Meet the Team

Aspire Institute staff

Jake Murray, Senior Director
617-879-2445
jmurray@wheelock.edu

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.

Mary Watson Avery, Program Manager, Connected Beginnings Training Institute
617-879-1462
mavery@wheelock.edu 

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, Program Coordinator, Connected Beginnings Training Institute and Learning Solutions
617-879-1064
eburkes@wheelock.edu 

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.

Emily Callejas, Ed.M., Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Content Manager, Connected Beginnings Training Institute
617-879-1348
ecallejas@wheelock.edu

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, Program Coordinator, Equity and Access in Education
617-879-1463
dfitchett@wheelock.edu

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.

Barbara Joseph, Program Manager, Learning Solutions
617-879-2194
bjoseph@wheelock.edu

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.

Stephanie Mireku, Operations Specialist
617-879-2071
smirkeu@wheelock.edu 

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.

Jibril Solomon, Program Director, Equity and Access in Education
617-879-2232
jsolomon@wheelock.edu

Before joining Aspire, Dr. Solomon worked to support low-performing technical schools as an Education Specialist at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Prior to DESE, Dr. Solomon spent seven years with a National Science Foundation STEM Education project as the Co-Principal Investigator for the Advanced Technology Education Programs in Boston. Dr. Solomon also served a few years in higher education developing and implementing academic support programs for at-risk students as well as consulting for school districts on improving college and career readiness strategies.

Dr. Solomon received a Bachelors of Applied and Natural Sciences at the University of Southern Maine, a Masters of Social Science at the University of New Hampshire, and a Ph.D. in Education Studies from Lesley University with a dissertation focused on the preparedness for high school students to succeed in college and documented the need for high schools and higher education staff to reconsider the purpose and effectiveness of measures of academic readiness and remedial courses aimed at preparing students for entry-level college course work.

Dr. Solomon remains a faculty member at Bunker Hill and MassBay Community Colleges, and a member of the cohort 2013-2014 Massachusetts Education Policy Fellowship, a program designed to develop the leadership capabilities for the 21st Century of future education leaders.

Catherine Wakely, Training and Technology Specialist
617-879-1465
cwakely@wheelock.edu 

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.

Cora Weissbourd, Director of Operations
617-879-6070
cweissbourd@wheelock.edu 

Cora joined the Wheelock community in July, 2013. Prior to working with Aspire, she aided in founding the Girls Prep Bronx Charter School and the Public Prep Network, and served as the Girls Prep Business and Operations Manager. During graduate school, she completed an Education Pioneers Fellowship with TNTP, creating resources to help school leaders strengthen instructional culture and staff development. Cora holds a BA from Georgetown University and an MPA from New York University.

Residents, Fellows, and Interns

Nathan Hixson, Finance and Business Development Specialist
617-879-1430
nhixson@wheelock.edu
Nathan Hixson provides financial forecasting for Aspire operations and evaluates opportunities to expand program offerings. He is a New Sector Alliance fellow who also serves the Boston Compact as the school-collaboration initiative's communications coordinator. Nathan graduated with a B.S. in Finance and a minor in International Development from Brigham Young University. During school, Nathan served a two-year church mission in Albania. There he saw the effects of quality education, and lack thereof, and is excited to work to bring Aspire ideas and trainings to teachers in order to improve quality education for children of all backgrounds.

Sherra Cates, Family Engagement Coordinator, Equity and Access
Sherra is a Tufts University student working towards her Masters of Arts in Urban Environmental Policy and Planning, and Child Development. Her work with the Aspire Institute's Boston Family Engagement Project supports partner schools and family engagement fellows.

Kayla Howard, Marketing and Communications Coordinator
Kayla Howard is working towards her B.A in English Communication, Media, and Cultural Studies at Emmanuel College. She currently helps manage the Aspire blog as editor and occasional writer. She is also the mastermind behind the devious, semi-daily office trivia board. While reading is her passion, she is more than happy to lend her writing skills to the worthy cause of early education. Kayla was also Time's 2006 Person of the Year. 

Brittany Lewis, Family Engagement Coordinator, Equity and Access
Brittany is a Tufts University student working towards her Masters of Arts in Educational Studies. Her work with the Aspire Institute's Boston Family Engagement Project supports partner schools and family engagement fellows.

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