2007 Cohort | Urban Education Leaders Program | Organization and LeadershipSkip to content Skip to main navigation
Urban Education Leaders Program
Department of Organization and Leadership
Linda Chen - Born and raised in Seattle and a product of the Seattle Public Schools, Linda completed a B.S. in Psychology and the teacher certification program at the University of Washington. She taught at Seattle’s Hawthorne Elementary School. She then moved to New York to teach at P.S. 165 in Manhattan and to complete her M.A. in Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, focusing on elementary literacy. She continued her career as as a staff developer with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, and then returned to New York City schools as a regional instructional specialist in literacy for Region 3 in Queens.
Missing the direct connection with children and the ability to impact substantive change in a school community with teachers and parents, Linda became and is currently the principal of P.S. 165 in Manhattan. She is also co-author of Balanced Literacy for English Language Learners, K-2, and is primarily dedicated to providing access and opportunities for students of color and English language learners.
“I am thrilled to return to Teachers College to be part of this cohort in the newly designed Urban Education Leaders Program,” says Linda. “I hope through this program to be able to impact change that will equip leaders to improve educational opportunities for teachers and students in urban school districts. My interests are primarily in the areas of equity and instructional leadership. I look forward to our work together in the next few years!"
Karren Dunkley came to the United States from the island of Jamaica, where she graduated from St. John’s University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science, secondary education, and international law and diplomacy. While pursuing these studies she won a fellowship from the Organization of American States and an Outstanding Graduate Student Grant. She served as an instructor of core courses at St. John’s in the departments of government and politics and education. Karren also received a master’s degree from Teachers College, Columbia University. She currently serves as internship coordinator for the Summer Principals Academy at Teachers College.
Karren is the co-founder and executive director of Uhuru Incorporated, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the emotional and educational empowerment of children in developing countries. To this end her organization has sponsored numerous scholarships to provide educational and physical support to needy and at-risk students. Her scholarly interests include educational equity, social justice, and curriculum development.
Francisco Duran - Born and raised in New Mexico, Francisco began his career in the Albuquerque Public Schools while earning his bachelor's degree in education from the University of New Mexico and went on to earn a master's degree in Educational Administration from San Francisco State University. Francisco has a diverse background of over eighteen years in education, beginning as a special education paraprofessional, teaching Spanish, social studies, language arts and serving as an activities director, athletics director, assistant principal, and principal. For the past four years he has been an Assistant Superintendent with The School District of Philadelphia, and currently supervises forty-four schools with a student population of approximately 24,000 students. As an educational leader, Mr. Durán has worked passionately to ensure that all students receive a quality education that will equip them with the skills needed for post-secondary education and employment in today’s ever-changing world. Influenced to become an educator as a result of being impacted by a teacher who saw the talents in him, he was inspired to always challenge others to do their best. As the first in his family to graduate from college, Mr. Durán knows far too well that education is the key to open the door for possibilities and he continues on in a quest of ensuring that more and more students, teachers, and staff have those same opportunities that were afforded to him. Mr. Durán is a dedicated, successful, and talented leader who has received a Certificate of Honor and Recognition for Educational Service from the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco and a Distinguished Educator Award from Phi Delta Kappa International, University of Pennsylvania Chapter."
Bernard Gassaway - Born in Macon, Georgia, Bernard and his family moved to New York City when he was a young child. He graduated from the New York City public schools and LeMoyne College in Syracuse, New York, where he was president of the Minority Cultural Society. He earned his first master’s degree from the State University of New York at Albany in public administration.
Bernard taught at P.S. 40 in Jamaica, New York, Boys and Girls High School (English and computer literacy), and Intermediate School 59 in Springfield Gardens. While there he completed his second master’s degree in education administration at Baruch College, then became an assistant principal at Junior High School 192, St. Albans, and then assistant principal of pupil personnel services at Far Rockaway High School.
Bernard was the first African-American principal at Beach Channel High School, where he received the New York State Title I Distinguished Educator Award. In 2001, the borough president’s African-American Advisory Council named him Queens Educator of the Year.
After five years as principal, he became Director of New School Initiatives for the Alternative Schools Superintendency. In 2003 he was appointed Senior Superintendent for Alternative Schools and Programs for the New York City Department of Education and a Revson Fellow at Columbia University.
“I remain committed to challenging an educational system that was designed to undereducate its participants, particularly children of color,” says Bernard. He is currently chairman of a not-for-profit organization committed to improving the lives of youth, families, and communities. He is also the author of Reflections of an Urban High School Principal, an educational consultant, and the proud father of a homeschooler, Atiya.
