Our History

The West Michigan Leadership Academy (WMLA) works to build the capacity of school and system leaders in West Michigan to envision and enact the structures, systems, and practices necessary to realize equitable outcomes for all students.

WMLA was established in 2017 as a partnership of the NYC Leadership Academy, Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, Godwin Heights Public Schools, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kentwood Public Schools, Wyoming Public Schools, and the Kent Intermediate School District in the Greater Grand Rapids area. The partnership is generously funded and supported through the philanthropy of the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation and the Steelcase Foundation.

The first WMLA School Leader Fellowship cohort launched in June 2018 with 20 School Leader Fellows from across the WMLA partner districts. The second cohort of Fellows will be selected in early 2019.

Our Approach

School Leader Fellowship

The West Michigan Leadership Academy (WMLA) School Leader Fellowship is a three-year program of professional learning and leadership coaching for high-performing and high-potential school leaders. The WMLA cultivates leaders’ ability to confront systemic inequities and engage and inspire their school communities in envisioning and enacting the structures, systems, and practices required to achieve equitable outcomes for all students. There are two components of the WMLA School Leader Fellowship: the Professional Learning Network and one-on-one leadership coaching.

In the first year of the WMLA School Leader Fellowship, Fellows engage in a year-long professional learning series alongside peers from districts across West Michigan. The series develops and deepens Fellows’ skills in: using data to identify inequities and plan and track progress in closing gaps; identifying and supporting equitable instructional practice; and developing strong school-based leadership teams to maximize impact.

Each WMLA Fellow is matched with an expert leadership coach who works alongside them to provide support, challenge, and growth opportunities for three years. The leadership coaching is a confidential though partnership that is job-embedded, collaborative, and immediately applicable to both the day-to-day work and long-term vision of the school leader.

Customized District Services

The West Michigan Leadership Academy works with its partner districts to connect them to the resources and expertise of the full NYC Leadership Academy (NYCLA). In addition to supporting principals in the WMLA School Leader Fellowship, each WMLA partner district engages in equity-focused professional learning experiences developed and provided in collaboration with NYCLA and based on their own district approach to leadership development and support.

These services have included workshops such as Coaching for Equitable Practice and Equity SIMS; the New Principal Institute, an intensive professional learning series for first-year principals; and Executive Coaching for central office leaders.

In the News

NYC Leadership Academy launches leadership program in 5 West Michigan school districts

A program to support and develop school leaders in five urban West Michigan school districts was launched this week in an effort to improve student outcomes in Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Wyoming in the years to come.

Read full article

Meet The Fellows

Lorenzo Bradshaw

School: Brookwood Elementary

Lorenzo A. Bradshaw is the principal of Brookwood Elementary.  He has devoted the past 18 years of his career as a teacher, trainer, mentor, child advocate and administrator.  His life has been committed to serving youth, families and the community. 

He received his undergraduate degree from Johnson C. Smith University, a historically black college in Charlotte, North Carolina and pursued his M.A. from Western Michigan University. Lorenzo spends his leisure time studying educational practice all over the world.  Recently, Lorenzo participated in a Fellowship that afforded him to study in several Asian countries. He has visited the Caribbean Islands, Canada, China, Africa, Koreas and 41 of the 50 states in the U.S. He also enjoys collecting art from across the world, cooking, reading, and working out.

He loves God and has served at Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church as a youth leader.  He serves as a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters. He is also a proud member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. Grand Rapids Alumni Chapter.

Maureen Capillo

Maureen Capillo is a lifelong learner who grew up in the foothills of Eastern Kentucky and just outside of Berea, Kentucky. She learned early about caring for her environment and has spent her life striving to impart the same lessons on future generations. She attended Saint Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana on a full scholarship, graduating in 2001 with a major in
English and a minor in Justice Studies. She spent her first years as a professional in Boston working for a nonprofit that taught peace and conflict resolution in under resourced schools. Her
life changed when one of her colleagues got hired at a public Montessori school in the area. After a brief visit in 2005, she knew she would one day become a Montessorian.

