R.D. Leyva serves as the Vice President, Program Operations & Strategy at Latinos for Education. He joined the team in 2016 and served as the Director of National Engagement, where he connected a national network of Latinos to professional development opportunities, resources, and one another.
Previously, he was the Director of Diversity and Leadership at Teach For America, where he supported the organization’s corps members and alumni of color across the country. He was responsible for building and developing a strong regional presence of alumni through their involvement with The Collective, Teach For America’s Alumni of Color Association. R.D. led efforts to create regional alumni advisory Collective boards in 32 regions across the country. He also supported national initiatives, including corps member and alumni summits and the annual School Leaders of Color Conference.
R.D. began his professional career as a middle school math teacher in West Philadelphia while earning his teaching certification at The University of Pennsylvania. He is a native Texan and holds a B.S. in Interpersonal Communications from The University of Texas at Austin. R.D. is a graduate of the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Leaders Program and an inaugural Pahara-Aspen NextGen Fellow. He also serves as a board member for oneTILT. As a proud Mexican and first-generation college graduate, R.D. is passionate about supporting an inclusive community of Latino leaders from diverse backgrounds.
Amanda Fernández is the CEO and Founder of Latinos for Education, the first Latino-founded and led national organization dedicated to developing, placing, and connecting essential Latino leadership in the education sector, while mobilizing Latino voices to promote practices and policies that remove barriers to equitable educational opportunity. Under her leadership, the organization has grown from a Boston-based nonprofit to a national leader on education policy, advocacy and leadership development with a presence from coast to coast.
In 2023 she was appointed to serve on the Massachusetts Governor’s Latino Empowerment Council which will advise on strategies to expand economic opportunities for and improve the overall wellbeing of Massachusetts’ Latino community. Prior to this appointment, she served on the Governor’s transition team as the co-chair of the thriving youth and young adults committee.
Amanda previously served as a Trustee of the Board with the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. She is a 2020 recipient of the McNulty Prize Catalyst Fund and a Senior Fellow at FutureEd. Amanda has over 25 years of experience in the areas of recruiting, diversity, organization development, change management, strategic planning, and Latino community relations.
Samantha Ader serves as Latinos for Education’s Vice President, Organizational Effectiveness. In this role, she manages the growing team’s internal operations for the organization to effectively work toward its mission. Samantha brings 10 years of experience in nonprofit management, fundraising, and marketing. She also serves as a Board of Education member for her local school district.
Prior to joining Latinos for Education, as Director of Development at Teach For America – South Carolina, she led private sector fundraising and co-led marketing and communications efforts to build the organization’s impact across the state of South Carolina. She has held professional roles with United Way and served as Assistant Director of Annual Giving at Butler University.
She graduated from Indiana University as a Hudson and Holland Scholar and holds her B.A. in Communication and Culture. Samantha currently resides near Chicago with her partner and two children. As the granddaughter of Cuban immigrants, she is driven by her belief in the power of education and works to ensure all children have equitable access to high-quality educational opportunities.
Dr. Rick Rodriguez is the Managing Director of Programs & Alumni, where he leads program strategy, design, and implementation of efforts focused on expanding learning opportunities and leadership capacity for Latinos for Education’s network.
Prior to this role, he led efforts with Houston ISD, the largest district in Texas, where he launched multiple district-wide initiatives focused on building a “Grow Your Own” approach to diversifying teacher pipelines and ensuring the workforce best reflects students being served. These efforts have incorporated collaborative approaches to education strategies that center on the needs of students and families while engaging necessary internal and external stakeholders in the process.
As a first-generation Mexican-American, Rick acknowledges the challenges that our Latino students face in education. Barriers to success have further fueled his mission to ensure that the work is laser-focused on removing such education barriers for others. Rick is a strong believer in Latinos for Education’s “Work Con Ganas” value and is determined to lead efforts that bring about equitable education practices for students.
Rick is a graduate of United Way’s Project BluePrint, Leadership ISD’s Civic Voices Fellowship, and Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Emerging Leaders Institute. He currently serves as a member of Houston ISD’s District Advisory Committee. He holds a B.A. in Sociology from Texas A&M University – San Antonio, an M.S. in Human Resource Development, and an Ed.D in Professional Leadership K-12 from the University of Houston.
