R.D. Leyva serves as the Chief of Staff at Latinos for Education. He supports the CEO and leadership team, providing tactical oversight and support across the organization and through special projects. 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 is a social entrepreneur and CEO/Co-Founder of Latinos for Education, the first Latino founded and led national organization solely dedicated to creating leadership pathways for emerging Latino leaders in education and diversifying education nonprofit boards. Amanda began working on issues of educational opportunity and representation serving as the Vice President of Latino external engagement at Teach For America and a Director at The Bridgespan Group, supporting clients on organization and talent development. Amanda’s career spans over 25 years working in the fields of recruiting, diversity, organization development, change management, strategic planning and Latino community engagement.
Over the course of her professional career, Amanda has been a frequent speaker at conferences and events. She is a Trustee of the Board with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Roxbury Community College. She is a Fall 2015 Aspen Pahara Fellow out of the prestigious Aspen Institute and delivered the convocation speech at Boston University School of Education graduation. El Planeta has twice named her one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in Massachusetts and she’s a Senior Fellow at FutureEd. Amanda holds an M.S. in Education from Fordham University and a B.A. from Western Illinois University. She lives in the Boston area with her spouse and two children.
Lorena Lopera is Executive Director, Massachusetts at Latinos for Education.
Throughout her career, Lorena dedicated over 10 years leveraging relationships to resource quality educational opportunities for youth and families. Previously, Lorena served as Director of Development at Building Excellent Schools (BES), a national organization focused on school leadership formation. Prior to her work with BES, Lorena worked as Chief of Staff at City Year, Miami. There she oversaw finances, personnel and operations for an organization providing academic support to over 5,000 children across Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Beforehand, Lorena worked on cultivating corporate philanthropy and individual donors with the Posse Foundation and Epiphany School.
Lorena graduated from Boston College with a B.A. in Hispanic Studies. She is a first-generation immigrant from Colombia who knows every child is capable of success when provided with support and opportunities. Lorena believes patience, cooperation, hard work and a passion to provide quality education for youth and families helps build strong communities and future opportunities. Lorena lives in Boston with her spouse and two children.
Dr. Daniel Velasco is Chief Operating Officer at Latinos for Education, where he brings deep experience in education, entrepreneurship, fundraising, and strategy. He was previously Chief Growth & Impact Officer and originally joined as VP of Strategy and Programs in 2017 after five years at Johns Hopkins as Boston Executive Director and later Regional Director overseeing 14 schools across the northeast in the largest randomized control trial of school reform in American history (Diplomas Now i3 Study). Dr. Velasco was program faculty at Harvard’s School Turnaround Leadership program for 6 years. He started as a teacher with Teach For America and consults on issues including evaluation, teacher retention, and adult learning and development. He serves on the boards of the National Center for Teacher Residencies, Rocketship Public Schools, and the Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network. Dr. Velasco was honored by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio in recognition for national service.
Originally from Peru, he was raised in Venezuela and came to the U.S. as a teenager. He earned a BA with Honors in Political Science from the University of Central Florida and is a graduate of the ICN Business School in France. He earned a master’s degree in Social Change from Clark University before going on to Harvard, where he received a master’s degree in Education Policy and Management. He holds a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Entrepreneurship from Johns Hopkins University with an emphasis on Human Capital Development and lives in Jacksonville, FL since 2018.
Andy Canales is the Executive Director, Texas at Latinos for Education. Previously, Andy worked as a director at various nonprofit organizations serving students and families. Prior to working in the education nonprofit sector, Andy began his career in education as a teacher in low-income communities in Miami and New York City.
He serves on the Board of Directors of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, TEACH, University of Houston-Downtown Advisory Board of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Latino Texas PAC, which he chairs. He’s a Senior American Leadership Forum Fellow (Class XLVII), 2018 Harris County Leadership ISD Fellow, and a 2020 Houston Business Journal 40 under 40 honoree.
With over 50 appearances on local, statewide, and national media, including ABC13 Houston, the Houston Business Journal, Houston Chronicle, Fox26 Houston, NBC News, Univision, Telemundo, Texas Tribune, and USA Today, he is a sought-after commentator on education and civic issues important to Latino students and families.
Andy holds a dual B.A. in Political Science and Religion from Pepperdine University and a Master’s of Science in Education from Hunter College. As the son of Salvadoran immigrants, the first one in his family to graduate from college, and former educator, Andy is passionate about expanding educational equity.
José Coló serves as the Director of Greater Boston Programs at Latinos for Education where he oversees the planning and execution of local programs and services. José is a native of Oaxaca, Mexico. He received his B.A. in Political Science and Spanish Literature from Loyola Marymount and his Ed.M in International Education Policy from Harvard University.
José’s professional experiences as an educator began as a high school teacher in a high needs public school in West Side of Chicago, later serving as Dean of Instruction at Uplift Education High School in North Texas.
