Building a Portfolio of Options to Ensure All Students Graduate: Lessons Learned from Newark, NJ’s Partnership with the Association for High School Innovation (AHSI)

Building a Portfolio of Options to Ensure All Students Graduate: Lessons Learned from Newark, NJ’s Partnership with the Association for High School Innovation (AHSI)
Building a Portfolio of Options to Ensure All Students Graduate: Lessons Learned from Newark, NJ’s Partnership with the Association for High School Innovation (AHSI)


AYPF hosted a webinar to highlight the work of the Association for High School Innovation (AHSI), a collaboration of education providers and advocates that works to create pathways and expand options to future success for all youth. Over the past seven years, AHSI members have engaged in a variety of efforts at the state and local level to create and sustain the development of education options to ensure all students graduate.

The webinar featured the AHSI partnership in Newark, NJ to expand options and ensure more students graduate. Panelists addressed how the place-based partnership with AHSI advances improved education alternatives in Newark and informed the district’s overall secondary reform strategy.



Nicole Butler is the Director of Education for The Nicholson Foundation, where she develops educational initiatives for the Foundation.  She acts as a liaison with organizations that support educational programs for at-risk youth, including the Newark Public Schools, local colleges, community-based organizations, and government agencies.  Nicole is experienced in developing strategic plans, programs, and funding sources for non-profit agencies.  With an expertise in student personnel administration, she has also directed residential support programs for college students.

Nicole earned her B.A. degree in psychology from Elizabethtown College and her M.A. from New York University.  Nicole began her career as a counselor at a juvenile detention center and as a Resident Director in higher education. In 2000, she entered the area of non-profit development and management at the North Ward Center in Newark, NJ.  During this experience, Nicole discovered her passion for working with nonprofit organizations to overcome various funding challenges.  In the fall of 2001, United Minds began providing services to one client and today has worked in partnership with over fifty organizations.  She is a member of the Association for Fundraising Professionals and the New Jersey Center for Nonprofits.


Talmira Hill has served as Director of the Alternative High School Initiative – now the Association for High School Innovation – since December 2007, providing leadership for the network through its launch of a new enterprise.  Talmira began working with AHSI in January 2005 as a consultant to the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.  In this role, she facilitated AHSI’s policy efforts and authored Setting the Stage for New High Schools: Municipal Leadership in Supporting High School Alternatives (2007).  In addition to serving as AHSI Director, Talmira is Principal of the T. L. Hill Group, an independent firm she founded in May 2001 that designs innovative, partnership-driven initiatives to improve education, workforce development, and youth development outcomes in low-income and underrepresented communities.  Talmira was a program officer with the Annie E. Casey Foundation from 1995-2001, where she initiated investments to improve results among young adults making critical transitions in life. Prior to joining the foundation, Talmira served as a Special Assistant to the Under Secretary in the U.S. Department of Education during the Clinton Administration.  She began her career in international economic development as an intern with Africare and considers her years living and working in Senegal, West Africa as critically significant in shaping her perspectives.  Talmira earned a Master of Education degree from Harvard University in 1990 and a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service degree from Georgetown University in 1986.  Talmira is a dance and yoga enthusiast, avid reader, writer of poetry, and most recently a novice cross-country skier.  You may email her at



Dr. Vincent L. Mays began his 24 -year career in education as a 6th grade teacher of basic skills with Irvington Public Schools. He currently serves as the Director of Alternative Education for Newark Public Schools. Dr. Mays joined Newark Public schools in 1999 where he spearheaded the formation of the Alternative Education program for the District.  These innovative educational programs have had a positive impact on the lives of more than 8000 young people in both the high school and middle school programs.

Today, Dr. Mays sits as facilitator of the states’ largest of alternative education programs. He played a key role in opening the Youth Education and Employment Success (YE2S) Center.  The YE2S Center, opened in early 2008, is collaboration among the City of Newark, Essex County Probation, the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission, Communities In Schools of New Jersey, Rutgers University, The Nicholson Foundation, and numerous community-based organizations.  It was conceived as a one-stop resource for serving Newark’s at-risk youth.In addition to the YE2S Center, a number of alternative school options have been implemented with Dr. Mays’s leadership. The Newark Workforce Development Institute (NWDI) was established to reengage dropouts who could benefit from an educational program with a strong employment focus.  The Virtual High School commenced enrolling students in the fall of 2008.  It allows students to use distance learning to complete courses that satisfy all or part of their high school course requirements.  This program is particularly appropriate for youth with medical or mental health problems and for those who dropped out to care for their children, go to work, or because they were incarcerated.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded Dr. Mays’s office with the Alternative High School Initiative (ASHI) Grant. Through this grant, AHSI and its network of experts are providing technical assistance to enhance Newark’s efforts to create or redesign high schools patterned after evidence-based, high-quality models that help disconnected youth prepare for college and career success.  These ASHI-assisted schools; Big Picture, Diploma Plus, Gateway to College, and Performance Learning Center (PLC) is scheduled to open in 2009.

Dr. Mays has served in many roles including: Director of Gateway Academy Alternative High School, Newark, New Jersey; Principal of Orange Alternative High School, Orange Public Schools, Orange, New Jersey; Assistant Principal at Florence Avenue School, Staff Development Specialist, Irvington Board of Education; and Elementary Education Teacher, at Madison Avenue School in Irvington, New Jersey.

In addition, Dr. Mays also served on the university level as a Recruiter for Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey.  Dr. Mays received his Doctor of Philosophy, Administration and Supervision Stamford Hill University; his Master of Arts Degree, Montclair University in Educational Administration and Supervision; and his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communication, Seton Hall University.



Lessons Learned from Newark, NJ’s Partnership with the Association for High School Innovation (AHSI) Webinar Powerpoint Presentations


Nicole Butler
Director of Education
The Nicholson Foundation
744 Broad St
26th Floor
Newark, NJ 07102

Dan Gohl
Executive Assistant of Innovation and Change
Newark Public Schools
2 Cedar Street
Newark, NJ 07102

Talmira Hill
Association for High School Innovation
P.O. Box 1058
Intervale, NH 03845

Dr. Vincent Mays
Office of Alternative Education
200 Washington Street
Newark, New NJ 07102
(973) 733-7382

Related Information

Related Program Areas


Youth Development & Community Involvement


AYPF Contact Information

Andrea Browning
Senior Program Associate
1836 Jefferson Pl NW
Washington, DC 20036


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.