Meet the 2021-2022 Texas Education Policy Fellowship Program cohort
Leslie Anaya of Abilene is a National Board-Certified teacher with the Abilene Independent School District (ISD). She holds a bachelor's degree from Schreiner University and a master of educational administration from Concordia University's campus in Austin, Texas. She earned her teaching credentials from Texas A&M-Commerce. Leslie was the founding impetus and President of the Texas National Board Coalition for Teaching and served as an NEA-Representative Assembly State and Supervisory delegate. Leslie was honored as Educational Regional Service center's 2018 Elementary Teacher of the Year as a result of her work at Brownwood ISD. Her advocacy work has been extensive locally, statewide, and nationally for equity, teacher preparation, and national board certification. She has served as a local new teacher mentor, as well as statewide cohort facilitator and national critical friend. Leslie is a published author on blended learning and a recognized national presenter in various educational areas of expertise. As a parent, former foster-parent, and teacher of students with exceptional needs, Leslie Anaya is passionate about special education and all forms of equity.
Leadership statement: My desire to participate as a TX-EPFP policy fellowship is grounded in my passion to effect positive change in education spheres. As an education professional and constituent, I welcome the opportunity to experience how policy is created and influenced directly and indirectly. As an education leader, I hope to use my policy fellowship experience to effect change specifically regarding Special Education policy, practice, and support.
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Julie Baker of Dallas is a teacher working with gifted and talented students in low income areas with the Dallas Independent School District. Julie has always been an educator at heart having spent time working in the educational nonprofit world and now in the initial stages of learning to be an educational advocate. Julie graduated from Baylor University in 2019 with a bachelor of science in elementary education and received her master's degree in urban and special education from Southern Methodist University in 2020. She is passionate about education hopes to continue to grow her educational advocacy knowledge through her time in and out of the classroom.
Leadership statement: Through this fellowship, I hope to gain insight into the world of educational policy while learning ways to make productive change in education both in and out of the classroom. I hope to develop my leadership skills and collaborate with other likeminded educational individuals to make productive and positive change within our current system.
Braden Becknell of Corpus Christi is the director of workforce development and continuing education at Coastal Bend College. As Director, Braden works with local school districts, grants, and innovative technology such as virtual reality headsets. Braden received her master's degree in business administration from Tarleton State University and her bachelor's degree in business administration and marketing (with a minor in sports management) from Texas A&M University. While working as the Communication Specialist at Coastal Bend College, Braden presented at the Texas Association of Community College Marketers in San Antonio, Texas and at the eduWeb Digital Summit in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In addition, Braden received 14 national marketing awards for her work on advertising campaigns and social media channels. Braden was recognized as a Corpus Christi Under 40 Award Winner in 2021, is a Rotarian, a new member of the Junior League of Corpus Christi and is an active member at Northshore Family Church where she volunteers.
Leadership statement: The future of education is evolving as new challenges bring forth new innovations and avenues to continue educating our students from K-12 through college. Through EPFP, I hope to gain a better understanding of where education policy has been and where it currently is, to help guide the future of education policy to better help our students moving forward.
Jose Bolivar of Houston is academics program manager for EMERGE with the Houston Independent School District. Jose's background starts as an inclusive 2nd grade ELA teacher in the beautiful neighborhood of Montebello in Denver. Afterward, he moved back to his hometown of Houston, where he continued teaching as a high school teacher. Jose supports First Generation, Low-Income students in applying and enrolling at the most highly competitive colleges in our nation by helping and serving students in the district's underserved and underperforming high schools. Jose is a committed educator driven to provide a dynamic learning environment where all students succeed, with a particular emphasis in serving English language learners and SPED students. Jose believes that using effective pedagogy rooted in social justice provides each of his students with character development and transformative academic growth.
Leadership statement: All of our children across our state have the right to receive the most equitable and competitive education, preparing them to succeed in our rapidly changing economy. I firmly believe that our education in Texas must shift from a "worker-ready" educational structure to a "creator-ready" systemic change. Texas will lead the nation and the world in student academic achievement, student academic progress, and student outcomes.
