Meet our School Design Lab Fellows

School Design Lab Fellow

Bridges Academy at Melrose

UC Berkeley: BA- Math
University of PA: MA- Folklore & Folklife,
Holy Names University: Multiple Subject Teaching Credential

2016 California Teacher of the Year
2002-2022 National Board Certification, Middle Childhood Generalist


I was fortunate to have had some amazing college professors who inspired me to go into education. My current views, however, were largely shaped by my work as a math specialist for Project SEED, a national, non-profit math organization that brings higher level math into Title I elementary schools. Through my work and training with Project SEED, I saw daily how high expectations, engaging curriculum, and pedagogy played a huge role in developing critical thinking skills in all students. Using the Socratic method, we engaged students in discussion about how to solve math problems, and it was exciting to see second graders graphing linear equations.

It makes me proud to know that I’ve made a difference in my students’ lives. I hear directly from my former students often. One student wrote me a note when he was in high school saying I was the best math teacher he had ever had. The fact that as a high school student he remembered what it was like to engage in math discussion in fifth grade was incredible. Another former student said, “I swear without this woman I would not be who I am today. She has a beautiful heart, mind, and soul.” I’m humbled to know what a positive impact I’ve had on their lives. This inspires me to stay in the classroom full time.

There’s so much to be hopeful about education in Oakland. I work with many amazing colleagues at my school site and in the district. Oakland has very creative, thoughtful, intelligent, and dedicated educators. Another thing that makes me hopeful about public education in Oakland is seeing how excited students get about learning. I’m proud that my students have been able to go on to college. Having former students come back and tell me about their college experiences is inspiring and gives me hope that we can make things even better.

I love all parts of my work in education. I have been a master/cooperating teacher to several dozen student teachers from multiple local universities. And I get to work with amazing students every day. Seeing them engage with each other in their learning inspires me to keep learning and getting better––that’s the least they deserve.

School Design Lab Fellow

Bridges Academy at Melrose

Holy Names University: BA- Psychology
San Francisco State University: Multiple Subject Teaching Credential with Bilingual Emphasis (Spanish)
UC Berkeley: MA- Urban School Leadership- Administrator’s Credential


From an early age I was drawn to being around children. I would often visit my mom at Franklin Elementary School where she worked for many years. Later, when I came back from volunteering in Venezuela, she suggested that I become a substitute teacher in OUSD until I figured out what I wanted to do. My first long-term subbing job was so hard, I cried every day. “No one is listening to me”, I kept thinking of my second graders. My mom told me it would get easier. Over time it did, and I came to love my job––now 20 years in as an educator in OUSD.

I entered the Oakland public schools as a newly arrived immigrant. During the difficult transition, I remember taking a vow to myself that I would help other immigrant children adapt to a new and foreign culture. Being at Bridges helps me do just that. One-third of students are in the Sheltered English Immersion track and two-thirds in the early exit Spanish bilingual program, transitioning into English in 3rd grade. 90% are Latino, 5% African American, and 5% other (including Yemeni and Asian). 80% are English Learners. 20% are newcomers (in the US less than three years).

My career has been influenced by Moyra Contreras’ vision of social justice, service related learning, and integrated curriculum per an Expeditionary Learning framework that I learned from Melrose Leadership Academy. I have also been influenced by racial justice-oriented educational training programs at SFSU and UCB’s PLI program. My experiences working in partnerships with organizations such as BASRC (Bay Area School Reform Collaborative), Partners in School Innovation and the National Equity Project have also shaped my thinking around teacher development and collaboration as essential parts of school reform.

I love hearing how my past students are doing. I now educate children of my past students and it makes me feel like a proud grand teacher. I have given many children the gift of reading––taking them from not knowing how to read to reading fluently. Hearing about a student who has made it through college makes me proud and reminds me that all the work I do is worth it. But I am at my happiest when I hear about a student who looks and sounds happy in their lives as adults.

School Design Lab Fellow

Bio Coming Soon!

