Co-Founder & Executive Director
Lauren Morando Rhim
Morando Rhim is Executive Director and Co-Founder of The Center for Learner Equity. A researcher, consultant, and advocate, she has spent the last 25 years 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.
She provides strategic vision and oversees a variety of research, advocacy, coalition building, and field-based projects for The Center for Learner Equity. Morando Rhim’s recent work includes conducting secondary analyses of the federal Civil Rights Data Collection, leading case studies of charter schools demonstrating exemplary growth for students with disabilities, and creating a national network of charter management organization special education coordinators. 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, Rhim 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.
Rhim 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. A graduate of the University of Vermont, she holds a Masters from The George Washington University and a Ph.D. in Education Policy and Leadership from the University of Maryland.
Co-Founder & Senior Fellow
Paul T. O’Neill
Paul is an education attorney, professor and author with extensive experience in guiding education organizations through challenges and growth. He advises 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. After this public service, he went into private practice in the boutique national education law firm of Brustein & Manasevit. He moved on to hold positions of Senior Vice President, Chief Regulatory Officer, head education lawyer and Senior Fellow for EdisonLearning, the national school management and services organization. Notably, Paul led Edison’s efforts to engage in the post-Katrina revitalization of public schooling in New Orleans. He is a former Associate Director of the Newgrange School and Educational Outreach Center in New Jersey, which serves individuals with learning disabilities, and a former litigator in the New York offices of Dewey Ballantine LLP and Willkie, Farr & Gallagher. 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, including Designing Charter Schools, and Special Education Law & Policy. In 2011, he was honored to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from Teachers College for achievement within 10 years of graduation.
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. His books include the Charter School Law Deskbook (Lexis Nexis Publishers), soon to be in its 3rd Edition, and the No Child Left Behind Compliance Manual (LRP Publications), currently in its 2nd Edition.
Paul is committed to community service; he helped found charter schools in the South Bronx and New Orleans and is currently Chair of a charter school on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. 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. A graduate of Oberlin College, Paul earned his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law and his M.Ed. from Teachers College.
Wendy works cross-functionally at the Center to support a wide range of projects. Prior to joining the Center, 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 is currently completing her master’s degree in justice, law and criminology at American University.
Local Policy Manager
Jennifer is an attorney and advocate passionate about education law and policy and achieving equity for kids. In the course of her career, Jennifer has consistently advocated for systemic 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. She is proud to have achieved systemic change for New Orleans students with disabilities in federal court and through local policy reform and to have served as the first elected Chairwoman of the Louisiana Advisory Council on Student Behavior and Discipline. Jennifer currently serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Children’s Bureau of New Orleans, a local organization that provides community-based mental health services. Jennifer received her law degree from the DePaul University College of Law and her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Sumeyra is a member of the Programs team, where she supports research and data analysis efforts. Prior to joining the Center, 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 teache, which gave her insight into the problems students face, including differing learning strengths aand challenges, family income, and language background. 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.
Laura Jean Gilloux
Laura Jean leads the Center’s operational efforts to ensure smooth business practices and organizational efficiency. Prior to joining The Center for Learner Equity, Laura Jean spent over eight years providing strategic event planning support for annual giving and capital campaign efforts in higher education. She was an integral part of the planning team that launched Dartmouth College’s $3 billion Call to Lead Campaign, its largest fundraising effort to date. LJ has a B.A. in English from the University of Missouri and a Masters of Liberal Arts from Dartmouth College where her studies focused on Creative Writing with an emphasis in Poetry. She is happy to have found a home at The Center for Learner Equity as Operations Manager, supporting colleagues who challenge and inspire her.
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 supports the Center’s organizational efforts and works to optimize and maintain organizational effiencies and good business practices. Prior to joining the Center, 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..
Managing Director of Programs
Megan works to close the opportunity gaps and disrupt the status quo in education. With a vision of equity and inclusion, she focuses on the multiple identities of students and educators to dismantle the silo of special education. Megan was a special education teacher and leader in both district and charter schools in Brooklyn. Prior to joining The Center for Learner Equity team, she was the Director of the NYC Special Education Collaborative where she supported schools in building inclusive educational environments that ensured access and equity for all. As an undergraduate student at Lewis & Clark College she studied psychology and sociology. She then moved to Brooklyn to join the NYC Teaching Fellows where she earned her Masters in Education and Special Education from Brooklyn College.
Senior Director of Policy
Wendy is an attorney, advocate and education policy expert. She has extensive experience 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.
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.