MEET OUR TEAM

Allison R. Brown

I am the Executive Director of the Communities for Just Schools Fund (CJSF). CJSF brings strategic vision and fruitful collaboration to a field that is focused on school discipline reform and creation of healthy school climates. A nationally-focused donor collaborative, we leverage resources in support of community-led organizations that are forcing the elimination of barriers to educational opportunity for historically under-served students and ensuring positive and supportive school climates that affirm and foster the success of all students. Learn more about our work in these public pieces: USA Today (2018), Education Week (2018), Medium (2017), Memphis Music Initiative (2017), Nonprofit Quarterly (2017), Education Week (2016).

 

Previously, I worked as a program officer at the Open Society Foundations and as a trial attorney for the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) in the Educational Opportunities Section of the Civil Rights Division. At DOJ, I initiated, developed, and led the Civil Rights Division’s efforts to combat the school-to-prison pipeline, which closes off opportunities for academic and lifelong success for far too many students of color. For my work at DOJ, I received the Attorney General’s Meritorious Award, Special Achievement Award, and Special Commendation Award. I also was recognized by the National Bar Association and IMPACT as a member of the 2012 Nation’s Best Advocates: Top 40 Lawyers Under 40.

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I am the founder of Allison Brown Consulting (ABC), a service organization that worked with schools, students, and families to bring about improved academic outcomes through equitable school climates where all students thrive. I have worked as a litigation associate at the law firm of Crowell & Moring LLP in Washington, D.C. After law school, I clerked for Justice Theodore R. Boehm of the Indiana Supreme Court and for Judge David F. Hamilton of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana (now of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit). I am a summa cum laude graduate of Howard University and a graduate of Harvard Law School, where I was an articles editor for the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.

 

I am a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of the Center for Policy Analysis and Research, the Board for The Beautiful Project, and the National Advisory for EmbraceRace. I am admitted to the United States Supreme Court Bar, the Maryland State Bar, and the Bar of the District of Columbia. I live in Washington, D.C., with my husband and two children.

 

I still have in me that shy little girl from Indiana who would never let her mother get too far from her. Who grew up in the unspoken richness and traditions of African American community. Whose instincts were her ancestors, her great grands, ordering her steps. Who has seen success because her family told her to, and expected nothing less. All of that informs how I move about the world and how I find myself now leading the Communities for Just Schools Fund and this phenomenal team of people.

Jaime T. Koppel

Co-Director

 

Jaime T. Koppel is the Co-Director of the Communities for Just Schools Fund. A self-identified policy wonk, Jaime is also a steadfast believer in the fundamental importance of centering community organizers’ expertise as we journey towards education justice and the schools our children deserve. Before CJSF, Jaime was a Senior Fellow at the U.S. Department of Justice in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), where she worked across federal agencies and with external partners towards eliminating punitive school discipline and increasing positive school climate. Prior to her time at the DOJ, Jaime served as the Director of Youth & Education Justice at the Children's Defense Fund - New York (CDF-NY), working with community organizers and advocates on efforts most aptly summed up as “seeking to decriminalize childhood” for youth of color. Jaime also served as Chief of Staff for the Executive Deputy Commissioner of New York City's Administration for Children's Services, an experience that cemented her belief in the importance of empowering families to imagine and create their own solutions. While living in Honduras from 2001 - 2003, Jaime founded Bilingual Education for Central America (BECA) - link to http://becaschools.org, a nonprofit working directly with financially disadvantaged families in Honduras to provide high-quality bilingual education. Jaime now serves as BECA’s Board Chair.

Jaime has a B.A. from Hamilton College and a Master of Public Administration from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) from which she was awarded the Harvey Picker Prize for Public Service.

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She and her husband have two energetic school-aged boys, an anxious dog, and a wily cat. They will never have a fish. Jaime does this work because all children deserve to be seen, to be safe, and to be loved by school staff and curriculum that reflect them, their history, and their brilliant potential.

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Alexis J. Smith

Operations Manager

 

Alexis J. Smith is the Operations Manager for the Communities for Just Schools Fund.  She is the best one to contact for communications, vendor contracts, human resources and IT/website functions, CJSF event logistics, and if ever you’re not sure who to call on the team. Prior to her employment with CJSF, Alexis successfully launched and operated a consulting practice providing similar services to small businesses and national non-profit organizations for more than a decade. Born in Washington DC, she grew up in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, Maryland before attending Temple University (PA) and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. She is married to a devoted Educator and Coach, lives in Baltimore County (MD) and holds her role as mother (“head nurturer”) of three wonderful and brilliant black girls as her strongest purpose and contribution to community. 