School Design Lab Fellow

Roosevelt Middle School- Principal

UC Berkeley: BA- Political Science and Legal Studies
Pace University: MST- Teaching
UC Berkeley: MA- Educational Leadership


One of the biggest inspirations for me getting into education was my mother. She always modeled for me a love of learning and a curiosity for life. When she immigrated to the United States and worked to build a life here, she began as an outsider. She worked hard and now has become a person familiar with how the system works. She always taught me to respect all people, no matter who they were, and that is a lesson I carry with me to this day.

My mom and dad ran several small businesses since coming to the Unites States. During the eighties, there was a recession that caused us to fall on hard times. I saw my parents stressed out but continually problem solve. These times help me be committed to building an educational system that gives people opportunities to provide for themselves and their families and live a fulfilled life.

I am now in my 7th year as Principal of Roosevelt. We are a community school, meaning we seek to provide a high quality, walkable school for all residents in the neighborhood. Our mission is to empower all students to be creative community leaders. To that end, we have been engaged in developing an innovative school model that focuses on personalized learning, educating the whole child, and ensuring real-world application.

I spend a lot of time thinking about politics and the human experience. What are we doing collectively to create positive environments where all students can succeed? I am always looking for evidence that students and staff are enjoying working and learning at Roosevelt–that we are all having a positive experience. I am proud to work with a team of professionals at Roosevelt who are innovative and creative. It took hard work to navigate the system––pull together all of these folks, and create communication systems and decision-making processes. It’s not perfect yet, but we are getting there.

School Design Lab Fellow

Oakland Unity Middle School

Masters in Education
Teaching and Admin Credential


The first education class that I took in college was taught by a professor named Andrew Garrod.  In that class I read a book that I point to as having shaped my path as an educator: Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities. This book jarred my world more than any I had read before. The injustices that seethed from the pages made me so angry––and shameful that I had not known about them before. I had to confront my own ignorance and privilege about how “the other half lives” for the first time in my life.

After putting down that book, I thought, “Well, now I know, and I can’t un-know any of these things. And I have to do something about them.” My path towards classroom teaching emerged from that experience. I think often about what it means to be a white educator of children of color. Working in Oakland forces me to reflect on the limitations of my privilege––which seems only fair given how much of my outside life does not bring me to that uncomfortable place.

I am in education because of the students. I love our kids––they make me laugh and they make me cry. When I’m working with a student, I want to know that I left it all out on the floor. I think back to times earlier in my career where I “lost” kids because I didn’t have the knowledge, skill, or understanding to give them what they needed. It’s the haunting memory of the lost ones that makes me want to do better and be better.

I’m most proud of my years as an English teacher and advisor. My former students will often say, “You were tough on me, but you loved me.” I worked hard every day for my kids and I expected their best in return. My students and I regularly achieved mutual respect by coming together and working towards something greater. There are a lot of hardworking people doing this work in Oakland and there is an atmosphere of innovation that is inspiring. People are not just trying to do the same old things and hoping for a different outcome. We’re finding a way to do right by the kids and their families.

School Design Lab Fellow

DSX (Design School X)

California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland: BFA- Jewelry/Metalsmithing
Mills College: MA- Educational Leadership
Stanford d.school: Edu-Fellow


I have been a designer and builder all my life, from BMX launch ramps to curriculum and schools. Building, thinking and doing creatively allowed me to survive school. I am indebted to my late father, Tony, and amazing mother, Susan, for modeling teaching and leadership in education for over 40 years and for allowing me the opportunity to find agency and purpose through being able to make anything, be and act creatively, and check my own learned biases to allow equity and social justice to grow in me.

Two people have inspired my work in education. In second grade, Denise, the one Black girl in my grade, told me her parents were pulling her out of our school because it wasn’t safe for her. This has stuck with me my whole life and is what primarily drives me to do the work I do. Many years later, Giselle, a colleague of color, asked me with pain in her heart, “David, when are you going to get your [White] people to get their shit together? What are you going to do about it?” The more I do this work, the less I can stand by and let systemic inequity like this persist. DSX is the result of this rage, love, and optimism.

