Ben believes in designing systems to make college, career, and life work for all students.
He began his career in public education as a high school teacher in Northern California. In the classroom, Ben saw the impact high-quality college-and-career pathways had on at-risk youth. This experience solidified his belief in preparing students for college and career, and ignited a passion to help develop agency and more positive identities for those farthest away from opportunity. After seven years in the classroom, Ben moved into a coaching role, supporting district-level development and improvement of college and career pathways. From there, he was recruited to serve with ConnectED, a national education non-profit. Today, he works as Director of Technology and Media, with a mandate to develop ConnectED’s digital ecosystem to better serve and support our work and the work of our partners.
When he’s not busy innovating, evolving, and scaling better education systems, Ben spends time enjoying fatherhood, motorcycle riding, reading, and playing bass.
Daphannie Stephens is ConnectED’s Chief Program Officer. Her work experience clearly demonstrates strong leadership skills, commitment to coaching and a belief in high-quality teaching and learning.
As Director of Leadership Connection for Justice in Education (LCJE) and Coordinator of Public Programs at UC Berkeley, Daphannie led the development and adoption of a strategic plan, supported coaches, taught classes and managed district partnerships. Daphannie was also the project manager on several major initiatives including the partnership between UC Berkeley and UCLA to launch a statewide online induction program for graduates of both schools’ Principal Leadership Institutes (PLI). She served as Associate Director for School and District Services at Partners in School Innovation, where she led the school services team and managed partnerships with San Francisco and San Jose Unified School Districts. Daphannie was a School Change Coach and Project Manager for the Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools (BayCES) now known as the National Equity Project (NEP). At BayCES, she managed the Small Schools Initiative incubator for the Oakland Unified School District, helping to develop 14 new schools and coach site administrators to improve academic achievement.
Daphannie holds an M.A. in Education and a B.A. in Social Welfare from UC Berkeley.
Deanna Penales is an Accountant at ConnectED, working with the Finance Team. Deanna has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, Accountancy from California State University of Sacramento. Three years ago, Deanna decided to move from her hometown of Sacramento to San Francisco to pursue a career in and expand her knowledge of Accounting/Finance. She has over 9 years of experience in working in accounting and finance. Prior to joining ConnectED, she worked for Aechelon Technology, Chase Bank, Nicholas Pension Consultants, and Valley Healthcare Staffing. From running half-marathons to hiking Yosemite’s half dome, Deanna loves outdoor activities and being active. She also enjoys working out at the gym and trying new restaurants and eateries in the San Francisco.
Elizabeth Mendez is an Office Manager at ConnectED. She has decades of experience in business administration and operations. Before joining ConnectED, she worked most recently with The Nielsen Company and Networks by Design. Work for Elizabeth is deeply rooted in connections to community and team; people are at the heart of her achievements.
When not at work, Elizabeth loves finding renewal in nature and art. When she isn’t playing with her dogs and cat or tending her yard, she may be hiking, camping, kayaking, or creating with friends. She is active in her community through service and mentorship, but her favorite place is in her kitchen cooking with her husband and catching up with her two adult children.
Gary Hoachlander is President and CEO of ConnectED: The National Center for College and Career. Beginning his career in 1966 as a brakeman for the Western Maryland Railroad, he has devoted most of his professional life to helping young people learn by doing—connecting education to the opportunities, challenges, and many different rewards to be found through work.
Widely known for his expertise in career and technical education and many other aspects of elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education, Gary has consulted extensively for the U.S. Department of Education, state departments of education, local school districts, foundations, and a variety of other clients. Gary earned his Bachelor’s degree at Princeton University and holds both a Master’s and Ph.D. degree from the Department of City and Regional Planning, University of California, Berkeley.
So many students ask: “Why do I need to know this?” It’s a fair question, and we must provide better answers!
Gene currently serves as an Educational Consultant for the Four Corners (New Mexico) College and Career Pathways Partnership: College and Career Ready for a Transition Energy Future. In collaboration with ConnectED CEO Gary Hoachlander, Gene provides educational guidance for a consortium partnership of five school districts, three colleges, local businesses and the Navajo Nation on their Career Technical Education journey to re-imagine and align high school/college dual credit courses with the technical and soft skills needed for a future green energy workforce economy.
