science in Special Education and a Graduate Certificate in Leadership in Special & Inclusive Education from the University of Kansas. Kate also serves as an Adjunct Instructor at Tulane University School of Professional Advancement, where she develops and teaches literacy and special education courses.

When Kate is not working, she enjoys local outdoor adventures with her two spirited young children and husband, amateur birding, running, and baking gluten-free treats.

Gretchen Stewart Headshot

Senior Director of Educational Leadership

Gretchen Stewart

gstewart@centerforlearnerequity.org

Gretchen Stewart (she/her) is the inaugural Senior Director of Educational Leadership for The Center for Learner Equity (CLE). At CLE, Gretchen is a collaborative visionary working to create, drive, and support multiple CLE initiatives and projects rooted in CLE’s vision to see all learners with disabilities thriving and respected. Gretchen’s work focuses on areas including school system leadership, systems change, and instructional content. Gretchen partners with CLE’s policy and impact strategy group to assess proposed policy or infrastructure solutions for schools and special education programs, coalesces national charter school special education thought and practice partners, and grows and supports key mission-aligned strategic partnerships.

Gretchen brings more than two decades of proven commitment to advancing education for learners with disabilities. She holds a Ph.D. in Special Education from The University of South Florida where her pioneering research into how movement improves learning and cognition formed the foundation for equity-based models of holistic, inclusive schools where learners with disabilities can thrive. Gretchen’s recent accomplishments before joining CLE include driving statewide systems reform to improve the consistency of access to therapy for more than 110K children with disabilities utilizing Medicaid in the State of Florida, and empowering learner voice within a unique charter model through self-led advocacy coaching resulting in increased agency and determination in heavily adjudicated, economically disadvantaged learners with disabilities, increasing first-generation post-secondary enrollment to the highest levels in the organization’s history.

In addition to her professional contributions, Gretchen is an ardent supporter of health-focused initiatives aimed at improving access and meaningful participation of young adults with disabilities in outdoor and fitness-related activities such as bike riding, hiking, and swimming. In her personal pursuits, Gretchen is an extreme adventure enthusiast and triathlete who enjoys being outdoors with her two sons, both young adults labeled with disabilities.

Wendy Headshot

Senior Policy Fellow

Wendy Tucker

wtucker@centerforlearnerequity.org

Wendy Tucker is the Senior Policy Fellow at the Center for Learner Equity (CLE). She is an attorney, disability advocate and education policy expert. At the Center, Wendy works at the federal, state and local levels to support policies that ensure students with disabilities have the quality educational opportunities and choices they need to thrive and learn. Wendy’s recent projects have focused on policies that address the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, including preserving IDEA protections and encouraging the use of COVID relief funding to support students with disabilities. Wendy comes to this work out of a passion for the rights of students with disabilities, fueled by her experience with her own daughter and her prior work representing students in special education matters.

Prior to coming to CLE, Wendy worked as a trial lawyer, first as an assistant public defender and later in private practice. In 2005, inspired by her own daughter’s journey as a student with a disability, Wendy began representing families of students with disabilities in special education matters. She has worked extensively at the state and local level in Nashville, Tennessee to advocate for education policies, especially those that benefit students with disabilities. She has held leadership roles in several non-profit organizations focused on education and special education issues, including serving as the founding board chair of Nashville’s Diverse Learners Cooperative and currently serves as a charter school authorizer in Tennessee as a commissioner on the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission.

Wendy holds a bachelor’s degree in theatre from Tulane University’s Newcomb College and a doctorate of law from Tulane Law School. When she is not working, Wendy enjoys running, gardening and going on adventures with her family.

CLE Vacant Graphic

Director of Research

This position is currently vacant. Please check back for future updates.

 

Board

Robert Headshot
Board Chair

Robert Garda

Sam Headshot
Board Vice Chair

Sam Drazin

Shannon Hodge
Board Treasurer

Shannon Hodge

Mashea Ashton
Board Member

Mashea Ashton

Cliff Headshot
Board Member

Cliff Chuang

Charisse Gulosino Headshot
Board Member

Charisse Gulosino

Alex Headshot
Board Member

Alex Medler

Renita Thukral
Board Secretary

Renita Thukral

Robert Headshot

Board Chair

Robert Garda

Professor Garda teaches contracts, commercial transactions, international commercial transactions, employment discrimination, legal methods, and scholarly writing. He is the author of numerous articles and reports on education law. His recent articles have appeared in the North Carolina Law Review, Florida Law Review, and Journal of Law & Education. His legal scholarship covers various topics, including the rights of disabled students, affirmative action, integration in K-12 education, special education spending, and legal issues surrounding charter schools. His current projects concern introducing outcome accountability into special education law, the impact of monied interests on education legislation, and the changing purposes of education as recognized by the Supreme Court and embodied in recent legislation.

