Fiercely committed to the promise of American education, to our families, to our students, and to one another
Ascend team leaders
Interim Chief Executive Officer
As interim chief executive officer, Lisa is responsible for driving Ascend’s mission and overseeing the network’s operational and financial sustainability. Importantly, she ensures that Ascend remains focused on its education and growth vision as the board undertakes its search for a permanent CEO.
Lisa comes to Ascend from Girls Scouts of the USA, where she most recently served as chief customer officer, leading the mission and program delivery for the nearly-$1 billion network of 113 local chapters. Her responsibilities included driving girl and adult membership, girl programming content and delivery, local chapter capacity building, and field-headquarter relations. Prior to Girl Scouts, Lisa served in various roles at KIPP, a network of high-performing charter schools operating in 20 states and Washington DC. As KIPP’s chief program officer and chief network growth officer she led the successful and sustainable scaling of the network from 66 to 161 schools in partnership with local KIPP leaders and their independent non-profit boards. Lisa began her career in the financial services industry, where she led global sales, service, and implementation teams in the treasury management business.
Lisa holds a bachelor’s degree in business from Marquette University and an MBA in finance and management of organization from Columbia University.
Chief Financial Officer
As chief financial officer, Andrew Epstein oversees all financial matters, including financial policies, planning, and reporting; budgeting, accounting, regulatory compliance, payroll, employee benefits, insurance, equipment leasing, purchasing systems and controls, and borrowing. Since joining Ascend, he has managed growth in revenues from $19 million to $99 million, and staff growth from 138 to 725. Epstein previously worked at Charter School Business Management (CSBM), providing non-academic technical support to schools. Earlier, he served as senior director of finance at Democracy Prep Public Schools, a network of high-performing charter schools. Prior to that, he worked in the music industry, starting at Universal Music Group and later serving as director of operations for the promotion department at Island Def Jam Music Group. Epstein is a former teacher and Teach For America corps member. He taught middle-school science at KIPP Academy in the Bronx and at the New York Settlement School, and helped develop and lead a summer camp for special needs children. Epstein holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Columbia University.
Chief Talent Officer
Betsy Goldfarb, Ascend’s chief talent officer, oversees strategic outreach and talent recruitment for Ascend. Prior to assuming this role, Goldfarb served as a managing director of schools at Ascend for three years, managing the launches of Brooklyn Ascend High School—the network’s first high school—and Bushwick Ascend Middle School. Goldfarb came to Ascend from the Hyde Leadership Charter School, a successful K-12 program in the Bronx, where she was head of school. Goldfarb successfully led Hyde Leadership’s expansion and ultimately managed three divisions located across two campuses. Of the first senior class, 94 percent graduated and 95 percent gained college acceptance. Prior to becoming head of school, she served as the school’s director of instruction and assistant head of school. Goldfarb began her career at a private high school in Bath, Maine, where she taught Advanced Placement U.S. History and Algebra II and coached varsity women’s basketball and varsity men’s tennis. She holds a master’s of education in school leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University.
Chief Curriculum and Instruction Officer
Chief Curriculum and Instruction Officer Erica Murphy oversees the design and implementation of Ascend’s unique liberal arts curriculum. For the past five years, Murphy served as school director of Brownsville Ascend Lower School. Over that time, her school’s proficiency rates increased 30 percentage points in English language arts and 34 percentage points in mathematics. In school year 2016-17, Murphy’s school achieved the second-highest score improvement among New York City charter schools. Murphy joined the Ascend network as a second-grade teacher, team leader, and instructional coach at Brooklyn Ascend Lower School where she consistently posted the highest math results in the network. Before joining Ascend, she was a research associate at the New York City Department of Education’s Research and Policy Support Group. Earlier, Murphy spent several years as a teacher in a NYC Department of Education school. She holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs; a master’s in elementary education from Lehman College; and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Washington University in Saint Louis.
Chief Schools Officer
Chief Schools Officer Brandon Sorlie leads all of Ascend schools’ line structure; he and his team offer a wide range of instructional supports to Ascend schools. Sorlie oversees the managing directors and the school supports and data and analytics teams, coaches the school directors, and strengthens the implementation of Ascend’s educational model. He has launched a successful resident director program, ensuring successful openings of new Ascend schools. Formerly school director of Brooklyn Ascend Lower School, Sorlie has been with the network since its inception in 2008. Over the past two years, under his leadership, network performance has improved by 20 percentage points in both English language arts and math on the grades 3 through 8 New York State Common Core exams. Sorlie began his career as a Teach For America corps member in the Bronx where he taught special education for five years. A graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, he holds two master’s degrees, one in teaching from Pace University and one in school leadership from the Teachers College at Columbia University.
