Ruben Alonzo

2016 BES Fellow


Ruben Alonzo is committed to making excellent education accessible to all students as he sets out to found and lead a high-expectations charter school in Los Angeles, CA.

Ruben is a native of Crystal City, TX, located in one of the poorest counties in America. A third-generation migrant farmer, he worked throughout his childhood to help support his family, all while attending school and working toward his goal of attending college.

After completing his graduate degree in Massachusetts, Ruben relocated to Pharr, TX as a 2012 Teach For America Corps member. He was a founding teacher at IDEA Pharr College Preparatory School and has served in multiple roles ranging from grade team leader to content leader. In his first year of teaching, Ruben’s students achieved a 98 percent passing rate on their STAAR Algebra I EOC (compared to a 78 percent state average). He was then selected to serve as IDEA Pharr’s Assistant Principal of Instruction, where he coached and developed 14 teachers.

Ruben plans to maximize student learning and performance towards specific goals and is determined to build a team of adults who “get it right” so that they can provide students with the tools they need to succeed.

Ruben holds a B.S. in Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and an M.Ed. from both Harvard Graduate School of Education and Columbia University.

“Statistically, the odds have always been stacked against me. Statistically, the odds are still stacked against our young impoverished students. They are less likely than any other group to attend and graduate from college. They are also least likely to be instructed by experienced, high-quality teachers. This is resulting in a growing national income divide that is affecting millions of lives. I am driven to do this work because it is absolutely necessary and needs to be done immediately.”

Rick Anderson

2016 BES Fellow


Rick Anderson brings a breadth of education administration experience to The Fellowship as he sets out to found and lead an excellent school in Indianapolis, IN.

Rick’s ambition is inspired by his mother, a single parent putting herself through college at age 50, who taught him the importance of education. From her, he learned not only a relentless work ethic, but also a deep respect and appreciation for education. After a couple of years in corporate America immediately following college, Rick felt a need to redirect his career toward his true interest – education.

Rick served as the Dean of Students at Freedom Preparatory Academy, a BES school in Memphis, TN, after spending time teaching first and sixth grades. As Dean, he developed and implemented a schoolwide culture and behavioral standard. In addition, he coached novice educators, communicated with students’ families, and devised professional development objectives for the faculty. Rick’s next step at Freedom Preparatory Academy was as Head of School at the middle school, then Head of School at the elementary school shortly thereafter. In these roles, he led 60 teachers and over 750 students.

With this experience under his belt, Rick is prepared and eager to open his own school. In doing so, he is determined to foster a community that embodies operational effectiveness, a strong academic culture, and a commitment to college readiness.

Rick is a graduate of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, and earned his M.Ed. from Christian Brothers University.

“I am driven to do this work because it’s my calling, my purpose in life, and I am fulfilled by it. It is extremely challenging and not always glamorous. The day-to-day application of high expectations and pushing beyond what we believe is possible can take its toll. But I love that responsibility of being held accountable for the academic, social, and emotional growth of our students.”

David Blodgett

2016 BES Fellow


David Blodgett is driven to raise the standard of public education in the greater Las Vegas area by founding and leading an excellent charter school.

David’s work as a 2009 Teach For America Corps member in Las Vegas awoke in him a need to contribute everything within his power toward the larger goal of providing all children in our country with high-quality education. In addition to the time he spent in the classroom, David also completed an apprenticeship with Clark County’s Superintendent. Since then, he has brought his leadership skills in operations and development to a variety of education-focused nonprofits in Nevada. He also worked as part of a team of talented writers whose high school English language arts curriculum was published by the New York State Education Department on EngageNY.org.

David holds a B.S. in Business Management from Brigham Young University and an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

“With Nevada’s current focus on student growth – sometimes at the expense of proficiency – our system applauds schools for becoming marginally better. One dangerous result is an implicit acceptance of mediocrity for students in certain parts of our community. I want to lead an urban school that changes conversations so that families from historically underserved neighborhoods know what kind of excellent school they can demand.”

