Who We Are

At Ensemble Learning, we’re educators, champions for equity, and alchemists working in partnership with school communities to leverage all the resources and relationships necessary to make schools equitable for all learners. At the heart of our brand are three aims that guide how we communicate:

Instruct

Instruct

Lead our partners, clients, and peers in adopting proven strategies and a more holistic approach for unlocking equity in education for all students, especially English Language Learners. We model smart and effective use of data in decision-making, without losing sight of people.

Influence

Influence

Differentiate ourselves from our peers and competition in the educational equity space by appealing to the practical needs of school and systems-level educational leaders, taking a human-centered approach to designing interventions, and providing thought leadership that shifts the dominant narrative around what’s possible.

Inspire

Inspire

We challenge and incentivize our partners and peers to let go of any constraining beliefs or fears that would hold them back from transforming their organization, their leadership, or their programs.

We’re a trusted steward, providing a clear, actionable roadmap that instructs, influences, and inspires everyone in our communities to work together build stronger schools that achieve stellar results for every student.

Ensemble Learning began in 2009 as The College Ready Promise. It initially focused on creating systems to support and measure teacher effectiveness.

Staff

Photo of Elise Darwish

Elise Darwish

CEO

 

Elise leads Ensemble Learning’s strategic vision to improve school quality and remove barriers to achievement for underserved students. Previously, Elise was the founding Chief Academic Officer at Aspire Public Schools, where she grew the organization to a high-performing charter management organization with 38 schools in Tennessee and California. She was also the founding instructional coordinator at the San Carlos Charter Learning Center, the first charter school in California and the second in the nation. Elise is a Pahara Fellow and a Leap Ambassador.

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Leigh Mingle, PhD 

Senior Director of Operations and Research 

 

Leigh supports the staff with business operations and conducts research and data analysis for partner schools. Leigh holds a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Previously, Leigh served as a data scientist and researcher for a large school district and curriculum development company. Leigh specializes in understanding motivation in education, particularly in math and science.

Photo of Rocio Figueroa

Rocío Figueroa 

Director of Equity for Multilingual Learners

 

Rocío helps school staff identify and address the needs of English learners using the latest research-based instructional strategies. Rocío holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from Azusa Pacific University. Previously, Rocío served as an instructional coach and district-level administrator overseeing the English learner program for a large urban school district. Rocío specializes in understanding and supporting all language learners, particularly long-term English learners and those in dual-language immersion models.

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Katherine Hamilton 

Director of Special Projects

 

Katherine ensures that projects are executed well by planning meetings, establishing relationships with partners, and developing instructional content. Katherine holds a master’s degree in education from Stanford University. Previously, Katherine served charter management organizations, managing teacher development, curriculum, and English learner programs.

Sherre Vernon 

Director of Learning and Leadership Coach

 

Sherre ensures that the Ensemble team is continuously learning and growing and coaches principals in leadership and instruction. Previously, Sherre served as the chief academic officer for THRIVE Public Schools, as a principal, and the dean of student culture with Green Dot.  

Kettisha Jones, EdD 

Senior Leadership Coach

 

Kettisha leads the principal coaches in the approach, design and implementation of coaching. Kettisha holds a doctorate in education from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Previously, Kettisha served as the assistant superintendent of elementary education at Pflugerville ISD and a principal for Houston ISD.

Photo of James Waller

James Waller 

Leadership Coach

 

James coaches principals in leadership and instruction. James holds a master’s degree in educational administration from California State University, Dominguez Hills. Previously, James served as vice president of secondary student achievement for the ICEF View Park family of schools and ICEF Inglewood Middle and as principal at Alliance Gertz-Ressler High School.

Photo of Julio César Contreras

Julio Cesar Contreras

Leadership Coach

 

Julio coaches principals in leadership and instruction and manages the Instructional Coaches. Julio holds a master’s in Educational Leadership from Aurora University. Previously, Julio has served as a principal supervisor trainer at New Leaders for New Schools; as a bilingual teacher, assistant principal, principal and district leader at Chicago Public Schools, a principal supervisor at Tulsa Public Schools and KIPP San Antonio, and as a dean fellow for Relay Graduate School of Education. Julio is a recognized 2016 USA Education Week Leader to Learn From.