Jesse Bulluck of North Carolina is an attorney and a doctoral student in educational leadership policy at Texas Tech University. Jesse's research interest lies in education law and policy, with a particular focus on student discipline policies and student conduct procedures. Jesse works as a civil litigation attorney, but he is looking to transition into the classroom in the near future. A native of Rocky Mount, NC, Jesse completed his bachelor of arts in philosophy and bachelor of science in biology from Howard University in Washington, D.C.. He earned his master of science in criminal justice from North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC and juris doctor from the Howard University School of Law. Jesse is licensed to practice law in the State of Maryland and before the Supreme Court of the United States. Jesse is also an emerging artist, having exhibited his painting entitled, “The Great Pyramid at Sunset, Egypt,” at the Monuments of the World Exhibition at the Texas Tech International Center Art Gallery.
Leadership statement: I believe that education is one of the most important tools that individuals can use to bring about change within their personal lives, their local community, and the global society. Participating in this fellowship program will provide me with the opportunity to learn more about current educational policy, which will ultimately prepare me to become a better educator and policymaker in the 21st century.
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Lowell Butler of San Antonio is the college pathways manager at UP Partnership. Born in Louisiana, Lowell spent a lot of time on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. After several years in gaming and hospitality, he completed his first term of service with AmeriCorps State and National as a TeachUp Intern helping Mississippi educators integrate technology into their schools and the surrounding area and went on to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Texas Impact connecting low-income families to state benefits. Lowell holds a bachelors of business administration from the University of Southern Mississippi-Gulf Coast (Long Beach, MS). He also holds graduate degrees in public administration, education and business from Belhaven University (Jackson, MS) and Western Governors University (Salt Lake City, UT). He is currently pursuing his doctorate from the University of Southern Mississippi (Hattiesburg, MS). He currently occupies the role of College Pathways Manager for the My Brother's Keeper San Antonio Network at UP Partnership. In this position he supports the network's over 30 cross sector partners as they work to improve the lives of boys and young men of color. His research interests are executive leadership in higher education, higher education equity, minority college access, post-secondary re-enrollment for adult learners and alternative learning models.
Leadership statement: Previous work in college access and workforce development has revealed an impediment to upward mobility or career change because of transcript holds. This is particularly harmful to low-income families. Participating in this fellowship will provide me with an opportunity to investigate potential ways to address this issue.
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Kelly Coke of Mount Pleasant is an instructor of Adult Education and Leadership Studies, the program coordinator for the Bachelor of General Studies Program, and director of programs for Texas A&M University-Texarkana at Northeast Texas Community College and Paris Junior College. Dr. Coke is a native Northeast Texan, worked for the United States Senate as the East Texas Deputy Regional Director, and was an intern for Mrs. Laura Bush at The White House. She earned her bachelor's degree from Texas A&M University, her master's degree from Texas A&M University-Texarkana, and her doctorate from Abilene Christian University in Organizational Leadership. She recently served on the Upper East Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) Advisory Board for the THECB 60x30 initiative and was the 2015 and 2019 Leadership Mount Pleasant, Texas Program Chair. She currently serves as the Chair of the Education Committee and on the Board of Directors for the Titus County/Mount Pleasant Chamber of Commerce, Advisory Board Member for Northeast Texas Communities in Schools, and a Board Member for the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
Leadership statement: I hope to learn more about policy that impacts community college and transfer students with the Education Policy Fellowship Program. By becoming a better policy expert who works with transfer policy, I plan to remove barriers and empower community college students to transfer to a university through equity and access opportunities.
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Chris DeWitt of Austin is the director of system support at the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Chris DeWitt is a lifelong educator and native Texan. At the TEA, Chris supports district leaders across the state in ensuring every student has access to a high-quality, best fit school. Chris holds a bachelor of arts in Communications from American University and a master of arts in Special Education from Catholic University. Prior to joining TEA, Chris worked for the Office of Innovation at Denver Public Schools, where he helped expand their portfolio of great schools. He started his education career in Washington, D.C., where he taught elementary school for five years.
Leadership statement: My purpose is to ensure every student has access to a great school that will prepare them for a life of abundant choices. I hope to deepen my knowledge, build my skills, and grow my relationships with fellow Texas leaders through the EPFP
Sergio Estrada of El Paso is a seventh-year science teacher at Riverside High School with the Ysleta Independent School District. Sergio is currently pursuing a master's degree in education policy and management from Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. Sergio has received numerous awards for his work and commitment to education and STEM, including: the 2017 Yale Educator Award; finalist for the 2020 H-E-B Excellence in Education Award; and the Prudential Math Architect Award from the Success Through Technology Education Foundation. Most recently, Sergio earned the 2021 Ernest and Sarah Butler Award for Excellence in Science Teaching from the Texas Medical Association for sparking students' interest in medicine and science through creative and innovative methods in the classroom. Sergio is passionate about serving first generation college bound students, creating equitable opportunities for students to explore STEM, and serving the community.