Justin Brecht

2016 BES Fellow


Driven to provide an excellent education to students in Las Vegas, NV, Justin Brecht will apply the knowledge he acquires through The Fellowship to found and lead a high-performing school.

Born and raised in Denver, CO, Justin studied Political Science as an undergraduate, aspiring toward a career in politics. After a fortuitous part-time experience at a recreation program, however, he discovered that his real passion was in education. He was accepted as a Teach For America Corps member, and began teaching in Las Vegas. Under his leadership, his fourth and fifth grade students achieved over a year and a half’s worth of growth in reading, math, and writing.

After five years in the classroom, Justin went on to found an extended-day, high-achieving program for high poverty and minority students called Building Responsible, Independent, Compassionate Kids (BRICK) Academy, which focuses on the arts and STEM activities. BRICK has been recognized with various awards throughout the years, and in 2015 Justin was named ‘Teacher of the Year’ by the Las Vegas Review Journal.

Justin refuses to accept mediocrity or complacency in his school. A family man himself, with 10-year-old twins, he is committed to delivering quality educational experiences to his students, and creating a community where students can succeed.

Justin is a graduate of Colorado State University and earned his M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Nevada–Las Vegas.

“An element that should be present in any school is a culture that inspires achievement. School culture is evident in systems that foster academic achievement. There needs to be an opportunity for choice and a model for transformational change within these communities. Kids deserve better. Parents deserve better. We can do better.”

Denon Carr

2016 BES Fellow


Denon Carr brings teaching experience from a wide range of institutions to The Fellowship as he embarks on his journey to found and lead an excellent school in Los Angeles, CA.

Denon first contemplated a career in education in his junior year of college when he was working as a Youth Camp Counselor with the Boys and Girls Club in Murfreesboro, TN. After graduating from law school, he worked at Mastery Charter Schools in Philadelphia, where he taught Concepts in American Government to high school students and implemented data-driven instructional strategies. Denon then moved to Washington, DC, to teach history and law at Thurgood Marshall Academy. Most recently, he served as the Assistant Principal at Democracy Prep Public Schools, where he oversaw over 350 students, led subject and schoolwide professional development, and reinforced positive adult culture. Denon embraced each unique community he entered, fully immersing himself in the school’s culture. He will be able to reflect on these experiences, drawing on each school’s strengths and weaknesses, to inform the construction of his own school.

As he enters The Fellowship, Denon has three important elements in mind for his school: High expectations, both academically and behaviorally; accountability for all of the school’s stakeholders; and a focus on talent development, ensuring that the school has the best possible teachers and leaders. He sees his school not only as a benefit for the scholars who are enrolled, but also as a benefit for the whole community.

Denon holds a B.S. in Political Science from Middle Tennessee State University and a J.D. from Howard University School of Law.

“I am driven to do this work because of the clear imbalance in the allocation of educational opportunities in this country. I truly believe that providing every student with a quality education is one of the biggest levers in closing the achievement gap. Education provides access, and every child should have equal access to all of life’s possibilities.”

Kayleigh Colombero

2016 BES Fellow


Kayleigh Colombero exudes fierce determination, which will serve her well as she founds a college-preparatory charter school in Houston, TX.

Growing up in a low-income town in Massachusetts, Kayleigh was raised by a single mother who emphasized the importance of education. She was 10 years old when she set her sights on Smith College, which she eventually attended on an academic scholarship.

Kayleigh began her educational career as an English and social studies teacher at Hopkins Academy. Soon after, she began teaching at the Renaissance School in Springfield, where she founded and coached the school’s first varsity competitive cheerleading team. During her time at Renaissance, Kayleigh also continued her work with Project Coach, a nonprofit that connects inner-city students with caring coaches and college students in a sports-based youth development program. In 2012, Kayleigh became the Director of Project Coach and Coordinator of Urban Education for Smith College. After adding to the programming, enrollment, and overall success of the nonprofit, she returned to teaching at a low-income, rural high school in Cheshire, MA.

