Fiercely committed to the promise of American education, to our families, to our students, and to one another
Recy Benjamin Dunn
Chief Executive Officer
Recy Benjamin Dunn, chief executive officer, leads Ascend. He brings more than two decades of leadership experience in education and high-performing public schools. Prior to joining Ascend in 2021, Recy served as the chief strategy officer for the Division of the First Deputy Chancellor at the New York City Department of Education (DOE), where he worked with system leadership to ensure an aligned vision, strategic planning, and system-wide coherence for assessing schools’ needs and providing tailored supports aligned to those needs. Prior to this role, Recy served as one of the DOE’s nine inaugural executive superintendents. As executive superintendent for Affinity Schools, his portfolio included more than 85,000 students in 160 secondary schools—a third of all high school options across the city.
Before returning to the DOE, Recy was chief operations and growth officer at YES Prep Public Schools in Houston where he led system-wide operations, district partnerships, and growth strategy. Previously, he has served as regional director for New Leaders and led major initiatives within the DOE as executive director of the Office of Early Childhood Education and later the Office of Charter Schools. Prior to his work in New York City, Dunn also held critical roles in Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland and the District of Columbia Public Schools, where he completed The Broad Residency in Urban Education. Recy has an MBA and an MA in Education from Stanford, and undergraduate degrees from the University of Texas at Austin. Additionally, he completed the School District Leadership program at Bank Street College.
Chief Schools Officer
Chief Schools Officer Danique Day leads all of Ascend schools’ line structure, overseeing the managing directors of schools, data and analytics team, and student support services. Day began her teaching career with Teach for America three decades ago, falling in love with cultivating young students and proceeding to teach in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and New York City. In 2007, Day joined Success Academies. As principal of Success Academy Harlem 1, Day built a strong community of dedicated educators and the school became a model for professional development, serving as a training site for national and international teachers and academic leaders. Day received her undergraduate degree from Mount Holyoke.
Chief Financial Officer
Chief Financial Officer Cathy Jessup joins Ascend with broad executive experience gained across a variety of organizations. In her role, Jessup is responsible for the finance function – including accounting & controls, budgeting & forecasting, operational support, procurement, legal and real estate. Jessup comes to Ascend from Success Academy Charter Schools, where she was the CFO. Additional experience includes CFO roles at The Topps Company, Diageo, WestconGroup and the Helmsley Charitable Trust. Jessup holds a BA in Russian Studies from Duke University and an MBA in Finance from Indiana University.
Chief of Staff
Sophie Kramer served as Ascend’s legal counsel from September 2019 to February 2021, when she was promoted to Chief of Staff. Since joining Ascend, she has worked closely to advise Ascend’s boards, officers, and planning teams. Kramer previously worked as a legal intern at Lawyers for Children; the Neighborhood Defender Services of Harlem with NYU’s Family Defense Clinic; The Door, supporting youth immigration matters at its legal services center; and the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Educational Opportunities Section. Before she became Ascend’s legal counsel, Kramer also worked as a talent outreach consultant and MBA intern with Ascend’s talent recruitment team. Kramer is a former teacher and Teach For America corps member. She taught students with special education needs at Ballou Senior High School in Washington D.C. and served as special education department chair. Kramer holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale University, a master’s degree in education from George Mason University, and an MBA and JD from New York University. She is admitted to practice in the state of New York.
Chief Operating Officer
Maryann Li serves as Ascend’s chief operating officer, overseeing the tech, enrollment, and operational functions across Ascend’s network. Maryann comes to Ascend from her role as Head of Operations Management at Success Academies, where she oversaw the hiring, development, and management of school operations across 47 elementary, middle, and high schools and led a reimagining of the operations organizational design. Under her leadership, Success Academies saw a 25% decrease in attrition and a doubling in promotion readiness across all operational staff year over year. Prior to this role, Maryann was on Teach For America’s National team, where she was the chief of staff for the national growth and development team. In this capacity, she led strategic planning and team-wide communication and data management. Li started her career on the trading floor at Barclays Capital in Interest Rate Derivatives. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Business, and holds a certificate in social sector leadership from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Maryann is a Pahara fellow and a proud mom of two.
