Christina Foti currently serves as Deputy Chief Academic Officer of the Division of Specialized Instruction and Student Support (DSISS) within the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE). The Division of Specialized Instruction and Student support comprises the Special Education Office and District 75.
Prior to this role Christina served for five years as the Chief Executive Director of the Special Education Office (SEO) at the NYCDOE. SEO's work reaches over 300,000 preschool and school-aged students and their families in various schools within the district, charter, and nonpublic sectors. Under her leadership and direction, SEO has opened five borough-based Transition and College Access Centers, developed systems and structures to support students with IEPs in charter schools, expanded preschool special education programming in NYC, and launched the DOE's first personalized learning symposium for students with disabilities in accelerated programs. She has also overseen the expansion of specialized programs for students with autism, intellectual disabilities, physical accessibility needs, and bilingual special education needs.
Christina's leadership has positioned the work of the Special Education Office to be recognized for best practices on an international level, affording the NYCDOE ever-increasing opportunities to collaborate with global partners. Recently, Christina was invited to the UNESCO International Forum on Inclusion and Equity in Education, where she participated in a panel that encouraged education leaders from around the world to share and discuss innovative policies, programs, and practices to advance inclusion and equity in education.
Prior to leading SEO, Christina served as principal of P.S. 231K, a District 75 school in Brooklyn. In less than five years, she and her team moved the school from a “Persistently Dangerous” label to the “Well-Developed” rating on the DOE’s Quality Review rubric for schools, culminating in 231K’s selection as a citywide “Showcase School.” Christina was named a Cahn Fellow for Distinguished Principals at Teachers College, Columbia University in 2014, and a Chancellor’s Fellow by then NYCDOE Chancellor Carmen Fariña in 2015.
Christina began her career at District 75’s The Mickey Mantle School in Manhattan as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Women's Studies from Vassar College, a master’s degree in Special Education from the City University of New York, and a Postgraduate Degree in Education Leadership from Hunter College.
Joezette Joseph is an Instructional Lead at the New York City Department of Education's Manhattan Borough Office. In this role, she provides instructional and coaching support for teachers and school leaders across districts 3 and 5. For the past eleven years, she has had the privilege of working alongside amazing, highly dedicated educators while serving students in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan. In her early years as an educator, Joezette taught 3rd and 4th grade students with special needs in both private and charter schools. She later transitioned to coaching, supporting teacher and leadership teams at both the school and district levels.
Joezette received a B.A. in English Literature from CUNY Baruch College, a Master of Science in Special Education degree from CUNY Brooklyn College, and a Master of Education Leadership degree from Teachers College, Columbia University. As she takes on this new journey towards earning a Doctorate in Education, her research interests lie along the lines of exploring emotional intelligence amongst Black educators and the impact it has on their ability to be fully present in their work and most importantly, authentically themselves.
In the meantime, Joezette is spending a great deal of her free time developing her landscaping skills as she settles into her new home in Jamaica, Queens.
Jamie Downs serves as a Lead Principal with YES Prep Public Schools where he is the proud principal of YES Prep Southside, a 6th -12th grade school in Houston, TX. Jamie leads a school of over 900 students and 85 staff members, providing high-impact instruction and a one-of-kind culture to achieve the goal of 100% college acceptance. As a lead principal, Jamie also directly manages and coaches a principal-in-residence, preparing them to lead a YES Prep Campus.
Jamie served for four years as the founding Principal of YES Prep Eisenhower. He led the campuses’ first graduating class to college readiness, with all students being accepted to four-year colleges, and he led the school to receive an A-rating for the Texas Education Agency for academic performance. Previous to Jamie’s work as Principal with YES Prep Public Schools, he was a Teach For America corps member, teaching sixth grade English at Fondren Middle School with the Houston Independent School District (HISD). He then moved on to become an Assistant Principal at Sharpstown High School, with HISD.
Jamie also earned his Master of Business Administration from Rice University as part of the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program (REEP) as well as being a current fellow in the National Fellowship for Black and Latino Male Educators.
As the chief program officer at New Leaders, Michele oversees design, development, and delivery of the organization’s core programs, ensuring that school leaders at all levels—from teacher leader to principal supervisor—build the capacity to advance equity and excellence for the school communities they serve.
