Meet the Team
Jake Murray, Senior Director
Jake Murray has served as the director of Aspire since February 2009. Prior to joining Aspire, he served for four years as a child and youth planner for the City of Cambridge, overseeing strategic planning, quality improvement, and program development for early education, out-of-school-time, and youth development services. He also served for five years as a director of community partnerships for the Harvard Children's Initiative, leading a range of collaborative efforts to improve education outcomes in Boston and Cambridge. His research interests include professional learning models, new teacher development, and school-community partnerships. He has served as a consultant to the Boston Public Schools, the Boston Mayor's Office, the Cambridge Agenda For Children, the Boston Redevelopment Authority-Jobs and Community Services, and Open Circle, Wellesley College.
He holds a BA from Bates College, an MEd from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a MM from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University.
Cathy Abbott, Program Administrator, Connected Beginnings Training Institute
Cathy Abbott is the Program Administrator at Connected Beginnings, where she joined the staff in 2008. She has worked as office manager at the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry, Boston, and was legislative aide with Representative Jay Kaufman at the Massachusetts State House. As a community volunteer, she served on the Board of Selectmen in Lexington, MA and as a trustee of the Lexington METCO Scholarship Fund. She has also assisted a public school library partnership in New York City. Cathy's experience in early education includes teaching nursery school and providing home daycare. She has organized State House lobby days for the Massachusetts League of Women Voters and the Massachusetts Early Intervention Consortium, and has led training workshops for public policy advocacy for state and community groups.
Mary Watson Avery, Program Manager, Connected Beginnings Training Institute
Mary Watson Avery, M.S, is the Program Manager at the Connected Beginnings Training Institute. Her career has focused on infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their families. Her special interests include the professional development of individuals working with families; the play of typical and traumatized children; therapeutic parent education; and the mentoring of early childhood trainers. She has been a teacher, administrator and consultant in several urban early childhood programs in New York City and the greater Boston area. Mary has also served on the faculty at Harvard Graduate School of Education and was the Director of Family Connections, a community mental health outreach program based at Children's Hospital Boston. Mary earned an MS in Infant and Toddler Studies from Wheelock College and a BFA from Manhattanville College in Studio Art. She also co-authored and illustrated the children's book, What Is Beautiful? (1995, Tricycle Press) with her husband David M. Avery.
Eric Burkes, CASE Coordinator
Eric Burkes received his Master of Arts in Professional Writing from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. He has experience with several aspects of writing, including grant writing, technical writing and proofreading, as well as writing for internal and external communications. Following his graduate studies, he served for three years as a Lead Teacher in an Afterschool program where he promoted the social, emotional, physical and cognitive development of children in grades K-8. Eric also has previous early childhood experience serving as an Administrative Assistant at Somerville Early Head Start. He completed his Bachelor of Science in Communication with a concentration in Public Relations at Boston University.
Katie Brayden-Calais, Early Childhood Education Programs Assessment Specialist
Katie Brayden-Calias received her Masters Degree in Education from Simmons College in 1991 and has been in the Education field for 20 years. She has been a classroom teacher, director, and administrator. For the past 10 years, she has worked as an independent consultant mentoring early education programs as well as public schools through the NAEYC Accreditation process. Additionally, Katie has a diverse repertoire of training sessions to meet the wide-ranging needs of the Early Education & Care population.
Emily Callejas, Ed.M., Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Content Manager, Connected Beginnings Training Institute
Emily Potts Callejas is the Connected Beginnings Training Institute Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Content Manager. In this role, Emily supports the development, adaptation, and delivery of the Institute's trainings across early childhood and family service settings. Emily's career has focused on working with administrators, parents, and children in culturally and geographically diverse educational environments to improve educational opportunities. Emily holds an Ed.M. in Risk and Prevention from Harvard University Graduate School of Education and a B.A. in History from Barnard College. Prior to her work at Connected Beginnings, Emily served as a mental health consultant and materials development coordinator for Family Connections at Boston Children's Hospital. In this role she worked with both children and adults to address depression and related adversities in Head Start programs. Emily is the co-author of several publications including the Tell Me A Story Materials for Working with Families (Callejas, Beardslee, Ayoub, and Avery) and the Tell Me A Story Materials (Avery, Beardslee, Ayoub, Callejas & Watts).
