James Willcox, Chief Executive Officer
James Willcox assumed leadership of Aspire Public Schools in 2009, taking over for founder Don Shalvey upon his transition to Chairman of the Board. Mr. Willcox joined the Aspire team as Chief Operating Officer in 2007. During his tenure at Aspire, this leading charter management organization has doubled in size from 17 to 34 schools and grown to serve over 12,000 students across California.
Prior to joining the management team of Aspire, Mr. Willcox was the founding Chief Operating Officer of Education for Change, an organization focused on restructuring underperforming schools as independent charter schools in partnership with the Oakland Unified School District.
Before his direct involvement in school system management, Mr. Willcox served as a Principal at New Schools Venture Fund, a philanthropic organization founded to improve the educational opportunities for underserved students across the country. Mr. Willcox has also spent time as a nonprofit consultant with The Bridgespan Group, and served as a U.S. Army officer and helicopter pilot for over seven years. He holds a B.S. from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an M.Ed. and M.B.A. from Stanford University.
Elise Darwish, Chief Academic Officer
Elise Darwish has been an executive with Aspire Public Schools since its founding and currently serves as the Chief Academic Officer. In this role she supports principals, oversees research and development pertaining to curriculum, instruction, and assessment, and manages internal professional development programs. With over 21 years of experience in charter schools, traditional public schools and private schools, Ms. Darwish was a natural choice to design the Aspire education model and oversee its implementation. She began her teaching career as a kindergarten teacher in the inner city of Chicago; since then she has worked in the roles of teacher, mentor teacher, assistant principal, administrator and curriculum coordinator.
Prior to Aspire, Ms. Darwish was the Instructional Coordinator at the San Carlos Charter Learning Center, California’s first charter school and the nation’s second. During her tenure, the school grew from 3 grades to a full K-8 program with an extensive waiting list, and became internationally recognized for its innovation. Ms. Darwish also coordinated instructional technology for San Carlos School District, managed Net Day, implemented a Local Area Network, and a Wide Area Network. Ms. Darwish holds a Masters Degree in Educational Administration from San Francisco State University and a B.S. in Early Childhood Education from the University of Illinois.
James Cleveland, Chief Operating Officer
Mr. Cleveland has made a palpable impact in the education field for almost 20 years. He started his career at SCORE! Educational Centers, a start-up supplement education company focused on student success in the elementary grades, where he eventually became the National Director of Professional Development and Recruiting. Mr. Cleveland later co-created and was the COO of InsideTrack –targeting college student success. He transitioned to Jumpstart in 2002 as the Executive Director of Jumpstart’s Northeast Region, becoming COO in 2004. In 2007, Mr. Cleveland was named CEO. In 2009 he was named one of Boston Business Journals 40 under 40 Honorees. He transitioned to the Stupski Foundation in 2011 as the Chief Talent and Administration Officer where he focused national operations, organizational culture, and strategic and organizational planning. Mr. Cleveland attended Stanford University as an undergrad and recieved a Bachelor of Science degree.
Heather Kirkpatrick, Chief People Officer
As the Chief People Officer, Heather will support all of our talent and development activities across the organization which include both Human Resources and parts of our Education team. Heather began her teaching at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, New York. Prior to teaching, she worked for several years in organizational development at a non-profit serving indigent adults. She earned her B.A. from Barnard College, her Master's in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and her Ph.D. in Education at the Stanford University School of Education.
Chris Padula, Vice President of Advancement
Chris Padula joined Aspire Public Schools as Vice President of Advancement in March 2012. In this role, Chris oversees private fundraising from individuals, foundations, and corporations; public government funding; donor management; and communications and strategic marketing efforts to support Aspire's overall organizational needs. He brings over 10 years of senior-level education leadership and fundraising experience to Aspire.
Prior to Aspire, Chris served as Western Region Executive Director at Jumpstart, an early childhood education organization promoting literacy and language skills for low-income children. He oversaw fundraising, program management, strategic partnerships, and operations serving 3,500 children annually in CA and WA, and also served on the national executive leadership team, creating organizational vision and strategy. Prior to Jumpstart, Chris spent 7 years at the national Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) in various fundraising roles, including as Vice President of Development, expanding private revenue to $20M raised annually. During his tenure, more than $100M was raised to support college access programs and college scholarships for over 5,000 recipients annually. He also served on HSF's executive leadership team during a period of significant growth and transition. Prior to his transition into education and fundraising in 2000, Chris spent a decade working in corporate marketing and business development at companies such as Bechtel Corporation, Orion Pictures, and NBC Productions. Chris is a proud graduate of Bentley University in Waltham, MA, having studied business management and marketing.