Claudia Ruiz is the Manager, Program Operations. Before making her way to Latinos for Education, Claudia was an Operations Specialist with YES Prep Public Schools driving operational efficiencies across the system. Prior to this Claudia was attending Bryn Mawr College where she earned a full-tuition scholarship to attend through the POSSE Foundation. While her time at Bryn Mawr, she was given the opportunity to conduct her own research on the role of college access programs in the college decision process decision for Latino students ultimately igniting her passion for educational advocacy work. Outside of her role with Latinos for Education, Claudia volunteers her time serving on the YES Prep Alumni Association Board and a DAP Volunteer with the POSSE Foundation. She holds a B.A. in Sociology and Mathematics from Bryn Mawr College.
As a second-generation Mexican American college graduate whose life has been shaped by the matriarch of the family, her grandmother, Claudia understands the barriers that have been overcome to get her here. Cognizant of the barriers to access an equitable education, Claudia is passionate about access to financial and digital literacy, especially for Latino students and families. Claudia’s favorite Latinos for Education value is “Rise as a Collective” because she strongly believes in the power of nuestra comunidad and that when we work together our community is a force to be reckoned with.
Elvis Jocol Lara is the Managing Director of National Marketing and Communications at Latinos for Education, the first Latino founded and led national organization solely dedicated to creating leadership pathways for emerging Latino education leaders and diversifying education nonprofit boards. He is also the Founder and President of Casa Guatemala, a cultural and educational non-profit organization serving the Latino community of Waltham, MA.
An experienced marketing professional, he brings a proven record of brand building and media success. Previously he served as Vice President of Digital Media at El Mundo Boston where he launched the Latino 30 under 30, a first of its kind multimedia initiative that honors Boston’s most influential young Latino leaders.
Previously he served as a Manager in Consumer and Market Knowledge at Procter and Gamble under the Gillette Brand. There he led the brand’s Hispanic and African American Consumer research.
In 2016 he received a Gold Award for Best Travel Section by the National Association of Hispanic Publications for his Travel Blog to Mexico City as part of the NBA Global Games. He has also been recognized for his service to the community by the Guatemalan Association of Massachusetts and received an official resolution from the office of the Mayor of Boston. He is a 2009 graduate of the Carroll School of Management at Boston College and holds a bachelor’s degree in Management. A proud father and son of Guatemalan immigrants, Elvis strives to build a better future and greater opportunities for Latinx children across the country.
Manny Cruz is the Senior Policy Fellow at Latinos for Education where he previously served as the Massachusetts Advocacy Director from 2020-2022 and led the organization’s efforts to close the digital divide, scale up early college and was the senior policy advisor to the Educator Diversity Act Coalition. He is a public servant, entrepreneur, and community leader in the city of Salem and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Upon graduating from the Salem Public Schools, he attended Salem State University where he studied political science and later transferred to Northeastern University where completed his studies and graduated cum laude. Manny previously served as the legislative aide for former State Representative Juana Matias (D, Lawrence) where he specialized in education and immigration policy. Throughout his service in Representative Matias office, he also worked on constituent service related to housing, mass health, legal services, and provided emergency response to Merrimack Valley Columbia Gas Leaks.
In 2017, Manny became an elected member of the Salem School Committee where he now serves the students and families of the Salem Public School District. Manny is the first Afro-Latino of Dominican descent to serve on the Salem School Committee. He has been appointed to the Personnel, Policy, and Building and Grounds subcommittees, and also serves as the school committee’s liaison on student voice. His previous government and non-profit experience include serving as the Chair of the Governor’s Statewide Youth Council, a National Park Service Park Ranger at Salem Maritime National Historic Park, and co-ops at the Attorney General’s Office and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. On his personal time, Manny is a mentor for youth and is highly involved with youth-serving organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salem and LEAP for Education. In 2019 Manny joined the Office of State Representative Paul F. Tucker (Vice-Chair, Salem), where he continued to build his policy expertise in the areas of Education and Immigration, and advanced key strategic initiatives in the city of Salem.
In 2022, he successfully campaigned in a 3-way democratic primary to join the Massachusetts House of Representatives and was elected as the first Afro-Latino State Representative for the 7th Essex District-Salem.
Karen Maldonado serves as Chief Program and Innovation Officer (CPIO) for Latinos for Education, the first Latino-founded and led national organization dedicated to creating pathways for Latinos in education. As CPIO, Karen directs and guides the overall vision, strategy, design, and evolution of all program areas nationally—and provides leadership around K-16 partnerships, fundraising, budget-setting, and organizational strategy.
Prior to serving as CPIO, Karen was Director of Education Reform for the Financial Oversight and Management Board of Puerto Rico (FOMB). Her role was to ensure the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE) worked to implement system-wide best practices across every public school on the island. Karen’s work provided a transformation roadmap for better K-12 student outcomes, greater workforce participation and productivity. In April 2022, Karen launched the inaugural cohort of the Puerto Rico Education Leadership Development Program (PRELDP)—a collaborative learning opportunity, to support the improvement of the PRDE’s ability to develop action needed reform, particularly at the mid-career level.