Emily has also worked at the Florida Charter School Resource Center in Tampa, Florida, as an advisor to families and school officials on the strategies and challenges involved in starting up charter schools. Emily's experiences in education reform began with Advantage Schools in Boston, where she wrote and oversaw implementation for special programs under Titles I, II, IV, and VI of the Improving America's Schools Act for sixteen charter schools.
Dana Fitchett, Project Coordinator, Education Innovation
Prior to landing at Aspire, Dana worked in education in a number of different realms. She has worked in both public and private education, as well as with high school and middle school age students. She has been a tutor across all academic subjects, an English Language Arts teaching assistant, a modern dance teacher, and a dorm parent, and has been involved in efforts to increase educational access in all of her roles. Most recently, Dana worked at The Steppingstone Foundation, where her primary role was to provide assistance to Boston Public School families looking to enroll their children in Boston exam schools or independent schools. Dana's primary concern is increasing access to quality education and services for under-resourced populations. Dana is also a dancer and choreographer and continues to choreograph and perform as her schedule allows. She received an A.B. from Vassar College in Urban Studies with concentrations in Sociology and Black Studies.
Ashley Fuller, Graduate Assistant
Ashley Fuller joined Aspire as a Graduate Assistant in September 2012. She is a student at Wheelock in the graduate program for Child Life and Family Services. Prior to joining Aspire, she worked as a researcher for Corporate Accountability International. She is an alumnus of the Rethinking Globalization, International Honors Program and earned her B.A. from Boston University majoring in Philosophy and Religion.
Hanna Gebretensae, Director of Early Childhood Education Programs
Hanna Gebretensae oversees the Center for Assessment and Screening Excellence (CASE), and has extensive experience in the field of early education and care. She was the Academic Dean and the Division Chair for Early Childhood Education at Urban College of Boston (UCB) where Hanna is engaged in management, instruction, and development of the academic programs at the College. Prior to UCB, Hanna was a training and technical assistance specialist for UMass Donahue Institute, working with Head Start programs in New England. In addition to direct-service work in early childhood classrooms, she has been a program director at Acorn Center for Early Education and Care, a bilingual Chinese/English center and a Mentor-Director for early childhood programs in Boston supporting accreditation and quality of programs in the city. Hanna was the Director of Policy, Education, and Training at the Child Care Resource Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Prior to coming to the US, Hanna managed early childhood program development and projects in East Africa.
Hanna holds a B.A. from Lesley College, M.Ed. from Harvard University, certificate in Educating Children with Special Needs from the Golda Meir International Training College in Haifa, Israel, and was a CAYL Fellow in Early Care and Education Policy. Hanna is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Phoenix.
Daila Davila-Gonzalez, Early Childhood Education Programs Manager
Daila Davila-Gonzalez holds her Master's Degree from Boston College in Developmental and Educational Psychology. Her area of concentration was Early Childhood Development, specifically bilingual language acquisition in children. Daila has worked as a preschool director and an Education and Disabilities Specialist for Child Care Choices of Boston, where she created Bilingual Bebe, a publication focused on raising and educating bilingual children. Additionally, Daila has worked as a disabilities specialist for ABCD South Side Head Start and has conducted numerous workshops locally and at area conferences in bilingual language development and assessment. For the last several years, she has been an adjunct professor at the Urban College of Boston in the Department of Early Childhood Education, teaching in the regular and transitional bilingual program. Most recently, Daila was the Literacy Coach for the Tapping Academic Potential Project at the Urban College of Boston, where she evaluated and redesigned aspects of the curriculum for the developmental English courses in the TAP Project.
Ken Grout, Early Childhood ELL and Project Evaluation Manager
Ken Grout received his Bachelor's Degree in Music Education from Drake University and did his Master's work in Writing and Literature at Emerson College; further, he is completing in 2012 a Master's of Education program in Interdisciplinary Studies at Cambridge College. Ken is a writer and business consultant who has worked in Education, Marketing Research, and Information Technology. He is currently an adjunct faculty member in Writing and Speech Communication at both Emerson College and The Urban College of Boston.
Barbara Joseph, Online Solutions Project Manager
Barbara Joseph joined Aspire in December 2010 as STEP Project Manager for a NASA-funded grant. Her role is to manage the development and rollout of high-quality online math and science in-service courses to elementary teachers.