Delphine Sherman, Vice President of Finance
Delphine Sherman is responsible for the financial management of Aspire and oversees the finance and accounting teams. She joined Aspire in May 2009. Prior to joining Aspire, Delphine was the VP of Client Services at EdTec, working with dozens of charter schools across the state in a financial and operational capacity. Before joining the education finance field, Delphine was a Senior Consulting Associate at Cambridge Associates, consulting to foundations and endowments on their investment strategy and manager selection. Delphine is a graduate of Dartmouth College and has an MBA from UC Berkeley. She has also served on several non-profit boards in the Bay Area, and is currently an advisory board member for the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.
Emmile Brack, Vice President of Technology
Emmile Brack joined Aspire Public Schools in October 2008 as the second team member of Team Godzilla, Aspire's data and technology solutions team. Since she has been with Aspire, she led multiple need-finding missions to identify pain points that technology can address and implemented key operational systems.
As Vice President of Technology, Emmile leads the teams responsible for maintaining and improving Aspire's network, systems, and data infrastructure and implementing process and technology improvements that help teammates across the organization. Prior to joining Aspire, Emmile spent 5 years in finance and operations consulting with firms, such as Arthur Andersen, BearingPoint, and KPMG Consulting. She graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Finance from Santa Clara University and a MBA from The George Washington University.
Roberta Benjamin, Area Superintendent - Los Angeles
Dr. Roberta Benjamin is a 35 year public school educator who has served in the Los Angeles Unified School District as a teacher, principal, district level leader and former head of the district’s charter schools division. Dr. Benjamin has worked extensively with school reform throughout Los Angeles, including programs at Elizabeth Street and Foshay Learning Centers. She also served as liaison between the Annenberg Foundation and the Los Angeles Unified School District. Dr. Benjamin is also an Associate Professor at Loyola Marymount University.
Tatiana Epanchin, Area Superintendent - Bay Area
Tatiana Epanchin serves as Aspire's Bay Area Superintendent. Before joining the management team, Tatiana was the founding principal of Aspire ERES Academy in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland. Previously, she served as principal of Monarch Academy in East Oakland. Under her leadership, the school increased student proficiency levels from 51% to 73% in math and 29% to 45% in language arts. In 2008, Monarch Academy was awarded the National Title I Distinguished School Award for closing the achievement gap, an honor bestowed upon only 1 out of every 9,600 schools in the state. Prior to becoming principal, Tatiana taught at Monarch Academy and served as Lead Teacher for the grades 6-8 Humanities Team at Aspire's Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy, where she was also a founding teacher. She began her teaching career with Teach for America in New Orleans where she taught middle school in the Ninth Ward. Tatiana is a New Leaders for New Schools National Fellow from the 2004 cohort. She has also been a social worker in Contra Costa County, working on intensive family preservation cases. She holds a BA in sociology, a MSW and a M.Ed.
Mary Welch, Area Superintendent - Central Valley
Mary Welch was the Founding Principal of Aspire Public Schools' first campus in North Stockton in 1999, now known as Vincent Shalvey Academy, a recipient of the California Distinguished Schools Award in 2002. She was most recently the Founding Principal of Rosa Parks Academy, the 13th Aspire school and the first Aspire school within the Stockton Unified School District. Ms. Welch has been an educator for the past 33 years as both a teacher and an administrator. She has been a principal in the Lodi Unified School District and in the San Carlos School District, as wells as a district coordinator of special education. While a principal in San Carlos, her school became a California Distinguished School and a recipient of the Annenberg Torchbearer Award, given to exemplary leadership schools in the Bay Area. Ms. Welch holds a BA in Liberal Studies from Cal State Fullerton, a MA in Special Education from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Southern California.
Allison Leslie - Memphis Executive Director
Alli Leslie joined the Aspire team as a middle school writing teacher at Aspire East Palo Alto Charter School (EPACS) in 2001. She served as a lead teacher and later the principal of EPACS until 2008. During her tenure as principal, she worked with the staff to increase the use of data to inform decisions. From 2004 to 2008, EPACS's Academic Performance Index (API) grew from 724 to 833 under her leadership. After her time as principal, Alli joined the home office staff as an Instructional Coach then served as a founding team member of the Aspire Teacher Residency Program, and co-led the Instructional Coach team.
Alli began her career in education with Teach For America in Houston, Texas. She graduated from the University of California at San Diego with degrees in both Spanish and Literature and Writing, and she earned her Texas teaching credentials at the University of St. Thomas and her California teaching credentials through the University of California State Teach program. During her first year as principal, Alli completed a Master's in Administration and earned her California administration credential at University of California at Berkeley, as a fellow in the Principal Leadership Institute.