Janelly Garza, EdD

Dual Language Instructional Coach

 

Janelly supports teachers as they implement dual language best practices. Janelly holds a doctorate of education in English learning from Northcentral University.  Previously, Janelly served as a K-12 bilingual/ESL strategist, dual language teacher and lecturer at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.  Janelly specializes in second language acquisition for multilingual learners.  

Eileen Salinas

Dual Language Instructional Coach

 

Eileen supports teachers as they implement dual language best practices. Eileen holds a master’s degree in special education from the University of Concordia, TX.  Previously, Eileen served as district multilingual specialist for Austin ISD, district language arts specialist, and a dual language educator.  Eileen specializes in supporting culturally and linguistically diverse exceptional students and dual language programming. 

Board Members

Beth Hunkapiller

Beth is a former middle school educator and administrator. She is a 19-year member of the Board of Education of the San Carlos School District Board of Trustees. She was a founder of the San Carlos Charter Learning Center and the director of the Charter School Division for the state of California. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from Oklahoma Baptist University and her master’s degree from the University of Southern California.

Adeola (Ola) Whitney

Ola is the chief regional officer at iMentor. She was previously chief regional operations officer at Reading Partners, where she managed more than 14 executives across the country. Before Reading Partners, Ola served as Playworks’ executive director for the Greater New York/Greater Newark region. Prior to her work in nonprofits, she spent nearly a decade in leadership roles at Kaplan. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College.

Pablo Mejia

Pablo is the Vice President of Program Innovation at IDEA Public Schools and leads individualized learning across all 61 schools, impacting over 33,000 students. Before joining IDEA, Pablo worked in the Weslaco Independent School District for ten years as a teacher, curriculum facilitator, and principal. Pablo started his career with Teach for America in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. He has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California at Los Angeles and a master’s degree in Educational Leadership at the University of Texas Pan American.

Simmons Lettre

Simmons is an education consultant and advises organizations on creating and scaling effective programs to catalyze public K-12 education reform. Prior to launching her consulting work, Simmons co-founded and served as the CEO of Charter Board Partners (CBP), a national nonprofit dedicated to improving charter school board governance in ways that sustain effective schools. She is a Pahara-Aspen Fellow and holds a master’s in School Leadership from the Harvard University and a Bachelor of Arts from Davidson College.

Max Polaner

Max is the first Executive Director of the New York region for iMentor. Max came to iMentor after completing ten years as the Chief Financial and Strategy Officer of Achievement First, a network of college preparatory K-12 charter schools, which grew from serving 900 to over 10,000 students during Max’s tenure. Before joining Achievement First, Max spent 12 years in the private sector, primarily at fast-growing start-up companies, and also as a consultant at McKinsey and Company as well as the head of quality control for his family’s business, Polaner Preserves. Max started his career as a public middle school math, social studies and music teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. He received a Masters of Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government, an MBA from Harvard Business School, his teacher’s certificate from San Francisco State University and his BA from Yale University.

Maria Christina R. Heredia

Maria Heredia’s work focuses on creating, expanding and supporting innovative and effective educational opportunities for K-12 and college students. She has been actively involved with charter schools and education nonprofits in California for over twenty years. Maria works at High Tech High in the dual role of Chief Operations Officer and General Counsel. She leads a dedicated operations team and supports the HTH school leadership teams in a variety of areas, including establishing and growing operational systems, strategic planning, board engagement, authorizer and stakeholder relations, and the development of policies and practices reflective HTH culture and design principles. Maria previously served as Senior Vice President of Legal Advocacy and General Counsel to the California Charter Schools Association. At CCSA, Maria expanded advocacy efforts on behalf of California charter schools, while leading an action that significantly increased the facilities available to children attending charter schools in Los Angeles.

Partners and Funders

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
American Institutes for Research
SUSD
W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation
Uplift Education
Aspire Public Schools
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