An equitable, just educational system that meets the needs of all students as it prepares them for success in our complex, rapidly changing world.
The Highlander Institute cultivates and disseminates innovative education solutions that improve educator and system capacity to provide personalized experiences for every learner.
The Highlander Institute is named after the Highlander Folk School, a social justice leadership training school and cultural center located in New Market, Tennessee known for its role during the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others were trained as activists at the center, returning with new skills to create change within their own communities.
From this lineage, we believe that innovative educational practice are a catalyst for social change.
Founded in 1990 as Children of Promise, the Institute was more of an idea than an organization until 1999 when philanthropists David and Kim Dunn committed multi-year gifts to help the emergent Institute develop programs and expand services.
In 2005, a dynamic collaboration with the Highlander Charter School was the catalyst for our new mission-driven strategy of supporting “all kids”, expanding our target audience from students with diagnosed learning differences (LD) to all students. Recognizing that proven interventions for LD students are also effective for a large percentage of struggling students, we expanded programming for students, teachers and families.
In 2006, the launch of the Hasbro Center for Teaching Excellence (through generous multi-year support from Hasbro Children’s Fund) established the Institute as a credible regional provider of high quality professional development.
By 2011, the Highlander Institute shifted again- this time, realizing that the dawn of new educational technology was opening the door for “blended” methods to reach all students. It was clear that the innovation in personalizing education was not only in the approach, but in the ability to utilize technology to scale the impact beyond a few rockstar teachers, lighthouse classrooms, or lab schools.
Today, the Highlander Institute services are directed at improving education by focusing on the educator, providing unique, tailored, embedded supports at the classroom, school and district level. The Highlander Institute specialized in blended and personalized learning models that are focused on creating equity through education. The Institute designs and implements proof-of-concept work, building not only the tools that enable districts to diagnose problems and design solutions from a student-centered perspective but also the capacity-building strategies that energize local educators to customize Institute knowledge and experience, mobilizing home-grown teams of personalized learning specialists.
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As the Executive Director, Dana is responsible for overseeing all areas of service and specialty within the Institute, as well as strategic planning and organizational effectiveness. Dana is driven by social justice and a deep interest in dismantling convention to meet the changing needs of all learners in this digital age. Dana worked as an administrator at Highlander Charter School, where she created and implemented a comprehensive Expanded Learning Time movement. Active in the community, she sits on multiple state and local boards, committees and working groups. She holds graduate degrees in Anthropology (UMass-Amherst) and Urban Education Policy (Brown University) and lives in Cranston with her husband and two children.
As the Chief Education Officer, Shawn manages the Institute’s personalized and blended learning initiatives. Shawn also leads the FUSE RI fellowship and co-founded various programs including the EdUnderground, EdTechRI, and Metryx, a start-up software company building flexible formative assessment tools for educators where he serves as CEO. Shawn earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan and his Master’s in Education at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA and served as a founding faculty member of the Highlander Charter School before joining the Institute in 2011.
Cathy Sanford is an experienced educator, education consultant, and nonprofit administrator. She has consulted as an adjunct faculty member of the Brown University Graduate School of Education, and has participated as a Board member of the RI Branch of the International Dyslexia Association and of Breakthrough Providence. She is a founding board member of Decoding Dyslexia RI. Cathy leads Research & Development efforts at Highlander Institute. As the first Director of Programs for the Institute, she launched programming and strategic priorities for the organization, and built a regional network of educators spanning four states and dozens of communities and districts. Before her move to the Institute, Cathy coordinated curriculum at Highlander Charter School, a Pre-K-12 urban school that specializes in supporting students with diverse learning styles. Prior to this role, she taught math at the Oundle School in Northamptonshire, England, and the Wheeler School in Providence, RI. Cathy holds a BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia and an MA in Education Policy Analysis from Stanford University. She lives with her husband and two daughters in southeastern Massachusetts.
Erin is responsible for overseeing accounting functions at the Institute. She ensures that the organization is using best practice in monitoring and reporting on income and expenses, with a keen eye on the bottom line. Erin, her husband, and their three children live in MA.
Eric Butash is Director of Operations, Highlander Institute, an innovation “hub” for redesigning K12 classrooms in to be more personalized. He is responsible for the design, creation, and operations of various information technology systems as related to implementing Highlander’s nationally recognized FUSE model for blended learning. Prior to joining the Highlander team, Eric spent 15 years in various technology leadership roles across K-12. He currently serves as the Sr. Advisor to the K12 National Advisory Council on Cybersecurity Executive Board, CommonSense Media National Ambassador and treasurer of RISTE (Rhode Island Society of Technology Educators) Organization. He has worked with RI Department of Education on various statewide initiatives, including Erate 2.0, Wireless Classroom Initiative, Ed-Fi Data Team, and many others. As a featured speaker, Eric will present “Digital Citizenship Credit Score: Empower your Students and Teachers to Confront the Hidden Risks and Potential Benefits of their Digital Footprint".