She left Boston to study Spanish in Ecuador, but in 2009 earned a prestigious spot in Shady Hill’s Teacher Training Cohort (TTC) and returned to Boston to attended Lesley University, earning a Masters in Elementary Education and a Massachusetts teaching license. She earned her Montessori Certification at the Center for Montessori Teacher Education (CMTE) in New Rochelle, NY and
worked briefly at The Montessori School in Wilton, Connecticut, before finding a lead teaching position in Washington, D.C. Her tenure as a lower elementary guide at Latin American
Montessori Bilingual (LAMB), a public bilingual Montessori school, was a tremendous learning experience. In the summer of 2016, Maureen made the decision to pursue a degree and career in school administration. She worked for two years in Frederick, Maryland, attending Hood College and earning her Maryland administrative certificate, before taking the Head of School
position at North Park Montessori in Grand Rapids. She is currently a strong GRPS servant leader. As a writer, peace educator, and environmental advocate, Maureen cares deeply about the growth of high-fidelity bilingual Montessori schools in the public sector. She is a proud Episcopalian and enjoys biking to work. Reading is one of her favorite past times. She also
loves to quilt, swim, run, and knit. As a competitive swimmer and an accomplished ½ marathon runner, she has a goal of one day completing a triathlon.

Chad Conklin

Mr. Conklin is a graduate of Central Michigan University and has earned a Masters Degree in Education Leadership from Grand Valley State University. He has worked for Godwin Heights Public Schools since 2000. Chad has served the district in many capacities, including as a teacher at both North and West Elementary Schools and as an administrator. He is currently serving as the High School Principal.

Danielle Hendry

District: Kent ISD

School: MySchool@Kent

Danielle Hendry currently works as an administrator for the Kent ISD.  She serves as the principal of MySchool@Kent which is a non-traditional blended learning secondary school and she oversees several Kent Career Technical Center (KCTC) programs. She began her teaching career as a high school and middle school teacher teaching English, Drama, and AVID in California, Washington, and Florida. She has presented at conferences across the county on instructional technology integration, educational best practices, and elevating successful teaching. 

Danielle holds two masters degrees in secondary education and educational leadership. Before coming to KISD, she worked for South Haven Public Schools serving as their K-12 Curriculum Director and Principal of their alternative blended-learning secondary school. She is passionate about helping ALL students reach their potential. Having grown up in Caledonia, Ms. Hendry was excited to return to her roots in Kent County. She comes from a family of educators with her mom service as a special education teacher in Kent County before retiring. She and her husband enjoy spending time outside with the kids including biking, hiking, and beachcombing.

Mary Lang

District: Godwin Heights

School: West Godwin Elementary

Mary Lang is the principal of West Godwin Elementary School. She’s worked in the Godwin Heights district since 1998, first as a teacher at West Godwin Elementary and then as the principal of South Godwin Elementary before it closed in June of 2010. Lang spent 9 years as the principal at North Godwin Elementary and has since come full circle back to where she began at West Godwin. She enjoys building relationships and connecting with students and families! She’s passionate about meeting the needs of her students. She currently lives in Grandville with her husband, Dave and her 3 children.

Brad Lundvick

District: Grand Rapids Public Schools

School: CA Frost Environmental Science

Brad Lundvick is Principal at CA Frost Environmental Science, Middle/High School and Zoo School for Grand Rapids Public Schools. Prior to joining CA Frost, Brad worked in education for 13 years as a restorative practice coordinator, intervention teacher, data support specialist, school improvement facilitator and assistant principal. 

Brad has also coached high school basketball and soccer for more than 10 years. He’s a member of MASSP, a Junior Achievement Leadership Board Member and was on the West Michigan Officials Association as a soccer official.

Brad received his undergraduate degree in Group Social Studies as well as his masters in Education Leadership from Grand Valley State University.

Steve Minard

District: Godwin Heights Public Schools

School: North Godwin Elementary

Mr. Minard holds a Master of Education degree in Educational Leadership, as well as a B.S. degree in Physical Education and Elementary Education from Grand Valley State University. He has worked as an administrator at Godwin Heights Public Schools since 2011, currently serving as the principal of North Godwin Elementary. Steve began his academic career as a teacher, Athletic Director, and coach at Walker Charter Academy, followed by five years as the Assistant Principal at Vanguard Charter Academy. Steve is a dedicated and effective leader who strives each day to build strong academic foundations for all students.

