Meet the 2022 Changemakers
During National Charter Schools Week, May 8-14, we recognize 10 changemakers who have an outsized impact in their communities, our nation, and the world. Our changemakers include school leaders, teachers, parents, and advocates in the charter school community.
Learn more about the 2022 Changemaker Awards honorees!
English Language Director
Mater Academy East Campus
Las Vegas, NV
Originally from Argentina, Sol Alvalos moved to the U.S. in 1999, where her passion for education continued to blossom and she became the English Language Director of three Mater Academy charter schools in Nevada. Knowing that Nevada families urgently needed more high-quality public school options, Sol was driven to lead advocacy work in her state, including helping stop a 2019 moratorium aimed at delaying the approval of a new charter school. In 2021, she continued her political engagement by bringing awareness to the lack of capital funding for charter schools, ultimately helping to bring $20 million in federal funding to Nevada to support Title I charter schools.
Dolores T. Aaron Academy
New Orleans, LA
While we know that charter schools quickly transitioned to virtual learning at the onset of the pandemic, Raquel Crader was truly among the first of the first. As a fifth-year teacher at Dolores T. Aaron Academy, Raquel built an interactive reading YouTube channel for parents and students, helping to continue their love of reading when they had less access to books and time in school. She went above and beyond to reach her students while they were learning at home – putting together all new virtual lessons, connecting via Facetime, and doing all that she could to make sure none of her students regressed during their time out of school. When they returned to in-person learning, her virtual lessons were one of the most talked about topics among the students. As one of her students describes her – Raquel Crader is a superhero.
Horizon Science Academy Columbus Elementary School
After both of Tonya Kelly's children experienced bullying in school, she decided to do something about it. Knowing firsthand the negative impacts that bullying can have on a child’s self-esteem and quality of life, she founded the Empower Our Youth Foundation, serving students between the ages of 5 and 17. The foundation provides mentoring, social and emotional health support, health and wellness education, anti-bullying reporting, and community education. For the past three years, Tonya has shared her story and used her experience as a fourth-grade teacher to help her design education and prevention programs for families.
Lowell Community Charter Public School
Massachusetts mom and community advocate Leah Okimoto founded Aaron’s Presents after her second child, Aaron, sadly passed away in infancy. Honoring the legacy of her son, the program gives middle school students the opportunity to lead a project to benefit people, animals, or the environment. The first program participant provided reflective vests and whistles to students walking to school in the dark to help them feel safe. Since then, Aaron’s Presents has mentored over 2,000 youth in Lowell, MA, and the surrounding area, benefiting over 48,000 people. Since October 2021, more than half of 6th to 8th graders have joined and completed 80 projects, including volunteering at animal shelters, cleaning streets, working with foster children, supporting Afghan refugees, leading sports clinics, and more. Leah and other Aaron’s Presents mentors spend one lunch period each week helping students plan their projects, creating an environment where students feel empowered to make meaningful contributions to their community. Her work has developed a cycle of caring that is now embedded in the culture at Lowell Community Charter Public School, with older students setting the example for younger students who look forward to their opportunity to give back.
New America School-Las Cruces
Las Cruces, NM
Margarita Porter’s school, New America School – Las Cruces, serves teenage students who are English learners and young parents, or have previously dropped out of school. Last year, Margarita led the school in opening a child care center to provide a safe place for their school community’s youngest members and make it possible for students with children to continue their education. The center provides care for students during their time at the school as well as after they graduate, when they start college or trade school. While 100% of the school’s students qualify for support themselves, Margarita has also helped provide opportunities for her students to give back in ways that they can. For nine years, the school has held a donation drive to collect personal hygiene items for a local shelter-collecting over 400 pounds of needed items this year. And, New America School – Las Cruces is the only school in the area to attend school on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which they have transformed into a day of organized service—a model that other area schools plan to replicate.
Dr. Jeremy Sager
Dr. Jeremy Sager leads the team at Nashville Prep with compassion, trust, and high standards. He has been with the school for 12 years, rising from an English teacher to assistant principal, and finally as the school’s principal in 2021. Coming into position in the midst of the pandemic, he immediately focused on building a positive, strong school culture. Implementing activities for the entire school community, such as quarterly “Food, Fun, and Fellowship” events, quarterly student awards, and weekly celebrations to recognize teachers and students, quickly helped to boost morale and build a sense of belonging. Additionally, Jeremy built out the teacher support and coaching program, biweekly teacher touchpoints, and teachers superlatives to ensure his staff feels motivated and remains positive at a time when many teachers are struggling. While raising morale throughout the school, Jeremy remains focused on achieving his school’s overall goal of setting students up for future academic success. The school uses weekly data scoreboards to track student progress and incorporate data-driven instruction protocols into teacher practice.
Gwen E. Samuel
Connecticut Parents Union
As an education and social justice advocate, Gwen Samuel has founded three Connecticut-based organizations: The Connecticut Parents Union, the State of Black Connecticut Alliance, and the Meriden Kids Walk Safe Coalition – Safe Routes to School Initiative. Driven by her motivations as a parent, she has also helped parent empowerment bills become state law, including a bill inspired by California’s “Parent Trigger Law,” which now requires low-performing schools in Connecticut to implement parent-school governance councils. Gwen also helped influence a law preventing felony arrest of parents who enroll their students in schools outside of their zip code. In 2017, Gwen launched a parent-led workshop, Urban Experience in Family and Community Engagement, providing educators and school leaders with tools and strategies to build sustainable relationships with diverse parents, families, and marginalized communities in the educational system. As a public school parent, she believes every parent should be involved in their child’s academic, social, and emotional journey.
Odyssey Charter School
Melissa Tracy, a former Delaware STEM Teacher of the Year, utilized the flexibility of the charter school model to design a combined social studies and STEM program in urban farming which produces food for the school and surrounding community each month. Her students have a hydroponic learning lab in their classroom as well as traditional raised garden beds and have donated over 5,000 pounds of fresh produce to individuals in need. Her program is now being replicated in a nearby district school, complete with a student-to-student mentoring program. Melissa makes learning fun for her students in other ways, with a popular History of Rock & Roll course, and is helping her school become one of only 50 schools in the country to implement a pilot AP African American studies program.
Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools
New York City, NY
As the co-founder of Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools in New York, Eric Tucker approaches his work through the belief that every learner—regardless of race, culture, gender, or difference in learning style—deserves access to a high-quality education. As a child, Eric struggled with undiagnosed learning disabilities. As an adult, he was diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and language acquisition delays. Due to his late diagnosis, he did not receive services that could have helped him learn in school. His personal experience drove him to create the Educate All Learners Alliance website, featuring resources on teaching students with learning disabilities. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Eric helped his team engage with families to build plans for their students with IEPs. In addition, Eric created a community fund for students and families facing challenges, such as providing groceries for those in need and providing sensory materials for students with ADHD.
Community and Communications Coordinator
Island Montessori Charter School
Blair Williams creates opportunities for all of Island Montessori School’s preschool through eighth-grade students to participate in community service on campus and at locations throughout New Hanover County, NC. Over the past year, she has led her school community in monthly fundraisers to assist local organizations. For each event, she creates a true opportunity for service learning to become a part of the school’s curriculum, with representatives from each organization coming to classrooms to talk to students about their needs and how they and their families can help. Blair also supported individual and small-group student-led service projects that included grant-writing—including two groups that received the grants requested to fund their projects! Additionally, Island Montessori’s middle school students accrued over 300 hours of service at several organizations, including a homeless shelter, bird rescue, and foster family support group. Not only is Blair helping to provide much-needed support in her community, she’s ensuring that her students find their own passion and commitment to serving others.