Chief Curriculum and Instruction Officer
Anjya Thomas serves as chief curriculum and instruction officer for Ascend. Prior to this role, she served as managing director of math and science, 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 four 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’s degree in history with a concentration in the Latina diaspora from Williams College and a master’s of education from Teacher U at City University of New York, Hunter College.
Principal, Brooklyn Ascend High School
Livia Angiolillo took the helm as principal of Brooklyn Ascend High School in 2019. A co-founder of Uncommon Collegiate Charter High School (UCC), a high-performing high school with alumni who have graduated from four-year colleges at higher rates than students from the wealthiest American communities, Angiolillo brings to Ascend deep experience successfully developing an environment of academic and cultural achievement. In her role at UCC as co-leader and director of operations, she managed day-to-day operations and school culture initiatives, established the school’s service learning program, and participated in several network-level working groups. Prior to founding UCC, Angiolillo participated in three Uncommon fellowship programs, through which she managed numerous projects related to operations, facilities, school safety, and compliance; trained as an operations leader in existing Uncommon schools; and helped plan the launch of UCC with her co-leader. She previously held positions at Harlem RBI DREAM Charter School and the Legal Aid Society Education Advocacy Project. Angiolillo holds a bachelor’s in English and fine arts from Amherst College, a joint MA/M.Ed. in education organization and leadership from Columbia University’s Teachers College, and a JD from Columbia School of Law.
Principal, Cypress Hills Ascend Lower School
Sophia Balis-Harris is the principal of Cypress Hills Ascend Lower School after several years as an instructional leader at Ascend. Prior to her role as principal, Balis-Harris led Ascend’s K-4 math program as director of lower school mathematics, designing curriculum and delivering professional development to school leaders. She previously 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 in 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.
Principal, Canarsie Ascend Middle School
Tracy DeOliveira-Lewis first joined Ascend in 2010 as a fourth-grade math and science teacher at Brooklyn Ascend Lower School after teaching math and literacy at various district and charter schools in New York for eight years. At Brooklyn Ascend, she rose to a dean of students position which she held for two years before being selected as a Ryan Fellow at the Accelerate Institute. Following the completion of her fellowship, DeOliveira-Lewis served for four years as the principal of Bronx Prep, a Democracy Prep public charter school. In 2018 DeOliveira-Lewis returned to Ascend as a resident director, and now leads at Canarsie Ascend Middle School as principal. DeOliveira-Lewis holds a bachelor’s degree in community health education from CUNY’s York College, a master’s in elementary education and math from CUNY’s Brooklyn College, and a master’s in school building leadership from Columbia University’s Teachers College.
Principal, Central Brooklyn Ascend Lower School
Shani Foster joined Ascend in 2014 as a teacher at Bushwick Ascend Lower School, where she taught music. Foster went on to become a dean of students, responsible for overseeing Ascend’s distinctive warm and nurturing culture at the school, and most recently a resident director at the school. She is thrilled for the chance to bring her experience and commitment to Ascend’s mission to Central Brooklyn Ascend Lower School, where she has served as principal since 2019. Foster began her career in education as a voice and music teacher at various schools in Newark and New York City. Foster holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Spelman College and a master’s in vocal pedagogy and performance from Westminster Choir College of Rider University.
Shannon Re Ismael
Principal, East Flatbush Ascend Lower School
Shannon-Re Ismael is the founding principal of East Flatbush Ascend Lower School. Ismael joined Ascend as a founding kindergarten teacher at Canarsie Ascend Lower School and then became the kindergarten dean of instruction and culture where she led her teachers and the school’s youngest students to outperform the network achievement goals. For the past year, Ismael has also participated in Ascend’s resident school director program, where she further honed her ability to support and train teachers and leaders in their push towards even stronger outcomes. Ismael started her career in education in the Bronx as a TFA Corps member. Her educational philosophy has always been based on the uncompromising belief that all students can learn and thrive when provided a positive learning environment, in schools where strong and knowledgeable leaders work in close partnership with families and the community. A Canarsie native, Ismael earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education with a minor in psychology from Brooklyn College, and her master’s in school building leadership from Bank Street School of Education.