Kayleigh will bring her unstoppable work ethic to the school that she founds. There, she will inspire her students to accomplish what society tends to think they are incapable of – graduating college.

Kayleigh received a B.A. in English Literature and Education from Smith College and an M.A. in English for Teachers from the Western New England University.

“Education, unlike many other social reforms, builds capacity from the inside of neighborhoods and communities. This is the type of change I believe in. This is the type of change that leads to better futures for the next generations. This is the type of change that could end cycles of poverty. Creating social capital within neighborhoods must be a deliberate process that involves a successful school.”

TyAnthony Davis

2016 BES Fellow


Deeply concerned about the state of public education in the United States, TyAnthony brings an urgent determination to enact change in his community of Los Angeles, CA, where he seeks to found and lead a high-expectations urban charter school.

TyAnthony began his career teaching fourth grade in Las Vegas, NV. In two years, he became a Teach For America Corps member advisor, leading professional development for new TFA Corps members. He has since been an Associate of Corporate Securities at a law firm in a Los Angeles, CA. In his time as a lawyer, TyAnthony couldn’t silence his interest in education. He worked part-time as a consultant for a curriculum development company, mentored undergraduate advisees looking to enter the education field, and counseled concerned parent groups worried about a failing school district. Recognizing his strong emotional pull to the cause, he is eager to re-enter the education field full-time.

“It takes a stubborn belief in the potential of a school community to do great things,” he says, painfully aware that this process requires hard work and resilience. He plans to sustain committed leadership, set measurable goals, and learn from the results, all in the effort to create a school that redirects the educational futures of at-risk students.

TyAnthony holds a B.A. in African American Studies from Yale University, an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

“Martin Luther King Jr. preached about ‘the fierce urgency of now.’ During my time as a teacher, I approached the education of my students with the ‘fierce urgency of now.’ However, I did not, and do not, see the same urgency in the larger structures that facilitate public education. I see complacency. I see passiveness. I see an emergency being tended to as if it were a casual occurrence.”

Joelle Formato

2016 BES Fellow


Joelle Formato approaches The Fellowship with optimism and determination as she sets out to found and lead a high-achieving charter school in Buffalo, NY.

Joelle began her career in education as a Teach For America Corps member. She taught seventh and eighth grade math at a turnaround middle school in Maryland, where she also chaired the Positive Behavior Interventions and Support team. In this role, she spearheaded the analysis of discipline data, so that adults in the community could proactively intervene and make targeted decisions on issues of school culture.

More recently, Joelle has worked as a school counselor at a charter high school in Buffalo, NY, where she improved student retention rates and raised overall academic achievement. She consulted with teachers, parents, and administrators on removing barriers to academic success for her students. Coordinating and leading the Academic Review Board conferences for struggling students, she met with the most at-risk students, problem solving ways to improve their behavior and academic performance. Through this role, she learned how important it is to encourage each student to succeed, removing physical as well as mental barriers to their success.

Through her career, Joelle has amassed a wealth of educational experience, which she will channel into the creation of her own school. She is excited to bring a high-quality educational experience to her community in Buffalo, and to enable and equip more students to strive for and achieve unparalleled academic success.

Joelle holds a B.S. in Accounting and Human Development from Boston College and an M.Ed. in School Counseling from the University of Buffalo.

“I believe in the immense capacity of all children to learn, and also believe in the unique skills, talents, and experiences each already possesses. I feel it is the job of an excellent school to pull that uniqueness out of each child, and help them understand their capacity to impact the world around them.”

Beatriz Gutierrez

2016 BES Fellow


Driven to ensure that every child receives the education they deserve, Beatriz Gutierrez will found and lead a high-expectations charter school in Los Angeles, CA.