Prior to joining the New Leaders team in 2019, Michele was a founding team member at Success Academy Charter Schools in New York City. Joining the Success Academy team as a first-grade teacher in 2006, she went on to serve in the roles of assistant principal, principal, principal manager, and Chief Academic Officer. As CAO, Michele led instruction across the network’s 46 schools, overseeing curriculum, assessment, and instructional training for over 2,000 educators. During her tenure in this role, Success Academy became the highest-achieving school system in the state of New York. She was proud to culminate her career at Success by handing her former first grade students their diplomas at their high school graduation and wishing them well on their journeys to college.
Michele began her teaching career in the South Bronx, as a fifth-grade teacher in the New York City Department of Education. She has a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania where she graduated Summa Cum Laude and earned a master’s degree in teaching from Pace University. In 2018, Michele was selected as a Broad Academy fellow, joining a cohort of school system leaders from across the country working to build their own capacity as education leaders. She is excited to enhance her development as an education leader through the UELP.
Mr. Willie Brewster is the proud principal of Brenda Scott Academy in Detroit, MI. Since arriving at Brenda Scott Academy in 2019, Principal Brewster has worked with his team to leverage multicultural education and social activism as complements of creating a truly culturally responsive school. This work has included building out an Arts Conservatory, monthly cultural and heritage education series, and exploring brain science to guide responsive pedagogical practices.
Before arriving at Brenda Scott Academy, Mr. Brewster served in various capacities in Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, FL. As a teacher, Mr. Brewster served as a Math, Science and World History teacher. Most notably, in the 2014-2015 school year, Mr. Brewster led his sixth-grade students to 100% proficiency on the Math Florida Standards Assessment.
Following his time as a classroom teacher, Mr. Brewster served as the Assistant Principal of Andrew Robinson Elementary. While at Andrew Robinson, Mr. Brewster worked to help raise grade-level student achievement from 17% proficiency in 2018 to 45% proficiency in 2019 on the Reading Florida Standards Assessment; in addition, Mr. Brewster helped raise grade-level student achievement from 41% proficiency in 2018 to 67% proficiency in 2019 on the Math Florida Standards Assessment.
Brewster was previously the Teacher of the Year for Rutledge Pearson Elementary. Mr. Brewster also served as a Teach for America corps member. Following his time with Teach for America, Mr. Brewster trained teachers in Philadelphia, PA, and Houston, TX through the program’s Summer Institute. He received his bachelor’s degree in Communication with a concentration in Broadcasting, and Political Science with a concentration in Pre-Law from Mississippi State University. Mr. Brewster also holds a master’s degree in Educational Leadership with a concentration in Urban School Building Leadership from Columbia University in New York City.
Yaribel Mercedes’ career began thirteen years ago as a New York City Teaching Fellow. Her journey as an educator evolved from classroom teacher, grade leader, mentor, and literacy coach before transitioning to educational administrator. Currently, Yaribel Mercedes serves as an Academic Response Team (ART) Specialist at the New York City Department of Education’s Manhattan Borough/Citywide Office. As an ART Specialist, she works in a collaborative partnership with districts, school leaders, and various stakeholders to build capacity and accelerate student learning. More specifically, she leads through a social, racial and moral justice leadership disposition to advance racial equity, inclusion, access, and opportunity in education. As a Black woman, she understands the impact of race in education, and her passion and purpose are grounded in her commitment to disrupt racist and oppressive systems, structures, and policies that marginalize and minoritize Black, Indigenous, racialized students of color. She believes in the brilliance of every child and works with community stakeholders to cultivate curiosity, knowledge, intellect, and skills for all students to achieve at the highest level possible.
Yaribel has earned a Bachelor of Arts & Science degree from Boston College, a Master of Education degree from CUNY Lehman College and a Master of Education Leadership degree from Teachers College, Columbia University.
Yaribel was born and raised in Washington Heights and is a proud mother of two beautiful children, Isaiah and Scarlet, who are the light and fire in her life.
Dorald Bastian began his career in education 25 years ago as a member of Teach For America. After fulfilling a two-year commitment as a corps member, he renewed his commitment to the City of Baltimore for four additional years, during which he earned his Master of Education in Teaching at Johns Hopkins University. He Joined the New York City Department of Education in 2002 as an English Teacher in Harlem.