Antonette Moore

District: Grand Rapids Public Schools

Antonette (Toni) Moore has been in education for 20 years. She has served in the capacity of paraprofessional, teacher, transition coordinator, assistant principal, principal, and currently as director within the Special Education Department for Grand Rapids Public Schools. She has worked as a teacher and an administrator within center-based programming, and worked with students in all divisions; elementary, secondary, and post-secondary. 

Toni has also stepped into leadership roles with Instructional Rounds facilitation through Harvard Graduate School of Education training, and Crisis Prevention Institute trainer certification. She’s had extensive Cambridge training teacher evaluation processes and educational leadership. Affiliation with CEC (Council for Exceptional Children) and MAASE (Michigan Association for Administrators in Special Education) professional organizations has afforded her many opportunities to advance her learning and connections.

She received her BA in elementary education with special education endorsements in Cognitive Impairment and Emotional Impairment from Grand Valley State University and her MA in Educational Leadership from Western Michigan University.

Her passion for seeing children and young adults thrive in a system that is accessible and equitable gives her the drive and motivation to tackle the barriers within the education system. 

Jeff Overkleeft

School: Southwood Elementary

Jeff is beginning his 14th year as principal at Southwood Elementary where he also taught 5th grade.  He taught at Emmons Lake as a 5th grade teacher in Caledonia Community Schools before accepting the principal position back in Kentwood.  Jeff is the district science leader for the elementary in Kentwood and continues to help teachers engage their students through interactive science instruction following the NGSS.  He holds a bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley State University and a Master’s Degree in Education Leadership from Western Michigan University.     

Brad Tarrance

District: Godwin Heights Public Schools

Brad Tarrance hails from Flint, Michigan. Flint is where his journey in education began and continues to drive him in his daily work for creating a more just society. He is a passionate Social Justice Educator with 18 years experience in Urban Education. Brad’s experience in public, private, and charter schools along with experience in African American communities and Hispanic communities allows him a unique perspective into educational equity. 

Prior to joining Godwin Heights, Brad worked in education for 17 years as a school leader, assistant school leader, associate director, basketball coach, leadership coach, dean, and teacher.

Brad received his B.A. from the University of Michigan- Flint and his M.A. from Trinity University in San Antonio.

Jon Blackburn

District: Wyoming

School: Wyoming Junior High

Jon Blackburn is the Principal at Wyoming Junior High. He has been in this role for five years and prior to Wyoming Junior High he served as the principal at Newhall Middle School for three years. His experience as principal extends far beyond Newhall Middle School as he also served as the principal at Taft Elementary for six years. Blackburn is not a stranger to the classroom, he taught 4th grade at Taft Elementary for 5 years.

 

Blackburn received his bachelor’s degree in science for elementary education from Grand Valley State University and has a master’s degree in Education Leadership. He is currently working on his ED Specialist degree from Grand Valley State University.

Kirk Bloomquist

District: Wyoming

School: Wyoming Intermediate

Kirk Bloomquist currently serves as the Principal at Wyoming Intermediate School which is the district 5th and 6th grade building. He has been a Principal in the Wyoming School District for 15 years. Prior to that Bloomquist was the Middle School Principal in Fruitport for six years. He has taught Biology and Physical Education at the high school level in Zeeland, Michigan.

Dennis Branson

District: Grand Rapids

School: Westwood Middle School

Dennis Branson began teaching for Grand Rapids Public Schools in 1995 and taught Social Studies for 17 years. He became an assistant principal at Creston High School and followed the Creston cohort of students to Innovation Central High School (ICHS) after Creston closed. After three years at ICHS, Branson became the head principal of Westwood Middle School and he is finishing his second year. He has two children, one who graduated from CMU and another entering her junior year, also at CMU.

Monte Cross

District: Wyoming

School: Wyoming Junior High

Monte’ Cross is in his 11th year in education. He has spent time as a 7th grade social studies teacher as well as a dean of students in an urban middle school and high school setting. In addition, Cross has served a large majority of his professional career as an assistant principal at the secondary level.

 

During his short stent as a teacher, he has enjoyed leading student council, coaching middle school track and assisting with the boys’ varsity football and basketball teams. After becoming an administrator, he no longer had the time to engage in coaching athletics, so in an effort of staying involved in athletics, he began officiating boys and girls high school basketball games ten years ago for the MHSAA.