Chief Operating Officer
Chief Operating Officer Carl-Anthony Watson is responsible for establishing the vision and culture for all operational functions at Ascend schools, including student recruitment, school operations, meals, transportation, procurement, student information systems, safety, school openings; as well as for Ascend’s network-wide human resources function. Watson joins Ascend from Public Prep, another innovative New York City charter school network, where he most recently served as managing director of new school development and special projects, leading the design and launch of the network’s high school program. During his time at Public Prep, Watson also led the student recruitment, staff recruitment, and human resources teams at the network. Previously, Watson was a founding director of Boys Prep Bronx Elementary School, leading operations, finance, and compliance. Prior to joining Public Prep, Watson held senior positions at ROADS Charter High Schools, The Wallace Foundation, and New Visions for Public Schools; and teaching positions in New York and Washington, DC. Watson holds a bachelor’s in English from Temple University, a master’s of public administration from New York University, and a doctorate in educational and organizational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania.
Network Director of Operations
Ariana Ames supports, coaches, and provides technical and other resources to the Ascend schools’ directors of operations and designs systems to ensure greater efficiency, improved data analysis, and compliance. Prior to joining Ascend, Ames was the director of facilities at Brooklyn Lab Charter School and a business operations manager at Success Academy Charter Schools. Ames began her career in the criminal justice field as a corporate investigator on Wall Street and a criminology professor at John Jay College, before transitioning to education to serve disadvantaged students and families. Ames holds a doctorate in law and policy, with a specialization in education policy, from Northeastern University; a master’s in criminal justice from John Jay College; and a bachelor’s in sociology and political science from William Paterson University.
Director of Lower School Mathematics
As director of lower school mathematics, Sophia Balis-Harris leads Ascend’s K-4 math program, designing curriculum and delivering professional development to school leaders. Prior to this role, Balis-Harris served as dean of instruction at Bushwick Ascend Lower School, where she coached teachers and – using data to propel student academic achievement – drove proficiency gains of 35 percentage points in reading and 25 percentage points math in one year. Balis-Harris also led her students to extraordinary growth as a lower school general and special education teacher at Brownsville Ascend and, before that, at Success Academy. Balis-Harris holds a bachelor’s of arts in political science from Bryn Mawr College and a master’s degree in childhood and special education from Touro College.
Associate Director of Upper School Literacy
Associate Director of Upper School Literacy Jacqueline Boyd works closely with other members of the literacy team to align Ascend’s Humanities program with the broader vision and philosophy for literacy at Ascend, while developing curricula and assessments and implementing professional development. She joins Ascend with over 10 years of teaching and school leadership experience. Boyd has served as both an instructional coach and dean of curriculum and instruction at several major charter networks in New York, including Uncommon Schools and KIPP. Earlier, she taught high school English and history at Thistletown Collegiate in Toronto, Canada. Boyd holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in education from York University.
Managing Director of Schools
Managing Director of Schools Dellianna Burrows oversees a portfolio of schools and supports the school directors to achieve academic and organizational goals, build and maintain a strong presence for the school in the community, and develop and cultivate relationships with students, teachers, parents, and community members. Previously, Burrows oversaw the design and implementation of Ascend’s literacy curriculum for the lower schools, working closely with school leaders and K-4 teachers across the network. During the 2013-2014 school year, as a talent coach for the New York City Department of Education, Burrows helped principals measure educators’ effectiveness based on consistent criteria to promote achievement. She began her career at Ascend as the founding school director of Bushwick Ascend Lower School, leading the school to exceptional ELA and math scores, and creating a strong culture of achievement. Burrows earned her bachelor’s degree at Baruch College of the City University of New York. She holds two master’s degrees from St. John’s University of New York, the first in childhood education and the second in school building leadership.
Network Director of Operations
Network Director of Operations Aaron Daly supports, coaches, and provides technical and other resources to the Ascend schools’ directors of operations and designs systems to ensure greater efficiency, improved data analysis, and compliance. Prior to joining the network, Daly was responsible for all non-academic operations at Brownsville Ascend and Ascend’s Pitkin campus, including oversight of all programs and practices related to the school’s distinctive culture; he continues to serve as director of operations for Brownsville Ascend Lower School. Daly came to Ascend from The Harlem Children’s Zone, where he served most recently as assistant director of programs, managing four program sites and a budget of approximately four million dollars. Previously, he founded Prep Step, Inc., a New York nonprofit organization that places at-risk student-athletes in competitive and productive learning environments where they can excel. Daly is a graduate of the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University.
Genevieve de Gaillande
Director of School Operations
Director of School Operations Genevieve de Gaillande is responsible for supporting Ascend’s school-based directors of operations on all technical aspects of their role. She also oversees student recruitment and enrollment across the network and is responsible for school compliance and reporting. She came to Ascend from Community Partnership Charter School in Brooklyn, where she was director of operations. Previously, de Gaillande managed the operations start-up process for the charter school initiative of New Visions for Public Schools. In this role, she also supported schools in all reporting requirements and served as the main compliance officer. Prior to joining New Visions, Genevieve worked as a film production manager and commercial casting director. She is the board chair for Falconworks Artist Group, a community-based organization centered on arts advocacy for youth in south Brooklyn. She holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of California at San Diego.