In 2006 he graduated from the New York City Leadership Academy, after which he became principal of a Bronx middle school—a position he has held for the past 15 years. In 2017 Dorald became a Cahn Fellow, a national program that distinguishes and supports the outstanding achievement of standing school principals. He is recognized amongst his peers as a committed and trusted colleague, especially in Community School District 9 where he proudly mentors aspiring principals.
He is a proud and dedicated father and a skilled potter who enjoys time in nature, reading, and writing.
Karissa Sullivan has been in education since the start of her career. She began teaching on the undergraduate level before entering the NYC Department of Education at Bronx Green Middle School. Karissa received her first masters at one of the United States of America’s top Special Education program at CUNY Hunter College. She received special recognition from the president of Hunter College, Jennifer J. Raab at commencement. Subsequently, Sullivan earned her advanced master's, Ed.M. at Teachers College, Columbia University in the Summer Principals Academy.
Sullivan worked at Bronx Green Middle School as a 6th grade Special Education English Language Arts teacher. She held several leadership positions including the founding member of the Social Emotional Learning Team, Professional Learning Community Leader, 6th Grade ELA Curriculum writer and Debate Team Coach. She has completed two cohorts of Critically Conscious Educators Rising and Beyond Diversity I & II. Karissa continued her professional endeavors by relocating to work for Harlem Children's Zone's Promise Academy I Middle School as an Education Director. Karissa is currently serving the East Ramapo Central School District at Ramapo High School as an Administrator, which is within the community she loves so much.
Karissa currently serves on the BIPOC Advisory Board for the Phyllis B. Frank Rockland County Pride Center. At the Pride Center Karissa volunteers by holding support groups for those who are within the LGBTQIA community as well as Black and Brown parents of LGBTQIA children. In addition to this, Karissa volunteers mentoring students in the Summer Principals Academy at Teachers College Columbia University. When time permits, Sullivan donates time assisting a local rescue organization fostering dogs for the greater community.
“As a black female, I have seen inequities in many different forms throughout my life. My passion for engaging in conversations about race, stems from my past experiences. Having the ability and skills to articulate these conversations has taken me far. De Facto segregation, microaggressions and the everlasting effects of segregation slavery and racism continue to plague our communities. Creating emancipatory systems and structures that will disrupt and dismantle the current state is so crucial for the greater community. The adaptive nature of this requires persistence, dedication, consistency, and passion.” — Karissa Sullivan
Archie Tyson is a proud husband and father of three beautiful children. He is currently the principal of Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys, a public charter school that serves approximately 500 boys of Color in Baltimore, Maryland. He has served the students, families, and community of Baltimore in his current post since 2018.
As a native of a socio-economically challenged neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee, Archie witnessed first-hand the havoc that poverty often unleashes on people of Color, particularly Black boys. He attended under-resourced schools with phenomenal teachers and leaders. His lived experiences, passed-along memories of his elders, and the mentorship of his schoolteachers have helped to solidify his current professional interests and curiosities. Archie is professionally driven by a deep personal commitment to see young men of Color succeed in becoming strong men who positively impact their families and communities. His professional interests center around reforming and reshaping school environments to be places where students of Color, particularly Black boys, can safely learn and enjoy their childhood.
After graduating from Grinnell College with a Bachelor of Arts in History, Archie began his career in education as a Teach For America corps member in the Mississippi Delta, in Lake Village, Arkansas. Recognizing the incredible need for more Black men to help guide the educational journey of students of Color, he decided to forgo pursuing a law degree and remain in education. Seeking to help him sharpen his leadership skills so that he could deepen his impact on those he serves, Archie completed a master’s degree in Education Leadership at the Summer Principals Academy at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Archie remained in New York for several years, serving as a non-profit leader with The Boys’ Club of New York in East Harlem. He helped to rebuild the education and arts programs for the Boys’ Club. While in New York, Archie served on various community boards and helped to found Madiba Prep Middle School. He later left New York and headed back down south to help found KIPP Blytheville Collegiate High in Blytheville, Arkansas. He also served as a school leader with the Achievement School District of Tennessee and KIPP Memphis Collegiate High School.