Leadership statement: The Texas Education Policy Fellowship will allow me to deepen my understanding of the policies and factors that influence said policy that affect minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged students. I hope to take what I learn and become a driving force in creating more equitable based policies at the local and state level.
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Amanda L. Gonzalez of San Antonio is an executive director for a local non-profit that focuses on bringing assistance programs to her community, emphasizing education and mentorship as well as a doctoral student in educational leadership at Texas Tech University. A San Antonio native, Amanda holds a bachelor of arts from Baylor University in Political Science and master of arts from St. Mary's University in International Relations. Amanda has an extensive professional background in public policy, advocacy, and elections at both state and federal levels. In 2016, Amanda was appointed by the Texas Education Agency to serve on the Board of Managers for Edgewood Independent School District. As a Board Manager, Amanda had the opportunity to learn firsthand the inequities plaguing low-income and minority school districts and the uphill battle of not receiving much-needed resource allocations and funding support.
Leadership statement: As a public policy advocate, I hope to use my professional experience, education, and participation in the Texas Education Policy Fellowship to help develop innovative policy solutions that can reduce the ethnic and racial disparities in our public education systems. The need for effective leadership in policymaking is much greater than ever before.
Jessica Gonzalez of Pharr is a 6th grade reading teacher with the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District. Jessica was born and raised in south Texas; her community is her anchor as she continues to serve as a public servant to guarantee educational opportunities and aspires to fight for the fundamental rights of students through litigation. She is a proud daughter of undocumented immigrants who instilled in her from a very young age the importance of education. Jessica sees her work as a teacher crucial in providing avenues for mentorship and improving unequal educational outcomes for Latinx students.
Leadership statement: Education provides individuals with the tools to effectively participate in our democracy but disparities among opportunity gaps are substantial among the lines of race, socio economic status, zip code, ethnicity, gender, and disability. As a fellow, she hopes to learn more about the educational landscape at the local, state and federal level to continue advocating on behalf of students because it is necessary to prepare the next generation of students to preserve our system of democratic governance.
Gabby House of Houston serves as a Director of Districts for EMERGE, a non-profit college access program that prepares high-performing students from underserved communities in Houston to attend and graduate from selective colleges & universities across the nation. She received her bachelor's degree in Psychology from Texas A&M University, where her career in college access began upon graduation. After completing her maximum years of service in Texas A&M's chapter of the College Advising Corps, Gabrielle worked at KIPP Houston and – most recently – Houston ISD. Her commitment to cultivating relationships within her team and with external stakeholders earned her the “Relationships Fuel Us” Core Value Award for the last two years. Outside of work, Gabrielle is a Program Coordinator for Beauty Mentoring, another Houston non-profit that empowers young ladies of color through mentorship, leadership development and community service. Her passion for education, equity and access drives her work to increase opportunity for marginalized youth.
Leadership statement: Through this fellowship, I intend to investigate the challenges students across our state face in considering, transitioning to and completing post-secondary programs (including, but not limited to college). The training and network this experience affords would enable me to discuss, influence and impact the decisions made toward the top of Texas' education system that affect experiences families have on the ground-level.
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Amber M. Joyce of Lubbock is an assistant principal at Lubbock Independent School District. Prior to this position, Amber had taught high school English in several districts across the state of Texas. Amber's passion includes advocating for all students and empowering them with the tools needed to be self-sufficient upon graduation. During the 2020-21 school year, she created a program for her mentees designed to encourage positive lifestyle choices, foster growth, provide direction through goal-setting, and enhance skills to equip students with a clear vision on a path of self-discovery. Amber earned her bachelor of science in Human Sciences (2010), master's degree in Secondary Education (2011), and a master of science in Sport Management (2014) all from Texas Tech University. Amber also attended Texas State University and received her Principal Certification in 2019 and has plans to continue her education in Educational Leadership Policy in August 2022.
Leadership statement: Through the TX-EPFP, I am eager to increase my knowledge about the policy decisions affecting historically underrepresented and underserved groups in public schools. I desire to take this information to advocate for the students and parents of Texas by amplifying their voices and empowering them with the tools to make informed educational decisions.