José has served as a leader in a number of non-profit organizations, including his role as Educational Director at the National Hispanic Institute. José joined the Latinos for Education team after working with the Boston Debate League where he designed curriculum to make policy more accessible for middle and high school students and teachers.
Samantha Ader serves as Latinos for Education’s Director of Operations. 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.
Johana Muriel Grajales serves as the Director of National Strategy and Innovation at Latinos for Education. In this role, she manages the design and implementation of national strategy tied to growth and innovation imperatives to ensure more Latino leaders and entrepreneurs are at the front of closing the education gaps facing the Latino community.
Prior to Latinos for Education, Johana spent six years at City Year Inc. where she worked on several national strategy and growth initiatives focused on expanding City Year to new markets, developing impact strategic plans across all local sites, and supporting the design, development, and spread of innovative school design practices.
Johana was born and raised in Colombia and gained her postsecondary education in Urban and Public Affairs while working with Latino grassroots organizations in Chicago advocating for immigrant rights and providing affordable housing services to low-income families. She moved to Boston in 2011 to participate in a Residency in Social Enterprise (RISE) with New Sector Alliance and learn about nonprofit management by studying Boston’s social impact ecosystem.
Johana’s career has been driven by the belief that if every person is given access to the supports and resources to fulfill their potential, we will be able to address the complex and diverse issues we face as a society.
Sylvia Vieira is the Manager of National Programs. She joined Latinos for Education after working at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard for over 8 years. She was the outreach manager for the Strategic Data Project (SDP) Fellowship, where she managed and executed the recruitment and placement of SDP Data Fellows for partner agencies. Sylvia expanded the fellowship alumni network to develop long-lasting relationships with colleges, universities, nonprofits, and other leaders in the education sector. Prior to her outreach work, Sylvia also coordinated the data collection for several research projects on the topic of teacher effectiveness. She trained site coordinators on the effective administration of student surveys and student assessments. She also co-wrote a chapter on student data privacy for a video observation guide for teachers.
Prior to this role, Sylvia served as a corps member with City Year New York where her work focused on supporting literacy-based in-school and after-school programs, youth leadership, and community transformation of the PS 57 school community in East Harlem. Sylvia earned a bachelor’s degree in Writing from Ithaca College and a master’s in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Sylvia was born and raised in the Bronx to proud Colombian parents and is passionate about learning, adult education, and educational equity for all.
Lorena Lopera is Executive Director, New England at Latinos for Education.
Throughout her career, Lorena has dedicated over 10 years leveraging relationships to resource quality educational opportunities for youth and families. Previously, Lorena served as Director of Development at BES, a national organization focused on school leadership formation. Prior to her work with BES, Lorena worked as Chief of Staff at City Year, Miami. There she oversaw finances, personnel and operations for an organization providing academic support to over 5,000 children across Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Beforehand, Lorena worked on cultivating corporate philanthropy and individual donors with the Posse Foundation and Epiphany School. She started her career in education working as a community organizer at Sociedad Latina in Mission Hill.
Lorena graduated from Boston College with a B.A. in Hispanic Studies. She is a first-generation immigrant from Colombia who knows how much hard work, resilience, and support goes into simply finding the right opportunities for success. Through this work, Lorena wants to ensure that students, educators, and families can move beyond fighting for access and focus on creating impact. She is a proud Boston Public Schools Parent and current Co-Chair of the Hurley K-8 School Site Council. She currently serves on the board for EdVestors. Lorena believes patience, cooperation, hard work and a passion to provide quality education for youth and families help build strong communities and future opportunities. Lorena lives in Boston with her spouse and two children.
Dr. Rick Rodriguez is the National Program Director, 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 Site Coordinator of Greater Houston, focused on supporting all Latinos for Education initiatives across the city. 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 National Director of 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 Massachusetts Advocacy Director for Latinos for Education. Manny is also an elected school committee member, entrepreneur, and community leader in the city of Salem. He previously served as the legislative aide for former State Representative Juana B. Matias (D, Lawrence) and State Representative Paul F. Tucker (D, Vice-Chair Salem) where he specialized in education and immigration policy. Manny graduated with honors from Northeastern University with a B.S in Political Science and as a La Comunidad Latina En Acción Scholar.
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. He has been appointed to the Personnel (Chair), Policy, and Building and Grounds subcommittees. 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 addition, to his public service experience, he is also a partner and president of business development at Brothers Taverna.
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 a Fellow in Residence at Latinos For Education. She previously participated in Latinos For Education’s Aspiring Latino Leaders Fellowship from 2019-2020. She is also the first alumna hire. 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. In the Fall of 2021, she will be starting her Doctoral Studies in English Education (Ed.D) at Teachers College, Columbia University with an emphasis on supporting Latinx 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 about advancing efforts in areas of anti-racist pedagogy, culturally responsive practice, and the recruitment and retention of educators of color.