Introducing our 2017–2018 Fellows
The Mosaic Fellowship, a transformational strategy led by Conexión Américas, is designed to connect and empower a network of leaders from diverse backgrounds across the state of Tennessee. Leaders of color must play an integral role in the k-12 education ecosystem in Tennessee, both to better reflect the communities served by our public schools, but to also bring an essential mix of experience and insights that are required for long-term improvement in student achievement. The Mosaic Fellows are reimagining and improving public education in Tennessee, and have a track record of action and a sense of urgency, as well as a demonstrated commitment to results that ensure educational opportunity for all children.
We are proud to announce our first cohort for The Mosaic Fellowship 2017–2018 and look forward to a year of learning and growing together.
East Tennessee Fellows
Claudia Caballero is the Executive Director at Centro Hispano de East Tennessee. She was born in the western mountains of Honduras and earned her Bachelors in Business Administration from the Catholic University of Honduras. She spent most of her early childhood and teen life moving between Honduras and the United States. Now that she has made Tennessee her home she has dedicated her time to finding and opening opportunities for immigrants in her community to become thriving, healthy, prosperous individuals.
Since taking the position at Centro Hispano, Claudia has steered the organization’s priorities to working with school-aged children. It is her belief that to create sustainable health and prosperity in our emerging Latino community in East Tennessee, we must work tirelessly to strengthen the opportunities available to our youth.
Claudia has also helped Centro Hispano to make great progress in its effort to provide education, resources and community support to the adult immigrant population of Knoxville. Claudia and the staff at Centro Hispano have succeeded in turning Centro into a place that is a true community center; not only a place to learn but a place to connect.
Cassandra “KC” Curberson-Alvarado is a native of East Tennessee. She graduated from King University with a BA and MBA. She is a certified basic economic developer and a recipient of the TSBA Award for Excellence in Education Programs for Work Ethic Diploma of Distinction. KC has worked in the field of marketing, public relations, and product development; and currently works as the Career Success Coordinator for Hamblen County School District in Morristown, Tennessee. In her current role she develops and supports college and career initiatives for 18 high schools, which include teacher externships, student internships, district wide college and career day, and other early post-secondary opportunities for students. KC has a passion for education, equity, and community action. KC’s mission is “I will always try to do what is best, right, and good. I will invest my time in what’s truly enduring and may the way that I conduct myself exemplify Christ.” KC is a former city-planning commissioner and serves as president of H.O.L.A Lakeway, a board member of Skymart Venture Place, Lakeway Human Resource Association (LHRMA), and the Ministerial Association Temporary Shelter (MATS). She resides in Russellville, TN with her husband, Frank and their son, Urijah.
Quineka Moten, Director of Education and Youth Services for the Knoxville Area Urban League, has built her career around the belief that every child has the right to a quality education. Before joining the Urban League, she worked for the Great Schools Partnership helping to develop their community school initiative, which helps to make a school building a hub in its community. Moten served as Site Resource Coordinator at Green Magnet Academy, where she was a liaison between the elementary school and its community partners. Moten’s community service record spans more than a decade and includes work with numerous youth-serving organizations, volunteering with refugee groups and serving on a number of boards. Recently, she was awarded the 2017 Community Woman of the Year by the Nu Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. for her contributions to the community. Moten also serves as president of the Knoxville Area Urban League Young Professionals, where she works diligently to encourage other young professionals to get involved in the Knoxville community. She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
Gladys Pineda-Loher has spent the past 17 years focused on workforce development and educational opportunities that support the Hispanic and international communities. Gladys began her work at the Knoxville’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of East Tennessee in 2002. She moved to Chattanooga in 2009 to serve as the Business Diversity Coordinator for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce where she founded the International Business Council. She became the Director of International Community Outreach at Chattanooga State in 2013, and the college received the 2014 Urban League’s Inclusion by Design Award for her program “Cultural Ambassadors and International Achievers.”
Gladys was chosen as the 2017 Latino Community Champion during the Leadership Awards from La Paz Chattanooga, where she was recognized for championing services and for making a significant impact on Chattanooga’s Latino population.
Gladys is active in the community, serving on a number of leadership roles including a member of the City of Chattanooga Office of Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board, and board member for the Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau, Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, and YMCA Metropolitan Chattanooga, among others.
Gladys is a native from Colombia, South America where she graduated from the University of Manizales with a B.A. in Accounting and a Master’s degree in Health Care Administration from the University Javeriana of Cali. Gladys lives in Chattanooga with her husband and four children.