I love using my power, privilege and my particular skill sets and values to bring out the awesome in people––students, educators, families. I keep doing it because it’s infectious, and sharing liberates me from the very system that has both privileged me and oppressed me. I am also deeply indebted to all the amazing and shaming teachers I’ve had throughout my learning journey. They have modeled to me what is great and harmful within the roles of teaching and leading.

DSX will educate legacy privilege and historically marginalized high school students residing under the beautiful cultural canopy of Oakland. Our focus will be on the rising demand for creative, cultural, and emotional literacies. I believe students and graduates possessing these literacies will liberate our humanity. There have been many obstacles in creating DSX, but the persistence has been worth it. We are building a new high school model that aims to inspire humanity for the rigors of the real world.

School Design Lab Fellow

Aurum Preparatory Academy

Morehouse College: BA
Building Excellent Schools Fellow


My parents were particularly influential in my decision to go into education. They had an impact on me because I saw the sacrifices they made so that I could actually go to college. I witnessed the late hours they worked to ensure that I could attend school in a better part of town. I also appreciated how my parents advocated for me. In high school, I was placed on the technical track. I distinctly remember my mother taking me to the principal’s office and pushing for me to be on the college prep track. I have the great fortune of being the first person in my family to graduate from college. If it were not for my parents’ effort, I would not be doing the work I am today.

Another big influence on me was reading the Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois. This book transformed and shaped my views on education. Even though it was written over 100 years ago, many of the racial issues that DuBois spoke about are still prevalent today. As the lead founder for Aurum Preparatory Academy, I am building a school that will provide a similar foundation to the one my parents gave me, and address the racial disparities in our society, so my students can to go to college and be successful.

Throughout my career in education, I am proud of the work I did as a teacher. At the high school where I worked there were very low expectations for our students. For example, the highest passage rate on the US History End of Course test for our students was 49%– meaning that less than half of all of our students had ever passed the test. I was able to assist 96% of our students pass this exam. Moreover, for the first time in our school’s history, I was able to assist two of my students in becoming Gates Millennium Scholars.

I love it when I see people accomplish something that they could not beforehand– as a result of the hard work they put in. The parents and families I’ve met make me very hopeful. It’s obvious they care as deeply for their children as my parents did for me. Their love is what inspires me; I believe love doesn’t fail.

School Design Lab Fellow

Thrival Academy: Oakland

Johns Hopkins University: BA- Public Health Studies
Arcadia University: MEd- Secondary Science Education
Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health: MPH


I have been an educator and an explorer my entire professional life. From Philadelphia to DC to Baltimore, Peru to Bangladesh to Rwanda to Kenya, I’ve allowed my desire to learn through others’ perspectives and experiences to guide me, teach me humility, and help me grow. The humility in particular has taught me to see my role in the world as someone who can leverage my privilege, power, and skills in working toward equity through a dedication to public education.

My father is a teacher so I have always admired the work of education and seen it as an effort that is worthy and important – and difficult! I started teaching in Philadelphia and my first year there taught me the critical lesson that my well-meaning idealism was not sufficient and in may ways was deeply unfair because it didn’t seek to truly understand the experiences of my students. I assumed I knew what their struggles were and therefore knew solutions. However, what I learned quickly from my students was that if I wanted to make any sort of impact I needed to listen openly and seek to understand my own biases. Following my teaching experience in Philadelphia, I moved abroad to work in Bangladesh. Here, the same lessons and values followed me: to listen openly, to leave assumptions behind, to acknowledge my biases, and to shift perspectives with empathy and care. Since then, throughout my professional life I have alternated between working in schools here in the US and pursuing my own curiosity and exploration to work abroad. Thrival World Academies is the merger of these two passions and their connected set of values and beliefs.

Thrival was founded on the belief that global education is central to what it means to be an educated person in the 21st century, and that it needs to be accessible to all students, regardless of race or socioeconomic background. This school model is radically new and is truly the product of partnerships and collaboration. Without all of the stakeholders – like Educate78 – that have supported this effort it would not be possible to have launched our first pilot year here in partnership with OUSD. Today, we have our first cohort of global scholars studying abroad in Thailand and we continue to learn and refine our school every day.