Professor Garda was the past national Chair of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Section on Education Law and currently serves on its Executive Committee. He also serves as a member of the Louisiana Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the Board of Directors for the Louisiana Mental Health Advocacy Services. He has worked on projects with the Louisiana Bar Foundation and Louisiana Appleseed. He also works with national and local public interest groups on education and disability issues and frequently comments on education issues in the Louisiana media. He was awarded the 2010 Good Apple Award from the Appleseed Network and the 2009 Gillis Long Poverty Law Center Public Service Award for his public service. He was also voted the Favorite Professor of the Year in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010.

Professor Garda joined the Loyola Law School faculty in 2002. Before entering academia, he graduated from Duke University Law School, serving as Articles Editor of the Duke Law Journal. After entering for Justice Zimmerman of the Utah Supreme Court, Professor Garda became a partner at the Salt Lake City firm of Fabian & Clendenin, focusing primarily on education law, commercial litigation, and employment law.

Sam Headshot

Board Vice Chair

Sam Drazin

Sam Drazin is a former elementary educator and the Founder/Executive Director of Changing Perspectives, a national nonprofit organization that provides disability awareness programs in schools. He consults with schools on inclusion and positive climate and culture. He continues to be amazed by the positive impact that disability awareness initiatives are having on students and educators around the country. Sam has been featured in the Washington Post and is active in the educational sector, presenting at educational conferences and serving on a number of boards.

Shannon Hodge

Board Treasurer

Shannon Hodge

Shannon Hodge is the founding Executive Director of the DC Charter School Alliance. She previously served as the executive director of Kingsman Academy Public Charter School in Washington, DC, which she co-founded to serve students at risk of dropping out because they were overaged and under-credited, had attendance and truancy issues, or had emotional and behavioral challenges. Shannon has worked in and around education at the local, state, and federal levels as a former high school counselor and guidance director for much of the past twenty years. Before becoming a charter school leader, she was an attorney representing various educational organizations, including school districts and universities. Ms. Hodge has co-chaired the Harvard Educational Review editorial boards and the Stanford Journal of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties.

Shannon holds a bachelor’s degree in Afro-American Studies from Harvard, where she also completed the Undergraduate Teacher Education Program; a master’s degree in educational and psychoeducational studies from Purdue; a master’s degree in educational administration, planning, and social policy from Harvard; a law degree from Stanford; and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Georgetown.

Mashea Ashton

Board Member

Mashea Ashton

Mashea Ashton is the Founder and CEO of Digital Pioneers Academy, a charter school in Washington, DC. She returned to the area after spending the last 20 years implementing and scaling the best practices in urban education across the country, starting her career as a special education teacher in Williamsburg, VA, and Washington, DC.

Before her current role, Mashea served as the CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund, overseeing a $48 million initiative to support the quality growth of charter schools. Under her leadership, Newark’s charter sector grew from 8% to an estimated 30% of the children in Newark’s public schools in 2016 while being ranked the second highest performing charter sector in the country, according to Stanford University’s 2015 CREDO study. She previously served as the executive director for the New York Program and senior advisor for charter school policy for New Leaders for New Schools. Mashea has also served as the executive director for Charter Schools for the New York City Department of Education and the national director of recruitment and selection for the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP). Mashea is the Vice-chair of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers board and serves on the boards of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School, The Center for Learner Equity, National Charter School Resource Center, and Eagle Academy Foundation Advisory Board.

She has been honored as the New Jersey Charter Champion for Advocacy by the New Jersey Charter Schools Association and the First Lady of Charter Schools by Marion P. Thomas Charter School, the Shirley Chisholm Trailblazer by SHE Wins LLC, a Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow by the Aspen Institute, and an Education Award recipient from Leadership Newark. Mashea is a frequent speaker and panelist for nationwide charter school and education reform advocacy organizations. She has an M.Ed. in special education emphasizing learning disabilities and emotional disturbance and a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and elementary education from the College of William and Mary. She and her husband Kendrick are the proud parents of twins.

Cliff Headshot

Board Member

Cliff Chuang

Cliff Chuang serves as Senior Associate Commissioner for Educational Options at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. He is responsible for supporting and overseeing the wide range of educational options available to Massachusetts families, including charter, virtual, and other redesigned school models; career technical education; adult basic education; early learning; and out-of-school time programs. He oversees the Department’s student and family support initiatives and the state’s problem-resolution system to ensure educational equity. The Department has been recognized as a national leader for charter schools and career/vocational technical educational quality and in how leaders partner with the field in research and support initiatives.