As a child, Beatriz was enrolled in the Lynwood Unified School district in California, a community very similar to the one where she will be founding a leading a school. As a Teach For America Corps member, she spent three years teaching in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in Dallas, TX. During this time, she focused on developing her own abilities as an educator so that she reached every single student who walked through the door of her classroom.

After her tenure with TFA, Beatriz served as an instructional coach in the Dallas Independent School District, implementing a data-driven system for 25 teachers and 450 students, and leading weekly professional development for Pre-K to fifth grade teachers. She went on to become Dean of Instruction at Uplift. As a leader, Beatriz has consistently aimed at moving the needle even more for her scholars.

Her school will be goal-oriented, data-driven, and systematic. “I will utilize systems, goals, and data in approaching my decision-making and management, to design and lead an excellent school. Nothing drives me more than the desire to create a safe learning space for the scholars in the community I serve.” Many of us long to return to our hometowns, to the schools we attended. Beatriz will do just that when she founds her school in Lynwood.

Beatriz received a B.A. in Sociology from UC Santa Barbara.

“The reason I get up every morning and give 110 percent is because the children deserve it. I wouldn’t be in this work if I didn’t firmly believe I had the ability to close the achievement gap.”

Sandra Kinne

2016 BES Fellow


With determination, resilience, and energy, Sandra Kinne will found and lead an excellent urban charter school in Compton, CA.

Upon graduating college, Sandra joined Teach For America and was placed in the Compton Unified School District in Los Angeles County, where she taught fourth grade. When she left Los Angeles, she worked in research evaluation, consulting on education projects – including PBS Kids – and on political campaigns.

But the classroom called again, so Sandra taught in a middle school Special Education program for emotionally disturbed students, and subsequently joined Southside Academy Charter School, teaching first and second grade in a school with a 97 percent Title I population. She eventually joined Teach For America’s staff, spending three years as a Manager for Teacher Leadership Development. Most recently, Sandra served as Assistant Principal at the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District.

Sandra holds a B.A. in Newspaper Journalism, International Relations, and Women’s Studies from Syracuse University, an M.Ed. from Loyola Marymount University, and an M.P.A in Educational Policy Analysis from Columbia University.

“As someone from a low-income, single-parent household, I discovered that the impact I could have on students with whom I identified was profound. I'm driven to do this work because I've seen the positive impact high expectations and opportunities for all can have. I'm driven to do this work because the injustices that plagued our system when I became a teacher 16 years ago still exist and will continue to do so without people dedicated to making a difference.”

Alexandria LeeNatali

2016 BES Fellow


Determined to create brighter futures for her students, Alexandria LeeNatali will found and lead an excellent urban charter school in San Jose, CA, upon completion of The Fellowship.

During her time in college, Alex completed a Fellowship building medical clinics in El Salvador, and received the Richard Riordan Award for outstanding community service for her work. Her start in education also began with her community service drive; running an after-school tutoring program in San Jose. Alex officially began her career in education as a second grade teacher at Cornerstone Academy Preparatory School in San Jose, CA, through Teach For America. During her time as a second grade teacher, 92 percent of her students made a year’s worth of growth in reading and 70 percent grew more than 1.5 years in math. As Cornerstone grew, Alex was a founding team member for both fifth and sixth grades as a Master Teacher. While teaching, Alex developed, implemented, and trained teachers in Leadership Curriculum. “I am in this work to develop leaders to advocate on behalf of those without a voice. I hope to challenge students to demand an excellent education.”

Alex will draw on these varied professional experiences as she founds a school that will realize her dream of making excellent education accessible to unprivileged students.

Alex holds a B.S. in Law, Social Justice, and Psychology from Santa Clara University and a Multiple Subjects Teaching Credential from Loyola Marymount University.

“I want the impact of my school to go beyond the six or eight years students spend within its walls. Students need to learn 21st century problem-solving skills, as well as a multitude of character traits. Our students should not simply be great students, but also great people – for the education they receive today will help them become the leaders of tomorrow.”

