Cassandra attended Spelman College where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. She then continued to Georgia State University, where she received a master’s degree in Sports Management and Indiana Wesleyan University, where she earned a master’s degree in Management with a concentration in Human Resource and Professional Coaching certification. Cassandra has spent over a decade working in the nonprofit sector in youth programs, education and community engagement. She formerly served as the Community Engagement Manager K-12 Advocacy with UNCF (United Negro College Fund) and as a board member for Ignite Achievement Academy. She currently serves as the Manager of Community Outreach and Partnerships with Enroll Indy and an Adjunct Instructor at Ivy Tech Community College.
She believes her purpose in life is to uplift, inspire, motivate and encourage people. In 2018, she founded Crowned: A Queen’s Retreat, a women’s empowerment event designed to celebrate women of color. In 2017, she began co-hosting and producing The Conversation Lounge, an internet radio show and in 2019 launched a new radio show/podcast, entitled Let’s Go There with Cassandra. In May of 2019, Cassandra was a featured speaker for TEDx HobartHighSchool presents “Hardwired for Humanity: Leveraging Technology for Human Progression.”
Brendan Bell currently serves as the program manager for education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank in Washington, DC. In this role, Brendan helps manage the day-to-day operations, communications and outreach for the education team. He works with AEI’s scholars to write and research on a range of K-12 and higher education issues, including school choice, civics education and educational entrepreneurship. His writings have appeared in outlets such as Education Week, US News & World Report and The Hill.
Previously, Brendan studied at the University of Notre Dame and later joined Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program. As a member of ACE, Brendan taught high school social studies and coached cross country at Cristo Rey High School Sacramento. Brendan is still involved with the ACE program as co-chair of the DC Advocates Chapter, where he helps support current teachers and connect alumni and friends of ACE in the DC area.
Brendan is originally from a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he hopes to one day return. He will be attending law school next fall and plans to use his legal education to help more students receive a high-quality education.
Prateek Dutta is an education leader with significant experience working both in district and state policy and on the ground with students and families.
After graduating from college, Prateek taught in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and received the highest student achievement scores in the state three years in a row. Realizing his impact as a teacher was limited, Prateek left the classroom to lead the KIPP Through College program, advising 150 students to graduate high school, apply to college and persist through to finish college. After spending six years in New Orleans, Prateek was admitted in the fifth cohort of the Doctorate of Education Leadership (Ed.LD) Program at Harvard University.
During his time in graduate school, Prateek examined New Mexico’s new teacher evaluation system and helped create a state-wide early-warning system that detects students who are at risk of dropping out. Additionally, Prateek consulted with Boston Public Schools and New York City Public schools on a variety of issues ranging from increasing the performance of English language learners to improving the relationship between district and charter schools. Finally, in the mist of profound sadness and uncertainty, Prateek helped create the transition plan for the new Superintendent of the Ferguson-Florrisiant school district, Joe Davis.
After graduating from Harvard, Prateek joined Democrats for Education Reform–CO as the policy director. Prateek wrote and helped pass legislation that expanded access to rigorous classes for low-income students, increased funding for school counselors to increase FAFSA completion rates, worked with a wide variety of stakeholders to increase resources for drop-out prevention efforts among other policies centered on traditionally disadvantaged students.
Prateek’s passion and career have focused on equity of opportunity for all students. Prateek loves to play basketball and enjoys watching re-runs of The Office in his free time.
Kate Hardiman is a legal fellow at Cooper & Kirk, PLLC, a boutique D.C. law firm that specializes in constitutional litigation. She is concurrently obtaining her J.D. through Georgetown Law School’s Evening Program. In her current job, which is akin to a legal apprenticeship, she supports a team of lawyers with legal research, observes court arguments and analyzes the legislative history of state and federal public policies. Her favorite classes in law school have been Constitutional Law and Legal Writing.
Prior to law school and her work with Cooper & Kirk, Kate taught for two years at Holy Trinity High School in Chicago through Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) Program. The ACE program equips recent college graduates with intensive M.Ed studies before placing them in high-need Catholic schools across the country. During her two years, Kate taught 9/11th grade religion and 10/12th grade English. Passionate about involving students in public policy and respectful discussion on hot-button issues, Kate also coached the school’s debate team.
In her spare time, Kate enjoys writing on a number of education-related issues. A regular contributor to the Washington Examiner’s opinion page, she has also published work in Real Clear Books, Education Post, The College Fix and Minding the Campus. She is currently co-authoring a book on education policy for the 21st century with her education law hero, Justice Clint Bolick (the litigator of the first Supreme Court voucher case and founder of school-choice litigation firm the Institute for Justice).
Through her experience teaching and writing, Kate developed an abiding belief in school choice’s ability to bolster underserved students’ educational chances. It was this belief that led her to study the law, as many of these policies are facing, and will continue to face, court challenges. She eventually hopes to practice education litigation to defend school choice policies and proactively help in their drafting so that they are able to withstand court challenges.
Elizabeth King is a writer, researcher, speaker and principal educator at Elizabeth King Coaching, Inc, based in Nashville. She is the author of Outsmarting the SAT (Ten Speed Press 2008) and Acing the ACT (Ten Speed Press 2015), coauthor of Lou Imbriano’s Winning the Customer (McGraw-Hill 2011), an ongoing contributor to several media sites and ghostwriter of other memoirs and articles.
Elizabeth graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2001 with a special Bachelor of Arts degree in Cultural Economics—an ostensible hybrid of economics and art history with minors in math and studio art. She was awarded a Mount Holyoke College 1905 Fellowship and a Mount Holyoke College Elisabeth Miller Bardwell Fellowship after graduation and has served on her class board since 2011.