Before joining the ConnectED team, Gene served in a wide capacity of educational positions, including teacher, principal, and superintendent. Known as both a first and second order change expert and a strong believer in strategic planning, Gene guided school districts to three National Title 1 School Awards, two National Blue-Ribbon School designations, a National Civic Star and a National Magna Award. A strong believer in a systems approach to building safe and supportive schools, two school districts achieved national Advanced ED/Cognia Systems Accreditation. In addition, Gene served as a Cognia Team Lead and/or Member for school system’s accreditation for domestic (United States) and international school.
Recently retired after a 49-year career in education, Gene was named to the 2022 New Mexico Coalition of Educational Leaders “Hall of Fame” and presented the New Mexico Cognia “Excellence in Education” award. Prior to his move to New Mexico, Gene worked in Washington State where he was named as a 2006-07 Robert J. Handy “Most Effective Administrators” and a 2002 Washington Library Media “Superintendent of the Year.”
JD is the former Chief Executive Officer of NAF and a former member of the NAF Board of Directors. With a deep commitment to preparing students for college and meaningful careers, JD has worked at both the grassroots and the highest levels of government for decades, to reform how young people are engaged in learning and how they are positioned to pursue their academic interests and career goals.
Prior to her appointment at NAF, JD served as President of Keep the Change, Inc., a nationally recognized consulting business focused on helping communities reform education and develop a skilled workforce. During her years in the public sector, she developed and implemented policy at the highest level of federal government. In 1994, she was selected by US Secretary of Education Richard Riley and US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich to head the new Office of School-to-Work in Washington, D.C. She served in that role for four years, overseeing a $1.1 billion budget and spurring nationwide progress in education reform and workforce development.
Director, Learning, Teaching, and Pathway Development
Jennifer Lutzenberger Phillips brings significant experience as an educational leader, student advocate, coach, and literacy teacher to her position as Director, Learning, Teaching, and Pathway Development. Formerly, she was the vice president of Teaching and Learning at Envision Schools and a school improvement coach and a content coach in secondary English, with a focus on curriculum and assessment, at the Oakland Unified School District. She also taught high school English in the Baltimore City Public Schools and was an advisor for the Met in Providence, Rhode Island.
Jenn began her teaching career at the university level, where she taught composition and literature. She taught and mentored in the Educational Opportunity summer bridge program at Binghamton University in New York and supported the writing center and writing across the curriculum program at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
Jenn was also a student activist, adult literacy tutor, and popular educator; she brings a commitment to equity and social justice to her work.
Joseph Hendry is IT Administrator for ConnectED. He has previous experience teaching English in the Czech Republic, as well as working at a tech startup and managing a café in San Francisco. Joseph graduated from New College of Florida in Sarasota, with a BA in Anthropology.
Julie Koenke serves as the Executive Director of the Great Lakes College and Career Pathway Partnership (GLCCPP), a collaboration between ConnectED: The National Center for College and Career, Education Systems Center, Jobs for the Future. With support from the Joyce Foundation, the GLCCPP supports the implementation of college and career pathways within four Great Lakes communities; Columbus, OH, Madison, WI, Rockford, Il, and the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago. Additionally, Julie serves as the Director of District and Regional Support working with school districts on the east coast.
Julie has over 20 years of experience as a youth worker, community educator, and district administrator working towards systems-level change. She brings her expertise in developing effective collaborative teams, supporting change management, and a passion for creating equitable schools and communities.
Throughout her career, Julie has been led by the belief that developing and deepening relationships is critical to expanding opportunities for students and their communities. With 20 years of experience developing public/private partnerships, Julie has spearheaded partnerships between public schools, non-profits, higher education institutions, businesses, foundations, and industry in order to bolster student achievement and success. As a result, these cross-cutting programs saw an increase in participation in afterschool programs, high school graduation rates, college enrollment rates, and access to and achievement in advanced and rigorous coursework for historically-underserved youth. Prior to her current role, Julie served as the Director of Secondary Programs and Pathways Partnerships for the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) in Wisconsin. She led MMSD’s efforts to implement personalized pathways with a Linked Learning approach across 16 middle and high schools.
Julie graduated from University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and attained her Master of Fine Arts from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Julie has attended both University of Wisconsin and Ferris State University working towards a Master’s in Experiential Education. She enjoys hiking in the mountains of Western North Carolina, spending time painting and drawing in her studio.
