AYPF recently released a publication, Success at Every Step: How 23 Programs Support Youth on the Path to College and Beyond, which profiles programs that have been proven to help young people complete high school and be prepared for success in postsecondary education and careers, based on the results of recent, high-quality evaluations. This event provided an overview of the findings of the report, showcased a variety of programs that support college- and career-readiness, and explored implications for federal and state policy. Speakers included Greg Darnieder, Special Assistant to the Secretary on College Access, U.S. Department of Education (DC); Ryan Reyna, Policy, Analyst, Education Division, Center for Best Practices, National Governors’ Association (DC); Katharine Oliver, Assistant State Superintendent for Career and Technical Education and Adult Learning, Maryland State Department of Education (MD); Michael Wotorson, Executive Director, Campaign for High School Equity (DC); Rachel Singer, Director of Academic Affairs, Kingsborough Community College (NY); Joel Vargas, Senior Project Manager, Jobs for the Future (MA); and David Sinski, Executive Director, After School Matters (IL).
Ryan Reyna is a Policy Analyst in the Education Division at the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center). Ryan works on a variety of high school reform issues, including college- and career-readiness, turning around low-performing schools, career technical education, and technology in education. He currently leads the NGA Center’s work on dropout prevention and recovery, working with six states to develop comprehensive policies and programs to improve high school graduation rates. Previously, he worked as a Research Associate at the Data Quality Campaign. Ryan holds a B.A. in American Politics from the University of Virginia and an M.P.Aff. from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.
Greg Darnieder began his career in education as a middle grades teacher in St. Louis and Riverdale MD. He has a BA in Sociology, a K-8 teaching certificate from St. Louis University and a MA in Christian Education from Wheaton College. He worked for 15 years as the executive director of youth development and college access organizations in Chicago’s Cabrini Green Housing Development. Beginning in 2003, he oversaw the Steans Family Foundation’s community focused philanthropic efforts in Chicago’s North Lawndale community including early childhood, education, organizational development and affordable housing. He has served in leadership roles for several foundations and on over twenty non-profit organization boards.
In 2003 Greg established the Department of Postsecondary Education and Student Development (DPSESD) at Chicago Public Schools (CPS), designing and implementing an assortment of postsecondary, academic, financial, and social support programs and building university, corporate and civic partnerships to enhance college access. In 2008 he was named the director of the Department of College and Career Preparation (DCCP) for CPS, a newly formed department that consists of the DPSESD and the Department of Education To Careers.
In 2009, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, named Greg the Special Assistant to the Secretary for College Access at the U.S. Department of Education, where he currently serves.
Dr. James Connell, president and cofounder of IRRE, developed First Things First and has continued to strengthen its framework through a decade of implementation and evaluation. Long recognized for his research on youth development in urban settings and the theory-of-change approach to planning and evaluation of system change, work in adolescent development and a theory-of-change approach to youth issues, he has become one of the nation’s foremost experts on education reform, especially at the secondary level. He advises policy-makers, foundations and educators on reform issues and frequently contributes theoretical and practice-based writings to a wide variety of national venues.
Dr. Connell is a former special education teacher and professor at the University of Rochester, where his research was recognized by major awards from the American Psychological Association and the W.T. Grant Foundation. From 1992 to 1995 he served as a Senior Vice President and Senior Fellow with Public/Private Ventures. And, after co-founding IRRE in 1989, Dr. Connell has served as President of the organization from 1991 to the present.
Rachel Singer serves in the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Kingsborough Community College in New York. For the past eight years she has been the Director of Academic Affairs, overseeing many community learning initiatives. As part of an earlier national demonstration to evaluate student success, Kingsborough students in learning communities demonstrated greater persistence, achieved higher GPAs, and passed out of developmental English classes at a much higher rate than their peers who were not in learning communities. Under her direction, learning communities targeting under-prepared students at Kingsborough have expanded from an initial enrollment of 120 students each semester to over 800 each semester.
Ms. Singer also represents the Office of Academic Affairs in all policy matters concerning academic advisement and registration, and also developed KCC’s Weekend and Evening College. As the project director for a Ford Foundation grant, Ms. Singer worked with five community colleges across the country to help build, develop and sustain learning communities on their campuses, and later assisted in the creation of an additional twelve. Ms. Singer is also a licensed Clinical Social Worker, in private practice for the past twenty-six years.
Joel Vargas studies and advises on state policies to promote improved rates of high school and postsecondary success for underserved students. He focuses on new education pathways that blend high school and college, such as early college high schools and comprehensive dual enrollment programs.
Dr. Vargas has directed, initiated, and studied a variety of middle school and high school programs designed to help more underrepresented students get into and through a postsecondary education. He also has been a teacher, editor, and research assistant for the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, coeditor of Double the Numbers: Increasing Postsecondary Credentials for Underrepresented Youth (Harvard Education Press) and Minding the Gap: Why Integrating High School with College Makes Sense and How to Do It (Harvard Education Press). He was featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education as one of “Higher Education’s Next Generation of Thinkers.”
Dr. Vargas received a B.S. in journalism from Boston University and an Ed.D from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
David Sinski is the Executive Director of After School Matters, an innovative after-school program that aims to offer Chicago teens paid apprenticeships or club memberships in arts, sports, technology, and communications programs. The organization solidifies partnerships between citywide agencies and organizations in order to annually engage more than twenty thousand teens from underserved communities.
Prior to his work with ASM, David served as Director of Youth Development Programs at Alternatives, Inc., spent ten years at Mujeres Latinas En Accion, and began his career at Teen Living Programs of Chicago.
Katharine Oliver is the Assistant State Superintendent for Career and College Readiness. She leads a division of the Maryland State Department of Education that administers a full range of academic, career, and technology instructional programs and support services for youth in Department of Juvenile Services facilities. Mrs. Oliver was appointed to her current position in 1989 and is the nation’s most senior State Director of Career and Technology Education. Until July 2009, her division also had responsibility for Maryland’s systems of Adult and Correctional Education. Earlier in her career, she was a member of MSDE’s Division of Rehabilitation Services Executive Team and also worked with Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation in workforce development.
Mrs. Oliver serves on a variety of local, state, and national advisory boards related to education and workforce development. She is a past President of the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium and is the current chair of the Southern Regional Education Board’s High Schools That Work Board. Mrs. Oliver was honored by The Daily Record as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women.
Michael Wotorson is executive director of the Campaign for High School Equity, a partnership of ten of the nation’s leading civil rights and education organizations focused on high school education reform. He is responsible for overseeing the coalition’s federal policy agenda and its public outreach and education activities.
Michael has spent his career advocating in support of educational equality and civil rights, working for more than fifteen years as a researcher, advocate, and policy analyst. Prior to joining CHSE, Michael was national education director for the NAACP, and has held positions at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Mid-Atlantic Equity Center, National Association of State Universities & Land-Grant Colleges, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, Fair Employment Council of Greater Washington, and Anti-Defamation League. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Maryland ACLU.