Robert Marshall

2016 BES Fellow


An accomplished leadership professional, Robert Marshall brings a breadth of human services and program management experience to the Fellowship as he sets out to found and lead an excellent school in Indianapolis, IN.

A native to Indianapolis, Robert is committed to making a difference for minority and under-served youth in his city. After completing his undergraduate degree, Robert began a career in program management largely focused in community outreach. With a deep concern for the achievement gap among our country’s youth, he has approached every challenge with the goal of leveling the playing field. Having held leadership positions in organizations such as 100 Black Men of Indianapolis, and the Boys and Girls Club of Indianapolis, Robert honed skills essential to any Head of School. He has been an integral part of large fundraising initiatives, strategic plan development, and volunteer management.

Most recently, Robert worked as the Senior Director of Programs at the Center for Leadership Development, an organization whose mission it is to foster the advancement of minority youth in Central Indiana as future professional business and community leaders, encouraging personal development and educational attainment. In this role, he was responsible for a variety of programs and initiatives including a College Prep Institute, where he developed and delivered quality curricula that empowered his students to enact change within their society. In addition, the position required of Robert a high level of coordination as he oversaw marketing, recruitment, and data management efforts. With an in-depth knowledge of operational effectiveness, Robert is sure to run an organized and focused institution that will provide its students with the tools to succeed in college and in the professional world beyond.

Robert received his B.A. in Political Science and Government from Morehouse College, and earned his M.B.A. in Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services from Western Governors University in 2015.

“I envision a school where (1) students are excited about learning because staff foster an atmosphere of knowledge, growth, and community - where discipline and success are interwoven; (2) instruction is effective, efficient, and directly connected to real world application; and (3) partnerships with family, staff, students, and outside organizations are strong and grounded in trust, eliminating barriers to academic success.``

Katie Mazer

2016 BES Fellow


With a strong belief in her students’ potential, Katie Mazer will found and lead an excellent charter school in New York City.

Katie has devoted her entire professional career to improving access and opportunities for high-need populations. After completing her undergraduate degree, she joined Teach For America and moved to Oakland, CA to teach tenth and eleventh grade English. There, she co-authored a book with her students and integrated a mandatory college-preparatory course for all freshmen.

Next, Katie moved to Tel Aviv, Israel, where she opened three education centers to support 45 African refugee communities in acquiring language skills, finding employment, and ensuring the accessibility of higher education opportunities. Within the first semester, 100 percent of her students had jobs that required varying levels of English, clearly demonstrating the success of her curriculum in catering to the community’s diverse language needs.

Most recently, Katie served as the Dean of Students at Uncommon Schools, implementing school-wide structures, procedures, and routines, coaching teachers on effective classroom techniques, and upholding and sustaining a culture of warmth, high-expectations, and fast-paced efficiency for students and teachers alike. She is determined to channel her experience and drive into her own school, which will elevate the level of educational opportunity available to underserved students in New York.

Katie received a B.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, and an M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

“Ceilings are restrictions for those who dream big, and I refuse to have a school that limits ambition. I want students to learn what it feels like to be limitless in multiple capacities, rather than working towards a specific prototype of ‘good’ work. If students are excelling in a particular subject, we will ensure that they have access to more challenging, high-level work to continue to fuel their learning and their curiosity.”

Brian Pawloski

2016 BES Fellow


Focused on his students’ college graduation, Brian Pawloski enters The Fellowship with a fierce determination to provide a superior education to disadvantaged urban children in Buffalo, NY.

Brian’s mission to be an innovator and change agent for educational inequity began during his undergraduate years, when he led Teamwork for Tomorrow, a literacy initiative for impoverished local children. This work had a deep and lasting impact on Brian and encouraged him to pursue a life of service, beginning as a classroom teacher through the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education. Brian then joined Teach For America staff as a Program Director, supporting and coaching first and second year teachers.