Karen also served as an Executive Director for the New York City Department of Education; her most memorable experience was serving as founding principal of the first bilingual secondary school (English/Spanish for grades 6-12) in The Bronx, New York. Karen is a graduate of the inaugural cohort of Harvard’s Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) program, Fordham University (MS), City of New York at Hunter College (MA) and the State University of New York at Binghamton University (BA). She currently lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Rafael Reyes Orona serves as Latinos for Education’s Manager of Operations. In this role, he supports the Director of Operations in managing Latinos for Education’s national internal operations to ensure the organization is effectively working toward its mission. He is also a sitting member on Governor Polis’ HB19-1192 Commission, where he hopes to make recommendations for teaching and content standards that include the history, culture, and social contributions of Native Americans, Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, and LGBTQ+ individuals within these groups.
Prior to joining Latinos for Education, Rafael was the Manager of Operations and Partnerships at Climb Higher Colorado, where he focused on facilitating collaboration between policymakers, advocacy groups, education institutions, educators, and families, and students that resulted in collaborative, adaptive, and community-centered solutions to Colorado’s complex education challenges.
Rafael holds a B.A. in American Studies from Wesleyan University, where he focused his studies on the political, economic, and social history of North, Central, and South America and the implications that it has had and continues to have on current human relations, motivations, interactions, and politics.
Born and raised in Denver to a single, immigrant mother, he navigated both Denver Public Schools and private schools in Colorado and quickly became aware of the opportunity gap that exists between these two worlds. This has impassioned him to work hard and make sure that every student has all the resources, support, and education needed to achieve success–race, ethnicity, economic class, zip code, and opportunity notwithstanding.
Katie Caster is the Manager of Curriculum and Evaluation at Latinos for Education. She previously participated in Latinos for Education’s Aspiring Latino Leaders Fellowship from 2019-2020. Prior to joining Latinos for Education Katie was an urban educator with over fourteen years of experience in Special Education, STEAM and English as a Second Language (ESL). She has taught in a variety of districts including Los Angeles Unified (LAUSD), and Boston Public Schools. Besides being a classroom teacher, Katie has also been a special education coordinator for the Eliot Pearson Children’s School at Tufts University.
Katie currently holds a B.A. from Emerson College, in Writing, Literature and Publishing, and a Master’s degree in Special Education from California State Dominguez Hills. Additionally, she holds an Ed.S or Education Specialist degree from Bay Path University. Currently, she is a PhD Student and Instructor at Teachers College, Columbia University where her focus is on English Education and supporting pre-service and in-service teachers.
Katie was adopted from El Salvador and believes in leading with her identity, especially as it relates to challenging existing narratives around what it means to be an educator. She is also passionate on advancing efforts in areas of culturally responsive practice, and the recruitment and retention of educators of color.
Maritza Acosta, a Houston, Texas native, graduated from the University of Houston-Main Campus in 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Studies and Minor in Teaching and Learning. She received her teaching certification in EC-6 Generalist, and taught Pre-k, Kindergarten, Early Childhood Science, and Fifth Grade Science. After being in the classroom for 4 years, she decided her interests in education lied more heavily on one-to-one relationships with both students and families. She felt there was a need for more targeted conversations and assistance per student and family in her classroom, so she enrolled in the Counseling program at the University of Houston-Main Campus. In 2017 she graduated with a Master of Counseling in Education, and started her career as a college counselor for YES Prep. She decided to focus on college counseling because she saw a need for college going identities within minorities. Moving forward she hopes to increase the number of minorities enrolling in higher education by using her identity as a Latinx female who has earned a Master’s degree to influence other minorities. Si se puede!
My name is Andrew Rodolfo Aguilar, but I prefer to be called Andrés. My grandparents, who immigrated to San Jose, California from Michoacan, Mexico, called me Andrés as I was growing up. I am the grandson and son of Mexican immigrants. I was born in San Jose, California in 1989 and I lived in the Bay Area up until I completed my undergraduate program at Saint Mary’s College of California. As an undergraduate student, I became an advocate for social transformation and had the opportunity to work in Head Start classrooms with the nonprofit, Jumpstart. Student activism and work in early education helped me unpack my own experiences in education as a Latino male and helped me decide to become an educator. After earning a degree in English/Women’s Studies, I was accepted into a post-graduate service program called Lasallian Volunteers. With Lasallian Volunteers I served in an upstate New York school for court adjudicated boys and young men as a recreation coordinator. I enjoyed my work with the students outside of the classroom, but I wanted to teach, so I volunteered in their classrooms. While serving in New York, I applied to be a Teach For America Corps Member and was accepted into the TFA Phoenix Corps of 2012. I served two years as a middle school English teacher in Mesa, Arizona before accepting a founding 4th grade Humanities position in the city where I was born. I am now in my eighth year with Rocketship Public Schools and my sixth year of school leadership.
