Our Leadership

Meet the dedicated individuals behind our vision: a passionate leadership team encompassing our board, staff, and faculty, all committed to driving our mission forward.

Christine Alves

President

Christine Alves is a Co-Founder and the President of RISPE. She has been working on developing and launching RISPE since 2015. Christine has been an educator in Rhode Island for 25 years, having earned a BA in Biology and subsequently an MAT in Elementary Education, both at Brown University. Christine has been a classroom teacher, an instructional coach, a co-director of curriculum, and the director of a professional development organization. Her experience and expertise in the education field has been crucial to the success of RISPE’s development and approval by the Rhode Island Department of Education and Council on Postsecondary Education. 

As a former coach, Christine has a deep understanding of what experiences and challenges candidates need in order to grow into highly skilled, reflective, culturally competent practitioners, along with a keen eye for detail that ensures no aspect of programming is overlooked. She is also wholly committed to RISPE’s mission to recruit and retain educators of color, and believes wholeheartedly that diversifying the teacher workforce is essential to improving outcomes for public school students. When she’s not at work, Christine loves spending time with her husband and children and traveling to visit family in New York, Maryland, Florida, and Trinidad. She is currently a PhD candidate in Educational Management at Hampton University.

 

Melanie Griffith

Vice President of Strategy and Partnerships

Melanie Griffith is a Co-Founder of RISPE and the Vice President of Strategy and Partnerships. She began working on the RISPE team as Project Manager during the planning stages in January 2016. Melanie holds a BA in English from The College of Saint Rose and two master’s degrees, an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Louisiana State University. She taught writing–primarily first-year composition–at the college level at a number of institutions, including Blinn College, the College of Mount Saint Vincent, and SUNY Purchase. Melanie also spent a year in residence at NYC’s P.S. 132 Juan Pablo Duarte in Washington Heights as part of the Teaching Artist Training and Internship Program. 

Melanie brings her excellent writing and organizational skills to the team, along with a staunch belief in RISPE’s mission and in the right of all students to a high-quality, equitable public education. She is a firm believer in standing up for what is right, and uses her voice to do so whenever possible. A native New Yorker, Melanie likes to explore Rhode Island in her free time. She also enjoys traveling, reading, cooking, and spending time with her husband and their daughter Ingrid and dog Zuzu.

 

Tori Thomson

Vice President of Operations and Student Services

Tori Thomson is a Co-Founder of RISPE and the Vice President of Operations and Student Services. She holds a BA in English from the University of Rhode Island as well as an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Rhode Island College. Prior to joining the team, Tori completed a year of service with the Americorps VISTA program, and this experience led her to RISPE. Tori brings a knack for practical organization and understanding of interpersonal dynamics into her work. 

She is a proud alum of Rhode Island public schools and believes in the transformative power of excellent public education for every student. Outside of RISPE, Tori spends her time hiking, reading, and trying to find places in Rhode Island she hasn’t visited yet. She is currently a doctoral candidate (EdD) with a concentration in Workplace Learning at Northeastern University.

RISPE Staff

Kim Almeida

Kim Almeida is a Rhode Island native and public school system graduate. She holds a BA in Business Administration from Wagner College in Staten Island, New York. As an experienced higher education administrator Kim is able to see the systemic failures, challenges, and gaps in our school systems and how RISPE's express mission of diversifying Rhode Island’s teacher workforce and promoting anti-racist education can directly create the necessary change we owe our students. As RISPE's Coordinator of Certification Programs, Kim will continue her efforts creating inclusive and sustainable systems designed to evolve and adapt to the needs of the communities they serve. Kim has worked in both the New York City and Rhode Island urban public school systems and is committed to elevating efforts towards a safe and supportive educational environment that is equitable for each and every student. Outside of work, Kim enjoys travel, sports, and the ocean or any time spent with family and friends.

Kim Almeida

Coordinator of Certification Programs

Jerre' Snead

Jerre' Robinson is a New York Native and was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She has been an elementary educator for 7 years, teaching in urban schools serving predominately students of color. She has a BS and M.Ed in Early Childhood Education from Valdosta State University and has recently obtained a K-5 Mathematics Endorsement at Georgia State University. Her philosophical stance believes there is a need for instruction that promotes engagement and empowerment for students of color. She also believes that teachers who engage in this instruction will benefit education and also build towards a future of a just society. During her free time, Jerre’ loves to travel, go bowling with her family and friends, and play fetch with her husky, Chase. Jerre’ is currently a candidate for her Ed.D in Curriculum and Instruction from Georgia State University, where her research interest includes teaching mathematics for social justice.

