NILSL Cohort Biographies

Alma D. Velazquez, Assistant Principal, Woodlawn PK-5 School
Alma D. Velazquez (she/her/hers) serves as the Assistant Principal for Woodlawn PK-5 School in Oregon’s Portland Public Schools, a racially and economically diverse elementary campus near the city’s center core.

As an administrator, Alma is charged with facilitating staff development and learning sessions, conducting teacher and staff evaluations, managing operations for the building, and supporting the emotional, social and behavior needs of students. In her first year in her role, she led the establishment of the Woodlawn Familias, a Spanish-speaking parent group with the goal of developing leadership opportunities for Latino and immigrant families.

Previous to this role, she served as a teacher on special assignment in the PPS Dual Language Department, supporting Dual Language teachers in K-5 classrooms across the district with curriculum and instructional support. She started her work in education as a 5th grade Dual Language teacher in Portland, serving emergent bilingual students and their families. Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, she attended Cal State Sacramento where she received a Bachelor’s in Government-Journalism. She pursued her first career, newspaper reporting, for more than 8 years before receiving a Master’s in Education from Portland State University and starting her teaching career. She’s a recipient of the 2014 National Summit Teaching and Learning Award and is a member of the Oregon Association of School Administrators.

Dr. Celia Garcia Alvarado, Executive Vice President, Cesar Chavez Foundation
Dr. Celia Garcia Alvarado has been working in the field of education for over 19 years. She currently serves as the Executive Vice President of Education at the Cesar Chavez Foundation. Celia began her career as an educator in the Los Angeles Unified School District and in 2003 was named Teacher of the Year for her district.

She served as Managing Director of Teacher Leadership Development and as Vice President of Corps Member and Alumni Impact for Teach For America. Previously, she was Executive Director of the Western Region for Education Pioneers. She is an adjunct faculty member at Loyola Marymount University’s Graduate School of Education and serves on the board of Camino Nuevo Charter Academy. Celia received her B.A. from Stanford University, her Ed.M. from Harvard University and Ed.D. from UCLA. Originally from Los Angeles, she now resides in Whittier, CA with her husband, Jorge, and three children Maya, Sofia and Isaac.

Devon Teran, Principal, Guadalupe Centers High School
Devon Teran serves as the principal of Guadalupe Centers High School, a charter school in Kansas City, Mo. The Guadalupe Center is the longest continuously operating Latino service organization in the United States. In this role he leads a building of over 40 educators and 400 students to improve educational outcomes for Latino students in Kansas City. He has worked to expand meaningful college and career opportunities for all students. Devon has also worked previously as an instructional coach focusing on middle level math and science and began his career as a high school English teacher. He attended the University of Kansas (BSE), Baker University (MSSL) and is a graduate of the Relay National Principal Academy Fellowship. He is father to two girls in Kansas City, Ks and is excited to begin his role as a kindergarten parent in the 2020-2021 academic year.

Isaac Cardona , Elementary School Principal, Portland Public Schools
Isaac Cardona serves as an elementary school principal in Portland Public Schools. In his role, Isaac has embraced building strong and healthy relationships, working in partnership with parents, staff, students and the school community. He has eliminated all exclusions from school, increased the academic growth and achievement of all of his students, and works to build a fun, active and healthy environment where all students feel welcome and are ready to learn.

Previously he served as instructional coach in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, supporting teachers in almost a dozen school districts along the US/Mexico border. He began his career teaching middle school writing in the Houston Independent School District. Originally from a small town in rural New Mexico, he attended the University of New Mexico where he got his degrees in English and Criminology. He attended graduate school at Columbia University in New York where he received his Master’s degree in Public School Administration.

