& Instructional Leaders

Each Achievement First school is filled with teachers and leaders who have a deep passion for education and are eager to constantly improve through rigorous professional development.


Sam Cortiella

School Counselor, AF Brownsville Middle

"I like helping students build a strong foundation while giving them the skills they need to be successful at the next level."

Undergraduate Degree: Northeastern University
Graduate Degree: New York University

Few people can recite the name of their father’s high school guidance counselor, but it is a name Sam will never forget. His dad, a first-generation Puerto Rican immigrant whose parents had not attended college, credits his admittance to Harvard University to this invested guidance counselor. Sam’s father, whose parents primarily spoke Spanish, hadn’t understood the possibilities that existed for him until his guidance counselor helped him believe in his academic potential and take advantage of college opportunities. When it came time for Sam to attend high school in Cambridge, Mass., he saw firsthand how a great guidance counselor impacted his experiences and his feelings of belonging in the school community. His appreciation for the tremendous impact guidance counselors can have on students’ lives fueled his desire to major in sociology, work in an after-school program throughout college and earn a master’s degree in school counseling.

Sam was a founding school counselor at a high-performing public charter high school in Brooklyn, where he saw the founding class of students grow from freshmen to graduating seniors before accepting the role of founding school counselor at AF Brownsville Middle. His days are filled with classroom observations and check-ins with students, with his primary focus on students who require counseling as part of their IEPs. Sam likes the opportunity to work closely with deans, help build relationships with students, and find new and different ways to help struggling students. He also runs the schoolwide academic and character celebration—Community Circle—each Friday, as well as the AF Brownsville Afterschool Experience, which includes offerings like chess and drama. As the school grows, Sam, who played Division I baseball and football before transferring to Northeastern University, plans to coach one of its athletic teams.

Favorite aspect of role: "I love seeing students support one another during Community Circle. There is such positive energy. Every week, I look forward to impacting their lives hopefully half as much as they do for me on those Fridays."

Proudest Moment: "I was proud to see all of our staff, students and families come together during Family Game Night and the Thanksgiving Potluck Dinner. We all need to work together to create a great school, but we didn’t talk about school on either night. These events were about us coming together as people who care for each other as a true family would, and that is what I love about AF Brownsville Middle."

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Megan Martin

Academic Dean, AF North Brooklyn Prep Elementary

"I grew more as a teacher in my first year at Achievement First than I did in all of my prior years of teaching."

Undergraduate Degree: Tulane University
Graduate Degree:
Pace University

When Hurricane Katrina forced Megan to leave her college campus at Tulane University, she headed north for a semester at Fordham University and fell in love with New York City. She applied for a teaching position and has been educating children there ever since. A Teach For America alumna, Megan taught for three years in an integrated special education classroom in a traditional public school. She loved her co-workers, but she felt she wasn’t getting the necessary support from the administration, and that effort, engagement and academic performance varied from classroom to classroom.

She joined AF Bushwick Elementary because she was looking for a school that was committed to excellence and offered support and professional development. She found a culture of constant feedback. She was observed weekly by her coach and frequently by her principal. Fellow staff members were quick to offer helpful tips and share best practices. Megan enjoyed the intentional, intensive lesson planning and saw it made a huge difference in her students’ learning. An Oregon native, one of the major reasons Megan has found her home at Achievement First is the sense of "Team & Family." Now a founding academic dean at AF North Brooklyn Prep Elementary, Megan loves coming to work every day.

Favorite aspect of role: "I’m always amazed at how much my students grow. I love the work we put in as educators and the work they put in as students, and I love seeing how much they learn from week to week."

Proudest moment at Achievement First: "I was extremely proud when my AF Bushwick Elementary students met their end-of-year benchmarks in reading. It made all of the extra interventions, time and energy worth it. I felt so proud to work with a group of teachers who came together across the grade to make sure that all students move on to second grade with a foundation that prepares them for future academic success."

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Laneka Walker

Teacher, AF Hartford High

"I believe Education = Freedom; I’m a testament to that. I know if adults do what we need to do, our kids can do anything."