Archie is continuing his life education journey as a student in the Urban Education Leadership Program for two primary reasons. He seeks to continue satisfying his lifelong joy of learning and exploring new ideas with others. He also looks forward to honing his skills as a leader so that he can continue to build institutions that allow for people of Color, particularly Black boys, to joyfully learn and grow.
Lara Evangelista is currently the deputy superintendent for the Consortium, Internationals, and NYC Outward Bound Schools in the NYC Dept of Education. Prior to this role, Lara spent over 20 years working to develop more equitable environments and practices to serve the needs of Multilingual Learners (MLLs) in New York City. She began this work while pursuing her master’s in teaching at the New School, where she spent a year observing and student teaching at International High School at LaGuardia. Once she completed her degree, Lara started working for The Brooklyn International High School (BIHS) as a Humanities teacher. Still in its early years of development, Lara worked collaboratively with other teachers to help design and implement BIHS’s project-based curriculum, internship program, and portfolio assessment system.
Lara was a founding member of The Flushing International High School (FIHS) that opened in 2004, a school serving newcomer MLLs in Flushing, Queens, which replicated the successful Internationals model. She first served as lead teacher and was then promoted to Assistant Principal in 2006. Lara was appointed principal of Flushing International in September 2011 and worked throughout her 8-year tenure to develop a culturally responsive environment for the young people in the FIHS community. In that time, Lara led FIHS in implementing mastery-based grading practices, restorative justice approaches, and racial equity work. She also worked in collaboration with the Internationals Network to support her community in transitioning from Regents-based assessments to a performance-assessment system specifically designed to ensure the equitable assessment of deeper learning for MLLs. Lara was a Learning Partners host principal, a citywide Restorative Justice mentor principal, and one of two national principal representatives on the negotiated rulemaking committee for the ESSA act.
Lara graduated from Georgetown University with a BS in Languages and also holds a master’s in teaching from New School University and an advanced certificate in Education Administration and Supervision from Hunter College.
Michelle Verdiner has been principal at Teachers College Community School (TCCS) since 2015. Before that, she spent fourteen years as a speech pathologist/teacher of speech and hearing handicapped, a special education coordinator, and four years as an assistant principal, all in the New York City Department of Education. Principal. Verdiner is especially passionate about meeting each student where he or she is. She guides her school with a “Theory of Action” that calls upon staff to work together to use data to tailor instruction so that all students can demonstrate mastery of standards. Michelle’s school community is marked by collaboration, inclusion, empowering student voice, commitment to ongoing professional development, and strong parent involvement.
Michelle is a 2019 Cahn Fellow of Distinguished Principals at Teachers College, Columbia University, where her yearlong project focused on distributive leadership and building systems of capacity. Michelle joins the UELP Doctor of Education program to strengthen her leadership skills so that she can continue to build her tools to sustain building capacity amongst her learning community while ensuring to maintain diversity and equity in leadership. Michelle holds a bachelor’s degree from Hampton University, and two master’s degrees from Adelphia University: one in speech pathology and one in educational leadership and technology.
Jeremy is currently the Superintendent/Regional Director of Instruction for the BRICK Education Network (BEN). BEN is a charter management organization dedicated to investing in children and their caregivers to relentlessly knock down barriers to student academic success. In this role, Jeremy helps lead BEN’s efforts to found new campuses across Upstate New York.
Jeremy has devoted his professional career to ensuring that all students have the support necessary to break down the barriers that could prevent them from leading choice-filled lives. Jeremy’s passion for educational equity emerges from his personal experience as a first-generation college student and the additional support he received from the Upward Bound program to navigate the college admission and financial aid processes.
Jeremy is also an alumnus of Teach for America, a national service program dedicated to preparing outstanding college graduates to teach in disenfranchised communities across the country. As a corps member, he taught high school English and coached baseball and wrestling. Jeremy then had the opportunity to teach 7th grade reading and helped his students achieve a 75% passing rate on the New Jersey state test—40 percentage points higher than the local district.