Elizabeth’s writing, speaking and consulting roles revolve around cultivating personal development, critical thinking, quality culture, creativity, intelligence and learning. She explores these themes on her popular blog Stay Out of School, which she founded in 2010, in her research projects about cultural messages that influence student and public educational perspectives and in her direct work with students from around the world.
Elizabeth served as an adviser on educational affairs and committee member in the Office of the Mayor of West Palm Beach in 2013, offering support during the charter school selection process. She also wrote the city’s Mayor’s Challenge submission that year. She frequently mentors small business owners, has served as a mentor at multiple Startup Weekends up and down the eastern seaboard since 2013 and has served as a founding board member for the New York non-profit opera organization North Shore Music Festival since 2010.
She has twice appeared on the Sirius XM Show The Process with UPenn’s dean of admissions Eric Furda, was highlighted by Fast Company Magazine in 2012 as a thriving member of Generation Flux and appeared on Oprah Sirius Radio’s Derrick Ashong Experience to talk about creative ways to make private test prep obsolete. The US Olympic team highlighted her interviews with Olympic gold medalist Barbara Ann Cochran about applying mental toughness to test-taking and her thoughts on testing and education have been referenced in the NY Times, Wall Street Journal on Campus and across the web.
So far, Elizabeth has lived outside Philadelphia, all over South Florida, and in New York City, Portland, Oregon and Providence, Rhode Island. She currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee. A card-carrying bleeding heart, Elizabeth rescues and adopts things: used books, sad plants, antique Christmas ornaments and dogs (nine, to date).
Shennell is the executive director of Project Ready, an education advocacy group. As a native and resident of Newark, NJ, Shennell McCloud has successfully channeled her experiences to become not only an advocate but a social activist toward the elimination of poverty and the promotion of quality education.
For six years, she successfully mobilized hundreds of volunteers, social activist groups and local businesses to create a bridge of optimism between these groups and thousands of homeless individuals throughout Essex County. Through this initiative, Through Future Eyes (TFE) was founded. In 2006, Through Future Eyes hosted its first annual homeless initiative which provided food, clothing and toys to over 200 people in need in Newark, NJ. Since then, TFE provided clothing and shoes to over 1,000 people in the Newark, NJ area alone.
Shennell joined KIPP NJ in 2008. For seven years, she supported and directed recruitment for the KIPP Schools in Newark, NJ. Shennell officially became director of recruitment in 2011 where she led and developed a team of seven recruiters. The team was responsible for the recruitment and selection of over 300+ employees. In July of 2014, Shennell became KIPP NJ’s director of advocacy.
While directing advocacy, her accomplishments include founding and running one of the most successful parent-led programs in the state–the New Jersey Parent Summit–as well as numerous grassroots programs to elevate the voices of Newark families in the education conversation. She is a parent to two young children and resides with her husband in Newark.
Nicole Serrato has first-hand experience of the difference the right kind of education can make in changing a life.
Born and raised in the small town of El Sereno, northeast of downtown Los Angeles, Nicole attended the local public schools and struggled academically. In 7th grade, she was awarded a scholarship from the Children’s Scholarship Fund and it changed the trajectory of her life. That year she became an A and B student and was elected as the student body treasurer. She continued on this path and was offered acceptance into California State University. She declined the offer to begin a career with Primerica Financial Services, where she started as a sales representative, moving her way up to a Regional Manager within a few years.
After 2008’s financial crash, Nicole started working as a model, poet and actress in Hollywood. During this time, she frequently performed in the Los Angeles open mics, graced the runway, and trained at Anthony Gilardi’s Acting Studio. Once the economy improved, Nicole went back to finance, selling medical and business loans for Lending USA. In her spare time, she continued to follow her passion and began hosting Eastside Poetry, an open mic in Montebello, CA. Shortly after, she self-published a collection of poetry, Pieces of The Puzzle.
Nicole briefly toured in New York and Boston to sell her new book. While doing so, she connected with CSF, the organization that changed the trajectory of her life.
In 2016, Nicole discovered her passion for filmmaking, quit finance and enrolled in Santa Monica College to pursue her degree. In 2018, she transferred to City College of New York, where she is finishing her senior year, majoring in Film Studies and minoring in Journalism. She currently works for The Children’s Scholarship Fund as a media and communications assistant and is a member of the CSF Young Leaders Board.
Bethany Swonson is a third-generation military brat who has lived in 17 different communities from Pre-K to postsecondary. Her family’s commitment to public service formed her professional ethos to produce high-quality work to improve both individuals and communities.
She has been serving in the private, nonprofit and government sectors. Currently, she is serving as deputy chief of staff for the Florida Department of Education and executive director of the Florida Education Foundation, a statewide 501(c)(3) that is a Direct Support Organization of the Florida Department of Education.
Her personal and professional opportunities have helped form a passion and skillset in what she believes is one of the most essential aspects of life and business, connecting people to enhance their lives positively, and as a result, the places they live.
Previously, Bethany has served as the director of legislative affairs for the Florida Department of Education, as Leadership Florida’s Member Services and Resource Development Manager, and before that, she was an account manager at a top-tier, public relations and advertising firm, The Zimmerman Agency, managing three global accounts.
Bethany is a graduate of the Florida State University, where she received her Bachelors of Science in Public Relations and a Masters in Nonprofit Management at the University of Tampa. Most importantly, however, she holds the titles of daughter, sister, aunt, friend, Guardian ad Litem and Floridian. She plans to use all her titles to advocate and improve the education system in Florida.