Undergraduate degree: University of Chicago
Law degree: University of Connecticut

When Laneka was in middle school, she dreamed of becoming a defense attorney. She never imagined that she would one day find her passion teaching physics in the same building where she attended eighth-grade classes. Born and raised in Hartford, Laneka graduated from Hartford Public Schools and became the first person in her family to graduate from a four-year college. As a high school student who was enrolled in the district’s gifted and talented program, she was troubled that many of her peers didn’t have the same choices or opportunities that she did. As an AF Hartford High teacher, she is excited to provide excellent educational opportunities to students in her community.

Even as she pursued her dream as a law student, Laneka always felt a pull toward improving education in her community and helping young people make better decisions. She served as a substitute teacher during law school and, after graduation, worked in juvenile court while also coaching a high school trial team. Laneka returned to her Hartford community, where she still lives with her husband and children. After working at a private law firm, she was introduced to education reform through her role in policy and research at the Connecticut Senate Democrats. While she enjoyed her work, she was frustrated with the way legal policies were applied to struggling students—children from her neighborhood—and knew she wanted to find a more direct way to help. Laneka, who has a strong background in math, science and law, was drawn to Achievement First not only by its strong academic program, but also by its investment in character development. She is thrilled to teach students in her community about what it means to be a great citizen and a great student.

Favorite aspect of role: “I love interacting with our students. We come from the same community, and I hope that I can leave a lasting impression of what is possible.”

Proudest moment at Achievement First: “During one of the first weeks of my first year at AF Hartford High, a student in my advisory sought me out during study hall. She was having some problems, and she wanted to talk through them with me. The next week, she asked if I would write her a recommendation. I was proud that I had already established a level of comfort with my students—even just a few weeks into the school year—and it was great to know that I was able to put her at ease.”

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Peter Uwalaka

Dean of School Culture, AF University Prep High

"Once I understood where inequities came from, it was like a light bulb went off. I decided I had to give back and that the way to do it was through teaching."

Undergraduate Degree: Carleton College
Master’s Degree: Harvard Graduate School of Education

Peter always knew he wanted to serve others; he majored in biology as an undergraduate because he planned to become a doctor. In his senior year, an elective course in African-American literature changed his life. For the first time, Peter felt a deep understanding of the history, systems and structures that hold back African Americans. He knew he had to help improve our society, so he decided he would serve others as a teacher.

After college, Peter was a Teach For America corps member in his hometown of Houston, Texas. There, he taught eighth-grade science and helped his class double its state test proficiency within two years. He knew he wanted to broaden his impact beyond his classroom, so he became an administrator at another charter school before joining Achievement First as the founding dean of school culture at AF Hartford High.

Now the founding dean of school culture at AF University Prep High, Peter builds, creates and enforces systems and structures that ensure all students gain the academic and character skills they need to graduate from college. He manages systems, coaches teachers and works with students to ensure a safe learning environment where all students can thrive. At AF University Prep High, he’s helped build a culture with very high rates of attendance and homework completion, an environment where students are passionate about learning and growing the skills they will need to become leaders in our communities.

Favorite Aspect: “I enjoy having character conversations with students and seeing them develop. I love the relationship-building part of my job. Even though I don’t teach academic content, I teach character and that’s my favorite part of my job.”

Proudest moment: “One of our students achieved a 3.8 in his first semester and in the next semester it went down to a 3.7. He was very disappointed and as we discussed it I realized that we had succeeded in creating a culture where students really want to do well. When I see the level of investment in our students, I know we are having a transformational impact and that makes me proud.”

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Achievement First Teachers and Instructional Leaders

At Achievement First, we recognize that the most important factor in driving student achievement is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. We also know that teachers are most effective and most satisfied when they are working with exceptional school leaders. We are committed to attracting, developing, celebrating and retaining great educators to help promote success for all students across our thriving network. Our goal is simple: to recruit the best teachers and leaders from around the country, provide them with outstanding professional development, and create opportunities that will inspire and support them throughout their careers.