About us

Leadership Team

We are the people who lead the Aspire Home Office, which provides support to each and every Aspire school throughout our ecosystem, from California to Tennessee. Our backgrounds are as varied as our titles, but one thing is consistent – our commitment to supporting students and staff as best we can in the spirit of College for Certain.

Carolyn Hack, Chief Executive Officer
Delphine Sherman, Chief Financial Officer
Mary Cha-Caswell, Chief Operating Officer
D'Lonra Ellis, General Counsel
Mala Batra, Chief of Staff
Allison Leslie, Area Superintendent, Memphis
Kate Ford, Area Superintendent, Los Angeles
Kimi Kean, Area Superintendent, Bay Area
Lane Weiss, Area Superintendent, Central Valley
James Gallagher, Vice President of Education
Bess Kennedy, Vice President of Advancement
Kara Maguire, Vice President, People





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Carolyn Hack, Chief Executive Officer 

Carolyn was formerly the Chief Operating & Financial Officer at Uncommon Schools. She joined Uncommon Schools as Director of Finance in the summer of 2006 and began serving on the leadership team in 2009. In her role, Carolyn oversaw core school support services – finance, real estate, human resources, infrastructure, data management and application support, product solutions, legal and development. During Carolyn’s tenure, Uncommon has expanded to 42 high quality schools in the Northeast and was awarded the 2013 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. Prior, she worked at Anchor, Inc. where she was responsible for the financial management of the organization, strategic planning, the development of a new evaluation model, the oversight of a capital renovation project, and fundraising.

Carolyn taught high school mathematics and coached basketball and soccer for five years in Northern California. She received her B.A. in Economics from Johns Hopkins University, M.A. from Stanford University's Graduate School of Education, and M.B.A from Columbia Business School, where she was elected to Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society and was awarded the faculty-bestowed prize for Nonprofit and Public Management. In addition, Carolyn was selected as a Broad Fellow in 2007 and a Pahara-Aspen Fellow in 2014.

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Delphine Sherman, Chief Financial Officer

Delphine Sherman is responsible for the financial management of Aspire and oversees the finance and accounting teams. Prior to joining Aspire in May 2009, 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.  She has 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. Delphine holds an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College and an MBA from UC Berkeley.

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Mary Cha-Caswell, Chief Operating Officer

Mary joins Aspire with over 20 years of experience in business management, operations and information technology. Having spent the majority of her career with Gap, Inc., Mary has extensive experience leading teams, transformative projects and navigating organization-wide change while running domestic and international businesses.  In her role, she will oversee Aspire’s Operations, People, Data & Assessment and Technology teams.  Mary also serves on the Board of Directors for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

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D’Lonra Ellis, General Counsel

D’Lonra joins Aspire after working in San Francisco for the past decade, most recently at Gap, Inc. in the position of Senior Corporate Counsel. Previously, she worked as a Litigation Associate for Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin, PC and before that was a Loaner Attorney for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. D’Lonra has been connected to charter schools since 2007 by serving on two Boards in Oakland –she is currently the Chair of the Lighthouse Community Charter School Board, and Vice-Chair of Leadership Public Schools’ Board. She is also a Board member of the Seven Stories Institute in NY, NY. She holds a B.A. from Columbia University and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.

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Mala Batra, Chief of Staff

Mala Batra joined Aspire in 2011 and has managed various functions including strategy, growth, and operations - overseeing the launch of six new schools, designing the organization's strategic planning process, and leading Aspire through the selection process of Memphis as the its first expansion city outside of California. Most recently, she has been working to evolve the central support structure to ensure effective and efficient support for Aspire's 38 schools and 4 regions.
Prior to joining Aspire, Mala held project management roles at Levi Strauss & Co. and Gap Inc. and worked as a consultant for Deloitte. Mala holds a B.S. from University of California, Berkeley and an M.B.A from Harvard Business School.

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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, co-leading the Instructional Coach team.Alli began her education career 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. 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.