Jerre' Snead

Director of Academics 

Nancy Cao Levesque​

For over a decade, Nancy has dedicated herself to serving nonprofit communities in Greater Boston. A graduate of Suffolk University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Applied Legal Studies, Nancy pursued a career focused on nonprofit administration, fundraising, technology management, and special events. Nancy has contributed meaningfully to organizations like Boston Arts Academy Foundation, the Museum of African American History, and YouthBuild Boston. As a first-generation college graduate, immigrant, and refugee, Nancy faced myriad challenges. Through Nancy’s own journey, she has come to understand the immense value of community engagement. Building strong connections, fostering a sense of belonging, and providing mentorship and guidance can make all the difference in the lives of underserved youth. She is committed to creating pathways for success, empowering young individuals to overcome challenges, and helping them realize their full potential. On a personal note, Nancy currently resides in the Elmhurst neighborhood of Providence with her husband, two lively feline companions, and a peppy little canine rescue. In her spare time, Nancy enjoys exploring innovative ways of cooking plant-based Vietnamese cuisines for her friends and family.

Nancy Cao Levesque

Director of Development

Stefanie Hessein

Stefanie Hessein is the Development Officer at RISPE. She grew up in New Jersey and moved to Rhode Island in 2023 to continue her nonprofit career. She has a BA in Sociology/Anthropology and a MS in Historic Preservation. Stefanie has been focused on cultural preservation throughout her education and carried it into her career by working with the community to understand their needs. She is dedicated to helping individuals thrive while respecting their cultural backgrounds. RISPE aligns with her passion and allows her to implement it through her role. She has strong organizational skills, is detail-oriented, friendly, and communicates well. In her free time, she likes to go on hikes, play with her cats, and do fun activities with friends. Stefanie is studying for her second Master's in Anthropology at CUNY Hunter College.

Stefanie Hessein

Development Officer

Stacie Belizaire

Stacie Belizaire is the Executive Assistant and Coordinator of Special Projects at RISPE. Stacie holds a BA in Communication from the University of Rhode Island. She has experience substitute teaching in several different school districts for grades K through 12. She also has experience working at a preschool as well. Stacie is very friendly, outgoing, and outspoken. She possesses exceptional skills in public speaking and has a plethora of experiences in building great connections with people. She also possesses extraordinary organizational skills and attention to detail. In addition, Stacie is ambitious and passionate about RISPE’s mission because she has experience working in a classroom setting as well as working behind the scenes in administration. In her experience, working as a substitute teacher she realized the positive impact she had on children based solely on her cultural background. From there she realized how much representation matters and how it affects children from diverse backgrounds in the school systems. Stacie is dedicated to bringing new innovative ideas that will help RISPE grow and continue to be successful in fulfilling their mission. During her free time, Stacie loves to model, act, sing, dance, and work on her podcast. Furthermore, Stacie is proud to be a part of an elite team of leaders striving to make a difference in other people’s lives.

Stacie Belizaire

Executive Assistant and Coordinator of Special Projects

Ivory T. Jefferies, EdD

Ivory Jefferies is a Rhode Island native, born and raised in Providence. Ivory holds Bachelor and Master degrees, in English and Adult Education, from The University of Rhode Island. She holds a second Masters degree in Educational Leadership from Concordia University. Ivory also possesses a Doctor of Education degree from The University of New England. Her doctoral lens has an emphasis on the experiences of Black women administrators relative to diversity, equity, and inclusion at predominantly White Institutions in higher education. She has more than 15 years of banking knowledge and experiences in customer service, coaching, training, sales, auditing, and operations management. She served the past six years in higher education helping students’ with billing, records, registration, and enrollment needs as well as financial aid. Ivory is dedicated to advancing and cultivating a culture of diversity, inclusion and belonging. She is excited to continue to promote the missions and values of RISPE. Outside of work, Ivory enjoys snuggling with her dog, Nala, and traveling with friends and family.

