Executive Director, Partnership for Educational Justice

A lifelong New Yorker, Alissa attended college in upstate New York at Cornell University, where she studied communications and Spanish. She then spent three years down south at the University of Miami Law School, where she definitely spent more time in the library than at the beach. During law school, Alissa worked at the Children and Youth Law Clinic (CYLC), where she advocated on behalf of foster care children in various legal proceedings. For her work at the CYLC, she was awarded the Henry Bandier Fellowship and the Dean’s Certificate of Achievement for Outstanding Academic Performance.

After law school, Alissa moved back to New York and began practicing civil rights and criminal defense litigation. She represented clients in many noteworthy cases, including one of the plaintiffs in the Central Park Five civil rights litigation. In recognition of her work in that case, she was selected as a finalist for the Public Justice 2015 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award, a distinction presented to attorneys who make outstanding contributions to the public interest through precedent-setting litigation. Alissa then joined Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ) as senior legal counsel to pursue education advocacy through litigation, empowering families and communities to improve public education through the courts. Alissa currently serves as the organization’s executive director.

I aspire to be like my 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Ackerman. Here’s why:

Every day, Mrs. Ackerman arranged our desks in a circle because she wanted to learn from us and for each of us to learn from everyone else in our class. By doing so, Mrs. Ackerman taught me a much more important lesson than grammar, poetry or creative writing. By her own example, she taught me to value everyone’s unique perspective and experience. This lesson is one that I try to keep at the forefront of my mind every day.

Why I love my job:

The law is designed to allow us to obtain equality and equity in our society. My job at PEJ permits me to put the law to use for the benefit of children’s educational rights, and to ensure that their education will provide them with a bright future. I can’t think of anything that could be more important.

My connection to public schools:

I attended public school from kindergarten through 12th grade, and I had an incredible experience each and every year. My fond memories of public school inspire me to work for others to have access to the same great experience. 

What I’m bad at:

I have a terrible sense of direction. If I say I think you should turn right, you should probably turn left. Because of this, I have just about every navigation app imaginable on my phone.

This image represents why I work at Partnership for Educational Justice: 

While working as a criminal defense lawyer, I saw firsthand the disturbing impact of the school-to-prison pipeline. For many of my clients, their learning disabilities or personal experiences with poverty, abuse or neglect caused them to be isolated, punished, and too often, pushed out of their schools. In many cases, this ultimately led to their contact with the criminal justice system. Instead of this reality, our schools must be providing the supports that our most vulnerable children need to keep them from falling through the cracks. This experience motivates me in my work every day.