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Kate Ford,  Area Superintendent - Los Angeles

Kate comes to Aspire from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation where she was a Senior Program Officer on the State and District Network Team led by Aspire’s founder, Don Shalvey.  Kate oversaw education grants to The College Ready Promise (Alliance, Aspire, Green Dot, and PUC) and to the states of California, Tennessee, and New Mexico.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Kate was the Executive Director/Principal of Peabody Charter School in Santa Barbara. She spent 20 years as a director/principal in public, charter, and private elementary and secondary schools in Lodi, San Jose, and Phoenix; and she was a middle and high school English and drama teacher for fifteen years. Kate was Regional Vice President for Advantage Charter Schools, where she oversaw the management and educational programs of several schools located in Texas and Arizona. In addition, Kate has received two Educator of the Year awards.

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Kimi Kean, Area Superintendent - Bay Area

Kimi Kean joins Aspire after serving as Regional Executive Officer for the Oakland Unified School District.  Prior to serving as an Executive Officer, Kimi was principal of Acorn Woodland Elementary school in Oakland.  She first joined OUSD as a Spanish Bilingual Teacher and then as the Teaching & Learning Coordinator.  She became a principal resident with New Leaders for New Schools for both Chabot Elementary and Acorn Woodland before becoming the principal.

Kimi has been active in leadership roles serving on various committees including; Oakland Mayor's Education Cabinet Attendance Committee, Regional Governance Task Force, Community Schools Strategic Site Plan Executive Committee and the Site Governance Committee. Kimi attended the University of California - Berkeley for her undergraduate degree and Columbia University, Teachers College for her graduate degree.

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Lane Weiss, Central Valley Area Superintendent

Lane Weiss is rejoining Aspire as the Central Valley Area Superintendent after having been the Superintendent of Saratoga Union School District for the last 12 years.  Lane started his career at Aspire in 2001 as the Founding Principal of our Aspire River Oaks Charter School and Aspire Benjamin Holt College Preparatory Academy in Stockton.  Prior to joining Aspire, Lane was a music teacher, the vice principal at Davis Elementary, principal at Lakewood Elementary School, curriculum coordinator of math, science, music, and physical education, and served as Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools in the Lodi Unified School District.

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James Gallagher, Vice President of Education

James joined Aspire in 2004; when he began as a high school Humanities teacher at Aspire Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy. During his 5 years at Wilson Prep, James served as lead teacher and Dean of Academics.  In 2009, after teaching one year at Aspire California College Preparatory Academy, James joined the Instructional Coach team as a Secondary Humanities Coach.  In his most recent role as Sr. Director of Instruction, James has led both our Teacher Effectiveness initiatives and our Aspire-wide Instructional Coach team. James earned his Bachelors degree from Binghamton University and a law degree from George Washington Law School.

Bess Kennedy, Vice President of Advancement

While Bess has been in the law field for the past decade, working in San Francisco as Litigation and Employment Counsel for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP (formerly Bingham McCutchen, LLP), she has been connected to Aspire over the years. She started as a 4th grade teacher at East Palo Alto Charter School (EPACS) in 1999 (before it was an Aspire school)! Then in 2001 she helped co-found the Development office at EPACS creating the foundation for a fundraising program at the school. Bess has remained on the EPACS/EPAPA Advisory Board ever since, which she also helped establish. Bess holds a BA in Philosophy from Stanford University and a JD from New York University School of Law.

Kara MaGuire, Vice President, People

joins Aspire after seven years with Uncommon Schools, where she most recently led teams managing Recruitment, Diversity and Talent Development for 50 charter schools in the Northeast. Previous to Uncommon, Kara was a founding staff member of Iridescent, a non-profit that brings high quality science education to urban communities, as well as a 6th grade math and science teacher with LAUSD. Kara was a Teach For America corps member and also served TFA as an Assessment Designer, Professional Learning Community Facilitator and Curriculum Specialist at the Los Angeles Institute. Kara graduated from the University of Puget Sound with dual degrees in Business Leadership and Theatre Arts, as well as from Loyola Marymount University with a Master of Arts in Teaching.