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As the Director of Implementation at the Highlander Institute, Kara oversees the Institute’s consulting work with schools and districts. Kara coordinates professional learning services, manages a team of Educational Strategies Specialists and works closely with partners to ensure the successful implementation of blended and personalized models. With a background in Special Ed. Administration and 6 years as a technology implementation specialist, Kara has experienced first hand the transformative impact of high quality, technology- enhanced classroom instruction. Kara lives in Massachusetts with her family.
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Laura Jackson is the Program Director at the Highlander Institute working closely with the Program Managers to support their work. Additionally, Laura designs and delivers professional learning and coaching services to elementary and secondary educators on a variety of topics including blended learning and formative assessment. Prior to joining the Institute, Laura served as a RTTT Assessment Specialist at the Rhode Island Department of Education and taught 5th and 8th grade English Language Arts. She has a BA in Communication from Wake Forest University and an M.Ed in Teaching and Curriculum from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She lives in Stonington, CT.
As the Institute’s Design Director, Stephanie is responsible for identifying design opportunities that help further the work of the organization and for bringing these opportunities from concept to reality. Her specialities include product development, business & marketing strategy, visual design for print & web, and implementing design thinking to drive innovation. She joined the Highlander Institute in 2011 as a co-founder of the organization’s first incubated startup software product, Metryx.
Danielle is the Research and Evaluation Manager at Highlander Institute. Before joining the Institute, she worked as the Assistant Director of Data and Research at the Center for Leadership and Educational Equity and as the TSLP Data Coach in the Providence Public School District. Previous to her career in educational data systems she worked in fundraising at Brown University and Rhode Island Public Radio. Creating accessible data is her passion and she is excited to work with even more educators in the state now that she is at Highlander.
Prior to joining Highlander, Michaela taught third grade at a private school in Warwick for 12 years. Michaela is most looking forward to utilizing the organizational and planning skills she developed through her teaching career in a new opportunity, while still keeping her hand in education. She lives in Warwick with her husband and daughter.
As our Administrative Assistant, Emily is responsible for administrative and office support activities, helping to develop systems through the organization, fielding telephone calls, receiving and directing visitors, supporting special projects, event planning and execution, establishing filing systems, and keeping the office running. This is her first professional role since graduating from Bridgewater State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Management with a focus on Marketing in 2017. She currently resides in Providence with her boyfriend and two cats.
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Roshni Lakhi is the EdTechRI and Syrafuse Program Manager, leading the organization’s operations in New York. She is a former Teach For America corps member, during which she taught 7th and 8th grade math and was the Director of Technology Integration in Providence, RI. She is a founding member of the EdUnderground and EdTechRI initiatives, bringing the best of educational technology to educators to enhance student learning.
Maeve is the Program Manager overseeing the Fuse RI Fellowship. Before starting at the Institute, Maeve was a founding high school math teacher at Village Green Virtual Charter School in downtown Providence, and also taught English as a Second Language through Fulbright Bulgaria. She lives in Providence, RI.
Megan is the Program Manager for Fuse MA, a partnership with The Education Cooperative (TEC) to bring the Fuse Fellowship to its Massachusetts districts. Prior to joining the Institute, Megan taught Special Education and ELA, created educational resources at WGBH Educational Foundation, and worked to leverage technology to enhance communication and curriculum for Newton Public Schools. Most recently, Megan directed the MassNET Program for LearnLaunch Institute, providing support for Boston Public School teachers in the design and implementation of blended and personalized learning strategies. Meg is thrilled to be joining the Highlander team and looking forward to collaborating with TEC, their districts and teachers. She has a BA in English from Northeastern University and an M.Ed from the University of Massachusetts. Meg lives in Waltham, MA.
Nick is the program manager for Fuse Architect, an Institute initiative to launch 8 student-centered learning pilots at RI high schools. Prior to joining the Institute Nick was consulting with and providing research services to education organizations. As a former teacher and 21st CCLC director Nick enjoys moving across the lines of practice and research to fully appreciate best practices and identify breakthrough system designs.
Born and raised in New York City, Karina graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in Anthropology and received her masters from Brown University in Urban Education Policy. Karina has had great opportunities working and teaching students from the south side of Chicago and from her hometown in Brooklyn. She previously interned at PPSD with the Ethnic Studies program assisting with the development of the program and its curriculum during their pilot year. She also worked with the New York office of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform as their Data and Research Analyst and worked alongside community organizations across the United States on projects around equity and culturally responsive education. As part of the impact team, Karina aims to support, monitor, and learn from the different programs led by Highlander in order to strengthen her team's influence and impact on the schools and teachers. With this position she hopes to learn and grow with the educators in Rhode Island and support the different programs and efforts led by Highlander to support the teaching work-force while promoting blended and personalized learning.