Kiera is committed to challenging the status quo. She comes to ConnectED from a 15-year career working in special education and instructional coaching. Kiera’s vision is to ensure access to high quality instruction for all learners. Kiera has worked as a teacher in residential programs, K-12 special education programs, focusing on 9-12 full inclusion. She became an instructional coach supporting other learning specialists. Kiera also developed an interest in designing Blended Learning programs that prioritized the integration of technology and coached teachers who were implementing. She began this work in Algebra 1 classrooms, growing the program to include math classroom 9-12 and assistive technology for student 9-12 in all disciplines.
Kiera has a Ph.D. in Special Education with a Designated Emphasis in New Media. Her research explores how the tools and technologies that are used in education influence learning, with an emphasis on discovery-based approaches. Using a design-based research approach she has designed alternative approaches to introducing learners to important aspects of algebraic cognition. Her dissertation focused on how technology-based learning activities can facilitate emergent algebraic understanding that is subjectively transparent and proposes a new pedagogical approach called Reverse Scaffolding.
Margaret “Maggie” Williams serves as the Chief Financial Officer at ConnectED.
Before ConnectED, Maggie served as the Chief Financial Officer for the non-profit organization, Second Chance, where she managed a $6M program that helps to improve the lives of individuals formerly incarcerated in the Criminal Justice System.
Prior to Second Chance, Maggie served as the Chief Financial, Administrative, and Compliance Officer with Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County. For nearly 12 years, Maggie provided financial oversight and compliance for Catholic Charities and supported various operational functions – including institutional investments, human resources, facility, Safety and Security and information technology. During her tenure, she played a critical role in Catholic Charities’ expansion from an operating budget of $15M to $47M.
Maggie received her bachelor’s degree in accounting finance from London Executive. She later earned a certificate of non-profit management from the University of Notre Dame. In 2014 and 2015, Maggie received the prestigious Bay Area CFO of the Year Finalist Award.
Michelle Berrios began her career in the hospitality industry, working with major hotels in the San Francisco Bay Area. After a few years as Director of Catering, she decided to transfer her skills to Event and Meeting Planning.
She currently has over 15 years of experience as an Event and Meeting Planner, working with major corporations, associations and organizations, including PMI, Kaiser Permanente and AAA in the San Francisco Bay Area. She earned her certification as a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP).
In addition, Michelle has extensive experience with web design and creation, database management and IT. While at Kaiser Permanente she worked with key stakeholders to lead the research, presentation and training for a national online registration product.
Her continuing education focus has been hotel and vendor contracts and budgets. With colleagues at Kaiser and AAA, she led the creation of standard contract clauses to provide contracts in the best interest of the organization. Event planning allows Michelle to use both her creative and analytical skills.
Associate Director, Learning, Teaching, and Pathway Development
As an Associate Director for Learning, Teaching and Pathway Development at ConnectED, Pier supports high-quality instructional design within pathway programs. Experiential learning has always sparked new interests and opened new doors for Pier, so her main passion is designing—and supporting teachers to design—learning experiences that are multi-disciplinary, engaging, and challenging for all students. Pier also supports Common Core-aligned performance assessment design and analysis, along with various aspects of establishing new industry-based pathways within high schools.
Prior to joining ConnectED, Pier worked as an educator and educational researcher for more than a decade, teaching science and mathematics in Massachusetts for six years before returning to graduate school at the University of Michigan. During her graduate studies, Pier wrote science curriculum, designed and delivered professional development, and conducted research in Detroit Public Schools as part of a systemic reform initiative supporting technology-rich, inquiry-oriented science instruction in urban school districts.
Pier holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and multiple graduate degrees in various fields of education and the sciences from the University of Michigan. When not supporting teachers, Pier can be found trying to pass on her nerd credentials, the Mandarin language, and mad kitchen skills to her two rascally children.
Rob Atterbury is a Director for District and Regional support for ConnectED: The National Center for College and Career, where he has been on staff since 2009. Rob began his career in the automotive industry, and later became a career technical education teacher, curriculum coordinator, director, and Associate Superintendent for high school transformation.
