CATEGORY: Just for Fun, Teachers and Leaders

David Jun 10, 2021

Our school leaders devote their days and nights to make sure the school day runs smoothly, students are safe and learning, and teachers have the support to be effective instructors. Inspirational, trustworthy, empathetic, and bold --they are true leaders in every sense of the word. Their role is not always easy, but they remain committed and focused on serving our community because they love and believe in the work. We are lucky and grateful to work alongside them. We want to celebrate and acknowledge the contributions of those leaders who've been with us for 10 and 15 years. Listed below are those who've achieved these milestones, along with a few heartfelt words from their colleagues. Join us in celebrating them!

Ten Years of Service

Photo of RhiannonRhiannon Kogan, Amistad Academy Elementary Academic Dean “Your ability to look a problem square in the eye and say, ‘It’s ok, I can fix this!’ is such a superpower. You never let hard things stop you from giving it all you’ve got—something that you model for our kids and our teachers on a daily basis. You’re an amazing leader with a ton of passion for this work! Congratulations and thank you for all that you have done and continue to do!” – Brooke Williams, Principal   Image of Lauren Lauren Gemske, Special Services Leader, Amistad Academy Elementary “Lauren, in the past 10 years you have had the most incredible impact on the Amistad community. There are countless kids in our school that you have made feel special and valued simply by being around them! I have watched how you have advocated for students with disabilities.  It comes from your deep belief in every single scholar. I am so appreciative of the work that you have done and continue to do for our school, our kids, and our families. Congratulations and thank you for all that you do for our school!” – Brooke Williams, Principal   Photo of MelissaMelissa Izzo, Director of School Operations, Amistad Academy Elementary “It is not hard to describe the profound impact you have had on the Amistad Elementary community for the past 10 years! Your relationships run deep and families love and appreciate all that you do! You have been someone who has been supportive of all students and helped find ways to make sure  our students with disabilities SWDs are getting support.! You organize and manage a ton of events at our school and do all the things to help keep our building running on the day to day! There is absolutely nothing that you can not or will not do for our school. And you do it with the biggest smile and fiercest lipstick! ” - Brooke Williams, Principal   Photo of RavenRaven Obas, Principal, AF Hartford Academy Elementary “Raven defies the odds. When there is a challenge, she leans in and makes it happen. After making huge personal and professional changes, she took on Hartford and not only learned about the community but became a part of the Hartford community. You’ll see Raven at Hartford downtown community events. You’ll see Raven holding events to improve enrollment. You’ll see Raven at family events and with families and kids. Raven sees people for who they are. No matter what your struggle is, she will, with her team, find a way to help you see and feel your success. When Raven enters a classroom, you might as well stop teaching because zoom or live, kids will come off mute, drop their pencil, go to the chat and send air hugs just because they need a little Mrs. Obas love in their lives. No matter how hard the struggle, you never give up and you lead that way. So, while you’ve traveled all around the world and seen many places, you make Hartford your world. It’s the Raven Special!” – Christina Ellington, Regional Superintendent   Photo of HeatherHeather Moran, Academic Dean, AF Hartford Academy Elementary “Words cannot begin to describe the impact that you have had on the Achievement First community in CT. In your 10 years at Achievement First, your dynamic impact has reached thousands of scholars and families and hundreds of teachers and staff members. Your loyalty and dedication to this work and our mission is truly unmatched. Even with a family of your own, you work tirelessly to ensure that we are providing a well-rounded school experience for our scholars with that motherly perspective. That is why you have always led the charge with family partnership because your perspective is truly invaluable and our staff respects that about you so much.” – Raven Obas, Principal   Photo of FrancheskaFrancheska Dominique, Academic Dean, AF Providence Elementary “Fran, this last year at Providence Elementary has been none like any other. Externally, the world was going through multiple major events but internally, this year you brought a core shift in the way our school defined kids first. You jumped into PRES feet first and made your values around kid achievement clear. In just ONE year, you led transformative work across our school and laid the groundwork for teacher lead data review as a baseline and consistent