Monica George-Fields is the principal of New York’s P.S. 153, the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Elementary School. The school is in the heart of West Harlem, where Monica herself grew up, and faces many challenges. When she arrrived at P.S. 153 in 2002, she was the fifth principal there in five years. Since then she has provided a sorely needed sense of continuity to the school community.
Monica began her career in Manhattan’s District Five as an elementary school teacher, and later became a math coordinator. She holds a master’s degree in reading from City College and is a graduate of the educational leadership program at Bank Street College of Education. She has also worked at the district level as a curriculum congruency coordinator and an attendance improvement and dropout prevention coordinator.
Among her accomplishments at P.S. 153 was the creation of an innovative professional development program aimed at retaining new teachers, a project carried out in partnership with Dave Barger, the president of JetBlue Airways. “My goal is to create a school second to none in Harlem,” says Monica. “Every day I strive to encourage my staff to provide a solid academic, social, and emotional experience for the children.”
Michael Selkis' roles as a father, a husband, and an educator have shaped his path thus far, he says. “I consider myself an educator first, as that role is innately linked to my most profound responsibility: fatherhood.” He grew up all over the world as the son of a career military man. His family finally settled in Princeton, New Jersey, where he spent his high school years. He now lives in Saratoga Springs, New York with his wife and two children.
Michael received a B.A. in philosophy and political science at St. Michael's College in Vermont, an M.Ed. from Quinnipiac University, and an Ed.M. from Harvard University. He spent time in Poland with the Peace Corps and also lived in Mexico for two years, teaching English and directing an English school. He taught in Raleigh, North Carolina and San Francisco, and has been a school administrator in Cambridge, Massachusetts, San Francisco, and now in Ballston Spa, New York, where he is currently principal of an elementary school with 600 students.
“I am very excited to be attending the Urban Education Leaders Program at Columbia, as it will afford me more opportunities to reflect and learn as both a person and an educator,” he says. “I believe very strongly that educators have a responsibility to provide every child with an opportunity to succeed. It is our job to remove any obstacles that prevent children from reaching their potential. I am hoping that through my studies and my interactions with other dedicated and passionate professionals I will build my capacity to be an advocate for all children. I aspire to be a superintendent of a diverse community. I am interested in re-evaluating our educational system so that our schools are better equipped to handle the new challenges that face today's you
Mary Skipper grew up in Arlington, Massachusetts and moved to Boston 15 years ago. She and her husband, Peter, a religion teacher, have three children, two in college and one in high school. She attended Tufts University, majoring in English and Latin, and later earned an M.A. in Latin and Greek, also from Tufts. She also holds a master’s in Education Policy and Management from Harvard.
“I knew in junior high that I wanted to be a teacher,” says Mary. During the first nine years of her career, she taught Latin, Greek, math, and computers to middle and high school students. In 1997 she was appointed director of TechBoston, a Boston Public Schools initiative to prepare students for careers and post-secondary education in high technology. “During this phase of my life, I realized the powerful and positive impact technology could have on teaching and learning,” she says.
In 2002, she became the founding headmaster of TechBoston Academy, a public high school funded by the Gates Foundation. “Designing a school from scratch on paper and bringing it to fruition has been a very special blessing for me,” says Mary. “I truly enjoy going in to work every day.”
Her goal is to become an urban superintendent in New England, with a special interest in defining and developing new models of systemic partnership in small school redesign efforts. “Three words I would use to describe myself,” says Mary, “are playful, curious, and driven. I love learning, traveling, and meeting new people. I am looking forward to getting to know and to working with the other members of the UELP cohort to create a better and brighter future for urban education.
Jason Snyder serves as a White House Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education. Prior to the Fellowship, Jason taught social studies for six years in public secondary schools and for one year at the China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing.
Jason also practiced education and appellate law at Hogan & Hartson LLP, where he advised school districts and drafted briefs in appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Among his community activities, Jason founded a Cub Scout pack in a public housing development, represented children as a guardian ad litem, and served on the Board of Trustees of a public charter school. “Like many passionate educators,” he says, “my experiences have inspired me to find ways, including through educational leadership, to improve teaching and learning for low-income students often weighed down with low expectations.”
Jason earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley School of Law, a M.Ed. from U.C.L.A., and an A.B., with honors, in Public Policy from Stanford University. He served as student body co-president at Stanford and Editor-in-Chief of the California Law Review at Berkeley. In his free time he enjoys tennis, soccer, travel, and spending time with his wife and daughter.