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Danica Liriano of Irving is master degree seeking student in public administration and policy at American University. Danica has been an educator for the last 10 years, working in New York City, NY, Austin, TX, and Los Angeles, CA as a history teacher. Danica has also worked as a TEFL volunteer with the Peace Corps serving in Masaya, Nicaragua. Danica is originally from New York, but her family comes from the Dominican Republic and El Salvador. She is also a first generation college student. Danica received her bachelor of arts in secondary education and history, and her master's degree in education and literacy studies from Hofstra University. Danica is currently pursuing a second master's degree in Public Administration and Policy from American University. Danica is experienced in leading professional development workshops in teaching methodology and diversity, and implementing curriculum that includes diverse narratives while still holding students to high expectations.
Leadership statement: As we embark on a new journey to define a new normal in our schools after the pandemic, I hope to lead our communities that serve students of color to better prepare them for the world. I look forward to gaining a better insight in the world of education policy to help advocate for classrooms that are more hands-on and foster creativity and innovation in our black and brown youth.
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Sarah McCaslin of Austin is the Texas Tutoring Grant Specialist for Texas Education Agency's new COVID Learning Acceleration division. Sarah holds five years of classroom teaching experience at the elementary and middle school level working with emergent bilingual students. Sarah received her bachelor of science in history from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, her master of education in curriculum and instruction from Texas Tech University, and is currently pursuing her doctorate in education policy from Texas Tech University. Sarah is state certified to teach grades 4-8 Core Subjects, English as a Second Language, and Gifted and Talented. She and her husband have one biological daughter and continuously grow their family through foster care.
Leadership statement: My time in the classroom has been both rewarding and eye opening. Working in Title I schools has shed light on the many inequalities that exist for students. My goal, regardless of the specific policy path that I end up on, is to contribute to a greater sense of equity in the Texas public school system, especially for English language learners and migrant students.
Jessica Nadzam of Arkansas is the founder and developer of Passion to Progress. Jessica is a passionate educational leader and aspiring change-maker located in the heart of the southern delta. She has spent the past six years teaching high school biology and computer science in Title I schools, and her experience in diverse and low-income classrooms informs and inspires her research interests, including teacher workforce policy, virtual education, STEM education, and social-emotional learning. Jessica, having earned her education specialist degree. is a currently doctoral candidate in educational leadership policy. Jessica has received a Transformational Impact Distinction from Johns Hopkins University and a Talkington graduate fellowship from Texas Tech University. Upon completion of her degree, Jessica plans to enter the education policy arena and bridge gaps between research and policy to enhance educational opportunities for students in her home state of Arkansas.
Leadership statement: The future of our society depends on the quality of education we provide every individual. My professional goal for TX-EPFP is to gain experience in the policy arena that enables me to contribute to positive, transformational change for our education system.
Delyla Ovalle-Bowyer of The Woodlands is a teacher with the Spring Independent School District. Delyla was born and raised in Houston, TX, never thinking that she was going to serve as an educator until Fred Bowyer let her volunteer at Condit Elementary. It was then that her passion for teaching was ignited. Delyla serves as a Structured Integrated Learning Classroom teacher in Spring ISD for 3 years. Before moving to Spring, TX, Delyla was a teacher in Houston ISD as a TREK teacher for 6 years. Delyla's certifications are in EC-6, Special Education, and ESL. Delyla wants to continue to make a positive impact and learn more about students with Autism. Delyla has a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Houston-Downtown and holds a master of arts in special education with a specialization in applied behavior analysis from Sam Houston State University. Delyla is also a registered yoga teacher (RYT200), Registered Behavior Technician, and continues to educate herself in all fields of behavior and mindfulness
Leadership statement: Through this program, I am eager to expand my knowledge and experience in educational policy and leadership. I look forward to networking with educational advocates and learning ways that I can better myself as an educational leader. I also look forward to understanding how as a special education teacher I can advocate for my students, parents, and community members to better serve our population in a sustainable and equitable way.
Hermann Pereira of Waco is the Chief Program Officer at Prosper Waco and is passionate about finding collaborative approaches to serving people. He has spent the past 15 years in education in a variety of roles such as teacher, coach, director, assistant principal, and principal. He holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from Stephen F. Austin State University and a master in educational administration from Baylor University. Hermann believes community partnerships are the vehicle to creating sustainable solutions. Hermann is active in the community serving on the boards of Centex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, City of Waco Parks and Recreation and the McLennan County Hunger Coalition. Hermann was recently recognized by the Waco Chamber of Commerce as one of the “Top 40 under 40” individuals in the community and Educator of the Year by the Centex African American Chamber of Commerce.