practice in our classrooms. More than anyone I’ve ever met, Francheska means what she says and says what she means. Our values and commitments aren’t just words on a page to her—they are non-negotiable rules of behavior. Her loyalty lies with kids first and to everyone else second. If you are for kids-- she is ready to go to battle with you. If you aren't, get out of the way.I’d like to thank Francheska for her reminders about things that are due that no one is thinking about, her superhuman ability to get things done without procrastinating, her questions that are disguised as feedback, her loyalty, and her integrity. Congratulations for 10 incredible years! We can’t wait to see what you do with the next 10!” - Aja Davis, Principal   Photo of JoeyJoey Fink, Academic Dean, AF Iluminar Elementary “When Joey called me to accept his teaching position I literally jumped for joy and ran around in my office. Why? Because Joey was bringing nearly a decade of teacher and leader experience to Iluminar – a school going into just it’s second year. It felt like a gift from on high! For anyone that has seen Joey teach, he is an exceptional teacher. Our kids LOVE school, and Joey continues to make school FUN! He does all of this with a sense of humility and humor (essential qualities for any Everton FC fan, to be clear). His impact and dedication within our organization is also significant – his kindergartners from AF Hartford are matriculating to college this year!” – Kevin Lohela, Principal   Photo of NicoleNicole Gugliuzza, Special Services Leader, AF Iluminar Elementary “As our first Distinguished Teacher in Iluminar, she has done so much for our school, starting with literally setting the bar for strong teaching. She has since transitioned and served as our Dean of Special Services since 2016, and has been the guiding force in creating a school rooted in love and powerful inclusion, leading to Iluminar being named a “National Inclusion Spotlight School” by RELAY. Nicole has played a key role at almost every level in Iluminar. Always focused on leading from places of deep belief and values, she was instrumental in reforming our approach as a school by collaboratively developing new values like #EverythingFromLove. This was such a powerful transitional moment in our Iluminar history, as we stepped back to evaluate our practices, and made important shifts to reimagine and revise our work as a community. As she wraps up her 10th year with AF, she is stepping into the principal role for Achievement First Iluminar to lead our school into the future!” – Kevin Lohela, Principal   Photo of SadeDr. Sadé Johnson, Principal, AF Crown Heights Elementary “Talk about changemaker, advocate, community builder, lifelong learner, influencer, role model, believer, and lover of all things kids and families – Sadé has spent the last 10 years and more being the change she wants to see in the world. Sadé’s impact on AF and all the lives she’s touched is immeasurable. From her days as a social worker and then Dean of Students at Bushwick ES, she has always led with her standard and what she truly believes is in the best interest of kids.I’ve truly enjoyed our strong partnership over the last two years – she’s beyond my direct report. She’s my friend. She’s my family. Congrats, Sadé, on 10 wonderful years of service. You are the best!” – Charmayne Joseph, Assistant Regional Superintendent   Photo of MeganMegan Fraker, Dean of College, AF University Prep High School “Megan Fraker’s impact on Achievement First and University Prep cannot be overstated. As the Founding Dean of College at University Prep High and a long time member of the UP LT, her finger print and legacy will be long lasting. Her standard is clear. Her bar of excellence is high. Her attention to detail is impeccable. Her recommendations or solutions forge us out of challenges. Her leadership and coaching of her team has created an office of leaders who are effective and efficient. But perhaps most striking and apparent in Megan is her commitment to our students and our families. All of this shines in her work. Her team raves about her leadership. Students and families are supported in pursuing their secondary pathway. Alumni continue to reach out to Megan to update her on their progress or for a touch point. For all of this, and much more, thank you Megan for your years of service at Achievement First!” – Jason Coalter, Principal, AF University Prep High   Photo of NoahNoah Hellman, Principal, AF Apollo Elementary “Noah, since your demo lesson in my classroom all those years ago, there aren’t many people I’ve worked with more or come to trust more completely. I always feel like I can count on you because you say what you believe, you do what you say you will do, and you genuinely want what’s best for people . You are someone who has given so much to Apollo, and done so much to shape the DNA of the school. You are relentlessly curious, and constantly focused on innovation and improvement. You look for the next thing that’s going to make the school