RISPE's 5th Anniversary Celebration

March 27, 2024 | 6:00pm - 9:00pm

Welcome Letter

Dear Friend,

Tonight, we celebrate the Rhode Island School for Progressive Education’s (RISPE) 5th Anniversary. This year’s theme, “Forward Together,” commemorates our renewed commitment to promoting educational equity and transformative learning. It marks the start of a new chapter for RISPE, filled with impactful initiatives and collaborative endeavors aimed at reshaping the public educational landscape of Rhode Island.

We honor those who have championed our cause and significantly advanced our mission. We extend our most profound appreciation to Secretary of State Gregg Amore, Karla Vigil and Carlon Howard of the Equity Institute, Dr. Stephanie Downey Toledo, and the Central Falls School District. Their exemplary contributions mirror the very essence of RISPE’s vision – building an educational system grounded in diversity, equity, and inclusivity.

Thank you for standing with RISPE as we celebrate our past achievements and forge ahead with determination toward a brighter, more equitable future for education in Rhode Island and beyond. Our 5th Anniversary is a milestone and a springboard for the exciting journey ahead.

Here’s to the next chapter of our journey together.


Mary Harrison, Chair
Christine W. Alves, President

Mary Harrison


Christine W. Alves


About Us

The Rhode Island School for Progressive Education (RISPE) is more than just another educational institution. It is a movement that aims to bring about positive change within the public school system of Rhode Island. 

RISPE was founded as a startup in Central Falls and was granted approval to operate as a fully independent nonprofit organization by the Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education on March 20, 2019. The organization was founded by Christine Alves, Melanie Griffith, and Tori Thomson and is deeply committed to social justice. RISPE believes that education is a fundamental pillar for a thriving democracy and a brighter future for all.

A Vision Rooted in Personal Experience

President Christine Alves embodies the core values of RISPE. She grew up in a diverse community in Queens, where she developed a love for learning. However, attending a predominantly white boarding school on a scholarship exposed her to the harsh reality of educational inequality. This experience, combined with her background as a child of Trinidadian immigrants, ignited Christine’s passion for ensuring that all students have access to quality education and teachers who reflect their own backgrounds. Christine’s story is not just personal; it serves as the driving force behind RISPE’s mission to bridge the gap between the demographics of Rhode Island’s student population and its teaching workforce.

Building Bridges Through a Residency Model

RISPE offers a distinctive residency-style graduate program for individuals aspiring to become educators and serve Rhode Island’s urban public schools. This innovative approach goes beyond traditional teacher preparation by combining rigorous master’s degree coursework with a year-long, immersive classroom residency under the guidance of experienced mentors. Graduates emerge fully prepared – with academic strength and practical skills, as well as real-world experience necessary to excel in any classroom setting. They are equipped to understand the unique challenges and opportunities faced by urban schools, with a focus on fostering a generation of educators who can make a lasting impact on their students’ lives.

Diversity is Strength: A Commitment in Action

RISPE acknowledges the significance of having a teaching workforce that represents the diverse communities it serves. RISPE recruits over 77% of educators who identify as people of color, which indicates their commitment to removing barriers. Research has shown that students perform better academically and have higher graduation rates when they have teachers who share their background. RISPE’s dedication to diversity is not just about representation; it’s about ensuring all students have access to an educational environment that sets them up for success.

Measurable Results: Transforming Lives

Over the course of just five years, RISPE has made a significant impact on Rhode Island’s educational landscape in several ways:

  • Championing Diversity: RISPE has played a crucial role in diversifying the state’s teaching workforce, with over 77% of graduates belonging to communities of color.
  • Perfect Retention Rate: RISPE graduates boast a 100% retention rate within Rhode Island’s urban public schools.
  • Empowering Students: Every year, RISPE’s innovative programs benefit over 700 students, enriching their educational experiences and cultivating their passion for learning.
  • Building Strong Networks: RISPE collaborates with local school districts, community organizations, and educational institutions to ensure that their programs remain relevant and responsive to the evolving needs of educators and students alike.

A Vision Beyond Rhode Island

RISPE is a forward-thinking organization that envisions a future beyond the boundaries of Rhode Island. RISPE works tirelessly to develop innovative programs that address critical educational needs, with the ultimate goal of transforming education not only within the state but across the entire nation. RISPE’s innovative approach to teacher training and unwavering commitment to equity serve as a benchmark for other institutions seeking to transform the education sector.

