Introducing the 2018–2019 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.
East Tennessee Fellows
Janine Al-Aseer is in her 3rd year as a Community School Site Resource Coordinator with the Great Schools Partnership in Knoxville, Tennessee. She currently serves at New Hopewell Elementary School in South Knoxville, the first rural site added to the network of Community Schools in the city. Janine, the daughter of a Palestinian father and a rural Appalachian mother, was born and raised in California. After graduating from the University of Tennessee, she spent 3 years teaching abroad in Japan. Upon her return, she started her work with non-profits first in an urban center in Augusta, Georgia and then in minoritized Knoxville communities. After attaining her master’s degree, she began volunteering with a local Community School. Her interest led to her doctoral work engaging rural communities to identify best practices for Community School implementation. Janine, who will complete her PhD in Education next year, sees Community Schools through an equity lens, bridging the gap between communities and education. With more than ten years of experience in youth advocacy and educational service, Janine fosters a deep passion for facilitating community partnerships, raising resource access, and working toward educational equity, particularly for minoritized communities. She currently lives in South Knoxville with her partner, Richard, and dog, Linus.
Denise Dean is the Project Director of three Children Defense Fund’s Freedom Schools® program sites in East Tennessee. Establishing and growing Freedom Schools programs is her dream come true. Through this program she continues to help young children know themselves, their gifts and passions, and have the confidence to follow their heart so they are able to live the life they dream.
In 2003 Denise left IBM where she had worked for 20 years in the areas of sales, training, coaching, and Organization Development (OD). She left to become an elementary school teacher. To explain the change, Denise would say she was going from “cure to prevent”. In 2008 she became an elementary school teacher in San Jose, CA and taught fifth grade. Many geographic moves followed and she delivered programs and tutored children at elementary schools in Connecticut, Dubai (U.A.E.), and Knoxville.
Denise’s IBM career and teacher training and experience have prepared her well for her current journey. Making the CDF Freedom Schools® program available to children in neighborhoods across East Tennessee is how she will leverage her experience to make a positive difference.
Brook Dennard Rosser, was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Brook attended Vanderbilt University’s Peabody School of Education where she completed a Bachelor of Science Degree in Human and Organizational Development in 2006. Brook went on to attend The University of Georgia, where she completed a Masters of Education in Human Resources and Organizational Behavior in 2008 and completed her Doctorate of Education in Organizational Leadership and Development in 2017 at The George Washington University.
Brook relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee in 2017 and currently serves as the Talent Acquisition and Retention Strategist for Knox County Schools. Prior to her work with Knox County, Brook spent almost ten years working in management consulting industry, primarily serving nonprofit organizations, K-12 districts and institutions of higher education. Brook’s consulting work focused largely on strategic planning, change management, diversity and inclusion, leadership development and training.
Despite being a new comer to East Tennessee, Brook has wasted no time in getting involved in the Knoxville community. Brook is a member of The Muse Knoxville’s Board of Directors, the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity Champions, Connect Knox’s Plug In Committee and is a Commissioner for the University of Tennessee’s Commission for Blacks.
Brook also remains very involved in serving her hometown community, and is a member of the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Hughes Spaulding Community Board (2012-present) & the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Emerging Leaders Board (2015-present). As a member of the Emerging Leaders Board, Brook currently serves as the Alumni Committee Co-Chair, and previously served as the Events Committee Chair & Vice-Chair in 2016 and 2017 respectively. She is also a member of the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile Advisory Council (2016-present).
When she’s not serving her community and advocating on behalf of underserved children in both Tennessee and Georgia, Brook enjoys all things football and spending time with her husband Bryson and their dog Luke.
Middle Tennessee Fellows
Indira Dammu is the Education Policy Advisor for Nashville Mayor David Briley. In this role, she leads the Mayor’s policy agenda related to supporting Metro Nashville Public Schools. She also works as a liaison between the Mayor’s Office and the Metro Nashville School Board as well as other agencies and community partners. Prior to this role, she worked as a Senior Policy analyst for SCORE, a statewide education research and advocacy non-profit in Nashville. There, she led policy work related to teacher quality and equity and inclusion issues. Indira serves on the Board of the Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance, a statewide non-profit dedicated to elevating the experiences of teachers of color in the state. Indira is a former classroom teacher who taught in Louisiana and Connecticut. She earned her Master’s in Public Policy from Duke University and is a first generation immigrant from India.