better, and you are never satisfied with the status quo. You’re unafraid to admit your mistakes or make a change to what you are doing. And you care about people. A lot. I’ve personally learned a ton from working with you, and I felt (and feel) incredibly lucky to be able to leave Apollo in your hands when I left the school.” – Jesse Ballis-Harris, Regional Superintendent   Photo of MerylMeryl Senter, Principal, AF East New York Elementary “Meryl is one of the most talented educators I have ever known, and we are so lucky to have had her at AF and at East New York for the past 10 years. She was a phenomenal teacher, an extraordinary dean, and now a natural as principal. As a teacher, she got her kindergarteners engaged in deep, meaningful discussions that showed what is possible in a kindergarten classroom. As a dean, she supported her teachers in growing as content experts, raising the level of instruction for all of our youngest learners. As a principal, she holds a high bar for herself and the entire school, and constantly thinks of ways to increase joy and connection with students. Meryl, you have made not only ENY but all of AF better. We are so lucky to have you on the team. Congratulations on ten years!” – Lucy Volkmar, Senior Director of Team Teaching and Learning   Photo of ColleenColleen Young, Principal, AF Endeavor Elementary “Your constant drive to meet goals, and achieve excellence is incredibly impressive. During your time at AF, you have been a high performing ELA dean, had the strongest founding school in AF history, and recently became a principal manager. You have had tremendous impacts across our NY and CT schools. Our students, staff, and families know that you are driven by doing what is best for scholars. You aren’t afraid to make hard decisions, and to put in the work to ensure that our scholars are thriving. She simultaneously holds an exceptional bar while remaining humble and reflective about how she can continue to grow in service of her scholars and staff. I have learned so much from her about what it means to build deep connections that transcend the challenges of work. It has truly been my pleasure to work with her and the Endeavor family.” - Jesse Ballis-Harris, Regional Superintendent   Photo of ColbyColby France, Academic Dean, East New York Middle The number of scholars and staff members that you have been able to positively influence directly and indirectly is absolutely mind blowing. The school has changed dramatically over the years and you have consistently shown up to help make the school the best place possible as a learning specialist, general education teacher, grade level chair, coach, dean, leadership team member etc. You have been thoughtful, listened to your team, and made lots of changes. Some hard, some easy, all of which have led to us serving scholars and families more effectively. On a personal note, I have really enjoyed being your coach for the last four years. Thanks for everything, Colby! You are amazing.” – Max Milliken, Principal   Photo of KatieKatie Donaldson, Academic Dean, AF East New York Elementary “For the past 10 years, Katie has been an instrumental member of the ENY family. Katie is an incredible teacher, leader and teammate. She lives and breathes the work she does at ENY and deeply touches everyone she comes in contact with. Katie has a unique way of connecting with others and everyone knows that a quick coaching session (in a freezing cold office) or check in can easily turn into a heart to heart as Katie is an unbelievable listener and thought partner. Katie is a legend and those that have been lucky enough to have been led by her have discovered the true definition of a coach. Katie is a cheerleader for EVERY ONE of her coachees and is so committed to supporting her teams in the most positive, affirming and caring way. Katie or as her team calls her, “Dean Don” is one of a kind and we are a better school and community because of her long standing commitment to our team and family.” – Meryl Senter, Principal   Photo of TaraTara Reinhardt, Associate Academic Dean, AF East New York Elementary “What can I say, 10 years ago we started as first year teachers who were fresh out of school and shared a deep love of diet coke. Little did I know that would be the start of an incredible long lasting relationship. Tara is a true legacy at ENY. Tara represents everything that a teacher should be. She is warm, loving, passionate, supportive and ALWAYS finds the third way to support her scholars. Her ability to connect with scholars and families no matter what the circumstances is remarkable. Every scholar and family that has had the pleasure of being in Ms. Reinhardt’s class ALWAYS remembers her, as she is truly the teacher that touches the lives of others. As a leader, Tara has continued to shine and is able to share her love, passion and expertise with her teams to ensure that even more scholars are getting the experience of Ms. Reinhardt. I am eternally grateful to be back together again as teammates and I could not ask