Rob has committed his life’s work to making schools more relevant to students. He is passionate about improving instruction through real-world, standards-based, project-based learning designed to truly engage students. This approach is guided by the belief that providing every student with a continuum of work-based learning experiences better prepares them for college, career, and life.
When not supporting districts and schools in championing change, Rob can be found on the water boating, camping by the beach with his wife of 29 years, or seeing his grown children now find success in their careers.
Rob is a graduate of San Diego State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Studies and a Master’s degree in Education Administration from United States International University. He holds various teaching credentials and a Clear Administrative Services Credential from San Diego State University.
Rocío Weiss is a longtime educator and school leader based in San Diego. Recently retired from the San Diego Unified School District, Rocio devoted her career to transforming the learning experiences of students residing in underserved communities. In her role as school leader, she facilitated the design and implementation process of several career-themed academies within a large comprehensive high school, and led small themed schools located in larger educational complexes. Her work is grounded in the belief that as educators and adult learning facilitators, we need to be responsive to the rapid changes taking place in the world of work, and ensure that systems are in place to prepare young people to thrive.
Rocio began her career as an English language teacher working primarily with linguistically gifted high school students. She later transitioned to school leadership at the high school level. For the last six years, Rocío has been teaching foundational courses in the School of Teacher Education at San Diego State University and leading a cohort of teacher candidates focused on project-based learning and career preparation for secondary students.
She holds degrees in linguistics, multicultural studies, and school administration and earned a doctorate in K – 12 educational leadership. Her dissertation research focused on systems and leadership behaviors that lead to transformative learning experiences for secondary school students. When Rocío is not working, she is cooking, hiking, biking, and trying to learn how to knit.
Shierra Merto is Director of Finance at ConnectED. Prior to this position, Shierra was Manager for Contracts and Project Administration at RTI International and at MPR Associates, Inc. where she managed contracts in excess of $20M annually. She joined ConnectEd in 2015 and was part of the MPR team that launched ConnectED in 2006. She has over 18 years of experience in planning, implementation, and managing contracts, proposals, and projects for profit and non-profit organizations. Shierra’s areas of expertise include federal, state, local government and commercial procurements and contracts; federal contracting vehicles and regulations such as the FAR, FTR and CFR; contract and subcontract development, assessment, negotiation, and administration; and project cost budgeting, tracking, forecasting, resource allocation, and scheduling. She is skilled at improving, developing, and standardizing contract and project management process and systems.
Associate Director, Instructional Design and Mathematics
Tamyra has 18 years of educational program design and development experience, including the development of industry-informed programs for #YesWeCode, a national initiative to help 100,000 young women and men from underrepresented backgrounds find success in the tech sector. Her expertise lies in the design of inclusive student-centered STEM learning programs with cultural responsiveness and empowerment of identity as the basis for authentic knowledge transfer and comprehension.
Tamyra began her career as a STEM educator in primarily minority-serving public schools in Dallas and Oakland, teaching students in grades first through eighth. During her time as an educator, she also served as an instructional coach, developed curriculum for school districts, and co-designed and co-facilitated district-level math professional development for educators.
Tamyra holds a B.A. in Sociology from Howard University and an M.S. in Mathematics Teaching and Learning from Drexel University. She is a featured educator for a Stanford University Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Formative Assessment of Student Language to Improve Content Learning Protocol
Vinci Daro is Director of Instructional Impact in Mathematics. In this role, she works to shift the experiences students have while learning math at school to be more meaningful for their current and future selves. Dr. Daro’s research focuses on the integration of language learning with mathematics learning, with an emphasis on the role of exploratory, everyday language in mathematical sense-making. Before joining ConnectED, Vinci served as Director of STEM Learning at Envision Learning Partners, where she supported assessment system redesign anchored in performance assessment and portfolio defense. Prior to ELP, Vinci was Director of Math Learning at the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity, and served as math content specialist on the working group at Understanding Language/SCALE that identified, adapted, and described eight Math Language Routines in collaboration with the writers of the Illustrative Mathematics curriculum. She holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from UNC Chapel Hill and was a Postdoctoral Scholar in Mathematics Education at UC Berkeley, where she contributed to the development of the Teaching for Robust Understanding (TRU) Framework. Dr. Daro began her career in education as a data analyst at The Education Trust, and as a remedial algebra instructor at Seattle Central Community College.