Principal, Brownsville Ascend Middle School
Prior to joining Brownsville Ascend Middle School as principal, Lauren Kinrich served as dean of instruction for fifth and sixth grade humanities at Brooklyn Ascend Middle School, where she developed and mentored English and social studies teachers whose students are some of the highest-achieving students across Ascend’s middle schools. During this time, she also served as a resident school director, training under some of Ascend’s strongest school and network leaders. Before joining Ascend Kinrich was an administrator at Curtis Guild Elementary School in East Boston, where she assisted the school’s principal in teacher coaching, operations management, and school culture. Earlier, Kinrich held roles as a teaching assistant, middle school ELA teacher, and grade team leader at schools in Massachusetts. She started her career as a City Year corps member, serving as an after school program coordinator in Los Angeles. Kinrich holds a bachelor’s in religious studies from Pomona College and two master’s degrees—a master’s in theological studies (MTS) from Harvard Divinity School, and an M.Ed. in school leadership from Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Principal, Bushwick Ascend Middle School
Miatta Massaley took the helm as principal at Bushwick Ascend Middle School, after serving for two years as dean of instruction and culture at Canarsie Ascend Lower School, where she developed the school’s warm culture and propelled her students to superior academic achievement. Massaley began her teaching career as a Teach For America corps member, and joined Ascend after numerous years teaching middle school reading, writing, math, and vocabulary at PAVE Academy, as well as lower elementary students at Success Academy Charter Schools. She also served as a dean of students at Success, a curriculum writer for fifth and sixth grade exam preparation at PAVE, and a graduate professor at Touro College. Massaley holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Pennsylvania State University and a master’s in education from Hunter College.
Principal, Canarsie Ascend Lower School
Justin Moorman joined the Canarsie Ascend Lower School team in 2019, serving as Dean of Instruction and Culture, Resident Director, Principal in Residence, and now Principal. He is committed to scholar excellence and empowerment through transformative equitable and inclusive practices.Previously, he worked in international education reform in the United Arab Emirates as a teacher, an instructional leader, and a district-level consultant. Additionally, he was a contributing author to OECD’s “Teaching for the Future.” Moorman has previously taught first, second, and third grade; he was awarded First Year Teacher of the Year by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District. He obtained his B.A. in Elementary Education from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and his M.A. in Educational Leadership from Concordia University. He holds a Certificate in Advanced Education Leadership from Harvard GSE.
Principal, Brownsville Ascend Lower School
Principal Billie Quigley leads Brownsville Ascend Lower School after serving there as resident director and dean of instruction. Quigley began at Brownsville Ascend Lower in 2011 as an English language arts teacher for grades 3 and 4, producing some of the highest scores in the network, and transitioned into the role of ELA coach before becoming a dean of instruction. In that role, she supported and coached teachers in grades 4 and 5, used data to guide instruction, and worked to push scholars to the highest level of academic achievement. Previously, Quigley taught fourth grade at a public elementary school in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where she distinguished herself as Teacher of the Year among many honors. She holds a bachelor’s of science in elementary education and a master’s in education from William Carey University in Hattiesburg.