for a better person to be on this journey with me.” - Meryl Senter, Principal   Photo of PujaPuja Patel, Associate Dean, AF East New York Elementary School “ Puja is an incredible educator. Puja deeply believes in our kids and families. Puja is the epitome of dedication. She has dedicated almost a decade to teaching 2nd grade scholars and is a true advocate to ensure that her team and her kids always have what they need. Puja consistently models what it looks like to be a life-long learner and always strives to get better at everything she does. This year, Puja put the needs of the team before her own and stepped up to be the second grade Dean in light of a very challenging situation, but to no surprise Puja became an integral part of the leadership team. Puja can always be counted on to do what is right by children and as a leader is consistently holding others to that same bar. Puja has created an incredible legacy at ENY and it has been a true privilege to work alongside her.” - Meryl Senter, Principal   Photo of CarolineCaroline Roth, Principal, AF Endeavor Middle “The impact you have had on the AF Endeavor community has been profound. In your ten years of service, Caroline, you have changed the life trajectory of students and staff alike. Your love for people, for this work, and for doing it the right way shines through in everything you do. Endeavor has become a more connected, inclusive, and diverse community through your leadership and it will continue to thrive because of the strong foundation you supported.. Thank you for being such a role model for how to lead through strength, humility, kindness, and love. ” - Mike Rosskam, Regional Superintendent   Photo of HeatherHeather Rooney, Academic Dean, AF Apollo Elementary “When you first meet Heather, you immediately recognize that she’s warm-hearted, even-tempered, and smart. But don’t let her quiet and calm demeanor fool you. Heather is a fierce and passionate advocate for children and an exceptionally talented educator. In her ten years at AF, Heather has helped show what is possible. At East New York ES she went from TiR to Stage 5 teacher in the minimum amount of time needed. Along the way she became the first person in the network to lead her students to over 80% proficient on the NY Elementary ELA exam. At Apollo, Heather has impressed an experienced team with her content knowledge, her hard work, her consistency, and her willingness to do whatever is needed for kids. And teachers love working with Heather. They know they will learn a lot from her and they know she will advocate for them and their kids. We are so lucky to have you here. Congratulations on your ten years of service!” – Noah Hellman, Principal, AF Apollo Elementary   Photo of YoowoonYoowon Park, Academic Dean, AF Crown Heights Elementary From Rosie Basile: “I remain forever grateful for your support during my time at CHES. My first memory of you is when you were encouraging other teachers to be nice to me during a 6:30am taxonomy practice group on a Wednesday morning. You evolved into one of my most trusted partners in this work and I can never forget the long evenings you spent with me in the building during my 1st year as principal.” Jenny Cortez had this to say: “I feel lucky to have been with Yoowon from his very first days at AF. Some of my favorite memories in my career as an educator are those when I was teaching alongside him. When I reflect on a young Yoowon joining the team 10 years ago and where he is today as an educator, I'm awed by his growth and impact over these past 10 years. It's a testament to his loyalty and commitment to the scholars and families of the Crown Heights community. The AFCHES Team, and AF as a whole, is incredibly fortunate to have had a decade of service from Yoowon Park!”

Fifteen Years of Service

Photo of TsehaiaTsehaia Brown, Co-VP Team School Operations “We got so lucky that Tsehaia was one of the first employees we hired as AF expanded into Brooklyn.  She was one of the founders of AF Crown Heights, and - from the very beginning - she brought her incredible combination of operational excellence and love.  We quickly figured out that there was no problem Tsehaia couldn’t solve and that she cared as much about community and culture as she did about competence.  If you had something hard or complex that needed to be done, you wanted Tsehaia on your team – and preferably leading it. Tsehaia, thank you for all the emails, the countless phone calls driving to/from CT (and the fact that you took on the support of our CT & RI schools while living in NY), the way you get emotional when you present, your direct style when someone or something does not meet your standard, the dozens of leaders who are better because you were their coach – and the thousands of students who have benefited as a result.  When the story of AF is written, Tsehaia Brown will rightly feature as one of the most important people who built the best of AF.” - Dacia Toll, Senior Advisor and Founder  

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