The students of Oakland and their families inspire me to push forward, work hard, be humble, and always seek to improve. My students remind me to be hopeful on a daily basis. I see in them future leaders––at the local, national, and global levels. In the midst of the fear, hate, and misunderstanding that has been amplified recently, my global scholars at Thrival remind me that there exists tremendous hope and power in the next generation.

 

 

School Design Lab Fellow

Bio Coming Soon!

School Design Lab Fellow

REP Academy

Laney College: AA
San Francisco State University: BA
Vesalius College, Brussels: Study Abroad Certificate


My background is in community organizing, and I bring that skill set to the world of education. I bring people together with purpose, creativity, and a high level of integrity. I organize community groups, educators, students, and working professionals who realize that reimagining educational practices in Oakland is urgently needed to confront the issues we face today and in the future. As a father of a little girl attending school in Oakland, I am driven by my desire to provide her a vastly better experience.

I’m a product of the Oakland Unified School District. I don’t need another person’s truth or much imagination to know the life of Oakland students. My experience––and the experiences of my friends, family members, and former classmates––are etched into my core. I know the pain of a child subjected to an overworked and poorly resourced teacher. I’ve seen greatness rot on the vine because the system wasn’t set up to recognize genius in poor, black and brown children. I’ve seen ‘dreams deferred’ by the nihilism created by a stagnate education system. Regrettably, these realities are still true today. I’m working to change that.

REP Academy is wholeheartedly challenging the status quo, attempting to bend the system around the needs of the children. We’re constantly inspired to ‘Think, Make, Change’. We are dreaming big things for Oakland students, and we will encourage our students to dream big things for Oakland. The system tries to force us to accept conditions as unavoidable consequences, but my team believes that the advancement of education requires a constant push on the edges––a forced expansion of what’s possible.

Today there is an opportunity for Oakland education to evolve––and not just for a few students in a few affluent areas in Oakland. I have no greater joy than empowering my daughter with confidence, critical thinking skills, and the creativity to dream big. Earlier this year she got the notion to become a published author. She has come up with a very unique idea for a children’s book, and together we’ve researched, planned, wrote, designed, and formatted over 50 pages of story and illustrations for her book. It’s called “The Princess Escape,” and will be self-published in February 2017.

School Design Lab Fellow

Oakland SOL & Multilingual Coordinator for OUSD

UC Santa Cruz: BA- Language Studies
CSU East Bay: MA- Educational Leadership
Harvard University: EdLD- Educational Leadership, Teaching & Administrative credentials, BCLAD authorization


I did not go into education on purpose. I became a substitute teacher in 1995 because I thought it would be a good job while I found my real job. The first position I took was a 30-day first grade assignment at Manzanita Elementary School––with half of the students in a bilingual program. I knew that the first grade students would have a revolving door of substitutes if I didn’t stay on for the year, so I got into an emergency credential program and I stayed. For eight years. I then had the opportunity to lead a design team to redesign the school and open one of two new schools on the campus. So I did. Then we opened Manzanita SEED in 2005 and I was principal for eight years.

When I was in my second, or maybe third year, at Manzanita, I was teaching a bilingual kindergarten class. Others were in ‘sheltered classes’ for non-Spanish speaking English Learners, and other students in English Only classes. The bilingual classes were Latino, the sheltered classes mostly Asian, and the EO classes mostly African American. One day one of the African American students said, “Why are all of the Mexicans lining up over there?” I am a strong believer in bilingual education, but that was a moment when I realized that it was segregating students, which was unacceptable.

This led me to the work I’m doing now––creating PreK-12 pathways in OUSD that support multilingualism. I am currently the Multilingual Coordinator for OUSD, and I’m leading the design for the New Dual Language Middle School, which is a key part of this emerging dual language pathway. I am motivated by this work––supporting more adult learning, and developing the capacity of others––and it is exciting to see everything come together.