Principal, Lefferts Gardens Ascend Lower School
Nadine Rubinstein is the founding principal at Lefferts Gardens Ascend Lower School. Prior to joining Ascend, she was a math instructional coach for Waltham Public Schools in Massachusetts. In this role she helped grade K-5 teachers develop pedagogical and content expertise in math through professional development and one-on-one coaching. Previously, Rubinstein served as a resident principal at two public elementary schools in the Boston area, where she worked closely with school leaders to create and implement strategic plans for school improvement. Earlier Rubinstein taught fifth grade in a self-contained classroom at two campuses of Brooke Charter Schools in Boston. While teaching, she mentored and coached a novice teacher through Brooke’s Associate Teacher program and was professionally filmed as part of a project to codify elements of effective instruction. Rubinstein holds an bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and a M.Ed. in School Leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Principal, East Brooklyn Ascend Lower School
Shanice Sanchez leads East Brooklyn Ascend Lower School as principal, after serving as principal in residence for the school during its co-location with Cypress Hills Ascend Lower School. Sanchez comes to Ascend after several years as a New York City educator. She served as a teacher, grade team lead, and assistant principal at Success Academy Charter Schools, leading her students to exceptionally high passing rates on the state math and ELA assessments. She then led a Teach for America summer school site as its school director, developing a strategic vision for its summer school and coaching school leaders, yielding strong results in student learning and school culture. Immediately prior to joining Ascend, Sanchez was a fellow at Building Excellent Schools, engaging in training on organizational leadership, systems design, governance, finance, and community engagement and developing the vision and growth plan for a proposed charter middle school. Sanchez holds a bachelor’s in urban politics from Barnard College and a master of science in teaching from Fordham University Graduate School of Education.
Leyde St. Leger
Principal, Central Brooklyn Ascend Middle School
Leyde St. Leger takes the helm at Central Brooklyn Ascend Middle School this year with deep teaching and school leadership experience. Most recently, St. Leger was director of Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School (LAB) Sands St. Campus, where he led a reorganization of the high school to facilitate improvements to the school’s academic performance and culture. He previously served as a dean of instruction and deputy director of Brooklyn LAB’s middle school, and earlier as dean of culture at East Camden Middle School in New Jersey. St. Leger began his career as a math teacher with the NYC DOE before relocating to Bermuda to serve a variety of roles within the Bermuda Ministry of Education, including as a teacher and school leader, a summer intervention coordinator, and an adjunct professor. St. Leger holds a bachelor’s of science in mathematics from Hofstra University and an MA in mathematics education from Cambridge College.
Principal, Brooklyn Ascend Lower School
Principal Elena Strauss brings extensive teaching and leadership experience to her role as leader of Brooklyn Ascend Lower School, most recently as dean of instruction at Brooklyn Ascend Lower and as a participant in Ascend’s resident school director program. She joined Ascend after several years in both general and special education classrooms, including at Success Academy Charter Schools as a lead teacher and grade team leader, and as an ICT teacher at DREAM Charter School. Strauss holds a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies with a concentration in psychology from Susquehanna University and a master’s in special and general education from Touro College.
Principal, Brooklyn Ascend Middle School
Richard Tucker took the helm as Principal of Brooklyn Ascend Middle School after serving as the Assistant Principal of Humanities. Prior to joining BAMS, Richard served as a teacher and leader at Bushwick Ascend Middle School, where his scholars consistently achieved some of the highest results on the ELA state exam. Richard also served as Program Director of Scholar Leadership, Grade Level Chair, Mentor Teacher, and Humanities Dean of Instruction, and was recognized as Teacher of the Year during his time at BWMS. Richard’s ongoing commitment to DEIA led him to serve as a member of the founding Equity Steering Committee at Ascend, partnering with members from across the network to develop Ascend’s DEIA initiatives. Richard began his teaching career in Los Angeles working both in elementary and high school and later joined the Teach For America: New York City Corps. Richard, a first-generation college student raised in Long Beach, CA, received his Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from UCLA and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Relay Graduate School of Education. Most recently, Richard earned his certificate in School Management and Leadership from Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Principal, Bushwick Ascend Lower School
Zelda Washington serves as principal at Bushwick Ascend Lower School. Prior to taking on the role of principal, Washington served as the school’s founding dean. She came to Ascend from a district school in New York, where she served as a youth development coordinator. In this role, she implemented programs to promote students’ positive social development, designed and implemented parent workshops and professional development for teachers, and created and maintained the school’s website. Previously, as a consultant to the city’s Learning Through the Expanded Arts Program, Washington focused on developing students’ conflict resolution skills through the visual and performing arts. In the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Washington served as a crisis counselor for Project Liberty. She holds a bachelor of fine arts from New York University and a master of divinity from Nyack College.