After teaching, Jeremy became a School Leader for the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and had the opportunity to found KIPP Inspire Academy in St. Louis, Missouri. During its founding year, KIPP Inspire had some of the most dramatic achievement gains of any school in KIPP. In that year, student scores on the Northwest Evaluation Association Assessment improved 19 percentile points in reading, 25 in language usage, and 26 in math. These gains were the highest or second highest in the KIPP network in all content areas. KIPP Inspire’s results led the school to be recognized by the Children’s Educational Alliance of Eastern Missouri as a public middle school that was closing the opportunity gap for its students. Jeremy was also recognized by the St. Louis Business Journal as one of the magazine’s “40 under 40” members.
During his time as a KIPP staff member, Jeremy was able to help lead the region’s expansion from one grade level serving 72 students to a system of six schools serving nearly 3,000 students. During that time, he also had the opportunity to participate in numerous professional development programs. He is a graduate of the Relay Graduate School of Education’s National Principals Academy Fellowship as well as its Principal Supervisor Academy Fellowship. In addition, he is a proud alumnus of Relay’s Leverage Leadership Institute where he earned national certification in leading student culture, observation feedback, weekly data meetings and adult professional development. He is also an alumnus of the Teach for America School Systems Leadership Fellowship. Jeremy holds a B.S. in Journalism and English from Northwestern University as well as a master’s degree in Education from National Louis University.
Jeremy is also the proud father of three incredible children and loving partner to an amazing wife. Jeremy believes that equal access to high-quality education is a civil right--and looks forward to helping more Upstate New York families have an opportunity to send their children to joyful, academically excellent schools.
Larry Chang currently serves as Deputy Director for Product Management in the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE). In this role, he leads the work in the Office of Academic Policy and Systems to make enhancements in and supports the addition of functionality to the STARS system, a critical NYCDOE student information system that enables schools to capture student coursework and grades in alignment with City, State, and Federal education policies. The goal of Larry’s work is to provide schools with the best data tools to carry out the processes of grading, promotion, programming, and graduation that form the core workstreams for the Office of Academic Policy and Systems.
Larry Chang’s career in the NYCDOE began in 2011. Prior to joining the Office of Academic Policy and Systems, he was a Program Manager with the Advanced Placement (AP) for All Initiative, a part of the Office of Equity and Access, providing programmatic and operational supports to schools with few than five, or no AP courses, the ability to offer this rigorous and rewarding coursework opportunity to under-served and under-represented high school students. And before transitioning to the NYCDOE’s Central Office, Larry was a high school mathematics teacher at the High School for Health Professions and Human Services and later at Talent Unlimited High School. In addition, he has taken on critical school-based roles serving as chief school programmer and academic policy liaison to the district office, data analyst, test administration coordinator, and department lead.
Larry holds a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Economics from Stony Brook University, a Master of Arts in Teaching with a focus in Secondary Mathematics, grades 7—12, also from Stony Brook University, and a Master of Science in Educational Leadership and Administration from the College of Saint Rose. Larry Chang is also a New York State certified School Building Leader and School District Leader.
Anna Jackman’s earliest childhood memories center around her experiences as a student both in her home and the NYC public school system. Surrounded by educators who consistently affirmed and supported her, most notably her parents - Darrel and Charlotte, Anna knew from an early age that she wanted to be an educator.
After graduating from St. John’s University in 2006, Anna began her teaching career at Francis Lewis High School, where she spent 12 years cultivating culturally responsive experiences both inside and outside of the classroom as a Lead Teacher for the Gateway Honors Program and Advisor for the Nu Gamma Psi Boys Step Team. These experiences led to Anna being recognized as a New York Times Teacher Who Makes a Difference in 2012 and a National Step League Coach of the Year in 2016. Recognizing an internal desire to grow and build her capacity as an educator, Anna embarked on her journey as a future leader through the Leaders in Education Apprenticeship Program (LEAP), under the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Leadership, in 2017. She is excited about continuing her journey at Teachers College and focusing on how leaders can create culturally responsive environments for staff and students of color.
Anna currently serves as Director of Capacity Building and Sustainability within the Office of Equity and Access, where she supports district and school leaders, along with their teams, in examining trends in disproportionality and facilitates Implicit Bias Awareness workshops for educators across the five boroughs. Anna is a double alumna from St. John’s University, holding a Bachelor’s in Adolescent Education and English and a Master’s in School Building Leadership. Her proudest achievement thus far has been becoming a mother to her son, Nicholas, in 2020.
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