Co-Founder & Executive Director
Lauren Morando Rhim
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.
Co-Founder & Senior Fellow
Paul T. O’Neill
Paul O’Neill is the Co-founder and Senior Fellow at the Center for Learner Equity. At CLE, Paul focuses on both internally and externally facing work. He engages in program projects, policy priorities, organizational planning and leadership, as well as on representing the organization with external stakeholders. Paul’s recent projects have included developing project work in New Jersey, Florida and New York, drafting op ed pieces on key issues, and leading CLE’s Equity Coalition convenings. Paul comes to this work as a person who has grappled with learning disabilities and ADHD all of this life. He is committed to equity for all students and creating opportunities for all kids to learn.
In addition to his work at CLE, 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-profits, 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 for several years as General Counsel of the SUNY Charter Schools Institute (CSI), one of the nation’s leading charter school authorizing offices. He has also served as a lawyer in private practice, for boutique law firms specializing in education law as well as large corporate law firms, and as an in-house attorney at a large charter school management organization. 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 on the adjunct faculty of 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 his bachelor’s degree Oberlin College, his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law and his 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, and is currently on the board of a pair of charter schools in New York City devoted to serving students with autism. He served for several years as Chair of the Education & Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association, as well as on the Professional Advisory Board of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and on the board of the Learning Disabilities Association of New York City. He likes to take unreasonably long walks and is devoted to pizza.
Wendy Brehm (she/her) is a Project Specialist at the Center for Learner Equity (CLE) where she works cross-functionally to support a wide range of projects. Wendy’s recent and ongoing projects have focused on studying leadership pipeline programs and their impact on cultivating leaders with a strong commitment to students with disabilities and planning the Center’s Equity Coalition. Wendy’s own experiences as an individual with a disability have shaped her commitment to ensuring that students with disabilities can thrive in school while having access to all the resources and support they need.
Prior to joining CLE, Wendy worked in several administrative and project-based roles doing research collection and analysis, database management and contract-writing. She also taught Government and Communications courses to undergraduate students at Career Technical Institute in Washington, D.C.
Wendy holds a bachelor’s degree in jurisprudence with a minor in philosophy from the University of Baltimore and a master’s degree in justice, law and criminology from American University. When Wendy is not working, she enjoys spending time with with her daughter, growing her small candle business, getting outside and crafting.
Local Policy Manager
Jennifer Coco is the Local Policy Manager 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.
Sumeyra Ekin is a Program Specialist at the Center for Learner Equity (CLE), where she supports research and data analysis efforts. Sumeyra’s recent projects focused on informing the field with evidence-based practices, strategies, and school models implemented during the COVID-19 crisis to better support students with disabilities. Sumeyra comes to this work out of a passion for equitable, accessible, and inclusive education.
Prior to joining CLE, Sumeyra had research-based roles where she used both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies to design and implement projects and analyze data. While working for the Fuchs Research Group at Vanderbilt University, Sumeyra worked with elementary school students in Nashville to help improve their reading comprehension skills. She also worked as a high school social studies teacher at a charter school in Houston.
Sumeyra received her bachelor’s degree in International & Global Studies and History from Brandeis University and her master’s degree in Education from Peabody College, Vanderbilt University. When she is not working, Sumeyra enjoys reading, walking, and spending quality time with her friends.
Prior to her work with the Center, Lauren provided training and support in the area of special education and school-based Medicaid billing, as well as state-level student data collection. She has also worked as a project manager for a large district implementation of a special education management system, as a special education liaison and teacher in the School District of Philadelphia, and as a paraprofessional in New Jersey. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Elementary and Special Education from Temple University.
Patrick Martha (he/him) is the Operations Assistant at the Center for Learner Equity (CLE). At CLE, Pat supports our organizational efforts and works to optimize and maintain organizational efficiencies and good business practices. His recent projects have focused on an overhaul of the Operations Department policies and procedures as well as the organization of our upcoming, bi-annual Equity Coalition event. He comes to this work out of a commitment to the enterprise of education and teaching.
Prior to joining CLE, Pat taught for nearly a decade, working in China at the Chengdu Foreign Languages School and most recently at the Storm King School in New York’s Hudson Valley for six years. As both an English and Chinese Language Teacher, Patrick worked across multiple departments and also served as department head for foreign languages. In addition, he also coached the cross country team and worked as the dorm head.
Patrick holds a BA from Dartmouth College, where he majored in English and Religion, as well as a Master’s in Education and teacher certification in English from the Upper Valley Educators Institute. When Pat is not working, he enjoys running, board games, and throwing a frisbee for his dog.
Managing Director of Programs
Megan Ohlssen is the Managing Director of Programs at the Center for Learner Equity (CLE). At CLE, Megan leads the planning, development, and delivery of external services and programs. She manages the development of coalitions and strategic partnerships and leads a team of dedicated professionals. Megan’s recent projects have focused on identifying systemic solutions to improving access and outcomes for students with disabilities, and partnering with stakeholders at the state, district, and school level to design more equitable opportunities for students with disabilities. Megan has over 13 years of experience working to improve the education of students with disabilities. She comes to this work out of a commitment to closing the opportunity gaps and disrupting the status quo in education with a vision of equity and inclusion. She focuses on the multiple identities of students, educators, and leaders to dismantle the silo of special education.
Prior to joining CLE, Megan was a special education teacher and leader in both district and charter schools in Brooklyn. She was also the Director of the NYC Special Education Collaborative where she supported schools in building inclusive educational environments that ensured access and equity for all.