Director of Mathematics, 5-8
As director of mathematics for grades 5-8, Maya Dennis leads Ascend’s middle school math program, developing curriculum and assessments, designing and delivering professional development to Ascend school leaders, and using data to drive student achievement. In her previous role as associate director of math for grades 3-8, Dennis oversaw the creation of a pilot program in scripted math lesson plans for grades 3 and 7, leading to significant achievement gains in those two grades. Under Dennis’s guidance, this a pilot program will now be implemented network-wide. Dennis joined Ascend as the founding dean of instruction for math at Canarsie Ascend Middle School, where she led professional development and instructional coaching for her team of teachers. Prior to joining Ascend, Dennis held teaching positions at Equipo Academy in Las Vegas, NV, where she served as math and sixth-grade team lead and Response to Intervention (RTI) coordinator; and Hyde Leadership Charter School in the Bronx, as a third-grade lead teacher and Teach For America corps member. Dennis holds a bachelor’s in American studies from Williams College, a master’s in the art of teaching (MAT) from Relay Graduate School of Education, and a master’s in education entrepreneurship from the University of Pennsylvania.
Director of Teaching Fellows Recruitment
Director of Teaching Fellows Recruitment Nicholas Diaz leads Ascend’s efforts to engage and recruit from across the country diverse, accomplished undergraduates to join Ascend schools as Teaching Fellows. After beginning his career as a middle school English teacher and Teach For America corps member in Miami, FL, Diaz pivoted to recruiting new corps members to the program. As a recruitment manager and most recently as recruitment director for TFA’s Northeast region, Diaz managed campus recruitment activities, coordinated efforts between local recruiters and regional offices, and developed an organization-wide applicant retention strategy that reduced application withdrawal rates by nine percent. A New York City native, Diaz holds a bachelor’s degree in English and Latino studies from Cornell University.
Network Director of Operations
Network Director of Operations Nicole Duckett supports, coaches, and provides technical and other resources to school directors of operations, and designs systems to ensure greater efficiency, improved data analysis, and compliance. Prior to joining Ascend, Duckett served as the senior director of operations at KIPP Philadelphia Preparatory Academy, where she managed day-to-day operations across the school and helped implement the school’s turnaround vision. Duckett also served as a founding director of operations of KIPP Nashville College Prep Elementary, where she helped manage the school’s launch and its student recruitment and enrollment efforts; and director of operations at KIPP Philadelphia Charter School. Duckett started her career in Georgia, where she served as chief operating officer of a counseling center and executive director of a residential child care facility. Duckett holds a bachelor’s in sociology from Georgia State University and an MBA from Argosy University; she is currently earning an Ed.D. in policy and administration from Drexel University.
Director of Publications
As director of publications, Sue DuFrirsz ensures that all curricular and assessment materials deployed in the network adhere to Ascend’s standards for editorial quality, typographical accuracy, design, and ease of use. Previously, DuFrirsz was the editorial department manager for Questar Assessment (formerly Touchstone Applied Science Associates) producing materials for as many as 16 statewide assessment programs. Prior to Questar, DuFrirsz worked as an advertising copywriter for McCaffrey and McCall Advertising in Manhattan. Accounts included JCPenney, Exxon, Pfizer, and ABC News and Entertainment. While at McCaffrey, DuFrirsz was also part of the team creating the original Schoolhouse Rock music videos. DuFrirsz earned a bachelor’s degree from City College of New York.
Managing Director of Upper Schools
Managing Director of Schools Marsha Gadsden was formerly the school director at Brooklyn Ascend Middle School, where earlier, she was the director of student life, seventh grade dean of instruction, and the director in residence. In her leadership roles, she supported and coached teachers and leaders, used data to guide instruction, and prepared students for high school and college. Gadsden previously taught eighth-grade English at the Achievement First Endeavor Charter School in Bedford-Stuyvesant as a Teach For America Corps member. She was also the director of ENCORE, an after-school program, and operated a Saturday empowerment program for girls at Achievement First. Before joining Brooklyn Ascend, Gadsden served as a founding board member of Bushwick Ascend Charter School. She began her career at the Administration for Children’s Services and Prep for Prep in New York. Gadsden earned her bachelor’s at Georgetown University and her master’s in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where she co-founded and co-directed the Student Public Service Collaborative and served as vice chairwoman of the school’s Black Policy Conference.