Jordan Harrison, Senior Director of Programs, Reality Changers
Jordan Harrison (he/him/his) is the senior director of Programs at Reality Changers, a San Diego based non profit serving low-income, first generation, and justice involved youth. Annually Reality Changers serves 750 students across southern California and Mexico. The program has 29 Gates Millennium scholars and over 2500 alumni. Outside of Reality Changers Jordan is speaker and educational consultant focused on radical imagination and eradicating inequality with a constant reminder of our collective humanity. He works with students, educators and professionals to provide solutions to one question, “How do we create environments where every person can succeed, no matter where they come from.” Jordan has worked on creating solutions to urban education challenges with the U.S Attorney's office, Fortune 100 companies, U.S News and World Reports, UC San Diego, Harvard University and many others. Born in Chicago, IL. he earned his undergraduate degree from San Diego State University and his masters from the Harvard graduate school of education as an urban scholar fellow. He is also the chief education officer of Rhymes with a reason, a website platform that teaches vocabulary and history through current hip hop music.

Jorge Lopez, Founder, AMPS (Amethod Public Schools) Public Charter School System
Jorge is the founder of AMPS (Amethod Public Schools) public charter school system. He began the AMPS organization as a Principal for Oakland Charter Academy, a flailing single site middle school campus, and transformed it into nationally renowned, six school site K- 12th grade high performing public charter school system serving the cities of Oakland and Richmond, CA. Schools in the AMPS network have received many honors for exceptional academic results over the years, including recognition as a 2008 National Blue Ribbon School, multiple Title I Academic Achievement Awards, Distinguished School Awards, and the California Charter Schools Association’s Charter School of the Year. Previous to working at AMPS, Mr. Lopez worked as a teacher, and middle school dean in multiple school districts. Additionally, Lopez served as the Director for Sacramento Youth Project overseeing tutoring, youth organizing, and programs throughout the Sacramento Valley for high risk probation mandated youth.

Other past work assignments included serving as Outreach Specialist for the Migrant Education Program Region in Butte County, and eventually working as the Migrant Education Program Director overseeing comprehensive full support site based services for agricultural working families in the Stockton Region. Mr. Lopez is a former member of the California State Board of Education (SBE), and served as the SBE liaison to the Advisory Committee on Charter Schools (“ACCS”) for the State Board of Education. He is an Aspen-Pahara Executive Leadership Fellow, an Alum of the Achievement First Charter School Accelerator cohort, and a member of the Education Leaders of Color (EdLoc) Policy Council. Lopez is a graduate of Sacramento State University where he received his undergraduate and graduate degree in Education. Lopez is also the recipient of the Harvard Business School (HBS) Bay Area Scholarship and completed the Harvard Business School Executive Leadership Program = Strategic Perspectives in Non Profit Management. Most recently, Jorge co-founded the families in Action Coalition in East Oakland, CA whose mission it is to organize youth and families to advocate for quality public schools to be available for all.

Juanita Olivares Franklin, Associate Director of Hispanic and Latino Outreach Initiatives, NorthWest Arkansas Community College
Juanita Olivares Franklin is the Director of the LIFE Program and Associate Director of Hispanic and Latino Outreach Initiatives at NorthWest Arkansas Community College, where she has worked for 12 years. In addition to her primary rolls, she is also the advisor of the DREAMers Resource Group. Through her rolls, she works to help students grow and sharpen their leadership skills as well as connect students to volunteer opportunities. Juanita’s passion is to empower underserved, under-resourced and underrepresented students to achieve their dreams of going to college. Juanita has been very active in her community advocating for undocumented students, as well as for immigrant rights. A first-generation American of Mexican descent, she strives to provide the resources to young students that were not provided to her. Originally from California, she has lived in North West Arkansas since 2007. She serves on the NWA Hispanic Leadership Council and was recognized by Celebrate Magazine as one of 2018’s Ones To Watch. Juanita is also a National Institute for Latino School Leaders Fellow.