 

He has a passion for working for at risk students and believes that the biggest reward in education is serving this population of students. His purpose as an educator is to simply give back to students what a few great teachers gave to him when he was a young man; “Hope, Faith and the Belief that I could do and be anything that I wanted as long as I was willing to work hard for it!”

Peter Geerling

District: Godfrey- Lee

School: Godfrey- Lee Early Childhood Center (K-2)

Peter Geerling has been in education for 14 years.  He started his career as a title I para professional assisting with literacy groups and assessments.  After a year as a paraprofessional Geerling began his teaching career in 2nd grade.  He taught 2nd grade for two years then took on the challenge of kindergarten for one year.  After his year in Kindergarten he returned to 2nd grade for six more years.  After spending 10 years in the classroom Geerling began a new adventure in administration.  He recently finished his 4th year as principal of the Early Childhood Center (K-2).  Peter has a Bachelor of Science degree from Michigan State Universityin Kinesiology, a Bachelor of Arts from Aquinas College in Elementary Education and a Masters in Ed. from Grand Valley State University in Ed. Leadership.

Gary Harmon

District: Kentwood

School: Pinewood Middle School

Gary M. Harmon, Jr. is Principal at Pinewood Middle School located in Kentwood, MI. He has held this position for the past 5 years. Prior to becoming the principal of Pinewood, Harmon served as an Assistant Principal at East Kentwood High School. He has also had the privilege of working for Grand Rapids Public Schools as a teacher, Special Education Supervisor, and Principal. He has 19 years of experience in public education that spans from elementary to high school.

 

Gary acquired his Masters degree in Educational Leadership from Western Michigan University. He also holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Jackson State University in Special Education.

 

He prides himself on being a hands-on leader. Under his leadership he continues to push staff and students to improve and not to become complacent with success. Harmon believes that he must equip his staff with the necessary tools and strategies to meet both academic and emotional needs of the student. As school leader, he is excited to provide opportunities and creative solutions to the challenges our students face.

Jacquie Harris

District: Kentwood

School: Crestwood Middle School

Jacquie Harris is the Dean of Academic Affairs/Assistant Principal at Crestwood Middle School in Kentwood Public Schools. She has been in this position for six years. Prior to moving to Kentwood, Jacquie served as a Supervisor for Special Education for four years, and a special education teacher for 7 years in Grand Rapids Public Schools.

Jacquie earned a Master of Education degree in Administration with Special Education Supervisor approval, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology/Special Education from Grand Valley State University. Her professional teaching certifications include elementary education (K-5), with K-12 special education endorsements for students with Cognitive Impairments and Emotional impairments.

Since beginning her tenure at Crestwood, Jacquie has been an integral part of the overall growth of the school. As the Dean of Academic Affairs, Jacquie has been directly involved in the school improvement process, implementation of School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), Capturing Kids’ Hearts, professional development and teacher growth, and coordination of the state assessment (M-STEP). She is also very committed to her own professional growth as an instructional leader. This past year, Jacquie worked alongside three math teacher leaders as they began a journey with Leading Educators to transform professional learning for teachers. This work continues into next year. In addition, she is excited to be a part of the first cohort for the West Michigan Leadership Academy Professional Learning Network.

Andrew Kolzow

District: Kentwood

School: East Kentwood Freshman Campus

Andrew Kolzow graduated from Western Michigan University with his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physical education in 2003. Kolzow received his first job teaching 8th grade mathematics and coaching baseball at Ross Beatty Jr/Sr High School in Cassopolis, Michigan. He taught for one year in Cassopolis before getting a job at Valleywood Middle School in Kentwood, Michigan where he taught 8th grade mathematics, algebra and geometry. He also coached middle school boys and girls basketball for six years. In 2009, Kolzow earned his master’s degree from Grand Valley State University. In 2010, he became the Assistant Principal at the East Kentwood Freshman Campus. He has been here for eight years and has enjoyed every minute of it.