He serves on the board of The Center for Learner Equity and the national advisory board of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Cliff previously served as the director of charter schools for the New York State Education Department. He started his career teaching secondary mathematics and science in Boston, in both district and charter school settings. He holds an A.B. in mathematics from Harvard University and an M.Ed. in Secondary Mathematics Teaching from Boston College.

Charisse Gulosino Headshot

Board Member

Charisse Gulosino

Charisse Gulosino, an associate professor in the Leadership and Policy Studies Program at the University of Memphis, received her doctorate in education from Columbia University and pursued postdoctoral training at Brown University’s Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy. Her research evaluates educational policies and programs with a specific interest in school choice that enhances education access, equity, efficiency, and results-based accountability. Charisse has served (2006-2010; 2019-2022) as chair and program chair of the American Educational Research Association’s Charters and School Choice SIG. She was a Visiting Scholar/Professor at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Education from 2019-2020. She also serves as an Affiliate Faculty member at the Center for Research in Education Policy (CREP) within the College of Education at the University of Memphis. Her work has appeared in edited books and journals, including the Peabody Journal of Education, Planning and Changing Journal, Urban Education, Education Policy Analysis Archives, Education Economics, and Education Finance and Policy. Her research is available here.

On a national level, her research has been cited in journals, education agencies (i.e., Education Commission of the States, National Charter School Resource Center), academic blogs, and different media outlets, including press inquiries and interview requests (i.e., New York Times; Education Week; Chalkbeat; ProPublica; The Commercial Appeal; School Administrator Magazine; Brown University’s Daily Herald; California Matters; and the Hechinger Report). Her research on charter school boards in Massachusetts has been featured by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy. Her work on suburban and rural charter schools has been cited in a recent New York Time article. She served on the Technical Review Panel for the National Household Education Surveys (NHES) on homeschooling and virtual schools, sponsored by USDOE’s National Center for Education Statistics. She has worked with The Forum on the Future of Public Education at the University of Illinois Urbana Champagne as a Forum Fellow and the Network of Independent Charter Schools Project (funded by the U.S. Department of Education) to guest blog posts on current school choice programs and charter school issues.

Charisse has leveraged the experience gained from her dissertation work, writing for a general audience (including policy audiences) and using data for planning and improving school performance to help create a dozen start-up charter schools in New York City, Newark, and Memphis, working in concert with boards, school leaders, and community-based organizations to strengthen school programs, accountability, equity, and continuous improvement system. In addition, throughout the pandemic, she has mentored aspiring school leaders in conducting improvement projects from various perspectives and methodologies, such as Improvement Science, Design-Based Implementation Research (DBIR), Lean for Education, Six Sigma, and Networked Improvement Communities (NICS).

Alex Headshot

Board Member

Alex Medler

Alex Medler has been a national expert on charter school policy since the opening days of the movement, analyzing the first laws in 1992. He leads the Tri-State Alliance to Improve District-Led Charter Authorizing, which helps California, Colorado, and Florida school districts strengthen their charter authorizing practices. He directs the Colorado Association of Charter School Authorizers as part of this work. He previously led the National Charter School Resource Center and directed policy, research, and technical assistance initiatives for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). He also served on NACSA’s Board of Directors from 2007 to 2009.

Additionally, Alex chaired the board of the state-wide charter authorizer in Colorado; directed research and policy development for the Colorado Children’s Campaign; led national activities for the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program; and directed charter school and school choice work for the Education Commission of the States.

Alex earned his Ph.D. (political science) from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a B.A. (politics) from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two children.

Renita Thukral

Board Secretary

Renita Thukral

In addition to being a partner at Civil Rights Solutions, Renita Thukral serves as the Sr. National Legal Advisor at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In these roles, she leads and grows a national network of charter school attorneys known as “The Alliance of Public Charter School Attorneys” and provides technical assistance and training to charter school operators, authorizers, attorneys, and advocates seeking to improve school-level civil rights policies and practices; addresses fiscal equity and labor issues confronting charter schools; provides litigation and strategic assistance to state partners considering litigation; and supports charter school advocates and operators seeking to improve their regulatory and authorizing environments.

Prior to this work, she served as the Policy Director at the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools and the Director of Policy and Advocacy at New Schools for New Orleans. Renita earned her B.A. from Stanford University and her J.D. from Yale Law School. She taught junior high school math in Los Altos, California, before attending law school, and she served as a public defender for over six years in New York City before joining the charter school community.