Most recently, Brian worked at the Oracle Charter School in Buffalo, NY, where he assumed a number of roles including Chief Information Officer and Dean of Students. In each role, his primary objective was to act as the voice for his students and school. He created clear and fair evaluation systems, built a restorative justice-based data tracking system to promote desired student habits, and increased student exposure to careers through partnerships with local businesses.

Brian holds a B.A. in American Studies and an M.Ed. in Elementary and Secondary Education and Teaching from the University of Notre Dame.

“I have made a conscious choice to work with students who are in dire need of someone to advocate for their immense and untapped potential. I want to bring about transformative change within our community. I can champion our students and the great school they deserve. Our students don’t need to graduate from high school. They MUST graduate from college. That is what I will set out to do, and that is what I will do.”

Jade Rivera

2016 BES Fellow


Jade Rivera brings to The Fellowship a range of teaching and leadership experiences that drive her to found and lead a high-achieving charter school in Albuquerque, NM.

Jade is from Albuquerque, where she was raised by a single mother, and graduated top of her class from the local high school. While pursuing her degree, she decided to volunteer at the campus community service agency, which helped shape her desire to spend her life serving her hometown.

During her final year in college, Jade served as a Campus Campaign Coordinator for Teach For America. Upon graduation, she became a Corps member, moving to Las Vegas, NV, to teach middle school math for two years. Returning to New Mexico, she worked as a policy administrator for the state’s Public Education Department, directing innovation truancy and dropout prevention programming, as well as managing professional development opportunities for educators in areas of culturally and linguistically responsive instruction and Common Core State Standards implementation.

Jade believes that strong teachers are truly the key to students’ success. “The greatest predictor of student success is not family income, race, ethnicity, or even the school a student attends; from my experience, the greatest indicator is access to exceedingly wonderful educators. Great teachers mold great students, who build great schools.” Jade intends for her school to achieve greatness in this way.

Jade received a B.A. in Psychology and Sociology from the University of New Mexico and a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nevada–Las Vegas.

“A great deal of my drive for this work comes from the immensely disappointing inequalities that I’ve witnessed and studied in schools across the U.S. I am driven to do this work because while the disparities still exist, I know that opportunity for change is just as powerful.”

Sheena Shirakhon

2016 BES Fellow


Sheena Shirakhon is ready to found and lead a high-achieving charter school in Richmond, CA.

Sheena taught eighth grade English in New York through Teach For America, followed by a few years teaching at KIPP: NYC. She then began working for Rocketship Education as a fourth grade teacher and founding kindergarten literacy teacher. She recently assumed the post of Assistant Principal, managing and coaching third through fifth grade literacy teams.

Between her positions at Rocketship Education, Sheena worked with Enseña por México (Teach For Mexico) as the Director of Academic and Leadership Development. She led the coaching team, supporting 115 new Corps members, and guided the development and execution of over 135 hours of training sessions during the summer institute.

Sheena cannot and will not accept the fact that there are still communities who do not have access to effective schools. She aims to use what she has learned in her years in education to design and create an excellent school.

Sheena holds a B.A. in Middle Eastern Arts and Asian Language and Culture from Columbia University and an M.A. in Secondary Education and Teaching from the City University of New York.

“My vision is to create an elementary school in which all students graduate with a thorough mastery of the skills they will need in order to be successful as they move forward in their education. I want their future middle school science teacher to beam when they are undaunted by the complicated vocabulary in their textbooks. I want their college English professors to be impressed by the quality of our students’ ideas and their ability to articulate them effectively in writing. I want our kids to have the educational and career opportunities that will open up to them long after they leave this school.”

Kristen Shroff

2016 BES Fellow


Kristen Shroff is determined to build a team of talented, inspired educators who will make a difference in the lives of students at the New York City charter school that she will found and lead.

Kristen first became passionate about education through the New York City Teaching Fellows program, where she taught English language arts in a Bronx middle school and traveled the city to coach teachers as a Field Experience Manager.