Middle Tennessee Fellows
As the Recruiting Director, Diarese serves as the primary designer and implementer for the Nashville Teacher Residency’s recruiting strategy. Previously, he served for five years as a high school Career Technical Education teacher, with a focus on business. Additionally, he has completed education leadership fellowships for Education Pioneers, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), and Hope Street Group. Diarese holds a Bachelors degree in Business Administration and Masters degree in Corporation Communications from Austin Peay State University. He also received an MBA and Doctorate in Education Leadership from Trevecca Nazarene University. In addition to his efforts to recruit more people of color as educators through his responsibilities at NTR, Diarese founded and leads the Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance, which supports educators of color by amplifying their voice and presence while focusing on three key areas: fellowship, mentorship, and leadership.
Alicia Hunker moved to Nashville from Dallas, Texas in 2013, where she was born and raised. She studied Elementary Education at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. After teaching for seven years she discovered her teaching niche was middle school math, which led her to Valor Collegiate Academy, Nashville’s first socioeconomically diverse charter school network. Now in her third year at Valor, Alicia is passionate about motivating scholars through intentional learning experiences, positive guidance, encouragement, and feedback. Last year, her scholars achieved a TVAAS growth score of 14.7, among the highest in the state for 6th grade math. In her free time, Alicia and her husband own and operate Hunker Bag Co. She loves to attend his concerts all over the country, giving them an opportunity to explore the world together. She is also an ultra-marathoner and will have completed 21 marathons by the end of the year.
Martel Graham proudly serves as School Director for Knowledge Academies High School in Nashville, TN. He attended Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, Tennessee where he earned his Bachelors of Science degree in Special Education. Additionally, he earned a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction in Reading with a Reading Specialist Endorsement from Tennessee State University, as well as a Masters of Organizational Leadership from Trevecca Nazarene University. As a school leader, it has been his mission to lead with a servant’s heart, helping others better understand their purpose, as well as the mission of the organization. Although there are many views on how to teach and lead, he believes that a combination of strategies is necessary for successful development. He firmly believes every student can learn and should be provided with the necessary resources to learn in a way that is best suited for his or her learning style.
Vanessa Lazón works in Mayor Barry’s Office of Neighborhoods and Community Engagement, leading the Office of New Americans. Vanessa moved to Nashville from Lima, Perú in the late nineties and graduated from high school in Nashville. This experience, along with her college education, as well as the launch of professional career, helped her understand the difficulties New Americans face as they make Nashville their home. These experiences fueled her passion to help young immigrants and refugees, and through her work at the Oasis Center she developed a strong reputation as an advocate and leader. Vanessa has helped countless young immigrants in Nashville access appropriate resources and learn to navigate systems in order to achieve their goals in life and obtain a strong education. Vanessa is a graduate of Lipscomb University, a former MyCity Academy participant, served as the co-chair of the Mayor’s New Americans Advisory Council, and also co-chaired the Metro Parks’ Celebrate Nashville TEENS United Committee.
Jon S. Robertson started his career in education at Brownsville Middle School in Miami, FL. After applying to TFA in 2005, Jon’s desire was to impact change in his students so they could determine their own pathway in life. He began to see the impact of his efforts and ended up staying at Brownsville for four years. In 2009 Jon worked as an instructor at Gary Comer College Prep (GCCP), a charter high school on the south side of Chicago. In 2010, Jon was promoted to Dean of Discipline, a position he held for the next two years. In 2012, Jon transitioned to New Orleans to lead a turnaround effort and in one year saw his school achieve remarkable academic growth, including ACT growth that tripled the national average. Jon came to Nashville in 2013 with a fellowship opportunity with the Tennessee Charter Center. Through the fellowship, he met Dr. Kristin McGraner and in 2014, Jon accepted an offer to become the founding High School Director of STEM Prep High School, which has become one of the highest performing high schools in the state and continues to push the envelope for its students.
Peter currently serves as the Tennessee Educator Fellowship Coordinator at the Tennessee State Collaborative for Reforming Education. Before joining SCORE, he taught math and English in the Achievement School District and Memphis City Schools before being named a master teacher at Kate Bond Middle School in Shelby County Schools. Peter is an alumnus of the Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellows program. He serves on the board of EdReports.org, a nonprofit that helps educators and leaders to seek, identify, and demand the highest-quality instructional materials. Originally from New York, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Amherst College and is working on his Masters in Public Policy at Vanderbilt University.
West Tennessee Fellows
As the Founder of Campaign for School Equity, Mendell prides himself on his dedication to community and deep roots in achieving educational equity for students of color. His leadership as the State Director for the non-profit advocacy group Black Alliance for Educational Options, paired with his tenure at Students First NY as Deputy Chief of Staff, solidified his passion and unwavering commitment to children’s education. As an experienced advocate, Mendell’s experience guides his work as the Executive Director of Campaign for School Equity in their fight to ensure access to quality schools. In addition to his career in education advocacy, Mendell served in 2012 as a Field Organizer in Washington State and Kentucky on the Obama for America campaign. In 2017 Mendell was named to the Forbes Magazine top 30 under 30 list in Education.