It has also been invigorating to actually write the school proposal and put our vision on paper. I’m very interested in K–12 trajectories, and am working hard to create a strong curricular thread for all students as they make their way through OUSD. There are so many people who care about public education––especially the community organizations that support our work––and this makes me hopeful for the future of public education in Oakland.

School Design Lab Fellow

Santa Fe Community School

Executive Director at Arts for Oakland Kids (AOK)
BA- Performing Arts
Masters in Education
Secondary Single Subject Teaching Credentials- English and Social Science


My ventures into education have largely been influenced by my mom’s 40+ year career as a nurse. I always knew the real impact she was making went beyond treating patients. She built community amongst fellow nurses, and she challenged leadership to ensure her nursing staff had the support they needed. Like nursing, teaching isn’t a glamorous job, but when it’s done right, it means the world to those you are serving. I love being involved in education because of the direct impact and because I get to lead through helping.

Before I went into arts administration, I had a brief stint as an 8th grade Humanities teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. An experience I’ll never forget was watching my colleague, Mya Thorniley, teach a unit on nonviolent resistance. Using historical footage from the Civil Rights era, Mya helped students understand the idea that if you’re only trying to prove who is more powerful, then yes, you hit back, and your enemies stay your enemies. But if what you’re really trying to do is change minds, then you not only have to expose your enemies’ weaknesses, but also give them the capacity to change.

I think about this lesson constantly. I am reminded of its power, and am driven by its core message. I see education as the opportunity to make change through both big powerful movements and small powerful moments. We have a lot of people trying to make public education in Oakland work better. Not everyone agrees, and it’s a messy process for sure, but there’s no shortage of good intentions, and people are driven by a community spirit.

It is this community spirit that we’ve built at Santa Fe that I’m most proud of. Everyone is positive, hopeful, and compassionate––and they motivate me to keep this movement going. We’ve made a difference in people’s’ lives by giving them hope in the future, and by building bridges between groups within our community. We’re creating a platform on which people are coming together and pushing for common goals.

School Design Lab Fellow

Melrose Leadership Academy

BA- Latin American Studies, minor in education with an emphasis in multicultural education,
California State University, Hayward: MS


Going into education was an accident. I did not apply for a teaching position after receiving my credential. Somehow a principal got my number, called me at home, and asked me to apply, and then hired me. My first teaching assignment was in Seattle at an affluent white school, as the district was beginning busing students from the central area for de-segregation. Once the students arrived at the school, they were placed together in a combination 1/2 classroom. It was only December and I was already their fourth teacher of the school year. And, I was the only teacher of color.

Despite these odds and less-than-ideal circumstances, I fell in love with teaching. I felt a great responsibility to protect my students and their families from the hostile and alienating environment of the school. Later, these experiences led me to be a founding Advisory Board member for Teaching Tolerance––a national magazine published by the Southern Poverty Law Center focused on diversity, equity, and justice.

I know what it’s like to feel alienated. When I came to the United States at age 6 from Santiago, Chile, I did not speak English and no one at my school spoke Spanish. This experience was very painful and resulted in me quickly losing the ability to speak Spanish. I do not believe that anyone should lose their language and connection to their culture as a result of their education. Children should be able to build on who they are and what they bring to the school. I am proud of my work with the community to create a TK–8 dual language, public Expeditionary Learning School where we respect what each child brings and we work for a more just world.

As the founding principal of Melrose Leadership Academy in 2001, I have had the honor and privilege of working with families, staff, and students who treat each other with respect. Oakland is an incredible city. The diversity, innovation, and passion for making our world a better place to live gives me hope.

School Design Lab Fellow

Ripple Academy

University of Maryland, College Park: BA- Communications
University of Notre Dame: Masters- Educational Leadership


I was an elementary student in Washington DC in the early–mid-80s, during the height of the crack epidemic. The DC public schools were in disrepair, and my parents––despite being recent immigrants––sought a better education for my brother and me. They used a Silver Spring, MD address to enroll us at Woodland Elementary in Montgomery County, MD. Each morning for two years, my brother and I ducked in the back of my father’s cab as we crossed over the DC border into Maryland. The notion of stealing an education is indelibly imprinted in my mind, but no one should have to “steal” an education––everyone should be entitled to access an excellent education. I work for access and excellence, so that families don’t have to scheme for a good education.