Managing Director of Leadership Development
As managing director of leadership development, Janna Genzlinger focuses on the development of Ascend’s future leaders, through her design and guidance of the successful resident director program as well as the teaching fellows program. Prior to accepting this role, Genzlinger was the managing director of schools where she trained and supervised school directors at multiple Ascend schools and designed network-wide training programs for resident directors, deans, and teachers. She first joined Brooklyn Ascend Charter School as the dean of students, and later became school director. Prior to her work at Ascend, Genzlinger was an adjunct professor at Hunter College and RELAY Graduate School of Education, where she designed courses for teachers pursuing their elementary education certification. She also worked as the arts director and music teacher at Excellence Boys Charter School in Brooklyn. Genzlinger earned a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and a master’s from Teacher U at Hunter College.
Director of High School Humanities
Director of High School Humanities Adina Goodman oversees the design and implementation of Ascend’s high school humanities program and facilitates professional development for high school teachers and deans. Most recently, Goodman served as a literacy consultant for grades 6-12, where she led professional development initiatives and collaborated with district and school staff to support literacy instruction. Prior to that, Goodman served as an English language arts teacher and department chair at the Democracy Prep charter network. She began her career in education as a Teach For America Corps Member, teaching English language arts in Prince George’s County, MD. Goodman holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Barnard College of Columbia University and a master’s in literature from New York University.
Director of Data and Analytics
Daniel Hayman manages academic data and analytics for all schools in the Ascend network. Previously, as a policy data analyst for the New York City Charter School Center, he was responsible for collecting, synthesizing, analyzing, and presenting all publicly-available operational, demographic, and performance data for all charter schools in New York State. A former high school math teacher, Hayman taught at The Facing History School. Through his performance as a Teach for America corps member at Herbert H. Lehman High School, he earned the Amgen Fellow award in 2007, given to the top 50 Teach for America applicants in math, science, or engineering in the nation. As an undergraduate at Claremont McKenna College, Hayman created a highly effective, student-staffed consulting agency to support the development of nonprofit organizations. After graduating from Claremont McKenna, he earned a master’s degree in teaching secondary math from Pace University.
Director of Teaching Fellows Programming
Director of Teaching Fellows Programming Kizzy Hodge leads Ascend’s growing and ambitious fellows program, which provides a pathway for college students and career changers to build a teaching career at Ascend. In this role, Hodge is responsible for designing and implementing rich programming and supports for Ascend’s cohorts of graduate and summer fellows to prepare them for outstanding instructional careers. Hodge joins Ascend from Success Academy Charter Schools, where she served most recently as a school interventionist, facilitating professional development for novice and master teachers, training school leaders, and driving increased teacher retention and academic outcomes at struggling schools. Earlier, Hodge oversaw curriculum development and implementation, and facilitated grade-, school-, and network-wide meetings and professional development sessions as a vice principal at Success. She started her career as a lead teacher at Success, propelling her students in grades K-4 to high levels of achievement and ultimately serving as a grade team lead. Hodge holds a BS in elementary education from St. John’s University and an MS in special education from Touro College.
Managing Director of Technology
As managing director of technology, Emeka Ibekweh oversees the administration, operations, service delivery and security of Ascend Learning’s technology and strategic planning initiatives related to the organization’s infrastructure. Before joining Ascend, Ibekweh was director of technology at Harlem Children’s Zone, Inc. and Promise Academy Charter Schools in New York. Among the initiatives he led were the design and implementation of a virtualization plan for converting and consolidating their data center servers to virtual servers, implementation of a web-based student information system, and establishing a technology audit and controls throughout the organization and network schools. In this role, he managed technology multi-million dollar budgets. Previously, Ibekweh spent several years at Lehman Brothers/Barclays Capital, where he rose from analyst to vice president. He is a graduate of Stony Brook University.
Director, School Projects and Construction
Director of School Projects and Construction Dejan “Dan” Ilich is responsible for the design, scoping, and construction oversight of facilities for Ascend. Ilich is a licensed architect and experienced construction project manager with years of experience working on real estate projects in the education sector, including the NY Institute of Technology and St. John’s University.
Director of Facilities
Anthony Lanzi helps maintain the facilities of Ascend Learning and its network schools to ensure that they are not only highly functional but deeply inspiring environments. With more than a decade of experience in various aspects of the construction trade–including the renovation of five houses–Lanzi currently manages two multi-family properties and he previously served as assistant property manager of a 20-unit building. Earlier, he was a millwork specialist at Home Depot on Staten Island; a shop manager at ACS Metal in Elizabethtown, New Jersey; and owner and manager of Moe’s Tavern in Staten Island. A graduate of Xaverian High School in Brooklyn, Lanzi studied architecture at New York Technical College in the borough.