More recently, Kristen served as the Dean of Special Services and History at a middle school in Brooklyn, NY. In this position she coached teachers and managed curriculum revitalization, designed special education and academic intervention programs, and developed school-wide behavioral systems, resulting in a significant decrease in classroom removals.

Kristen is driven to succeed by the overall low quality of instruction and poor achievement results she has seen, and is determined to make this change. She is inspired and awed by the growth she sees in her students when they are given the opportunities and support to be academically successful. “A school is nothing without strong academic results. We make a promise to kids and to families that we will get 100 percent of scholars to and through college. We must deliver on that promise by providing: students with high-quality, rigorous instruction; passionate and well-trained teachers; and a relentless focus on data.”

Kristen holds a B.S. in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an M.S. in Bilingual and Multicultural Education from The City College of New York.

“Our entire staff will work to unleash the intellect of scholars by assuming that all of our kids are talented and gifted, by teaching above the college-ready bar, and by engaging in regular data analysis, action planning, and intervention. Every single student deserves a school that will support them, challenge them, push them, and hold them to the high expectations that they deserve.”

Danny Song

2016 BES Fellow


Compelled by the dire inadequacy of the current public school system, Danny Song seeks to inspire and push his students to achieve success as he founds and leads his own high-achieving urban charter school in Memphis, TN.

Danny Song believes that urban education is the greatest social justice and civil rights issue facing America today. He began his career in education as a founding math instructor at Veritas College Preparatory Charter School in Memphis. During his tenure, his students saw the second highest growth in math in the Memphis City Schools district. He went on to become the founding Dean of Students at Cornerstone Preparatory School for a year before joining the Capstone Education Group as a fifth grade English language arts instructor. Danny then joined Rocketship Education as a founding third and fourth grade teacher, later moving into the role of Assistant Principal. Most recently, he served as a School Director with Teach For America Institute, overseeing the development and coaching of 23 new TFA Corps members.

Drawing on these experiences, and with a student-first mindset, rigorous academics, and community-focused plan, Danny sets out to serve the children of Memphis by providing an outstanding educational foundation.

Danny received a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in Urban Education from Union University.

“The difficulty has come in the responsibility I have as a professional to tell each of these loving, passionate, dedicated parents that most of their children are one, two, or three years behind grade level in math and reading. I feel like a doctor giving every patient I see a bad diagnosis -- one that, if left untreated, will leave their lives in chaos and distress. I tell each of my parents, this is why I teach. This is why I'm here. Because this reality is unjust.”

Gautam Thapar

2016 BES Fellow


Gautam Thapar will found and lead a college-preparatory charter school in Richmond, CA.

Gautam did not plan on a future in education. On a whim, he responded to an email seeking tutors for elementary students and as a result found his true passion, purpose, and joy for helping children. His journey in education began when he joined Teach For America as a Corps member. Gautam then went on to teach US History at Leadership Public Schools, and most recently served as an educational circle member and Director at the University of Michigan Social Venture Fund. “My four years as a teacher were the most trying and transformative of my life. I failed regularly, but I always failed forward.” Learning and growing from his mistakes, Gautam aims to become the kind of leader parents would entrust with their children’s education.

Outside of the classroom, Gautam assumed a number of other leadership posts, including running a schoolwide program in meta-cognitive studies, serving on his charter network’s Board of Governors, and joining his school’s Instructional Leadership Team.

As a school founder and leader, Gautam wants to push the boundaries of what is possible for urban youth, creating and fostering opportunities for each student to be challenged, take ownership and responsibility over their learning, and be proud of their scholastic achievements.

Gautam holds a B.A. in International Security Studies, Political Science, and Government from Stanford University and an MBA from the University of Michigan.

“I intend to create a learning experience in which students and adult leaders are held to high expectations, where everyone feels that they are a valuable part of a vibrant, responsive school community, and innovation is embraced and scaled to solve new and pressing problems.”
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