Ivory T. Jefferies, EdD

Recruitment and Admissions Coordinator

Brianna Johnson

Brianna Johnson is a dedicated education professional currently serving as the Coordinator of Academic and Clinical Support. Hailing from Florida and now residing in Georgia, Brianna earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Central Florida and furthered her education with a master's degree from Mercer University. Brianna's journey in education began as a substitute teacher, where she quickly identified gaps and disparities within the system. This realization fueled her commitment to making a positive impact, leading her to become a teacher for grades 5-8 over a span of six years. Throughout her teaching career, Brianna assumed various leadership roles, including grade band chair, science lead teacher, and culture team lead. Her experience extends across both urban and suburban school systems, where she passionately served diverse student populations, including students of color, those in single-gender schools, and multi-language learners. An advocate for educational equity, Brianna has tirelessly worked to bridge academic and behavioral disparities. Her efforts underscore a commitment to fostering an inclusive and supportive learning environment.

Brianna Johnson

Coordinator of Academic and Clinical Support

Ivory T. Jefferies, EdD

Ivory Jefferies is a Rhode Island native, born and raised in Providence. Ivory holds Bachelor and Master degrees, in English and Adult Education, from The University of Rhode Island. She holds a second Masters degree in Educational Leadership from Concordia University. Ivory also possesses a Doctor of Education degree from The University of New England. Her doctoral lens has an emphasis on the experiences of Black women administrators relative to diversity, equity, and inclusion at predominantly White Institutions in higher education. She has more than 15 years of banking knowledge and experiences in customer service, coaching, training, sales, auditing, and operations management. She served the past six years in higher education helping students’ with billing, records, registration, and enrollment needs as well as financial aid. Ivory is dedicated to advancing and cultivating a culture of diversity, inclusion and belonging. She is excited to continue to promote the missions and values of RISPE. Outside of work, Ivory enjoys snuggling with her dog, Nala, and traveling with friends and family.

Ivory T. Jefferies, EdD

Recruitment and Admissions Coordinator

RISPE Faculty

Zajerria Godfrey

Holding a Master's Degree in Curriculum and Instruction and nine years of experience, Zajerria Godfrey champions innovative education. With certifications from renowned institutes, she serves RISPE as an Elementary Science Instructor. Through mentorships and community engagement, Zajerria's dedication to uplift and empower is evident. She envisions a world where children are not limited by labels, dreaming of tech-based alternative educational setups for the marginalized, ensuring they reach their potential.

Zajerria Godfrey

Nicholas Santavicca, Ph.D.

Dr. Santavicca, Associate Professor of English & Communication, is the founding Director of the American Language & Cultures Institute at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. His expertise stems from his doctorate in ESL/Bilingual Curriculum & Instruction from Texas Tech University. With diverse roles across K-12 and higher education both domestically and internationally, his research focuses on reimagining assessment and curriculum for multilingual students. At RISPE, he also excels as an ESOL specialist.

Nicholas Santavicca, Ph.D.

Erika C. Tyson

Erika, a doctoral candidate at Georgia State University, delves into the literacies of Black and Brown students, advocating for asset-based curricula for over two decades. Serving in various capacities—from teaching at multiple grade levels to administrative roles—her passion for culturally responsive teaching shines brightly. With a social justice standpoint, Erika aims to craft educational spaces that recognize and celebrate the identities of students of color, all while cherishing life's moments with family.

Erika C. Tyson

Franjuan Valentine, Ph.D.

With over 20 years in multilingual education, Dr. Valentine serves as the CTE Special Education Representative in Texas. Her journey is deeply personal, driven by her neurodivergence and experiences with fostering and adopting children across the ability spectrum. She's mesmerized by the uniqueness of human cognition and learning. As an educator, she's fueled by those “got it” moments and ardently believes in embracing the multifaceted nature of learning, celebrating differences with immense zeal.

Franjuan Valentine, Ph.D.

Carol Pagan

Carol, a proud RISPE ESL Teacher Certification program graduate, has passionately served the Providence School Department for twenty-two years. Whether it's Bilingual Education, Dual Language, or Regular Education, her dedication remains unwavering. As a former ESL student and language learner herself, Carol fiercely advocates for culturally and linguistically diverse students, ensuring that educational environments honor and integrate students' rich life experiences and backgrounds.