Laura Delgado, a Cuban-American from Houston, Texas, moved to Nashville to pursue her education at Vanderbilt University. She is now in her ninth year of work serving the Latinx and immigrant communities of Nashville. Through her prior work at Conexión Américas Laura found her passion for first generation college access and success. Laura leads the Pionero Scholars program at Lipscomb, which is a grow your own pipeline for MNPS graduates who want to become teachers. Her work helps her think systematically about the bridges between high school and college, and how to retain first-generation students of color in college. She founded and co-chairs the College of Education’s Diversity Task Force after her work co-founding the Trailblazer Coalition in 2016. She is a founding board member of the Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance (TECA).
Chris Echegaray is a journalist-turned-education advocate. After years of reporting at several media organizations, Chris joined the MNPS communications department. He later embraced the school district’s Community Achieves initiative as a site manager (suggested by a mentor) at a struggling school. He was part of a successful turnaround of an elementary school in priority status.
Before that, he covered stories in some intense situations— interviewing groups of heavily armed gang members, riding buses filled with laborers rolling across the U.S. border and talking to parents still reeling from the kidnapping of their baby. He continues to work at Whitsitt Elementary School– a school that is now becoming a magnet school.
He has freelanced for many publications, including his hometown paper, the New York Daily News, The Boston Globe, US Weekly, and Latina Magazine, writing a cover story on Shakira, the international superstar. He also has done reports on immigration and integration for Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice.
Karla Coleman Garcia is the Director of Strategic Alignment for Adult Learner Initiatives for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. In this capacity, Karla focuses on building partnerships with other state agencies and local organizations and centralizing information about supports and resources for adult learners pursuing degrees in Tennessee. Karla was formerly the Associate Director of Policy and Advocacy at Conexión Américas.
Karla was born in Mexico and raised in Texas. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Baylor University and a Master’s degree in higher education administration from Vanderbilt University Peabody College. Karla is the chair of the Nashville Community Education Commission, serves on the Steering Committee of Complete Tennessee and on the Immigrant Advisory Committee of the Nashville Public Library. Karla was a member of the Complete Tennessee Leadership Institute Class of 2017 and the Nashville Emerging Leaders 2018 cohort.
Keilani has many years of experience working closely with multiple stakeholders to launch and actively manage large-scale projects. As Director of Youth at the YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, she helped launch of Girls Incorporated in Nashville. She was also Assistant Director at Vanderbilt University’s Center for Student Professional Development. Born and raised in Tennessee, Keilani is a product of Tennessee’s public schools. She is committed to empowering teachers, building partnerships, and strengthening public education in the state. Keilani is a graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, received her graduate degree from Tennessee State University, and is currently pursuing her doctorate at Trevecca Nazarene University. She resides in Middle Tennessee with her husband and two children.
Joseph Gutierrez works at the Dan and Margaret Maddox Charitable Fund, managing education grants that help support the work of nonprofit organizations throughout Middle Tennessee. He is originally from southern California and graduated from UCLA with B.A.’s in American Literature and History in 2009. Joseph’s professional experiences have centered around education. He worked in South Korea for four years as an educator in public school and afterschool settings. After moving to Nashville in 2014, Joseph continued doing afterschool work while working with NAZA.
Most recently, Joseph completed his Master’s in Education through the Community Development and Action program at Vanderbilt. His interests are in organizational studies, community-based school reform, and racial justice.
I am a graduate of Tennessee State University (2014) in the area of Master of Science in School Psychology. Born in Numberg, Germany with a pinch of New Orleans roots, I have gained the understanding that anything done with discipline on a daily basis prepares you for your destiny. A product of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and a graduate of East Literature Magnet High School (2005). For nearly fifteen years, I have advocated for youth and their families across Middle Tennessee. While pursuing my doctorate in Leadership & Professional Practice, my goal is to make the future brighter by continuing to educate the next generation. My motto is, “ To whom much is given, much is required; therefore we must meet one, reach one, and teach one to change the world.” In my spare time I enjoy blogging, shopping, traveling and binge watching the latest Netflix series.