Managing Director of Finance
Before joining Ascend’s finance team, Charlise Manuel was a junior consultant, finance and human resources, at Charter School Business Management, Inc. (CSBM) in New York City. CSBM works to provide charter schools with the knowledge and services they need to develop and maintain a strong foundation of finance, operations and human resources. In addition to performing daily bookkeeping functions for CSBM clients, Manuel ensured accurate financial records; managed payrolls; helped prepare financial statements for annual independent audits; and monitored clients’ financial and operational activities to ensure adherence to state and federal law, generally accepted accounting principles, and sound financial policies and procedures. Manuel previously worked as an administrative assistant at Olin Library in Ithaca, New York. She has been an active volunteer for many organizations, including Do Anything Nice, Inc., a nonprofit designed to promote the value of kindness through student action, which she has served as a national officer. Manuel is a graduate of Cornell University.
Director of Student Recruitment and Enrollment
Director of Student Recruitment and Enrollment Jenny Markus manages student recruitment and enrollment across Ascend’s 12 schools by managing information systems and databases, training staff, and conducting large-scale marketing campaigns for both existing and newly opening schools. Markus began her career at Ascend in 2015 as operations manager. Previously, she served in a variety of managerial roles, including senior business information analyst at HealthPlus Amerigroup, consulting analyst at the online technology and educational platforms Grovo Learning and Books That Grow, and senior project manager at the technology startup Booker Software. Markus holds a bachelor’s of business administration from Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business.
Director of Talent Outreach
Hamna Mela leads Ascend’s efforts to source high quality teachers and leaders for Ascend schools. Prior to joining Ascend, she served as director of educator programs at Success Academy Charter Schools, where she supported the development of programs and resources for educators around the country. Previously, as director of partner engagement for Education Pioneers, Mela oversaw leadership development programs and job placement for diverse leaders in the education sector. She has also worked as associate director of partner programs at iMentor, where she ensured program growth and quality for post-secondary success-focused mentoring programs across the country and worked directly with high school students in the Bronx to build critical post-secondary success skills. Mela holds a bachelor’s degree from New York University in environmental studies and metropolitan studies.
Managing Director of Schools
Managing Director of Schools Anastasia Michals oversees a portfolio of schools and supports school directors to achieve academic and organizational goals, build and maintain a strong presence for the school in the community, and develop and cultivate relationships with students, teachers, parents, and community members. Michals also serves as school director of Canarsie Ascend Lower School, where she has led her students and staff in achieving some of the strongest academic and cultural results in the Ascend network. Michals was formerly the founding dean of students at the school, responsible for shaping and sustaining the school’s distinctive culture. Michals joined Ascend with extensive teaching experience, having taught math at several high-performing elementary and middle schools in New York and New Jersey following her time as a Teach For America corps member in Atlanta. Michals holds two master’s degrees in education from Columbia University and Mercer University, a post-master’s certification endorsement as a supervisor from Monmouth University, and a bachelor’s from Bryn Mawr.
Director of Talent Operations and Data
Director of Talent Operations and Data, Aaron Obrochta, oversees operations of the Talent team’s annual recruitment campaign and talent recruitment events, and provides data analysis that informs Ascend’s talent recruitment and outreach strategies. Obrochta is a recent graduate of New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, where he received an MBA with specializations in business analytics, marketing, and digital marketing. He received his undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering from the United States Naval Academy with merit. Prior to joining Ascend, Obrochta was a field admissions manager for the United States Naval Academy’s strategic outreach department. Earlier in his Navy career, he was a helicopter pilot and aircraft commander, aircraft maintenance manager, and the director of quality assurance for a Navy helicopter squadron.
Director of Talent Recruitment
Karen Reece serves as Ascend’s director of talent recruitment, leading Ascend’s effort to recruit talented and passionate educators to join Ascend’s team. Reece joins Ascend with extensive charter school recruiting experience, having served for many years in senior recruiter positions at Success Academy and IDEA Public Schools. Earlier in her career, Reece was a second grade instructional teacher, and taught movement and dance, at Achievement First Crown Heights Elementary School. Prior to her career in education, Reece was a field manager and coordinator at Corporate Family Network and The Fresh Air Fund, where she managed thousands of volunteers across four states. Reece holds a bachelor’s degree in Educational Services from Concordia College.
Director of High School Data and Analytics
In Amy Singh’s capacity as the director of high school data and analytics, she plays a key role in data analysis, collection, and reporting to identify trends and guide instruction at Ascend’s high school, and oversees all data usage and training for high school staff. Prior to joining Ascend, Singh worked as a schools manager for Renaissance School Services, a leading service provider in school turnaround, charter school operations, and research, where she built and tracked academic and operational data models and managed implementation plans for school clients while conducting education research provided ongoing support and training to school, . She has also served as a project manager fellow for the One World Youth Project in Boston, MA and worked on the operations and finance teams of The Equity Project Charter School in New York City. Singh holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and international relations from Boston University.