Prior to joining Aspire, she spent over 20 years of her career in high technology, specifically software localization. She has held various positions from software engineer, director of technical services, vice president of operations and most recently, project/program manager. She has a strong interest in math and has tutored elementary math in grades 1-5 and continues to tutor high school students in algebra and geometry. As an advisor to TenMarks Education, an online supplemental math program, Joseph was involved in consulting on the design and content of the program and website.
She received her BA from Boston College majoring in Computer Science and French, and minoring in Math. She also received an Entrepreneurial Management Certificate from Babson College.
Julie Kalt, Communications and Operations Specialist
Julie Kalt joined Aspire in September of 2012 as a New Sector Alliance AmeriCorps Resident in Social Enterprise. Prior to working at Aspire, she worked at Egon Zehnder International, an executive search and management consulting firm. While in college, Julie served as the Student Director of Repair the World at Tufts Hillel in which she doubled the amount of students doing meaningful social justice work. She also held positions in the MA State House and The White House Project. She is passionate about community development, empowering women and girls and service learning and hopes to help develop Aspire's image and outreach throughout the year. Julie graduated from Tufts University with a BA in International Relations and Religion in May 2012.
Karen Marshall, Program Manager of Education Innovation
Karen joined Aspire as the Program Manager for the Educator Mentor Corps in the beginning of 2012. Karen was formerly at Eastern Nazarene College (Quincy, MA), where she served as a Social Work instructor, Co-Founder and Director for the Center for Responsibility and Justice, and Assistant Director for the Center for Academic Success. She has also worked as a community organizer in Roxbury.
Certified as a trainer and facilitator for Multicultural Curriculum Training Institute, Karen has also lead several workshops with a variety of audiences such as student leaders, college administration, higher-ed faculty, church leaders, and community leaders on diversity in education, diversity in the workplace, and justice and reconciliation. Additionally, Miss Marshall has taught undergrad and graduate courses in social work and social justice and reconciliation in both Trinidad and South Africa. Her passion for social justice and community organizing and education reform is sparked by her own experience in the American education system as the daughter of Jamaican immigrants.
Stephanie Mireku, Project Specialist
Stephanie Mireku joined the Aspire Institute as a Project Specialist in August 2012. She is enthused to bring a passion for community service and languages to the Aspire Institute. Before joining Aspire, Stephanie worked for the Wheelock College Center for International Programs and Partnerships as an Intern for the Study of the United States Institute (SUSI) program. In this capacity, she worked directly with students from Latin America and the Caribbean to complete this unique program and to ensure continuity in engagement and service learning following the program. Stephanie is pleased to be part of the Aspire Institute and to help affect social and educational change in communities across the state. She completed her undergraduate education at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth where she studied English Writing, Communications, and Rhetoric; and Spanish.
Donald Naggie, CASE ELL Coordinator
Don Naggie received his Masters of Arts in English Romantic Literature from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan in 2012. Prior to his graduate studies Don worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Uzbekistan. While pursuing his MA Don also assisted Arabic language immigrants in learning English and applying for US citizenship. He is passionate about helping people bridge cultural and linguistic barriers and is excited about bringing these resources to the Pathways program at CASE.
Saameh Solaimani, CASE Post-Graduate Fellow, Early Childhood Education Programs
Saameh Solaimani holds an Ed.M. from Harvard University, where she studied Human Development and Psychology. She received her B.A. in Psychology from The University of California, San Diego. Some of Saameh's experience includes working as a documentation assistant with Harvard's Project Zero, teaching in pre-k programs, and working as a clinician with young children diagnosed with Autism and their families. Her passion lies in supporting authentic collaboration between families, early childhood educators and administrators, healthcare practitioners, policy makers, and researchers to develop healthy, mindful, inclusive learning environments for young children of all backgrounds.
Catherine Wakely, Assistant for Data Management and Instructional Technology
Catherine Wakely is the Assistant for Data Management and Instructional Technology at Connected Beginnings, where she joined the staff in 2011. She got her B.S. in Animal Science from The University of Maine where she also worked for several years as an IT support consultant. She has also worked as an operations coordinator at Sun Life Financial.