Director of Strategic Initiatives, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism
Jordan Akhurst (she/her) is responsible for leading the development and implementation of strategies, policies, programs, and projects to support the actualization of Ascend’s commitment to being a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist (DEIA) organization. Jordan partners with the Ascend community to facilitate change and drive initiatives to embed DEIA into all aspects of our work. Jordan comes to Ascend with more than seven years of experience developing DEIA policies, projects, strategies, and initiatives to foster environments where all people can thrive as their authentic selves. Jordan is committed to embedding inclusion, equity, and anti-racism in education. Prior to joining Ascend, Jordan managed the equity, diversity, and inclusion function of a global top 50 university and she has particular experience partnering with stakeholders to devise impactful, intersectional solutions to dismantle systemic barriers that prevent equitable access and participation in education institutions. She has worked to facilitate community-driven, systemic, social change in diverse contexts, including with rural and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, post-conflict communities in Cambodia, and refugee communities in Australia. Jordan has a master of communication for social change from The University of Queensland, and holds a bachelor of journalism and a bachelor of communication, marketing and media from the University of Wollongong.
Network Director of Operations
Director of Network Operations Sulafa Bashir is responsible for supporting, coaching, and providing resources to school directors of operations, and designing systems to ensure greater efficiency, improving data analysis and compliance. Bashir joins Ascend with over ten years of people and program management experience. She came to Ascend from College Board, where she was senior director and senior project manager. Her passion for education led her to work at the NYC Charter School Center and then as a director of operations at Uncommon schools. An avid baker, Sulafa once served as the interim manager of her family’s baking business in Dubai and she also bakes from her home in Brooklyn and sells to local businesses. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University and an MBA from New York University.
Director of Upper School Literacy
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.
Director of Lower School Literacy
As Director of Lower School Literacy, Dorca Casseus leads Ascend in designing pacing charts, assessments, curricular plans, and professional development to ensure excellent literacy instruction. In this role, she gathers feedback regularly from school leaders and teachers to improve literacy curricula and supports schools in implementing instruction. Casseus has been with the Ascend network since 2012. She started as a first grade teacher at Brownsville Ascend Lower School before focusing on literacy as a reading intervention specialist and literacy coach, providing targeted instruction and modeling literacy teaching strategies for classroom teachers. Casseus then became a founding faculty member at Cypress Hills Ascend Lower School, serving as the Dean of Student Services and a SETSS teacher. There, she was responsible for all aspects of special education, including developing IEPs and providing targeted intervention to students. Casseus holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the Macaulay Honors College at Brooklyn College and a Master of Education in childhood education from Hunter College.
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.
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 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 assuming this role, Genzlinger was 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.
Managing Director of Technology
As managing director of technology, Emeka Ibekweh oversees the administration, operations, service delivery and security of Ascend’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, for which she has served as a national officer. Manuel is a graduate of Cornell University.
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 principal 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.
Managing Director of Talent
Managing Director of Talent, 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 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 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.
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.
Joe Ferguson is an executive-in-residence for the Charter School Growth Fund (CSGF) where he supports charter leaders in addressing strategic and operational challenges. Prior to joining CSGF, Ferguson was the chief operating officer for Mastery Charter Schools, a 24-school network serving 14,000 students in Philadelphia and Camden, NJ. Before Mastery, he held senior leadership positions within the School District of Philadelphia. He spent his early career as a management consultant with Deloitte Consulting and American Management Systems helping private and public sector organizations improve their operational performance. Ferguson holds an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business and dual undergraduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Engineering School. He is also an alumnus of the Broad Residency in Urban Education and was a Pahara-Aspen Fellow.
Rick Arroyo has an extensive background in international banking and bank governance. He retired in 2016 after 38 years at Citigroup. Rick’s time at Citi included 16 years in Italy and Brazil in senior management positions. He was named CFO of Citibank, N.A. in 2010 until his retirement in 2016. As CFO of Citibank, N.A. Rick was a member/participant of its various Board committees, including Board, Risk, Audit, Operations and Technology, Compliance and CRA. In 2017 Rick was appointed an independent director of Morgan Stanley Bank, N.A.. He served on the Risk and Audit Committees and was appointed Chair of the Operations and Technology Committee before rolling off the Board in 2019.