Vera is an Educational Strategies Specialist at the Highlander Institute. Before joining the Institute, she taught 8th grade math in Central Falls, where she had previously worked as an AmeriCorps Education Fellow. Vera's fellowship experience made it clear that education was where she belonged, leading her to pursue a Masters in Teaching at Brown University. Prior to her career in education, Vera lived in Boston where she worked in corporate communications and community relations. Born in the Philippines and raised in Rhode Island, Vera is thrilled to now be working with teachers across the ocean state.
As an Educational Strategies Specialist, Malika will be collaborating on project implementation and coaching support for Fuse Architect schools. As a former founding science teacher at one of Rhode Island's first blended learning high schools, and as a former innovation specialist for the Providence Public School District, Malika continues to be inspired and driven by the thinking behind building systems and structures that empower students individually and collectively by facilitating opportunities for rigorous and authentically engaging learning that inspires students to love to learn, to dream big, and to develop the tools and motivation to think critically and solve problems in their lives and communities. She believes that the most important lever of change in education is at the classroom level and is super excited to work with our amazing educators to build out their plans for student-centered learning.
Nicole joined the Highlander Institute as an Educational Strategies Specialist in January of 2018 where she works with administrators and teachers to further support students on their individual journey through personalized and blended learning. Nicole brings passion, talent, and a great deal of experience to the team. As a former educator for the Cumberland School Department, she focused her instruction on enhancing personalized learning for her students. During that time, she also worked as an Instructional Technology Coach alongside teachers, to promote purposeful technology integration in the classroom. Nicole received a Bachelor’s Degree from Rhode Island College in Secondary Education with a Middle-Level Endorsement. She is excited to work with innovative educators both on the ESS team and other educators around Rhode Island to spread the great work of personalizing and blended learning for all students.
As an Educational Strategies Specialist, Michael supports classroom, building, and district level educators in the planning, design, and implementation of high quality blended and personalized learning. Michael is passionate about project-based learning, educational equity, and professional learning networks as means of empowering teachers and providing students with the skills they need to succeed. Michael was a founding teacher at High Tech High’s newest middle school in Chula Vista and worked as an elementary school teacher in Brooklyn and Harlem. In addition to teaching, Michael worked as a research assistant to Tony Wagner on his book Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, and has experience as part of two fast-growing education technology companies supporting district leaders. Michael earned his undergraduate degree at Vassar College and his Master’s in Education at Bank Street College in New York City. He lives in Providence with his wife, Rachel, and their daughter, Hannah.
Mike is extremely excited to be joining the Highlander team as an Education Strategy Specialist. As an ESS Mike is focused on helping to bridge the equity gap in student learning through personalized, blended, and data-driven instruction. Prior to working at Highlander, Mike taught both 1st and 5th grade, as well as working as the Science and Technology Coach for Foster Public Schools in Foster RI. Mike holds a Bachelors of Fine Arts from the University of Rhode Island, and Master of Arts in Teaching with a focus in Elementary and Elementary Special Education from Johnson & Wales University. It is at JWU that Mike received training in P-BL (project-based learning) & UbD (understanding by design). Mike is looking forward to learning, collaborating, and making connections with like-minded educators and districts. Mike lives in Warwick, RI with his wife, Megan, and their daughter, Julia.
Melinda was born and raised in New York City and moved to Rhode Island to attend college. She received her B.A. in Psychology from Brown University and then her Teacher Certification from Roger Williams University. She has been an educator since 1994- working in both early childhood and elementary school settings. She is passionate about meeting all students where they are and supporting teachers in her new role at Highlander as an Educational Strategies Specialist. She lives in Johnston, RI and is blessed with her wonderful partner, her two sons, and her dog.
After 20 years as an elementary classroom teacher in Warwick, Dawn has decided to follow her passion and join the Highlander Institute as an Educational Strategies Specialist. She appreciates problem solving and collaborating with colleagues, always finding ways to positively impact the learning of all students. She currently lives in Coventry, RI with her partner, three step-children and three dogs.
As a member of the Educational Strategies Specialist team, Christina has the privilege to work with administrators, teachers, and students to realize their visions of personalization. Christina believes that Blended Learning is the lever for radical change in education and supporting student agency and equity. Before working at the Highlander Institute, Christina supported students and teachers as a behavioral and academic interventionist, taught 4th grade in an intentionally diverse charter school, and taught K-12 in a residential behavioral health facility in Honolulu, HI. Christina holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Rhode Island, and a Master’s in Teaching from Rhode Island College. She lives in Portsmouth, RI with her husband, Matt, and her twin boys, Daniel and Benjamin.