Much of my classroom persona as a teacher is patterned after Mrs. Marilyn Fivozinsky, my 8th Grade math teacher. I will forever be grateful to her for believing in my ability to reach academic heights that I didn’t realize were possible for myself. She supported me throughout a summer enrichment program that helped me transition into the honors track at my middle school, altering my High School course of study. Mrs. Fivo, as we called her, made learning fun and showed compassion to all students. She taught me the incredible impact a teacher could have on students.

I firmly believe that learning is maximized when students are actively engaged in the process. Each day provides me another opportunity to champion for the students entrusted to my care. I am grateful for the opportunity to partner with our entire community to support students, teachers, parents and staff as they strive to be the best versions of themselves. This commitment to continual improvement, a shared growth mindset drives me each day. I am driven to be better so as to better serve and support the stakeholders in our community.

Aristotle once said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” The students at the heart of our work represent the future of Oakland, and it is paramount that we provide them an education that forms their minds to be critical thinkers and their hearts to be socially aware and responsive citizens. These new approaches to holistic formation have me excited and hopeful for a bright future for Oakland.

 

School Design Lab Fellow

Roosevelt Middle School

University of Puget Sound: BS- Exercise Science
UC Berkeley: MPH- Master in Public Health
High Tech High Graduate School of Education: MEd in School Leadership


In elementary school, my sister and I rode the bus across town from our middle class, suburban neighborhood to a school downtown that was attended by students from different neighborhoods in our city. Going to a school outside of my immediate community significantly influenced my interest in creating and supporting diverse educational environments where students from different backgrounds can learn from each other.

As a graduate student in the field of Public Health, I became very interested in understanding health disparities experienced by underserved populations. This led me to work on a public health research project in Richmond, CA that aimed to engage middle school students in social action projects. I saw that when youth learned organizing skills and created change in their community at a relatively young age, they became empowered to make changes that could lead to improved health outcomes in the long term. Experiences like this within the realm of public health inspired me to work in schools to help young people gain skills to shape their own future.

Oakland’s unique population makes me most hopeful about public education. I look forward to interacting with a diverse group of students every day. The fact that our students have the opportunity to learn from a heterogeneous group of peers is a great asset that they will build on for the rest of their lives. I am hopeful that we will find new ways to increase integration within our schools to amplify this asset. It is very exciting to explore new ideas and work with our community to think about how we might best support our students today and in the future.

In my current role at Roosevelt I get to think a lot about change––what we should implement to best support the development of our students, teachers, and staff. Having the daily opportunity to learn new things from our students and support them in navigating their academic and social environment pushes me to do my best. I’m most proud of my ability to be reliable and lead by example for students and co-workers. By being consistent in my role, I hope that I can help others fulfill their responsibilities and, ultimately, support them in doing their best and most inspired work.

 

School Design Lab Fellow

Bio Coming Soon!

School Design Lab Fellow

Bio Coming Soon!

Meet our School Design Lab Coaches

School Design Lab Coach

Who I Coach: Santa Fe Community Action Network Coach

Syracuse University: BA- Education Policy
Harvard: EdM- School Leadership


I had a strong sense of justice instilled in me from an early age. My grandfather was the publisher of a local newspaper in eastern Tennessee. I grew up reading his stories and editorials about supporting my mom’s high school to become one of the first schools in the nation to be integrated. As a result of this conflict, my mom’s high school was bombed, and my grandfather’s house was also targeted by the KKK. Every time we visited him, I would imagine the hole the dynamite blew in his front yard. I see my work today as an extension of these family values in support of educational opportunity and equity.

Another major event that influenced my commitment to education was the Rodney King riots in the spring of 1992. The prior fall I had the opportunity to take a course called Race and Ethnicity in the US. This class gave me intellectual and academic language to understand issues of systemic oppression and power and privilege that I had observed growing up. The injustice of the King verdict and the resultant demonstration of frustration through the riots rocked me. With a new language to understand these issues, I came to believe in education as the long term strategy to shift the reality of racial inequality in our world.

