WestEd is excited to work with the New York State Education Department to launch the NY-RISE (Resources, Information, Support & Engagement) initiative, along with our partner organizations: the Center for Learner Equity, Manhattan Strategy Group, and Tugboat Education.
Funded through NYSED’s Charter School Programs grant, this three-year series of professional development workshops and technical assistance webinars will strengthen the individual and collective capacities of charter school stakeholders in the following content areas.
- Financial Operations
- Special Education
- Home to School Connections
To ensure that each training is relevant and engaging, the NY-RISE team is seeking input on specific topics and resources within each content area. Your feedback will directly inform program offerings for this initiative, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to Heather Wendling, Project Director, with ideas and/or requests.
As a nonpartisan research, development, and service organization, WestEd partners with education and other communities to promote excellence, achieve equity, and improve learning, with the aim to make a positive difference in the lives of children, youth, and adults, especially those who are least well served. Success for every learner — infants to adults — is WestEd’s primary focus.
WestEd’s School Choice team works nationwide to improve educational quality and access for all students in traditional schools, public charter schools, and schools of choice. This team focuses specifically on work in school improvement, special education, instructional transformation, school culture, charter authorizing, and talent management, which allows them to serve various partners with a holistic approach to improving quality for all students.
WestEd staff leading the NY-RISE Initiative:
Heather Wendling (J.D., M.S. in Teaching Students with Disabilities) serves as the NY-RISE Project Director as part of the WestEd School Choice team.
Heather previously served as the Director of Learning at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and as a Senior School Evaluator and the Director for New Charters at the SUNY Charter Schools Institute. Through these roles, Heather accumulated vast knowledge of both the New York and national charter landscapes, led a variety of resource-development initiatives, and developed customized learning solutions that reflected best and evolving practices in the sector to address specific client challenges.
Earlier in her career, Heather worked in charter and traditional public schools as a Teach for America Corps member in Philadelphia and New York as a special education teacher, coordinator, and instructional coach in both elementary and middle school settings. She utilizes these experiences to provide strategic direction to the NY-RISE team to synthesize their individual content area expertise into a cohesive, relevant, and impactful professional development program for New York charter stakeholders.
Lauren Outlaw (J.D.) serves as the NY-RISE Project Manager and supports the financial operations learning activities.
Lauren is a Senior Policy Specialist at WestEd and a member of the School Choice and Resource Planning teams. She has expertise in policy development, project management, strategic risk assessment, and translating legislation into actionable resources.
Before joining WestEd, Lauren was the Director of Policy for a nonprofit charter school network in the District of Columbia with 16 schools and approximately 6,400 students. In this role, she managed myriad projects related to legal compliance, policy advocacy and implementation strategies, and targeted support for school leaders, students, and community members.
Tugboat Education (Tugboat) is a consultancy that focuses exclusively on supporting organizations committed to education reform. Tugboat’s mission is to support education reform by providing the practical regulatory, compliance, and operational expertise that will empower non-profit and governmental leaders to achieve their missions. Tugboat’s vision is that innovative education organizations armed with affordable, high-quality expertise can learn to use the complex regulatory environment of public education to their advantage - utilizing it to further their programs rather than being impeded by it.
Tugboat staff contributing to the NY-RISE Initiative:
Paul O’Neill (J.D., M.Ed.) is the Founder and CEO of Tugboat Education and will serve as the NY-RISE team’s lead governance expert.
Paul is one of the nation’s foremost experts on the legal and governance issues impacting education reform. His experience encompasses government service, private practice, and academia. He has served as general counsel of the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, head education lawyer and chief regulatory officer for Edison Learning, and Chair of the Education Committee of the New York City Bar Association. He currently leads the New York office of Barton Gilman LLP and is on the adjunct faculty of Teachers College, Columbia University, where, for a dozen years he taught “Designing Charter Schools” to aspiring school founders, some of whom went on to establish charter schools in the state.