Marcela Alvarez, Teacher, Para Los Niños at the Gratts Primary Center
Marcela Alvarez (she/her/hers) is currently a teacher with Para Los Niños at the Gratts Primary Center in the Pico-Union neighborhood in Los Angeles, California. In this role she works on the first grade team as a Spanish bilingual educator, additionally she serves as the campus’ dual-language coordinator, and within the organization she serves as her campus’ Organizational Wellness Committee representative. Over the summer of 2019 Marcela was Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) Policy and Advocacy Summer Fellow, working at the Partnership for LA Schools, working on their teacher staffing campaign. Prior to teaching in Los Angeles she worked and lived in Texas teaching second grade and kindergarten in San Antonio, and first grade in Pflugerville as a Teach for America corps member and alumni. Marcela is originally from the greater Los Angeles area. She attended UC Davis and completed degrees in Spanish, Chicana/o Studies, and Education. Marcela recently started a Masters in Elementary Education with an emphasis in Multilingual and Multicultural Education at CSUN.

Maria Paula Zapata, Associate Director of Education Programs, Conexión Américas
Maria Paula Zapata is the Associate Director of Education Programs at Conexión Américas, a Nashville-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to create opportunities where Latino families can belong, contribute, and succeed. In this role, she leads programs and supports staff that serve Latino families through family engagement workshops; middle school after-school programs; support services for recently arrived immigrant students; and college access and success programing for high school and college students. Prior to this role, Maria Paula led Conexión Américas’ family engagement work, coordinating the Padres Comprometidos workshops that help Latino immigrant parents navigate the U.S. school system, advocate for their children, and support learning at home.

Maria Paula also serves a resource for local schools and universities. She is an adjunct for the Learning, Diversity, and Urban Studies program at Vanderbilt University and conducts trainings and presentations for school administrations, teachers, and staff.

Maria Paula received her BA in English and Education from Vassar College and her Masters of Education in Learning, Diversity, and Urban Studies from Vanderbilt’s Peabody College. She is passionate about educational equity, immigrant students, and working with the Latino community.

Oscar Romano, Principal, YES Prep Gulfton
Oscar Romano is the School Principal at YES Prep Gulfton, one campus among the 19 campuses that make up YES Prep Public Schools in Houston, TX. Oscar graduated from Harvard University in 2009 with a B.A. in Social Anthropology and from the Johns Hopkins University School of Education in 2018 with a M.S. in Organizational Leadership. He served with Teacher for America from 2009-2011 and worked as an 8th grade science teacher in a Houston middle school. In 2012, Oscar joined YES Prep Brays Oaks as a teacher, eventually serving as an administrator there for five years before transitioning to YES Prep Gulfton as the School Principal.

Oscar is a co-founder and current Chair of the Latinx Leadership Summit at YES Prep Public Schools, which has held five different summits for 500+ Latino high school students since 2016 to help them develop agency around their Latino identities. Oscar has been an active member of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for the last three years – through its Emerging Leaders Institute. As a Young Professionals Board Member, Oscar supports volunteer and fundraising efforts with BridgeYear, an organization that designs and implements Career Test Drive Fairs which give students hands-on exposure to high demand careers. Through his role on the Executive Board of Latino Texas PAC, Oscar advocates for political change that addresses Latino specific needs by organizing events, managing the website, and engaging potential donors. Oscar believes that Latino leaders should make their voice heard and support others in whatever capacity they can.

Paul Yumbla, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Moxie Collective
Paul Yumbla was born in Cuenca, Ecuador, and moved to the US when he was 4 years old. Paul grew up undocumented and is a former DACA recipient and a proud son of two Ecuadorian immigrants. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Connecticut in 2014. After joining the Teach For America Colorado corps, he humbly accepted a role as a founding 8th grade teacher at DSST: College View. In 2016, Paul served as an Aulas Sin Fronteras Exchange Teacher, working closely with teachers and students from Zaragoza, Mexico in an effort to promote global citizenship. Paul was a 2017 LEE Policy & Advocacy Fellow working as a community organizer for Padres y Jovenes Unidos, a grassroots non-profit advocating for better access and justice in communities and schools. During his four years at DSST, Paul was deeply embedded within a community that taught him the inherent value in building alongside and for community. Serving as a head soccer coach, parent organizer, technology, and reading teacher, Paul had the privilege to be in service to the southwest Denver community.