Leanne Lange

District: Grand Rapids

School: Palmer Elementary

Leanne Lange received her Bachelor of Science from Michigan State University and then went to Grand Valley State University to earn her Masters in Educational Leadership. Her 20 year career in education has been with Grand Rapids Public Schools. She has worked in the classroom as a teacher, has been an assistant principal at the middle school level, spent time in central office as a School Reform Facilitator, and is now in her third year as the building principal at Palmer Elementary.

Timothy Mabin

District: Grand Rapids

School: Shawmut Hills

Dr. Timothy Mabin joined Grand Rapids Public Schools during the 2005-2006 school year.  He served as a secondary math teacher for six years at Grand Rapids Montessori High School.  He then taught math at Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy for four years before becoming the assistant principal there in the fall of 2015.  After two years as an assistant principal Dr. Mabin was named the head principal of Shawmut Hills Pk-8 in the fall of 2017.

Dr. Mabin grew up on the southeast side of Grand Rapids and was a student in Grand Rapids Public Schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.  He received his undergraduate degree from Cornerstone University with certifications in secondary mathematics and history.  He also received his master’s degree in Education from Cornerstone University and his Ph.D. in K-12 Educational Leadership from Western Michigan University with his dissertation focus on student-teacher connection and its impact on academic achievement.

Dr. Mabin believes that relationships are the foundation of K-12 education.  Relationships between students and teachers, parents and teachers, and the overall involvement of all stakeholders of the school working to improve the lives of students are vital for their success.

During his free time, Dr. Mabin enjoys spending time with his wife and two children, exercising, reading, and playing Clash of Clans.

Bill Martin

District: Grand Rapids

School: Riverside Middle School

Graduate of Grand Valley State University and Olivet College, Bill Martin has been in school administration for over 10 years at both the high and middle school levels. He found his calling being a middle school principal.

 

Martin sees himself as a lighthearted person who believes that education is the most powerful tool anyone will ever possess and that every student has the right to an equal opportunity to all educational resources. He believes that to be good at your job you must be able to laugh and joke while you are there. He believes in always doing the right thing and that it is never too late to make things right.

 

Riverside Middle School operates based on one major moto, ‘Handle all situations as if the student sitting in front of you was your relative and if you can say you handled the situation that way then we are doing the right thing’. In his spare time, he loves to travel with family and hang out on his boat.

Jamie Masco

District: Grand Rapids

School: Aberdeen

In 1992, Jamie Masco began her teaching career in Schaumburg, Illinois (District #54) where she taught 1st and 2nd grade. In 1999, Masco moved from Illinois to Kalamazoo, Michigan. She began working for Vicksburg Community Schools, and remained in Vicksburg for 16 years. In Vicksburg she taught BK, K, 5th,6th,7th, and 8th grade. When the state changed kindergarten programs from half day to full day, Masco lead Vicksburg’s full-day kindergarten transition. During her final years in Vicksburg, she served as an Instructional Consultant. She worked with the most at risk students in reading and in math.

 

In 2015, Masco moved to Grand Rapids and began working for Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS). She is currently the principal of Aberdeen School in GRPS. Aberdeen School services students in Prek-8th grade. In addition, Aberdeen School supports students with Autism.

 

Masco received her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education from Drake University. She also received his Master’s degree in Educational Administration for Northern Illinois University.

Benjamin Rodgers

District: Grand Rapids

School: Kent Hills Elementary

Benjamin Rodgers began his teaching career in Battle Creek Public School teaching 5th grade after graduating from Western Michigan University.

After teaching 5th grade for 15 years, he took an assistant principal position at Springfield Middle School in Battle Creek Public Schools. After spending 3 years at the building, Rodgers went back to elementary school as principal of LaMora Park in Battle Creek Public Schools.

Looking to expand his experiences, Rodgers is currently the principal at Kent Hills Elementary in Grand Rapids Public Schools. This is his third year in the district. Kent Hills is a PreK – 5 building with moderately cognitively impaired classrooms.  

Andrew Steketee

District: Godfrey-Lee

School: Godfrey Elementary

Andew Steketee comes from a background of educators, his mother was a preschool teacher for 30 years in the Grand Rapids area. He grew up in Jenison, MI and attended Aquinas College where he received his undergraduate degree in 2004.