Director of Leadership Recruitment
Director of Leadership Recruitment Craig Sini manages the selection and candidate cultivation process of school-based leader and network staff candidates. Sini started with Ascend as a senior recruitment manager and led initiatives to provide a rigorous and cultivating experience for both external and internal leader candidates, resulting in significant increases in high-quality candidates and hires across all schools. Prior to joining Ascend, Sini helped drive talent development and student achievement as an instructional fellow at Excellence Girls Middle Academy, established a joyful and rigorous student culture as a dean of students at Brooklyn East Collegiate, and supported turnaround efforts as an assistant principal at UP Academy. Sini has several years of classroom teaching experience and began his career as a history teacher at Boston Preparatory Charter Public School. Sini is a graduate of Northeastern University, where he earned bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in teaching.
Director of High School STEM
Director of High School STEM Dan Sonrouillé brings more than a decade of experience in teaching, coaching, and curriculum development to his role. Sonrouillé joined Ascend as a member of Brooklyn Ascend High School’s founding team, teaching numerous science courses while also serving as science department chair and instructional coach. Additionally, Sonrouillé designed science courses and wrote curriculum aligned to Next Generation Science Standards, supported the integration of technology and engineering practices into the classroom, and, most recently, served as an Ascend Teaching Fellowship mentor teacher. Prior to joining Brooklyn Ascend High, Sonrouillé was grade level chair, teacher, and new teacher coach at Achievement First Brooklyn High School, where his students achieved some of the strongest academic results in the Achievement First network. He began his career as a New York City Teaching Fellow at The High School for Arts, Imagination, and Inquiry. Sonrouillé holds a bachelor’s of science in biology from Central Connecticut State University and a master’s of science in secondary education from City College, New York; he currently serves as an adjunct professor of science content at the Relay Graduate School of Education.
Managing Director of Mathematics and Science, K-8
Anjya Thomas serves as managing director of mathematics and science for grades K-8. During her time at Ascend, Thomas has led a redesign of Ascend’s middle school math program and overseen impressive gains in math proficiency over two years. Prior to joining Ascend, she served as principal of Brownsville Collegiate Charter School. There she developed a strong math program as the dean of curriculum and instruction, as a math teacher, and as a math department coordinator. Thomas received a Bachelor of Arts in history with a concentration in the Latina diaspora from Williams College and a Master of Education from Teacher U at City University of New York, Hunter College.
Director of Student Services
As director of student services, Jennifer Thomas works with the leadership teams and faculties at Ascend schools to provide the structure and support services needed to help every student succeed. Thomas oversees Ascend’s Response to Intervention Program (RTI), English as a second language (ESL), special education and the provision of services required by students with special needs and limited English proficiency. She formerly served as director of special education at Brooklyn Ascend Charter School. Thomas was director of curriculum and instruction and special education coordinator at another charter school in Brooklyn before joining Ascend, and previously she taught students with special needs in Public School 5 in the borough. Thomas holds a bachelor’s degree from Baruch College and a master’s degree in elementary/special education from Long Island University. She earned an administrative license in school building leadership and school district leadership through the Center for Integrated Teacher Education at the College of Saint Rose.
Louis Trani is controller at Ascend, working with the finance team to ensure the organization has accurate and timely financial information. Trani oversees the accounting operations of the schools and Ascend Learning, including accounts receivable, grants accounting and compliance, audit, and financial reporting. Trani brings more than 20 years of accounting experience to Ascend, including 15 years with PVH Corp., which is the parent company for clothing brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. Most recently, as PVH’s financial audit director, he was responsible for designing and directing audit plans, establishing systems for fraud prevention and detection, generating policy around mergers and acquisitions, and more. Trani is a certified public accountant, with a bachelor’s degree in public accounting and an MBA in finance from Pace University.
Director of Lower School Literacy
Director of Lower School Literacy Lindsey Voorhees leads Ascend’s lower school literacy program by developing curricula and assessments, designing and delivering professional development, using academic data to inform adjustments, and serving as in-house K-2 expert to support Ascend’s vision and philosophy for literacy. She joins Ascend with over 10 years of teaching and school leadership experience. Most recently Voorhees was dean of students at Southern Heights Elementary School in Seattle, Washington, and earlier held positions as an early learning specialist and kindergarten teacher with Highline Public Schools. Voorhees holds a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in teaching and learning from the University of Oregon, as well as a certificate from the University of Washington’s P-3 Executive Leadership Institute.
Our core values
We believe and teach that moral character and honesty matter.
We approach our work and world with wonder and excitement and a constant quest to improve.
We are bound by a commitment to our students, and approach one another with empathy, generosity of spirit, and laughter.
We instill in one another the skills and confidence to live lives of power, purpose, and meaning.
We welcome feedback, hunger for new ideas, and seek to expand our capacities.
We have the courage and optimism to act boldly.
We aim to do everything with distinction, always.