Celebrating Our Honorees

On March 27, 2024, we come together to honor and recognize a group of exceptional honorees who have made significant contributions to the educational landscape in Rhode Island. These honorees have demonstrated a deep commitment and dedication to RISPE’s mission, and we are proud to celebrate their achievements as we mark our 5th anniversary.

Secretary of State Gregg M. Amore

The Honorable Gregg M. Amore is the Secretary of State of Rhode Island, who has dedicated most of his life to education and public service in the state. He was born and raised in East Providence and has served the community in various roles for over 30 years, including as a teacher, coach, and community leader. Before becoming the Secretary of State in 2022, he taught history, civics, and government at East Providence High School for 27 years. He also served as the Athletic Administrator for the East Providence School District.

Secretary Amore’s legislative career started in 2012 when he was elected a State Representative. Throughout his tenure, he has worked tirelessly to reform Rhode Island’s education system. His efforts have focused on improving support for English Language Learners, constructing new schools, diversifying educational staff, and making higher education more accessible.

Secretary Amore’s personal life is just as admirable as his professional one. He is married to Lee, and they have two daughters, Tess and Megan.

Karla E. Vigil and Carlon Howard | Equity Institute


Karla Vigil and Carlon Howard have made outstanding contributions to educational equity by establishing the Equity Institute. As co-founders of the institute, they have demonstrated their commitment to achieving excellence and equity in the education system.

Karla Vigil, born in El Salvador and raised in Providence, has been the driving force behind the institute’s success. As the CEO, she has played a crucial role in developing programs that promote equity and inclusivity in education. Her tireless advocacy for education professionals from historically underrepresented groups has helped to create a more diverse and inclusive education system. Her unwavering commitment to programmatic excellence has left an indelible mark on the education landscape.

Carlon Howard, the Chief Impact Officer and Co-Founder, brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Equity Institute. His passion for social science, history, and leadership has helped to shape the organization’s strategic vision and operational execution. He has been instrumental in creating a culture of innovation and accountability, ensuring that the institute’s programs are effective and impactful.

Karla and Carlon’s commitment to promoting educational equity has brought about a remarkable change, touching the lives of many.

Dr. Stephanie Downey Toledo | Central Falls School District

RISPE takes great pride in its partnership with the Central Falls School District, which is led by Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Downey Toledo and supported by Deputy Superintendent Ann Lynch.

Dr. Stephanie Downey Toledo has a wealth of experience as a special education teacher and as a leader in two of the nation’s largest urban districts. Her journey from teaching bilingual students with disabilities in the Los Angeles Unified School District to serving as Deputy CEO for Special Education for the New York City Department of Education has equipped her with the insights and determination to drive significant improvements in Central Falls. Her leadership is characterized by a relentless pursuit of excellence and equity, with a focus on reflecting the district’s diversity within its teaching staff and providing all students with the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential.

The partnership between RISPE and the Central Falls School District has been crucial in enhancing the learning experience for multilingual students. Through RISPE’s ESOL and MLL programs, we have introduced educators who possess not only the necessary linguistic skills, but also a deep cultural competence, which has significantly impacted students’ academic and social development.

RISPE's Alliance with the Central Falls School District


Central Falls is a small but heavily populated city in Rhode Island representing resilience and hope. A significant proportion of its community was born outside of the United States, resulting in a student population eager to learn, grow, and overcome language barriers. The partnership between RISPE and the Central Falls School District has been crucial in addressing multilingual learners’ unique challenges. This partnership provides them the necessary support, resources, and opportunities to thrive.

RISPE’s innovative ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and MLL (Multilingual Learner) programs have significantly improved the multilingual reality of Central Falls classrooms. Teachers trained through these programs are equipped with linguistic skills and a deep understanding of their students’ cultural nuances and educational needs. These teachers serve as symbols of possibility and pillars of strength for students navigating the complexities of learning a new language while trying to make sense of their new surroundings.

The district recently took initiatives, supported by federal COVID aid, to enhance the support system for English learners. Central Falls has made significant progress in providing these students with the dedicated attention and targeted instruction they need, which has helped to bridge learning gaps and foster a more profound sense of community and belonging among students.