Tomás Yan is a Metro Nashville Public School teacher, and he currently teaches Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) at Antioch Middle School. The scientist turned-teacher is always finding creative ways to inspire the next generation of students into STEM related fields through the district’s STEAM initiative, which is engaging students in developing their creative, communication, collaboration and critical thinking skills. He designs his classes around experiments and hands-on activities to bring STEAM to life for students. Tomás Yan also works with many organizations such as 21st Century, NAZA, Urban Green Lab, Nashville Technology Council and Conexión Américas. During the summers, he works with Conexión Américas as an integral component in planning, leading and conducting summer camps for migrant students across Tennessee.
Tomás Yan also enjoys being the soccer and robotics coach at Antioch Middle School. He is always excited to be working with students, teaching them about coding, 3D printing, hydroponics, rocketry, electricity, virtual reality, robotics, physics, etc.
West Tennessee Fellows
Jaques Hamilton is a passionate advocate for urban education, community, and economic development and has a wealth of knowledge and experience in the areas. Professionally, Jaques has gained more than 10 years of experience. His main area of interest is urban economic development. Having grounding in this area has allowed him to make an impact in urban planning, economic development and education in poverty.
After years of community and school involvement, establishing rapport with the public and strategically leveraging relationships on both the local and national levels, Jaques is ready to turn his talents and efforts toward education reform. As Programs Coordinator for the Tennessee Charter School Center, he coordinates and manages support services and resource acquisition of charter schools statewide.
His thirst for knowledge and desire to have a meaningful and purposeful impact on the community guided him to serve as class president of his Masters’ Program at the University of Chicago. During his term as president, he empowered the student body to strive for social and political change.
Jaques earned a B.A. from McNeese State University and a M.A. from University of Chicago. Outside of his work life, he enjoys spending time with family, reading and traveling.
Lin Johnson, III has been Chief Financial Officer at Shelby County Schools District since October 2015. Mr. Johnson served as Director of Special Initiatives at the Tennessee Department of Education and as Director of Finance and Operations on the DC Public Charter School Board. Mr. Johnson holds Master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard University and Master’s in Business Administration from MIT’s Sloan School of Management.
DeVonté Payton is a native Memphian and a proud ambassador of the city. He is a passionate community leader who uses his educational and marketing expertise to serve as an advocate for engagement and development in the community involving schools, families, nonprofits, and the private sector. DeVonté earned his B.B.A in Marketing Management from the University of Memphis and has over 10 years of experience working in education. As an education advocate, he has worked closely with schools and districts to develop and implement strategic plans for community engagement, talent recruitment and retention, student recruitment and retention, and high school/college placement.
DeVonté recently joined Shelby County School’s Office of Charter Schools as a School Development Advisor where he leads the new schools review process to evaluate high quality school options for applicants interested in opening a charter school within the school district. Previously, he served as the Director of External Affairs for KIPP Memphis. In this role, DeVonté led external partnerships, brand management support, and student enrollment during the network’s rapid expansion of educating nearly 3000 students.
In his spare time, DeVonté enjoys exploring the Memphis food scene, watching Memphis basketball, and spending time with his wife, Alyssa, and their three children– Dylan, Alyson, and Alaina.
Joshua A. Perkins is a proud native of Jackson, Tennessee. He has a passion for serving students and families in the city of Memphis. He began his journey early teaching Special Education at various SCS district schools. Joshua was the founding Dean of Scholars at Leadership Preparatory Charter School and credits Leadership Prep for his development professionally. Joshua attended University of Memphis graduating with a B.A. in Business and received a Master of Arts in Teaching at Cambridge College. He is the President of Memphis Urban League Young Professionals where he volunteers his time in the community. He is devoted to making a difference in the city of Memphis through mentoring and providing resources to those in need.