Arroyo has a bachelor’s in modern languages from Manhattan College, where he was elected Phi Beta Kappa in his senior year; an M.A. in French literature from NYU School of Arts and Science; and an M.S. in accounting and an Advanced Professional Certificate in international finance from NYU Stern School of Business. He is a CPA and a member of the AICPA and NYSSCPA.
Kemi Akinsanya-Rose currently serves as the chief operating officer and chief diversity officer of EL Education (formerly Expeditionary Learning), a leading K-12 education non-profit that provides school transformation strategy, instructional materials, and coaching services to more than 8,000+ teachers and 70,000+ students across the U.S. In this role, Kemi oversees EL Education’s organizational and talent strategy, diversity efforts, program development, and financial operations. Prior to joining EL Education, Akinsanya-Rose was the chief information officer at the New York City Department of Education, where she was responsible for setting strategic direction for all district-wide technology and data initiatives. Earlier, Akinsanya-Rose held a variety of marketing, client management and product management roles at American Express and JP Morgan/Chase. Akinsanya-Rose earned her bachelor’s degree in economics from Northwestern University, an MA in education leadership from the Broad Foundation, and an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business.
Alex Berzofsky has returned to the classroom full-time in 2020 to teach English at Brooklyn Prospect Clinton Hill Middle School. Prior to this, he was a managing director at Warburg Pincus, a leading global private equity investment firm, which manages $62 billion in assets. In this role, Berzofsky invested in innovative technology companies and guided the rapid growth of these organizations, serving as an active director on their boards. Berzofsky has supported 18 companies, which have created over 10,000 new jobs during his involvement. He currently still serves on the boards of Cargomatic and Softeon. Prior to his 20-year tenure at Warburg Pincus, Berzofsky worked at Goldman Sachs in their investment banking division. Outside of work, he has volunteered at an underserved public middle school in East Harlem where he has taught enrichment classes. Berzofsky is a graduate of Harvard College where he received a bachelor’s degree in economics.
Isabel Geathers, Ph.D.
Isabel Geathers has taught, researched, and published broadly in the American literary canon, on topics ranging from southern regionalism, contemporary aesthetics, to genre theory. After completing her post-doctoral studies at Princeton University, Geathers worked as the senior director for the Institute for Recruitment of Teachers, a non-profit dedicated to recruiting and retaining teachers in both K-12 and post-secondary education. Geathers moved to New York City in 2015 to serve as the assistant dean for academic diversity at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, where she was responsible for the broad oversight and stewardship of diversity programming and assessment, graduate research and teacher training, academic policy, and student support. Currently, Geathers is an education program officer at the Robertson Foundation, working on issues impacting K-12 education. Geathers received her bachelor’s in English literature and classics from Washington University in St. Louis and her MA and PhD in English literature from the University of Pennsylvania.
Ian Rowe is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the cofounder of Vertex Partnership Academies, a new network of character-based International Baccalaureate high schools opening in the Bronx in 2022. Until July 2020, Rowe was chief executive officer of Public Prep, the nation’s first and oldest non-profit network that exclusively develops exceptional, tuition-free Pre-K and single-sex elementary and middle public schools. Prior to Public Prep, Rowe was the deputy director of postsecondary success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he was part of the team that disbursed nearly $470 million to increase college completion rates among low income young adults. Rowe has also served as senior vice president of strategic partnerships and public affairs at MTV, where he developed global and domestic public service campaigns to mobilize voters and improve high school and college completion. Earlier, Rowe held roles at the White House USA Freedom Corps and Teach For America (TFA), and co-founded Third Millennium Media, a media consultancy focused on raising awareness of and mobilizing action on social issues. Rowe serves on the boards of Spence-Chapin, the NYC Asthma Initiative, the NYC Special Education Collaborative, and Malaria No More. Rowe received his bachelor’s in computer science engineering from Cornell University and an MBA from Harvard Business School, and has held numerous fellowships.