Maureen started her career in Washington, DC as a Teach for America corps member. She taught 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th grade in both a traditional public school and at DC Prep, a charter school. While teaching at DC Prep Maureen also served as a Mentor teacher for new and veteran educators. After leaving the classroom, Maureen directed the Brown History / Social Studies MAT program and did national consulting around teacher coaching and professional development. Most recently, Maureen directed federal early childhood poverty programs in Providence, including a Kindergarten Prep program in the OIneyville community. Coaching, teacher development, and working for equity in education are Maureen’s passion. Maureen has a BA from Trinity College and a Masters in Education from Harvard University. Maureen lives in Cranston with her husband, son and daughter.
As a Research Assistant, Charlie will aggregate resources for educators that will be embedded in the Walkthrough tool and support production of the Blended and Personalized Learning Conference. Her research for the Walkthrough tool will include finding curated tools to support teachers in innovative blending and personalized learning technologies. For her work with the Blended and Personalized Learning Conference, she will contribute to the website, assist in project management, and collect data on emerging technologies. For the past three years, she taught 7th grade English Language Arts and Just Words at a school in the Bay Area for students with language-based learning disabilities, specifically Dyslexia. While there, she supported students’ emerging proficiency with innovative iPad apps that supported literacy and allowed differentiated, dynamic learning. Prior to this opportunity, she taught English and History at public high school in Queens, NY. While there, she merged traditional educational frameworks with emerging tech to support holistic learning. She earned her B.A. at the University of Pennsylvania in English Literature and Creative Writing, and her M.A. in Secondary Education, Teaching English at Teachers College at Columbia University. She is currently an M.A. candidate in Urban Education Policy at Brown University.
Do we live in a society that can service universal access and equitable opportunities in education? If so, what structures must we manipulate to make this ideal a reality? My goal in life is to manifest an environment where every single person in our country can recognize and appreciate the art of learning and use this to realize their own lifelong potential. Once I complete my Master’s degree in Urban Education Policy, I will ground my learnings in the classroom as a teacher. From there on, I will continue to garner the tools necessary in having the agency to provoke progress of thought and action in our communities. My goals are shaped by optimism and the determination to dismantle the tyranny of thought that impedes effectual change.
Zack joined the Highlander Institute through an internship partnership with Brown University, where he is a current A.M. candidate in Urban Education Policy. During his assignment as research intern, Zack will focus both on exploring alternate ways to train and certify educators within the Rhode Island frameworks and context and developing strategies and digital platform solutions for observing, assessing, and supporting teachers in our community. Zack’s research will be centered on expanding and maximizing the quality of alternative certification pathways and streamlining the walkthrough and feedback processes for Educational Strategies Specialists and their cooperating teachers. Zack first developed his eagerness to explore these innovations as a traditional pathway program completer at the University of Rhode Island School of Education, where he also received his B.A. in Secondary Education and History. After completing his teacher preparation, he spent the last school year teaching Grade 6 Geography in the Fall River Public Schools, where he both attended school and worked as a substitute teacher during his undergraduate studies. In addition to teaching, Zack draws on his experience as an administrative associate for BMC Durfee Summer Programs and an audio-visual engineering supervisor for the district to inform his intuition about how urban districts function from multiple points of view. He continues to fuel his passions for teaching and studying history as a researcher and presenter at King’s Chapel, a national historic site on the Boston Freedom Trail. When he is not exploring topics in education, Zack enjoys performing and recording music, and he can be seen playing his guitar in local pit bands and at several venues in the South Coast. He also loves playing basketball and golf, networking in his community, and spending time at home with his four younger siblings.
Nick has worked in higher education technology for the past seven years for two Fortune 500 education companies, founded (and closed) a startup, and been a part of the executive team of a seed stage ed tech startup based in Cambridge, MA. He is a founding board of trustee for Argosy Collegiate Charter School, a proposed grade 6-12 college preparatory school focused on serving low-income families in Fall River, MA. Nick is also a City Year Boston mentor and an adjunct professor at the Johnson & Wales University College of Business in Providence, RI. Nick is a graduate of Wesleyan University (CT), and also holds an MBA from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Andrea Castaneda, Innovation Team
Tulsa Public Schools
Linda Cohen, Lawyer
Highlander Charter School board member
Wendy Drexler, Independent Consultant
Rose Mary Grant, Head of School
Highlander Charter School
John Muggeridge, Founder and CEO
Kenny Nimley, PhD Candidate, Information Studies
Willa Perlman, Managing Partner and Founder
Beth Rabbitt, CEO
The Learning Accelerator
Elizabeth Riker, Deal Partner
Joseph South, Chief Learning Officer