Other experiences have shaped my vision for the future of public education in Oakland. Whether it’s deepening my capacity for cross cultural practice by serving as Peace corps volunteer in Kazakhstan, or launching Coliseum College Prep Academy and seeing it grow to be one of the leading high schools in the city, there is a lot to be hopeful for in this city. The incredible talent and energy of the educators in Oakland who are committed to improving outcomes for students is palpable.

In my work now, my goal is to develop best practice school designs with a strong emphasis on a human capital plan to implement them. I believe we have to push the envelope on what is possible in education and fight for students who have been historically underserved. The students and families I have worked with over the years continue to drive me to do better and improve on what I’ve been able to do for them.

School Design Lab Coach

Bio Coming Soon!

School Design Lab Coach

Who I Coach:

  • Hoover Elementary
  • Unity Middle Coach

BA English
MA – Administration, Ed Policy, & Teaching


My mom taught high school math for 30 years. Growing up, I watched her work relentlessly to help all kids learn, and she never complained about her students or her job. But one time she saw a pink t-shirt at a local store that said “girls don’t do math,” and she flipped out at the store owner. At that moment I realized the depth of my mom’s passion for math and education, particularly for young women. I admire her humility, work ethic, and commitment that pink t-shirt brought out.

If my mom’s passion for teaching influenced my decision to become a teacher, there was one student who exemplifies why I’m still in education: Romelle. On the first day of school, Romelle looked me up and down and stated all the reasons why she hated me, ninth grade, and the English class I was teaching. She had been kicked out of several other schools, but she was capable of so much more than what society demanded of her. Romelle was angry. And brilliant. And bored. Deeply bored.

She was bored with the system that made her sit and listen without giving her a voice. Bored with the assignments that were too easy. And bored by a teacher who did not know how to teach. It took me months to build a relationship, but I finally got the best of her when I gave her a birthday card, and watched with surprise as she smiled while reading it. She loved to read and write. She devoured The Bluest Eye and Hamlet; she poured her heart into her daily journal; and she led the class on fiery discussions about race, gender, privilege, trauma, and families. Last year, she graduated from college. Next step: law school.

In all my various roles in education, I’ve been motivated to do my best by all the people I get to work with. I love going to schools and observing dedicated and hard-working educators in action. I feel inspired by all of the teachers, principals, and leaders who are transforming the educational experiences for our young people. The strength, tenacity, and compassion of our community in empowering. We have so many incredible schools and educators here, and when we’re united, we’re unstoppable.

School Design Lab Coach

Who I Coach:

  • Aurum Preparatory Academy
  • Oakland SOL Coach

Wesleyan University: BA
Bread Loaf School of English: MA- English
Harvard University: Ed.M- Educational Administration
Harvard University:  Ed.L.D.- Education Leadership


My father was the person who most influenced my career choice. He helped inculcate in me a desire to make a difference in the world and I thought education was one of the best ways to do this. My work is all about people––I love building relationships and I am passionate about helping to improve the experiences and outcomes for children, particularly those who have been the least well served traditionally.

This commitment to finding a way to improve the world and work towards social justice began at an early age. A formative experience for me was the contrast between my middle school at a progressive, mixed-age, project-based learning school that had interdisciplinary thematic year-long areas of study, and my experience at a traditional public high school. To this day, I remember more of what I learned in middle school than in high school. For all of sixth grade, we studied African American history with the first African American teacher that I had ever had. These disparate experiences shaped my perspective as I began my career in education.

Because I knew there were better alternatives to the high school experience that I had, my career focus has been on secondary schools. As a teacher, I taught mostly high school and college English, as well as some art classes over the years. My current role is the Director of Strategic Projects and Innovation for Pivot Learning where I primarily work with districts and schools to rethink their secondary schools. I am also designing an apprenticeship-based higher education model.