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.
Board Chair Stephanie Mauterstock is the Executive Director at Merrick Academy – Queens Public Charter School. Mauterstock formerly served as Vice President of Tugboat Education where she provided education consulting services on projects relating 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, charter school authorizers, school districts, and education non-profits. She is formerly the chief operating officer of Students for Education Reform (SFER) and SFER Action Network, national organizations devoted to developing first generation college students into grassroots organizers who fight for educational justice in their communities. Previously, Mauterstock served as chief operating officer of Manhattan Charter School and Manhattan Charter School 2. Serving as a co-leader to the schools, she partnered with the chief academic officer to manage the schools’ turnaround, growth and founding of MCS2.
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. She is a graduate of Tufts University.
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 fifteen-year tenure, she originated over $200 million of affordable multifamily housing debt through her various roles within CDT’s Debt Group. Prior to joining 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 specializes 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.
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.
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.
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.
Amanda Craft is the senior director of recruitment for Uncommon Schools, where she oversees the recruitment of leaders, teachers, and administrative staff for Uncommon’s 53 schools and home office. Prior to joining Uncommon, Amanda worked at Bridgewater Associates—an investment company that oversees over $150 billion in investments for charitable foundations, university endowments, pension funds, and sovereign wealth funds— working with the founder, CEO, and management committee to fill the organization’s most senior openings, and to create a series of recruitment technology tools to systemize strong recruitment practices. She began her career at Teach For America where she held a number of recruiting, data, and talent strategy positions at both their summer training institute and in their national office. In these positions she used data and technology to improve diversity, engagement, and performance of Teach For America staff members. Amanda has served Ascend’s schools board since 2011 and is an active member of her faith community. She holds a bachelor of arts in Russian literature from Columbia University.
Tracy is the Founder and Lead Consultant of HR ReDefined, an HR consultancy that designs equitable workplaces that produce results. Her firm engages and educates leaders on how to build systems, policies, practices where all employees are represented, accepted and treated fairly. Early in her career, Tracy worked for several large Fortune 50 corporations in business support roles, including accounting, technology, and marketing. After completing business school, she transitioned to the non-profit sector to contribute her business operations and management skills to mission-based organizations. As an HR team leader for over ten years at Teach for America and The Mission Continues, Tracy developed talent management systems and workplace practices that centered the needs of team members, limited bias decision-making, and fostered transparent communication. Tracy resides in Brooklyn, where she was born and raised. Outside of work, you can find her walking around New York City parks and bridges, practicing yoga, or watching the pros show off on the Food Network.
Emmanuel Fordjour is a finance professional with international exposure and over 20 years of progressive experience in financial analysis, business analysis, internal controls and profitability analysis. He is currently the VP of Finance at the Beanstalk Group, a brand consultancy, specializing in brand licensing. In this role he oversees the finance, royalty management and business systems teams. Additionally, he leads the development of data analytics tools such as financial dashboards. Previous to Beanstalk, Emmanuel worked at Cohn & Wolfe, a public relations company, owned by media conglomerate WPP.
Emmanuel is an avid traveler, visiting 31 countries on 5 continents and counting. He earned a BA in Economics from University of Massachusetts and an MBA in Finance and International Business from NYU Stern School of Business.
Stanley is a nonprofit leader with experience in higher education, youth and workforce development, and program planning and management. Stanley is a Senior Site Director at YearUp, an organization dedicated to closing the skills gap for thousands of young adults across the country through a one-year intensive training program tailored to meet workforce needs. Stanley has been with YearUp for five years, having served as Director of Admissions and College Enrollment prior to becoming a Site Director. Earlier in his career, Stanley was Director of Membership Services at Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Assistant Director of Regional Admissions for the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and Operations Manager at Emory University. Stanley received a Bachelor of Arts from Emory University and is earning a Master of Science in Non-Profit and Association Management from the University of Maryland.
Rev. Oral Walcott is 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.