Irma Ayala-Nicholas is a Houston native and education advocate. Irma has grounded her personal mission around improving access to a great education for all children. She attended Boston University and has an MSed from the University of Pennsylvania. Irma is currently a Senior Manager for TNTP’s workforce team. Leading the staffing and recruiting strategy for a range of far reaching education consulting projects in the Southwest region.
Rosa Baeza was born and raised in Santa Ana, CA to Mexican immigrant parents. As one of seven children, Rosa is the first in her family to receive a Bachelor’s degree – from the University of California, Berkeley. Rosa is committed to ensuring students and families have the support to access high quality education. Currently, Rosa serves as the National Associate Director of Development at Rocketship Public Schools and supports fundraising across the network. As a first-generation college student, Rosa is active in providing mentoring and support services to first-generation college students in the Bay Area, by volunteering with community organizations -TRENZA and the Oakland Promise.
Judith Blanco is in her eighth year as the Assistant Principal of East Boston High School for Boston Public Schools (BPS). Judy’s current efforts include working collaboratively with a range of educators to provide research-based professional development for curriculum design, teaching, and learning, implementing the teacher evaluation process and program assessments, and developing coherent practices for school improvement. Previously, Judy worked for five years as the District Instructional Coach for High Schools in BPS. Her work focused on facilitating the high school principal instructional rounds network, providing direct support to high schools, and leading district professional development. Her teaching experience includes six years as a Bilingual/ESL teacher in BPS. Judy has a passion for increasing equity, furthering student achievement, building an inclusive and culturally responsive school culture, and honoring the cultural wealth of students, families, and the community. She received her BA in English Literature from Rutgers University and her MA in Applied Linguistics from the University of Massachusetts. Judy was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and immigrated to the United States with her family as a young child.
Aixa Borrero-Sanchez moved from Puerto Rico to Boston, MA to pursue a career in speech-language pathology at Boston University after studying special education at the University of Puerto Rico. Language acquisition, second language learning, assessment and working with students with disabilities have been her passion. Her experience encompasses clinical, hospital and school settings with children ages 0-21 years. As a bilingual/bicultural educator, she has been part of various appointed Task Forces that focus on English Language Learners who have disabilities. She has been an Adjunct Professor for Lesley University and a member of the Massachusetts Board of registration for Speech-Language Pathology-Audiology. She has worked in Boston Public Schools since 1993 as a bilingual speech-language pathologist and supervisor. Currently, she is the Assistant Director for Related Services in the Office of Special Education.
Dr. Tina Brooks grew up in Houston’s East End. She benefited from Houston ISD’s minority to majority transfer program and attended area Gifted and Talented (Vanguard) educational programs. With the support of dedicated teachers and her high school counselor, she was encouraged to participate in programs that would provide leadership development, academic enhancement, and workforce skills. She is an alumnus of Houston’s National Hispanic Institute, gaining a variety of experiences that supported her early passion for legislative change in education. As a first-generation college student at Tufts University, she relied heavily on the continued support of her high school teachers. The journey from Houston to Boston served as a learning experience in a variety of ways and often challenged her family dynamics. Dr. Brooks would later graduate from the University of St. Thomas in Houston with a degree in Environmental Science and Sociology. She obtained her master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Houston- Clear Lake. She attended Texas Tech University, where she obtained her Ph. D. in Human Development and Family Studies. Her dissertation, entitled Learning begins at home: the role of Hispanic mothers as their child’s first teacher serves as a constant reminder of her dedication to using her voice to inform those who teach and lead in spaces with a predominately Hispanic student population of the role that culture plays in the parent-child relationship and unique cultural values which drive maternal teaching practices.
Angela Cala migrated to the U.S. twenty years ago with her husband and the dream to build a family with better opportunities. That move required a change of career, language, culture, and lifestyle that she embraced with passion and hope. Twenty years later, Angela serves as Program Director of Multilingual Curriculum for the Aldine Independent School District in Houston, TX. She had previously led in Education as a campus administrator, bilingual skills specialist, and bilingual teacher. She received a master’s degree in Bilingual and ESL education after completing her alternative certification program. Angela’s passion for education started the minute she entered a classroom and began serving bilingual students and families in Houston. She accepted the challenge that this career represented as the needs of these families, mostly immigrants, required more people who could advocate for them. This need is still latent today. Latino families continue to arrive to this country with dreams like the one Angela had. She wants to keep leading the way to help children gain equal opportunities to succeed. She wants to continue preparing to grow as a Latina leader in education in the U.S. and learn better ways to help her community blossom. Angela joined the 2021 Aspiring Latino Leaders Fellowship cohort to continue building her dream.