Julia Bator is the former executive director of the Robertson Foundation. She was previously the chief executive officer of The Fund for Public Schools, the nonprofit arm of the New York City Department of Education, which connects private sector resources to the nation’s largest public school system. Before her appointment to The Fund in 2011, Bator worked at Highbridge Capital Management, where she served as chief of staff, managing external affairs for the chief executive officer. Her experience also includes working for the Heckscher Foundation for Children and a number of public-private partnerships such as the Fund for Public Advocacy, City Parks Foundation, and the Chancellor’s Literacy Campaign under NYC Schools Chancellor Rudolph Crew. Bator has also been a public school teacher and served on the executive staff of The White House from 1994 to 1996. She is a graduate of Yale University and holds a master’s degree in education.
Marty Linsky is co-founder and principal of Cambridge Leadership Associates (CLA), a global leadership development firm. He has had extensive experience as a consultant, facilitator, teacher, and trainer in leadership with a wide range of public- and private-sector clients in the U.S. and abroad. His most recent book is The Practice of Adaptive Leadership (Harvard Business Press 2009), co-authored with Ronald Heifetz, with whom he co-founded CLA, and Alexander Grashow, CLA’s managing director. He is also the co-author, with Heifetz, of the best-selling Leadership on the Line.
Linsky is a faculty member at Harvard’s Kennedy School, where he has been since 1979, except for three years in the early 1990s when he served as chief secretary and counsel to then-Massachusetts Governor William Weld. He joined Harvard’s faculty after careers in politics and journalism, having served as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, an assistant Massachusetts attorney general, a reporter and editorial writer at The Boston Globe, and the editor of the alternative weekly, The Real Paper.
Linsky is a graduate of Williams College and Harvard Law School.
Rick Arroyo served as chief financial officer of Citibank, N.A., prior to his retirement in 2016. Throughout his 38-year tenure with Citigroup, Arroyo served in a variety of strategic management leadership and support roles across a number of Citigroup’s businesses. Prior to joining Citigroup, Arroyo worked as an auditor with Coopers & Lybrand and with Sun Chemical’s European Audit Group. He has also held an instructional position at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Graduate School of Business Administration. Arroyo holds a wealth of board and committee experience; he currently serves as an independent director of Morgan Stanley Bank in the Audit and Risk Committees, and was previously on the board of Department Stores National Bank. Arroyo is a graduate of Manhattan College, New York University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and New York University’s Stern School of Business.
Nadine Sylvester is the director of internship services and employment placement at Year Up, a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged young adults attain higher education and succeed in their professional lives. In her role, Sylvester oversees internship and employment placements and leads Year Up’s alumni engagement strategy; for this work, she has been named an American Express Emerging Leader in 2016. Previously, Sylvester worked as a program coordinator for Cypress Hills Local Development Corp, through which she provided counseling and crisis management services to at-risk youth seeking to complete high school or GED programs. A native of Central Brooklyn, Sylvester is an active leader in her community, serving as a team leader for New York City’s largest volunteering network, New York Cares, and as a member of Brooklyn’s Community Board 17. Sylvester holds a bachelor’s degree in history and social work from New York University and a master’s degree in social work from Fordham University. She is the proud parent of an Ascend student, and also serves on the Ascend Charter Schools Board of Trustees.
Kwaku Andoh is a partner at Cohen & Gresser LLP. His practice focuses on domestic and international mergers and acquisitions, strategic investments, joint ventures, and other corporate transactions, as well as general corporate counseling. Prior to joing Cohen & Gresser, Andoh was managing director and associate general counsel at JPMorgan Chase & Co., where he advised on over $10 billion in mergers and acquisitions transactions, investments in FinTech startups, and venture capitla transactions for all JPMorgan Chase lines of business worldwide.
Andoh began his career with the firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton in New York, where he practiced for seven years, focusing primarily on international financings, private placements and mergers and acquisitions for a diverse group of clients. Andoh received a bachelor of arts degree in economics, cum laude, from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1986 and a master of arts degree in economics from Boston University in 1989. He graduated from Stanford Law School in 1992, where he served on the Stanford Law Review as a notes editor. He is the author of a note entitled Countervailing Duties in a Not Quite Perfect World: An Economic Analysis, Note, 44 Stanford Law Review 1515 (1992), for which he received the Irving H. Hellman, Jr. Award for the outstanding student note published by the Stanford Law Review in 1992.
Board Treasurer Shelly Cleary is a senior vice president at Community Development Trust (CDT), a community development real estate investment trust. At CDT, Cleary developed, secured funding for, and leads their Charter School Lending Program, where she is responsible for the marketing and structuring of all charter school project transactions. Prior to this role, Cleary served as senior vice president for underwriting at CDT, where, during her fiften-year tenure, she originated over $200 million of affordable multifamily housing debt through her various roles within CDT’s Debt Group.