 

Steketee began working for Godfrey Lee Public Schools as a paraprofessional in the elementary building in 2005, then transferred over to the middle school in the winter of that school year. He continued as a paraprofessional for 2.5 years then received his first teaching job at Lee Middle School in 2008 as a 6th grade social studies teacher. Steketee taught in that capacity for seven years and in 2015 became principal of Godfrey Elementary.

 

In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his wife of eleven years and his three young children; two of which are a set of twins who will start kindergarten this fall.

Mike Sturm

District: Wyoming

School: Wyoming Intermediate

 

Mike Sturm attended Wyoming Public School (WPS) from 1968-1981 as a K-12 student.  He began coaching wrestling in WPS in 1981 and began teaching in 1986.  He as his master’s degree from WMU and an Administrative certification from Grand Valley State University.  Sturm has taught 2nd, 4th, 6th, 7th and 8th grades until taking an administrative position in 2001 at a K-5 building.  He’s currently at the Intermediate building as an Assistant Principal.

Bernard Varnesdeel

District: Wyoming

School: Wyoming Junior High

Bernard Varnesdeel began working in public education in 2005 when he accepted a position to be a student advocate at Kalamazoo Central High School. For four years, he served as a student advocate working with at risk students and managing the buildings 504 plans. In 2010, Varnesdeel transitioned to Wyoming Rogers High School at the HS Athletic Director and remained in that position until Wyoming Public Schools merged Park and Rogers High School into one high school. At this time he was moved to the Junior High building where he became the Junior High athletic director and the Dean of Students. He remained in this position from 2012 until the start of the 2017 school year where he transitioned into the Dean of Students with a primary focus of 7th grade students.

Troy Wilbon

District: Grand Rapids

School: Harrison Park (K-8)

Troy Wilbon grew up and attended high school in Gary, Indiana and moved to Grand Rapids after high school. Wilbon earned his BA from Aquinas College and received his maters degree from Grand Valley State in Educational Leadership where he also earned his Administrator’s Certificate.

Wilbon played basketball at GRCC and Aquinas College, and coached basketball at Aquinas College, GRCC and Grand Rapids Central High School, for a total of 11 years combined. Troy also worked at Bethany Christian Services for ten years and was a former high school dean and high school principal. Wilbon is currently a pre-kindergarten through 8th grade principal in Grand Rapids Public. Academically, he likes to read educational articles and compare the research to his biases and assumptions.

Meet The Team

Abbie Groff-Blaszak

Director, West Michigan Leadership Academy

Abbie Groff-Blaszak joined the NYC Leadership Academy in 2017 as Director of the West Michigan Leadership Academy in Grand Rapids, MI. In this role, Abbie directs a program of support for five districts in Greater Grand Rapids that focuses on professional learning networks and individualized coaching for principals, personalized district leadership support, and the collaborative development of local capacity to support and sustain a strong principal pipeline.

Abbie is passionate about building and supporting a healthy and diverse educator workforce as the foundation for achieving equitable student outcomes. She has a rich background and expertise in programs and policy to support the development, retention, and growth of strong educators at the local, state, and national levels. Prior to joining NYCLA, Abbie served in various roles at the Michigan Department of Education, including Manager of Curriculum and Instruction, Senior Policy Advisor, and most recently, Director of the Office of Educator Talent. In her time at the MDE, Abbie led a number of major initiatives, including Michigan’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards, the development and implementation of Michigan’s ESEA Flexibility and State Equity Plans, implementation of Michigan’s educator evaluation law, and development of Michigan’s ESSA plan focusing on educator effectiveness.

Abbie began her career in education as a Teach for America corps member, teaching third and fourth grades in the Greenville Public Schools in Greenville, Mississippi. Following her two-year commitment, Abbie remained in Greenville for several more years, serving as a teacher leader, curriculum coach, and assistant principal before heading back to the Midwest as founding principal of a start-up public charter school in Indianapolis, IN.

Abbie holds a BA in History and Political Science from Indiana University and a Ed.M. from Harvard University in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy.