It was at a parent organizing meeting where Paul founded The Moxie Collective in the spring of 2017, born out of the demand for authentic school choice and a reimagined vision for what college and career readiness could look like for a community. Paired alongside Paul’s educational vision for a learning space that centers identity, culture, and lived experience at the core of a decolonized and libration focused curriculum has driven Moxie forward. In the summer, of 2017 Paul took this Moxie idea and joined Moonshot EdVentures as a School Launcher Fellow, going through leadership development and an intensive ideation process.

Paul served as a New School Creation Fellow, obtaining his M.Ed in Educational Leadership from the HTH Graduate School of Education. Alongside community stakeholders and coalition partners, Paul and his team are undergoing a process of co-creating a community charter school rooted in Southwest Denver.

Sandra Peloquin, English Language Teacher, Lorain High School
Sandra Peloquin is an English Language Teacher at Lorain High School in Lorain, Ohio. I currently serve newcomers in grades 9-12, teaching an EL English class as well as an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) class. I have taught for 26 years and have taught all levels elementary through adults. I am very involved in advocating for our EL students and work with organizations in the community as well. I am a member of Ohio Education Association (OEA) EL Cadre which is a group of EL teachers from across the state working for advocacy and equity. I additionally serve as secretary for OEA Hispanic Caucus and am an active member of the NEA Hispanic Caucus. I have served on a team to write model curriculum for The Ohio Department of Education as well as serving in other leadership roles such as: teacher mentoring, District and Building Leadership teams, Completed three years of Trainer of trainers (TOT) with the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), presenter numerous times for Ohio TESOL and Latino Educational Summit at University of Cincinnati.

Sergio Jara Arroyos, Director of Alumni Strategy and Engagement, Teach For America (Los Angeles)
Sergio grew up working as a child farmworker. His family would pick the harvest in Washington State. He currently works as the Director, Alumni Strategy and Engagement for Teach For America Los Angeles. He currently manages an educator portfolio with 3,000+ individuals, spanning from traditional public, public charter, and innovation schools. Sergio also is the Director of Communications at EdChiefs where he serves as a consultant. His work ranges from being a Pre-K educator, school board elections, and broader member engagement. He is skilled in Nonprofit Organizations, Intercultural Communication, Event Management, Editing, and Public Speaking. Strong education professional with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) focused on Cross-Cultural Studies emphasis in Political Science from Whitworth University.

Victor A. Ruiz, Executive Director, Esperanza, Inc.
Victor A. Ruiz is the Executive Director of Esperanza, Inc. The mission of Esperanza is to improve the academic achievement of Hispanics in Greater Cleveland by supporting students to graduate high school and promoting post-secondary educational attainment. Under his leadership, Esperanza has grown tremendously and has been a leader in addressing the educational needs of Cleveland’s growing Hispanic community. Victor leads a team that has successfully worked with the Cleveland Municipal School District to move the needle on Hispanic graduation rates from 30% to 77%. Additionally, Esperanza has awarded over $1.7 million dollars in scholarships throughout its history. The organization has received national and local recognition for its work, including being named the 2019 UniodsUS Midwest Affiliate of the year, a program to watch by Excelencia in Education, and a 2015 Bright Spot in Hispanic Education by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Victor lives in Cleveland with his wife and three children. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Baldwin Wallace College and a Master’s Degree in Education from Cleveland State University. He has also completed executive education courses from the Harvard Business School. He serves on several boards and committees in leadership roles, including Past-Chair of The Cuyahoga Community College. Victor is currently a National Institute for Latino School Leaders Fellow with UnidosUS and a past W.K. Kellogg Foundation Fellow.

Elizabeth GarciaProgram Development Coach, KYD Network
Elizabeth Garcia is a half Nicaraguan and Colombian middle child who was born and raised in Miami, FL. She graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education with ESOL endorsement and a minor in Philosophy. Elizabeth has over nine years of education and non-profit experience.

At the core of her work, Elizabeth values relationships, and social justice advocacy. She is experienced in implementing best practices as a coach and advocating for programs in the Out of School Time sector.