Key Partners

Amanda Fenton Headshot
Partner, Capitol Advocacy Partners

Amanda Fenton

Laura Headshot
Partner, Stride Policy Solutions

Laura W. Kaloi

Wendy Brehm
Special Projects & Initiatives Consultant

Wendy Brehm

Erin
Strategy & Program Design Consultant

Erin Larkin-Maguire

Amanda Fenton Headshot

Partner, Capitol Advocacy Partners

Amanda Fenton

Amanda Fenton has 15 years of advocacy experience straddling the California legislature and Washington, DC. She specializes in developing and executing long-term legislative strategies to create and shape funding streams to meet clients’ needs. Accomplishments include securing over $100 million in federal funding and $60 million in state grants for clients, done through the methodological use of every stage of the public funding process to pursue a competitive advantage for clients — from authorizing legislation to appropriations language, all the way down to the issuance of RFPs and the content of grant proposals. During this time, she also achieved meaningful state legislative change to help clients pursue their objectives and realize innovative public-private partnerships.

Amanda has more than 10 years of experience in state and federal charter school policy, which includes the creation and execution of policy and funding advocacy campaigns for national associations and their regional members and affiliates, most recently as an in-house Director of Federal and State Policy for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. As the policy lead, Amanda created the organization’s first federal policy platform, which included legislative, regulatory, and funding priorities. Using this platform, Amanda developed an advocacy strategy marked by success. This includes regulatory efforts that found success in the Biden, Trump, and Obama Administrations, as well as a funding strategy that created a new funding stream to support association interests that is worth up to $16 million annually. She also managed the development and oversaw the execution of a multi-state policy campaign that secured policy reform in 25 state houses over the course of just four years. Amanda is honored to continue working with trailblazers in the charter community, including national equity organizations, associations, and individual charter schools.

Amanda grew up in Alameda, CA, and has lived in Berkeley, Oakland, New York, and Washington, DC. She currently lives in Hyattsville, MD, though she and her family escape to California often to see family and friends. She has a BA in Public Policy from Stanford University.

Laura Headshot

Partner, Stride Policy Solutions

Laura W. Kaloi

As a Partner at Stride Policy Solutions, Laura provides strategic federal policy, advocacy, and partnership-building expertise to the Center for Learner Equity and is a leader in the education, disability, and parent advocacy communities. She interfaces and advocates for policies with the Biden Administration, U.S. Congress, and federal agencies so that every child has an opportunity to learn, thrive, attain an education, and achieve independence. Laura has written extensively on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Before becoming a consultant, Laura led the public affairs teams for nonprofit advocacy organizations, including the New York-based National Center for Learning Disabilities, the Washington, DC-based American Health Quality Association, and Utah/Nevada-based HealthInsight. She worked in the U.S. Congress early in her career as a legislative assistant. Laura holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah and a master’s in public administration from Brigham Young University.

Wendy Brehm

Special Projects & Initiatives Consultant

Wendy Brehm

Wendy Brehm is a Special Projects and Initiatives Consultant for the Center for Learner Equity (CLE). She supports the CLE team with specific projects and on the HR front with training and strategic plan implementation. Wendy brings both lived experience navigating a wide variety of educational environments as a person with a disability and professional experience ranging from project management, legal and compliance oversight, and training facilitation.

Wendy earned a bachelor’s degree in jurisprudence from the University of Baltimore with a minor in Philosophy and a master’s degree in justice, law, and criminology from American University.

When Wendy is not working, she enjoys spending time outdoors at a local farm with her daughter and husband, baking and making candles.

Erin

Strategy & Program Design Consultant

Erin Larkin-Maguire

Erin Larkin-Maguire is a Strategy & Program Design Consultant at the Center for Learner Equity (CLE). At CLE, Erin collaborates with leaders across the organization to set vision, develop strategy, and build the tools necessary to catalyze change at the the school, network and city level. Her current CLE projects include leading partnerships with multiple stakeholders across New Jersey, with a deep focus on Camden, NJ where she is implementing an innovative grant strategy focused on transformative change for students with disabilities and multilingual learners with a cohort of high schools.

Erin has a core belief in inclusion and a deep commitment to impact that is demonstrated in her two decades as an educator and innovator in K-12 and higher education. Prior to becoming a consultant, Erin was the inaugural Dean of Special Education at the Relay Graduate School of Education and ultimately the Senior Dean of Academic Programs, where she launched and scaled cutting-edge teacher and leader preparation programs to ensure that all educators were prepared to meet the needs of students with disabilities and that special education teachers and leaders were truly prepared with specialized skills to accelerate student growth. In her work as a consultant, Erin collaborates with school districts, CMOs, and nonprofits across the country to create the conditions for students with disabilities to thrive. She specializes in helping leadership teams identify and pursue strategic opportunities for change.

Erin received her master’s degree from Hunter College and her bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University. When Erin is not working, she is likely having fun with her three kids, pursuing her second passion of being a real estate investor, planning an RV trip, or building something with her husband as they pretend to be suburban homesteaders.