RISPE has played a multifaceted role in this journey, which includes creating a classroom environment where every student feels seen, valued, and understood by providing the district with a pipeline of culturally competent educators who embody equity and inclusion values. Many of these educators share similar backgrounds with their students, making them instrumental in implementing the district’s extended-day language learning programs to enhance English proficiency and academic achievement.
We are celebrating RISPE’s 5th Anniversary and would like to highlight our exceptional partnership with the Central Falls School District. Together, we have made remarkable strides, and the “Alliance for Progress Award” presented to the district and Superintendent Stephanie Downey Toledo symbolizes our shared vision and collective impact. This award reflects our progress and limitless potential as we continue to work hand in hand, forging a future where education is a gateway to opportunity, understanding, and empowerment for every student.

Special Thanks

Acknowledgement of sponsors, donors, board members, staff, and elected officials

The Rhode Island School for Progressive Education is grateful and honored by the support of many individuals and organizations who have contributed to our journey toward transforming the educational landscape in Rhode Island.

We extend our deepest appreciation to our generous sponsors whose support has been instrumental in making RISPE’s 5th Anniversary Celebration a reality. Your unwavering commitment to our cause is truly appreciated.

We also express our heartfelt gratitude to all our dedicated donors who have generously contributed to our organization over the years. Your contributions have enabled us to continue our important work in the community.

Our Board Members deserve a special mention for their guidance, leadership, and unwavering commitment to RISPE’s mission. Thank you to:

Mary Harrison, Chair
Ron Contreras, Treasurer
Lynn Bowman, Board Secretary

Jeannie Castillo-Lapierre
Courtney Correia
Julian Dash
Jeanette Epstein
Dr. Soljane Martinez
Nicholas Trott Long
Polly Ulichny
Dr. Jeffery Williams

Their invaluable contribution has shaped our organization’s success.

We would also like to thank our hardworking staff for their tireless efforts in planning and executing this milestone event. Your dedication is truly commendable and is crucial to the growth and impact of RISPE.

Christine W. Alves, President
Melanie Griffith, Vice President of Strategy and Partnerships
Tori Thomson, Vice President of Operations and Student Services

Kim Almeida, Coordinator of Certification Programs
Stacie Belizaire, Executive Assistant and Coordinator of Special Projects
Nancy Cao Levesque, Director of Development
Stefanie Hessein, Development Officer
Ivory T. Jefferies, EdD, Recruitment and Admissions Coordinator
Brianna Johnson, Coordinator of Academic and Clinical Support
Jerre’ Snead, Director of Academics

We are grateful for our elected officials and partners who have championed our cause and advocated for the betterment of Rhode Island’s education system and community. Their partnership has been invaluable to our success.

Together, we celebrate five years of meaningful impact and look forward to continuing our journey of making a difference in the lives of Rhode Island’s students. We would like to thank everyone who has played a part in our success.

Looking Ahead

Become a Part of the Movement

If you share RISPE’s vision for an education system that is more equitable and transformative, there are several ways in which you can contribute.

  • Invest in Equity: Donations of any size can help RISPE create a conducive classroom environment where every student can thrive.
  • Share Your Expertise: You can volunteer your skills and passion to impact the lives of future educators and students directly.
  • Amplify Their Voice: Spread the word about RISPE and celebrate the power of transformative education.

Support RISPE’s Endowment Campaign

RISPE’s next critical milestone is the establishment of a significant endowment, a testament to our collective commitment to educational justice, equity, and the longevity of our mission.
We’re embarking on this exciting new chapter in partnership with the Rhode Island Foundation. This partnership marks a significant step towards securing our accreditation and embedding RISPE’s influence far into the future.
Your involvement is key to realizing this vision. We invite you to join us in this essential effort. Your support can help us continue dismantling the barriers to education and create a legacy that will benefit countless students in the coming years.
To make a contribution to the endowment, please visit our dedicated page at the Rhode Island Foundation. For those interested in learning more or discussing how we can work together to further public education in Rhode Island, please contact us at

Together, Let's Shape the Future

RISPE is an organization that is making a significant impact in the field of education. Their story is one of ambition, resilience, and collective action, and they are changing the education landscape in Rhode Island. With their efforts, they are creating a brighter future for all students nationwide. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how to get involved in RISPE’s mission, please feel free to send an email to

Our Supporters Over the Years

William and Helena Foulkes

The Joukowsky Family Foundation

Special Thanks to Our In-Kind Supporters:

Berebl Media
Lopes Liquors
Memories by Lita
Paula Thomson
Prentice Visual Media