Michelle J. Walker
Michelle J. Walker is a first-generation American of Caribbean descent; her family is from Trinidad. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, attended public schools, and graduated from Stuyvesant High School. She holds an undergraduate degree in government and Africana studies from Cornell University and a master of arts in educational administration from Teachers College, Columbia University.
Michelle currently serves as Chief Accountability Officer for the Saint Paul Public Schools. She oversees research, evaluation and assessment, school improvement, Title I and other federally funded programs for the 41,000 student district. Prior to joining the SPPS executive team, she held various positions in educational administration and youth development in New York City and Washington, D.C. Most notably, she served as chief of strategic planning and policy for DC Public Schools and senior adviser for education to D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams.
“As a cohort member I look forward to exploring the extent to which effective leadership, distinct and apart from governance or management, can transform school systems to better respond to issues of disparity,” says Michelle. “I hope to use my doctoral degree to continue work in the educational arena and better influence sound policy development and implementation at the organizational, municipal, state, and federal levels.
David Weiner began his career teaching kindergarten and first grade in the Boston area, then worked as a third-grade teacher and literary specialist in the San Francisco Unified School District. He served as principal of Alvarado Elementary School in San Francisco for three years before moving to New York City to become principal of P.S. 314 and then P.S. 503, its successor.
In New York he served as the only school representative on the Chancellor’s Accountability Reporting Inventory System, which chose the new $100 million data and accountability system for the city’s public schools. He is a member of the NYC Fair Student Funding Committee, which created the new funding formula for the public schools, and has testified before the City Council about school reform efforts. In 2004 Greatschools.net featured David in the video “What Makes a Great Principal.”
In San Francisco, David campaigned for the passage of Proposition A and Proposition H, which increased funding for all schools. The mayor named June 6, 2003 as “Principal David Weiner Day” in the city. “As a principal,” he says,
“I have focused on closing the achievement gap and on improving the performance of all students. I have continually worked to help other schools improve their performance by meeting with principals and teachers.” David’s goal is to be superintendent of an urban school district, and he believes that the UELP will give him the skills and experience to be a successful district leader. “I will continue to focus on equality and high achievement for all students in the public schools, but especially those who have been underserved,” he says.
Jennie Wu was born in Taipei, Taiwan and moved with her family at the age of four to Plano, Texas, where she attended school until going to college at Stanford University. She majored in history with a minor in biology. During junior year at Stanford she became interested in urban education and started taking classes to learn about the American education system.
After college Jennie entered the Los Angeles Teaching Fellows program, then began teaching science at Crenshaw High School. She also volunteered as faculty adviser for the flags team, working with the marching band. At the same time she attended classes at Loyola Marymount University, where she earned a master’s in education. She devoted much time to educational equity issues, working with faculty, administration, and district officials, and with a parent and community organization to bring more resources and educational justice to Crenshaw and nearby urban schools.
After teaching at Crenshaw for three years, she moved to Shanghai, China and Taipei, Taiwan for one year to improve her Chinese language skills. She also taught English to high school and college students, judged English speech competitions, and tutored students in various subjects.
Upon moving to New York for the Urban Education Leaders Program, Jennie worked for a charter school management organization in Harlem and is currently working on educational leadership program research at Teachers College.
“I hope that through the Urban Education Leaders Program I will be better equipped to face the often daunting obstacles that stand in the way of educational equity and justice for students that attend urban public schools,” says Jennie. “I hope that the program will both broaden and deepen my understanding of problems facing urban education and will be able to lead me to a position that will allow me to tackle these problems head on, so that students will be able to receive the quality education that they deserve.”
Fidel Ahumada Montero
Fidel Ahumada Montero's family immigrated to the United States from the small province of Colima, Mexico in the 1980s. “Although I was young, the reality of poverty, marginal schooling, and social stratification was very real,” he says. “The support of my teachers, and a small miracle, opened the way to my post-secondary schooling and my success in the field of education.” Fidel’s goal is to serve students facing conditions similar to those he experienced.
Fidel earned a bachelor’s degree in social science teaching and a master’s degree in school administration from Brigham Young University. He has taught at the middle school level, consulted at the elementary and secondary level, and worked in both large urban settings (Los Angeles) and small developing communities. Currently he is an administrator at a large high school in Utah.
“My expectations are to deepen my understanding of how urban educational systems can close the widening gap between children living in poverty, in particular children of color, and their academic counterparts,” he says. “I hope to gain tools that promote academic, socio-political, and institutional changes to improve the conditions of at-risk students at a local and national level. My inspiration is drawn from the sacrifice my parents made in immigrating to this country, and the unconditional love of my wonderful spouse and two dynamic children.