Keji Kujjo is from Khartoum, Sudan. She completed her undergraduate career at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she received a bachelor’s degree in Community Engagement & Education and International Studies. Keji is an advocate of women’s empowerment. Before moving to Memphis, Keji worked at the Women’s Center at Bowling Green State University. She developed and implemented various programs focusing on issues of race, gender, and sexuality. She is currently serving as a Youth Representative to the United Nations after being appointed by Pan-Pacific South East Asia Women’s Association-USA. In addition, Keji is very passionate about working with immigrant and refugee students to ensure they are receiving an equitable education. She strongly believes an excellent education is a right that every student in this country deserves. Keji is a 2017 Teach for America-Memphis corps member. She joined TFA-Memphis because she wanted to be directly involved in the education of immigrant and refugee students. Keji serves as an English as a Second Language Teacher with Shelby County Schools. She holds a Master’s of Art in Cross-Cultural and International Education with a focus on educational development for marginalized populations.
Natalie McKinney is the executive director of Whole Child Strategies, Inc. Prior to her appointment, Ms. McKinney served as the Director of Policy for both Shelby County Schools and legacy Memphis City Schools, which included policy development and legislative planning. As part of the largest school district merger in American Public Education history, Ms. McKinney led the effort to revise and develop a school district policy manual to accommodate what amounted to an amalgamation of a rural, suburban and urban school districts.
Prior to arriving in Memphis, Ms. McKinney founded and served as the inaugural director of the Juvenile Law Clinic at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) School of Law; providing a holistic approach to representing youth accused of delinquent behavior and expelled from school. Ms. McKinney has also served as an adjunct professor and coordinator of the pro bono program for NCCU School of Law; a juvenile law research associate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Institute of Government; and practiced law in Durham, NC and Atlanta, GA.
Ms. McKinney holds a Juris Doctor from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, a Master of Public Affairs from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Spelman College.
Cardell Orrin currently serves as the Memphis City Director for Stand for Children. Prior to this, Cardell was the founder and principal of Linx Consulting. For over 10 years, Cardell was involved in projects that stretched across a wide breadth of areas that included strategic planning, community development, communications, community engagement, political campaigns, and technology services. Before founding Linx Consulting, Cardell worked as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis. Cardell co-founded New Path, a local political action committee focused on engaging young people in the political process and electing solutions-oriented candidates to local office. He currently serves on the boards of Freedom Preparatory Academy, Hattiloo Theatre, and Whole Child Strategies. He is a graduate of Leadership Memphis and the New Memphis Institute Fellows Program, has received a Top 40 Under 40 Award from the Memphis Business Journal, and was recognized by The April 4th Foundation with their Trailblazer Award. Cardell graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Science and Engineering in Computer Science and Engineering with additional studies in African American Studies and Entrepreneurial Management.
After graduating near the top of his class at LeMoyne-Owen College, Bobby began is professional career in corporate America, but then moved to working for the government, and then as the Assistant Director for the Tennessee Charter School Resource Center. He spent 12 years with Memphis City Schools serving as a teacher, coach, Assistant Principal and Principal; working exclusively in the schools with the highest needs. He has a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction and will graduate this spring with a Doctorate in Educational leadership with an Urban Focus from the University of Memphis. Mr. White left Memphis City Schools in 2012 to plan and build the infrastructure to run and operate his own schools. He is the founder and CEO of Frayser Community Schools. Mr. White has appeared on CNN, Fox News, Essence Magazine, Governing magazine and a plethora of local and national publications due to his innovative ways of creating positive school culture. As leader of Frayser Community Schools, his charge is to be a game-changer in the landscape of education by leading and operating authentic neighborhood application-free schools that embody and personify a culture that focuses on college, career, and community while developing new traditions and building pride.
Marcos Villa worked for twelve years at Jesuit Universities in Mexico as a full-time professor, researcher and staff. He also co-founded the Civil Society Organizations in Mexico and the US, which focus on topics such as HIV, human rights, government accountability and transparency, democracy, and peace-building. He has written several articles, book chapters and didactic materials on these topics. Before arriving in Memphis, he worked at the Intercultural Research Center of Mexico (CEFIMEX) collaborating on an educational research project in the state of Puebla as well as peace-building projects in the states of Guerrero and Michoacán. He holds a Masters Degree in Nonprofit Management from Regis University and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Social Science from ITESO. He also holds certificates in Online Education, Government Accountability and Higher Education. He is currently working at Latino Memphis as the Community Engagement Coordinator and has a profound interest in migration and education policies. His most important achievements are his two kids and beautiful wife and his understanding that difference and conflict represent an opportunity to thrive and become better.