I’m most proud of my leadership role in the small schools movement. I have helped many small schools open across the country, including the two that I led as founding principal––Life Academy and ARISE High School, both in Oakland. I am also the co-author of the book Small Schools Big Ideas: The Essential Guide to Successful School Transformation. There is a great history of community-focused small schools here in Oakland, and there are a lot of great and committed people pushing the movement forward.

School Design Lab Coach

Who I Coach:

  • Oakland SOL
  • REP
  • Melrose Leadership Academy

Yale University: BA- Psychology
Brown University: MA- Teaching
High Tech High Graduate School of Education: Master of Education- School leadership


As a student, one of my most formative experiences was the first day of seventh grade creative writing camp. Five minutes after class was supposed to begin, the door slammed open, and a roll of toilet paper came hurtling through the air, nearly smacking me in the head. A tall woman ran into the room, tore her sandal off her foot, banged it against the chalkboard, and said, “Write down everything that you just saw.” We discovered that there are infinite ways to capture the same event in writing––that the same facts can take on fresh significance when reported by a different voice. This lesson altered the way I looked at writing, and it got me excited about the struggle of finding my own unique words to make sense of the world.

I chose a career in education because I am fascinated with learning experiences like this one, experiences that piqued my curiosity and made me eager to learn more. I am intrigued by the process whereby people come to see learning as a natural part of their lives, challenging themselves without having to be challenged by outside pressures. I am intensely curious about how to provide students with experiences that will lead them to become self-motivated lifelong learners.

Rob Riordan, one of the founders of High Tech High, influenced my views on education. He taught me the importance of leveraging students’ experiences as our texts, and of creating a shared sense of purpose among the learners in a community. He taught me to examine power dynamics in a classroom and to decipher ways of shifting control to heighten student ownership and honor student thinking. Now, whenever I walk into a classroom, the lenses I use to examine what’s happening are: Purpose, Engagement, Voice & Choice, and Who’s in the Game?

I strive to see the best in the people I work with, shining a light on strengths we can build on, and brainstorming together to create powerful, transformative experiences for kids. I also believe my life’s work is about creating joyful communities of collaboration where individuals feel a deep sense of belonging, and where they are inspired to stretch and grow. It’s an honor to work with so many creative, resilient, and dedicated people who are dreaming big and who share a passionate pursuit of equity.

 

School Design Lab Coach

Bio Coming Soon!

School Design Lab Coach

Bio Coming Soon!

School Design Lab Coach

Bio Coming Soon!

School Design Lab Coach

Who I Coach: Mariah Landers

BA, Sociology
MSW, Community Organizing Planning and Administration
MEd,  Educational Leadership


I was always in the lowest track in elementary school, and I never felt smart. In ninth grade, I worked hard to do well and had friendly competition with friends and our grades. In eleventh grade my chemistry teacher got on his knees in front of me and literally begged me to understand. The message I learned in that moment was that I was not supposed to ask questions and I could not show that I was confused. I stopped learning chemistry and stopped being curious about things. The impression in my mind was that I was dumb and that it was on me to figure things out, not on the teacher to alter what he was doing so I could learn.

It is this experience of how not to teach that motivated me to get into education and make a difference. I have kept this incident firmly in mind during my teaching roles as a middle school humanities teacher in New Orleans with TFA and then in Oakland with Aspire. Also at Aspire––as a New Leaders Fellow, a founding principal, and the superintendent for the Bay Area––it is always the young people and their families that have inspired my work in education and in school leadership.

Currently, I am working on starting up a school leadership development program in Washington DC. What really fills my cup is being in schools on learning walks, school inspections, and rounds, and working to figure out how to strengthen practice and coaching principals for the school leaders in their work around instructional and adult leadership.

I am driven by my passion for justice in our country and how we can make individual contributions to change in our local context. I believe we each have a critical role to play, and that anything is possible in Oakland––a city full of innovation and creativity. There is so much good and there are many opportunities to problem solve. Oakland’s young people are the ones who get to do that work going forward and I am so excited that there are folks who want to support that charge.