He has published numerous books and articles on charter school functioning and governance, including “The Charter School Law Desk book”— published by Lexis Nexis Publishing; “A User's Guide to Fiscal Oversight: A Toolkit for Charter School Governing Boards”—published by the National Charter Schools Resource Center), and “Maximizing Effectiveness: Focusing the Microscope on Charter School Governing Boards”— published by the National Resource Center on Charter School Finance and Governance.
Manhattan Strategy Group (MSG) is a nationally recognized small, minority-owned management and social sciences consulting firm that works with federal and state government agencies and their programs to achieve performance excellence. MSG has successfully managed over $120 million in federal and state contracts since 2008, supporting clients by providing TA, research and evaluation, management and technology, and information and communication support and services. MSG works to improve education opportunities with a focus on adult learners, charter schools, English language learners, early childhood education, family engagement, and STEM education.
MSG staff contributing to the NY-RISE Initiative:
Carol Cohen (M.P.P.), a Senior Technical Assistance Provider and Project Director at Manhattan Strategy Group, will serve as the NY-RISE team’s financial operations expert.
Her areas of expertise include development and implementation of fiscal policies and procedures for charter schools and other education entities. Carol developed monitoring plans and protocols and managed teams examining state and school program compliance and performance in areas including operations and finance, such as internal controls and fiscal recordkeeping. Carol has also played a leadership role at The Finance Project, providing TA and resources on best practices in financing education and in several national centers providing TA to states and schools on high-priority education issues, including fiscal management, budgeting, and forecasting.
Sally Wade (Ed.D., Curriculum & Instruction, Educational Leadership), a senior program associate at Manhattan Strategy Group, will serve as the NY-RISE team’s home-to-school connections expert.
Sally possesses deep understanding of the successes and challenges faced by the charter schools in the area of family engagement and home-to-school connections. Sally is a dedicated educator who has spent her career focusing on engaging families to improve outcomes for students at-risk of academic failure. She is an experienced federal project director, former regional comprehensive center TA provider, Regional Educational Laboratory staff member, SEA program specialist, university faculty member, and special education teacher. She is well-versed in supporting sustainable, systemic efforts as well as implementing school-level family engagement strategies that support student success. Sally is a founding board member of the National Association for Family, School and Community Engagement and was a founding board member of Florida’s Parent Training and Information center (PTI) and Parent-to-Parent USA.
The Center for Learner Equity (formerly the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools, or NCSECS) is the first organization to focus solely on proactively working with states, charter authorizers, special education and charter school advocates, and other stakeholders to raise awareness, improve access, create dynamic learning opportunities, and address barriers that prevent students with disabilities from accessing a high-quality education in the public school of their choice.
Megan Ohlssen (M.A.), CLE’s Managing Director of Programs, will serve as the NY-RISE team’s lead special education expert.
Megan leads the planning, development, and delivery of external services, partnerships, and programs. Megan’s recent projects have focused on identifying systemic solutions to improving access and outcomes for students with disabilities, and partnering with stakeholders at the state, district, and school level to design great equity. With over 13 years of experience, she comes to this work out of a commitment to closing the opportunity gaps and disrupting the status quo in education. She focuses on the multiple identities of students, educators, and leaders to dismantle the silo of special education. Prior to joining CLE, Megan was a special education teacher and leader in both district and charter schools in Brooklyn. She was also the Director of the NYC Special Education Collaborative.
Meghan Fitzgerald(link sends e-mail) (M.S.Ed), Inclusion Specialist and Special Education Consultant for the CLE, will serve as a special education expert. Meghan was the founding Brooklyn Regional Director of Special Education at Uncommon Schools. During her tenure from 2006-2021, the number of schools opened and managed by Uncommon grew from 5 to 55. She directly oversaw special education and English language learner leadership development, teaching and operations at 24 schools in collaboration with the New York City Department of Education. Under her guidance, Uncommon Schools opened co-teaching classes, a specialized high school program providing alternative pathways to college and career readiness, and robust English language learner services. Under her leadership, Uncommon secured a multi-million-dollar grant to advance outcomes for economically disadvantaged Black and Latinx students with disabilities.