Megan received her bachelor’s degree from Lewis & Clark College, where she studied psychology and sociology. She earned her masters degree in Education and Special Education from Brooklyn College while serving as a member of the NYC Teaching Fellows. When she is not working, Megan enjoys cycling, cooking, and exploring with her wife and almost 2 year old son.
Senior Director of Operations
Bryan Rotach (he/him) is the Senior Director of Operations at the Center for Learner Equity (CLE). At CLE, Bryan is responsible for leading operations in alignment with our vision and mission, ensuring we have strong people and financial policies and an organizational culture which demonstrates our commitment to diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion. His recent projects have focused on equitable hiring practices, establishing operating norms, and integrating operational and financial planning. His passion for this work is guided by commitment to creating environments and systems in which people have the resources, guidance, and support they need to be effective and authentic in their work.
Prior to joining The Center for Learner Equity, he was the Senior Director of Operations Transformation for City Year headquarters, collaborating with stakeholders across the organization to improve outcomes by aligning goals, resource allocation, performance data, and the practices of management and front-line staff. Before joining the national team, Bryan was a leader at City Year Boston, overseeing strategy, financial planning, and key public partnerships which enabled the site to dramatically expand the number of students served, deepen service impact, and improve the experiences of AmeriCorps members.
While a student and staff member at the University of Rochester (Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology, Masters in Business Administration), Bryan was first engaged in the research, program development, and mobilizing activities which shaped his interests and career. When he is not working, Bryan enjoys exploring the nation’s capital and traveling with friends.
Senior Director of Policy
Wendy Tucker is the Senior Director of Policy 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.
Robin Lake is Director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington, and is nationally recognized for her research and analysis of U.S. public school system reforms, including charter schools and charter management organizations, innovation and scale, portfolio school districts, school turnaround efforts, and performance-based accountability systems.
Ms. Lake has authored numerous studies and provided expert technical assistance reports on charter schools. She is the editor of Unique Schools Serving Unique Students: Charter Schools and Children with Special Needs (CRPE, 2010) and editor of the annual report, Hopes, Fears, & Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools. She co-authored, with Paul Hill, Charter Schools and Accountability in Public Education (Brookings 2002).
She has provided invited testimonies to the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee as well as various state legislatures, presents regularly at conferences and summits around the United States, and serves as an advisor to various organizations, including the Journal of School Choice, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and the National Charter School Resource Center.
Board Vice Chair
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 appear in the North Carolina Law Review, Florida Law Review and Journal of Law & Education. His legal scholarship covers a variety of 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 is a frequent commentator in the Louisiana media on education issues. 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. Prior to entering academia he graduated from Duke University Law School where he served as Articles Editor on the Duke Law Journal. After externing for Justice Zimmerman of the Utah Supreme Court, Professor Gardabecame a partner at the Salt Lake City firm of Fabian & Clendenin focusing primarily in the areas of education law, commercial litigation, and employment law.
Cliff Chuang currently 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 also 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 school and career/vocational technical educational quality, and in the way 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 a A.B. in mathematics from Harvard University, and a M.Ed. in Secondary Mathematics Teaching from Boston College.
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”; 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.
Mashea Ashton is the Founder and CEO of Digital Pioneers Academy, a new charter school proposed for Washington, DC in Fall 2018. Mashea recently returned back to the Washington, DC area after spending the last 20 years implementing and scaling the best practices in urban education across the country, after starting her career as a special education teacher in Williamsburg, Va and Washington, DC. Mostly recently, Mashea served as the CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund, where she oversaw a $48 million initiative to support the quality growth of charter schools. Under Mashea’s 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. Mashea has 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 board of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers 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, 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 as an Education Award recipient from Leadership Newark. Mashea is a frequent speaker and panelist for charter school and education reform advocacy organizations around the country. Mashea has a M.Ed. in special education with an emphasis on 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 who are in kindergarten.
Sam Drazin is a former elementary educator and the Founder/Executive Director of Changing Perspectives, a national non profit organization which provides disability awareness programs in schools. Sam consults with schools around 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 by presenting at educational conferences and serves on a number of boards.
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 school districts in California, Colorado, and Florida strengthen their charter authorizing practices. As part of this work he directs the Colorado Association of Charter School Authorizers. 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.
Marcia (Marty) Mittnacht, currently retired, comes to the Board with many years of experience in special education. Marty was with the Massachusetts Department of Education from 1989 to 2016 working in special education throughout. Marty retired with the title of Associate Commissioner for Special Education and all that is implied by the title occurred during her 27 years at the Department: Regulation writing and rewriting; working with charter schools, private schools, vocational schools and special education specific schools; policy and interagency work; grant and funding development activities; and more. Marty also has served on several other Boards: The National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE); The Massachusetts Association of Private Special Education Schools (MAAPS); and the Massachusetts Coalition on the Status of Women (A Cambridge City Board). Marty enjoys policy discussion and believes strongly in equity for underserved populations.
Jon Rosenberg is an experienced social sector leader, education program developer, and civil rights lawyer, who currently serves as President and CEO of the Hebrew Charter School Center. He has previously served as CEO of Repair the World (a service-learning organization), Executive Director of Roads to Success (a career and college readiness program) and ROADS Charter High Schools, and in senior staff roles at Edison Schools Inc., The Children’s Aid Society, and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Jon began his legal career as a public defender at The Legal Aid Society. He is a graduate of Columbia Law School, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Jon lives in Montclair, NJ, with his wife and children. He is an active volunteer in the Montclair School District (where he co-chaired the district’s race/economic integration taskforce), and serves on the board of Ascend Learning (a Brooklyn-based charter school organization). He is a past-chair of the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Education and the Law, and has taught courses on Children and the Law and Education Law at Columbia Law School and Teachers College.