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Thena Robinson Mock

Program Officer

 

Thena Robinson Mock is the Program Officer for Communities for Just Schools Fund. In this role, Thena manages CJSF’s grantee partner portfolio and is a connector and strategic thought partner for grassroots community organizing groups working to advance education justice campaigns.

Thena is also a civil rights and community lawyer with over a decade of experience in racial justice advocacy.  Prior to joining CJSF, Thena served as Director of Advancement Project’s Opportunity to Learn Program that supports local and state-based campaigns to end the criminalization of students of color, Black girls, and queer & trans youth of color. Her work also challenged school privatization policies that fuel education inequity.

 

Thena also served as Executive Director of Rethink, a youth organizing and leadership development organization based in New Orleans and served as a Staff Attorney for the New Orleans office of the Southern Poverty Law Center where she worked to end Louisiana’s school-to-prison pipeline. Thena has a passion for arts and cultural organizing – and has co-authored two original plays, “Voices from the Back of the Class” and “Lockdown” in collaboration with the New Orleans-based theater organization, Junebug Productions.

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Thena is originally from Richmond, Virginia. She is a graduate of Hampton University and Loyola University New Orleans College of Law.  Thena is the recipient of the “40 under 40” award from Gambit Weekly in New Orleans and was named as a Women Rule! Leadership Honoree from Oprah Magazine and the White House Project. Thena was named as the Fall 2015 Northeastern University School of Law Daynard Public Interest Fellow, a program for distinguished public interest practitioners. Thena was also featured in the 2015 documentary, “Prison Kids,” an investigative documentary about youth justice in America. She provides frequent commentary in the media around civil rights, racial justice, education policy, and school policing and has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, NPR, and various radio shows. 

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Allie McCullen

Program Associate

 

I am honored to serve the CJSF team and our community partners as the Program Associate. I started my journey with CJSF in 2017 as the inaugural Education Anew Fellow. During this time, I started developing CJSF’s Best Practices Institute, a virtual space for grassroots community groups and allies to develop, promote, and deliver youth-, parent-, family-, and educator-led trainings that are culturally-competent, responsive to the needs of schools, and geared toward advancing school discipline reform efforts nationwide. As part of this fellowship, I also worked with the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) in Atlanta, GA to further embed community organizing as a key strategy of its mission. In this role, I facilitated conversations and collaborations between the community organizers CJSF supports and the researchers, educators, and district leaders in SEF’s networks.

Now I have the pleasure of supporting our Programs and Operations teams with our grantmaking, technical assistance and capacity building opportunities, and other strategic initiatives.

Before joining CJSF, I worked as a community organizer in Atlanta, supporting campaigns at the intersection of education, housing, and racial justice.

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I served as a founding organizer with the Atlanta-based Housing Justice League and as as a co-founder and program coordinator for Freedom University Georgia, a community organization that provides tuition-free education, college application and scholarship assistance, and social movement leadership training to undocumented students banned from public higher education in Georgia. As a queer southerner, I'm committed to supporting movement building toward educational and racial equity because "[a]s the south goes, so goes the nation."

 

I have a Master's degree in Public Policy from Georgia State University and undergraduate degrees in English and Women’s Studies from the University of Georgia. I am currently working on a Masters in Teaching.

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Cierra Kaler-Jones 

Education Anew Fellow, CJSF and Teaching for Change. 

 

She is currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership at University of Maryland - College Park studying minority and urban education. Her work examines how Black girls use arts-based practices (such as movement and music) as forms of expression, resistance, and identity development. As an educator, Cierra has worked with preschool students, K-12 students, and college students. She previously served as an intern and fellow at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.Cierra is also an arts education advocate – she teaches dance classes for all ages, choreographs for local companies, and runs a program that offers culturally-sustaining arts-based programming and curriculum for girls.

 

Born and raised in New Jersey, Cierra attended Rutgers University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in social work, with minors in women’s & gender studies and race & ethnic studies. She received her master’s degree in education and human development (with a concentration in curriculum and instruction) from The George Washington University. Her experiences teaching, running community-based art programs, crafting policy, and conducting research all shape her commitment to social justice and educational equity. She enjoys taking and teaching fitness classes, going on road trips, and writing. Cierra is excited to join Communities for Just Schools Fund and Teaching for Change to support their work in transforming education. 

 

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