Leadership statement: The Texas Education Policy Fellowship Program will allow me to broaden my policy knowledge and connections across the state with others that are striving to create a more equitable culture in our education system.
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Anthony C. Perez of San Antonio is the Director of Admissions Processing for Texas A&M University-San Antonio. Anthony holds a bachelor of business administration in business management from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, and master of science in management and leadership from Western Governor's University. With over 16 years of experience in higher education, Anthony has served in various roles within community college and university settings including Financial Aid Advisor, Adjunct Instructor, Coordinator of High School Programs, and Associate Director of Admissions. Throughout his career, Anthony has focused on program and process innovation to eliminate barriers and improve access to higher education for his community. As a child, Anthony was referred to as El Profesor (The Professor) by his late grandfather, and is proud to honor his grandfather's memory by dedicating his career to serving others through education.
Leadership statement: Students face challenges while navigating their higher education journey, and for many, those challenges occur before they ever set foot on a college campus. Through this fellowship, I will expand my knowledge on the policies that impact equitable access to higher education. My goal is to be able to positively impact my community by advocating for policies that eliminate barriers to higher education.
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Miguel A. Reveles of El Paso is an assistant principal and T-STEM coordinator at Canutillo High School within the Canutillo Independent School District (ISD). Miguel is entering his 13th year in education, and 4th year as an administrator. Miguel is a "grow in the ranks" educator, having served as an academic tutor at Ysleta ISD, former administrator at Socorro ISD, and Advanced Placement Science teacher and girls basketball coach at Canutillo ISD. Miguel's ultimate goal is to embrace, empower, and embolden the communities he serves by promoting the wellbeing of individuals and families.
Leadership statement: My purpose is to embrace, empower, and embolden students, teachers, and community members through my leadership. My intent is to learn the structures of education policy in Texas to equip marginalized and at-risk students with tools and skills to overcome systemic barriers that limit their opportunities for socioeconomic growth.
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Shawn Sheehan of Lewisville, director of government relations at Lewisville Independent School District. Shawn has taught math in Texas and Oklahoma and is the 2016 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year. In 2018, Shawn worked in a congressional office on Capitol Hill as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow. Shawn earned his bachelor of arts in journalism at Arizona State University and his master's degree in Special Education at the University of Oklahoma. A strong advocate for improving public education, Shawn has been featured on CBS This Morning, NPR, The Economist, and more.
Leadership statement: Educators must be actively engaged in education policy making. The success of our students is dependent upon the efficacy of our advocacy for our students, their families, our colleagues, and our profession. I will work to elevate the voices of classroom teachers and ensure that our schools and communities have meaningful ways to engage in the legislative process.
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Jennifer Stimpson of Dallas is a science teacher at The Hockaday School and an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow with the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. Dr. Stimpson's global vision of promoting science literacy for middle school girls is reflected in her community, civic and public mission, and advocacy to promote justice in science education. Her fellowship experience on Capitol Hill has advanced state and federal STEM education policy.
Leadership statement: Great leaders inspire action. Because what we do as leaders is not for ourselves, but for others, we must remember that we have the strength, passion and patience to reach for the stars and change the world.
Jasmine Torain of Austin is a teacher with the Austin Independent School District and a Doctoral Student with a focus in Educational Leadership Policy at Texas Tech University. Before coming to Texas Tech, Jasmine earned her bachelor's degree from The University of Texas at Austin and master's degree from The University of Texas at San Antonio. Jasmine has served in the field of education for 9 years, starting this journey with Americorps. As a math teacher, Jasmine has acquired many skills along the way and now is taking these skills and applying them as a math content specialist with a primary focus on student academic and social emotional needs. Jasmine is a Helen D. Jones Fellow at TTU focusing on teacher preparation and education.
Leadership statement: Educational policies are important because they help a school establish rules and procedures and create standards of quality for learning and safety of all students. Policies that are written should be inclusive in nature supporting and uplifting every student that walks into a classroom. My hope for becoming an Education Policy Leader is to create inclusive policies that will better serve our student of color populations in school.