Carol Pagan

Karen Adamec

For over two decades, Karen Adamec has transformed K-12 education. With degrees from prominent institutions, her roles span from teacher to reading specialist. Beyond public education, she consults nationwide, disseminating her expertise around literacy, assessment, and intervention systems. A staunch advocate for equity and culturally responsive instruction, Karen's drive is to bridge achievement gaps among diverse learners. Residing in Rhode Island, she cherishes moments with family and nature.

Karen Adamec

Arine Lowery

Arine, a doctoral candidate at North Carolina State University, focuses on Social Studies Education, particularly youth political activism and classroom political discourse. Her multifaceted roles as a teacher, district coordinator, and educator have enriched her insights into the educational domain. Passionate about her research, Arine continually seeks to contribute meaningfully to the realm of education. Outside academia, she finds joy in reading, shopping, and exploring new places.

Arine Lowery

Rebeca Filomeno-Nason

Amanda Portes

Kiersten Prucha

Stephanie Morrison

Ruth Gil-Johnston

Cindy Washington

Board of Directors

Mary Harrison

Mary Sylvia Harrison, Vice President for Programs at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, has championed educational initiatives throughout her career. Before joining the Foundation in 2008, she led The College Crusade Rhode Island to prominence, aiding low-income urban students. Previously, she spearheaded Times2, enhancing STEM learning for underserved learners. Holding a B.A. from Villanova and a J.D. from Antioch School of Law, Mary remains a beacon of progress in education.

Mary Harrison

Chair of the Board

Ron Contreras

Treasurer

CFO, Children’s Friend

 

Lynn Bowman

With over 20 years in education and non-profit sectors, Lynn Bowman has excelled as an administrator, consultant, coach, and teacher. Proficient in strategic planning, she fosters partnerships and educational initiatives. A graduate from Brown University and holding a Master’s from Sacramento State University, Lynn’s approach emphasizes compassion, curiosity, and inclusivity. A certified leadership coach, she's renowned for her workshops and transformative learning experiences.

Lynn Bowman

Board Secretary

Julian Dash​

With over 15 years in renewable energy, Julian Dash founded Copacity in 2012, achieving remarkable milestones in energy projects. Formerly, as Rhode Island’s Renewable Energy Fund Director, he catalyzed state’s green initiatives. An alumnus of Morgan State University and Babson College, Dash actively participates in community services, juggling his time between Providence and New York, and is deeply committed to sustainable solutions.

Julian Dash

Director

Nicholas Trott Long

Nicholas Trott Long, renowned for his legal expertise, currently serves as an arbitrator and mediator, aiding political asylees. Previously, he held notable positions in various educational and governmental bodies in Rhode Island. An author and contributor to several legal publications, Nicholas earned his B.A. from Cornell University and J.D. from Columbia University School of Law. His experience spans multiple facets of law, offering invaluable insights to the board.

Nicholas Trott Long

Director

Dr. Soljane Martinez

Educator for 20 years, Dr. Soljane Martinez has traversed roles from teacher to educational consultant. Currently at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, she has affiliations with renowned institutions and boards. With degrees from the University of Rhode Island and Johnson & Wales University, Dr. Martinez has been recognized for her impactful teaching methods and has a keen interest in cultural children's literature, reflecting her dedication to holistic education.

Dr. Soljane Martinez

Director

Dr. Jeffery Williams

Dr. Jeffery A. Williams melds spiritual guidance with social change advocacy. A graduate of Brown University, The Harvard Kennedy School, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, he’s been a beacon in both spiritual and public sectors. As the founding pastor of The King’s Cathedral, he’s authored notable books, inspiring countless with his insights. Dr. Williams continually merges faith with action, seeking societal transformation.

Dr. Jeffery Williams

Director

Polly Ulichny

Director

Retired, Former Director of Elementary Education, Brown University

Jeannie Castillo-Lapierre

Director

Business Manager, New Urban Arts

Courtney Correia

Director

School Counselor, Roger Williams Middle School

Jeanette Epstein

Director

Director of the Hamilton Institute for Outreach and Advocacy, The Wheeler School

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