Christopher Castro is originally from Kansas City, Missouri. He grew up the second oldest of four led by a single mother early in life. He had a sparse relationship in childhood with his father and his Mexican family, but felt a deep connection with that part of his identity from an early age. He always felt different. He moved across the state to rural Missouri in a stepfamily in the 1.5 version (High School). He attended the University of Missouri due to the immense dedication of my family and friends. Without the resources provided through relationships, college would have been a struggle. However, he graduated from the University of Missouri in 2011 and joined Teach For America after feeling the need to have a stable career and make an impact. He moved to Phoenix and taught 7th and 8th grade students at Phoenix Collegiate Academy. There he learned more about his Mexican heritage through his relationships with his students and their families. After a stint to be near family in New England, he moved to San Jose as the Business Operations Manager at Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep. Through relationships with his colleagues and families, he continues to explore his Mexican roots. He comes to accept his childhood is unique and oftentimes out of one’s control, much like every child. What you choose to learn is up to you.
Leydi Cottrill was born in Guatemala and came to the United States at the age of seven. She was the first in her family to attend college and continues to be a role model for her family and peers. Leydi currently works as the Associate Director of Student Information Systems for Rocketship Public Schools where she manages a team across multiple regions for the network. She started almost 10 years ago as the founding Office Manager for Rocketship Brilliant Minds and moved up within the network to her current position. Prior to this role, Leydi worked for Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada for six years where she developed and managed the Immigration Program services of Northern Nevada. Being in a leadership position to advocate for families, she realized the importance of educating them on their immigration rights and helping them in their path to legalizing their status and/or achieving citizenship. The program was so successful that in 2008 it was recognized as the Best New Immigration Program by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network. Leydi’s passion to support her community drives her to continuously seek opportunities to enhance her understanding on how to empower families to own their student’s educational narratives via the student information systems backend work with her team across all regions. She also enjoys gardening, watching movies and spending time with her family, friends and four dogs.
Ivanna is the daughter of two loving Argentinean parents raised in Pasadena, Texas. Leaving an opportunity dessert was made possible because of the love and encouragement of her parents, una comunidad de apoyo that she found in educators at The University of Texas at Austin, and appetite for growth, opportunity, and search for equity. Not knowing how she was going to use her two degrees of Latin American Studies and Psychology that combined her passion for dismantling systems of oppression and developing strengths in people, she landed back in Pasadena serving as a College Adviser with for the National College Advising Corps. There she was tasked to create a college going culture by collaborating with counselors, teachers, and students. Shortly after her two years of service, she transitioned to working with Breakthrough Central Texas, where a twelve-year commitment is made to students and families (6th grade to college graduation). As an Associate Director, she able to start blossoming her leadership skills by leading a team of talented changemakers, build deeper connections with students and families, and ultimately prepare our communities to thrive academically in high school and in college. At Breakthrough, her community poured so much into her and made her realize that the academic needs of our students is part of the story and she was limited on how much she was able to serve. Ivanna decided to pursue a Master’s in Educational Psychology to provide healing, trauma-informed care, and whole human approach to her work. Ivanna is now eagerly working towards her LPC by serving as a counselor with IDEA Public Schools.
Frangie Cruz is currently the school Principal of Ingalls Elementary School, a K-5 school in Lynn, Massachusetts. Ms. Cruz’s journey to the Lynn Public Schools began in Bridgeport, CT, where she served as a school counselor and led turnaround work district wide. She transitioned to Massachusetts, first developing and refining strategy around family and community partnerships with Mass Insight Education before transitioning to the Boston Public Schools. In Boston, Ms. Cruz served as the Director of Operations and Academic Advancement at the Mario Umana Academy, a K-8 dual language school. There, Ms. Cruz led a number of progressive initiatives, most pointedly those directly impacting improvement with instruction and school culture. Her success while at The Umana played a role in her acceptance to the highly regarded Lynch Leadership Academy for the 2020-21 school year. Mr. Cruz holds a holds a Bachelor Degree in Political Science from the University of Hartford, and Masters in Education Psychology from the University of Connecticut. Ms. Cruz is a proud Puertorriqueña fully fluent in Spanish.s.