Prior to joinign CDT, Cleary held positions in housing finance at the National Equity Fund, a syndicator of federal low income housing tax credits, and at the Community Preservation Corporation, a regional construction lender that specializees in affordable housing. She began her career in the education department at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Cleary holds a bachelor’s degree in art history from the University of Virginia and a master’s of public administration from the Humphrey Institute of Public Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Board Secretary Amanda Craft is senior director of recruitment at Uncommon Schools. Prior to joining Uncommon, Craft was a recruiting research analyst at Bridgewater Associates, an investment company that oversees $120 billion in international investments for diverse clients, including foreign governments, university endowments, and charitable foundations.
After graduating from Columbia University with a bachelor’s degree in Russian language and literature, Craft served as a regional recruitment fellow for Teach For America (TFA) in New York City. Later, she served as the managing director of strategy in TFA’s human assets department. At the TFA Summer Institute, Craft worked as director of data management, devising systems for improving corps member training. Craft has also taught business English in St. Petersburg, Russia. In the New York community, Craft has worked as a youth group coordinator of the Village Church. She lives in Brooklyn.
Glenn Hopps has over 30 years of experience in real estate finance and accounting, and is the Chief Financial Officer of R4 Capital, a national affordable housing syndicator which has raised more than $1.7 billion in equity and owns nearly 200 properties. Prior to his current role, Hopps was the Chief Financial Officer of the NHP Foundation, a not-for-profit real estate organization dedicated to creating and preserving affordable housing across the country. He was previously a Senior Vice President and Controller at Centerline Capital Group, where he managed quarterly and annual financial reporting for Centerline’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) portfolio, valued at over $11 billion. Hopps holds a bachelor’s of science degree in accounting from the State University of New York at Albany.
Board chair Stephanie Mauterstock is the vice president of Tugboat Education, where she provides consulting services related to school founding and start-up; strategy and business plan development; finance and funding; human resources and talent development; grants; and accountability for charter schools, authorizers, school districts, and education non-profits. Mauterstock was previously chief operating officer for Students for Education Reform, an organization developing college students into grassroots organizers who fight for educational justice in their communities.
Earlier, Mauterstock was chief operating officer at Manhattan Charter School. Having inherited a failing school, she managed its turnaround and growth; wrote the school’s renewal application; and secured full, five-year charter renewal for the school. She previously worked for Edison Schools, where she served as a grants compliance manager and later as a strategy and market research analyst. Mauterstock began her career as a program officer at the Institute of International Education. A graduate of Tufts University, she has also studied in Paris and the Yunnan Province of China.
Architect Christine Schlendorf is a principal at Perkins Eastman with more than 20 years of experience in creating beautiful and innovative educational spaces. She has been responsible for numerous public and private school projects in the United States and overseas, including Mott Haven Campus in the Bronx, a 2,200-student campus containing two high schools, one intermediate school, one charter school, and a performing arts center. Prior to joining Perkins Eastman, Schlendorf was an architect with the firm Louise A. Agnes AIA of Northport, New York. She earned a Bachelor of Architecture at Syracuse University.
Nadine Sylvester is the director of internship services and employment placement at Year Up, a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged young adults attain higher education and succeed in their professional lives. In her role, Sylvester oversees internship and employment placements and leads Year Up’s alumni engagement strategy; for this work, she has been named an American Express Emerging Leader in 2016. Previously, Sylvester worked as a program coordinator for Cypress Hills Local Development Corp, through which she provided counseling and crisis management services to at-risk youth seeking to complete high school or GED programs. A native of Central Brooklyn, Sylvester is an active leader in her community, serving as a team leader for New York City’s largest volunteering network, New York Cares, and as a member of Brooklyn’s Community Board 17. Sylvester holds a bachelor’s degree in history and social work from New York University and a master’s degree in social work from Fordham University. She is the proud parent of an Ascend student, and also serves on the Ascend Learning Board of Directors.
Rev. Oral Walcott is a a community leader and insurance specialist currently serving as a licensed agent at New York Life Insurance Company. Prior to joining New York Life, Rev. Walcott served for 12 years at the Beulah Church of the Nazarene as Sunday school teacher, youth pastor, pastor of discipleship and special events, and executive pastor. He has 13 years’ experience as a claims professional at a leading insurance company in Barbados. In 2010, Rev. Walcott was ordained as an elder in the Church of the Nazarene and serves as secretary of the board of ministries of the New York district.
Rev. Walcott serves on the board of directors of Healing for the Soul Ministries, and as secretary and director of Project CHANGE, a rehabilitative program designed for inmates of Her Majesty’s Prison in Barbados. He was one of the chief architects of the program and co-authored Project CHANGE’s handbooks and curriculum.
Rev. Walcott received a Diploma in Management Studies, in human resources management from Nazarene Bible College and Barbados Institute of Management and Productivity. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in business, management, and economics from SUNY Empire State College; a master of science in organizational leadership from Quinnipiac University; and a professional insurance designation CPCU (Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriter). Rev. Walcott and his wife Nicole are the proud parents of two Brownsville Ascend students.