Lauren McElrath

Program Manager, West Michigan Leadership Academy

Lauren McElrath joined the NYC Leadership Academy in 2018 as Program Manager for the West Michigan Leadership Academy in Grand Rapids, MI. In this role, Lauren supports the design and logistics for the professional learning network and coaching program for five districts in Greater Grand Rapids. Before joining the Leadership Academy, Lauren was Associate Director for Scholarships for Grand Valley State University, for which she managed over 400 scholarships, collaborated with faculty and staff to ensure student success, and designed and implemented programming for increased student involvement. Lauren holds a Bachelor of Science in Broadcasting and a Master of Public Administration from Grand Valley State University.

Antoinette Pearson

Coach

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

One of her favorite quotes but also one of the many valuable lessons taught to her from my parents – to confront injustices, stand on your values and create your own path.

Antoinette has held positions in all levels of K-12; English and Social Studies teacher (middle and high school), English and Social Studies curriculum leader, Assistant Principal, Athletic Director and Principal. She has an unwavering commitment to serve the young people of the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan.

She desires to be a change agent in education and provide fair and equity opportunities for learning. That’s been her prime motivation, in every capacity she’s worked. The context of truth, equity and genuine collaboration represent the foundation of her professional beliefs.  Antoinette believes that the educating of our children requires a united effort between school, home and community. She is dedicated to ensuring that every day, in every school, all children will experience effective, rigorous and innovative instruction in respectful and positive centers of excellence. 

Her shift from the school building to the full time role of consultant and professional development facilitator is a result of her desire to have a greater sphere of influence as she seeks to develop the instructional and cultural capacity in teachers and building leaders.

Being an educator requires more than knowing the content you are to teach.  You need a heart for people and a love of kids.

Every decision made for schools should be anchored in the question; “What is best for the students we serve?”

If this job were easy, more people would do it.  But it is not. It is something you must work at daily because the lives of the young people you serve are depending on you. Literally!

She holds a BA in Communication with a dual concentration in Advertising and Public Relations from California State University, East Bay. Tiffany also serves on the board of directors of a nonprofit supporting first-generation college students.

Annalise Kontras

Coach

Prior to joining WMLA as a Leadership Coach, Annalise served as an Assistant Headmaster at a 7-12th grade school in Boston Public Schools. There, she facilitated the Instructional Leadership Team and Professional Development, led the Special Education and World Language departments, coached and evaluated educators, coordinated student supports, and oversaw standardized testing. 

She began her career in education as a founding teacher and English Department chair of a Grand Rapids charter high school, where she also developed the school’s foundational 9th-12th grade Advisory curriculum. 

Annalise holds a B.A. in English and Secondary Education from Calvin College and a M.Ed in School Leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

Lisa Minnella

Coach

Lisa graduated from Grand Valley State University in 1988 and started her career path in GRPS.  Throughout her 23 years as a special education teacher, she taught in self-contained, resource and co-teaching environments. She received her masters in Learning Disabilities and Educational Leadership with an emphasis in Special Education administration certification from Grand Valley State University, as well. In 2010, she accepted a principal position at Mulick Park Elementary, a recently named Priority School. Within the next 5 years, the school was removed from the Priority School list.  Lisa retired in 2018 and joined WMLA in August 2018. She enjoys reading, traveling and spending time with her family.

Steve Hoelscher

Coach

Steve Hoelscher has been a teacher, counselor, assistant high school principal and a middle school principal in the Battle Creek School System.  As a middle school principal, Steve successfully provided leadership in transitioning the school from a junior high to a true middle school that provided academic excellence, met the developmental needs of adolescents and provided equity for all students. 

Steve has served as coordinator of the Michigan Middle Start initiative, a leadership coach for Benton Harbor Area Schools, Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, and Kalamazoo Public Schools.  He has also been a member of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform, a school board member and co-author of an article in Educational Leadership.

Sonia Bu

Coach

Sonia Bu is a Coach Development and Training Specialist at the NYC Leadership Academy. Since joining the Leadership Academy in 2005, she has worked as a coach-facilitator for school leaders and their leadership teams, developed curriculum for the New School Intensive Program, served as an executive coach, assisted in the development of online coaching modules for Missouri, and been a racial equity facilitator. As a coach, Sonia supports principals to become reflective practitioners and effective leaders of their professional learning communities, to help them identify school goals and address operational issues, and to create structures and processes to build capacity and develop shared vision in their schools. Sonia was a member of the Leadership Academy team supporting the development of new coaches in Rhode Island.


Sonia has more than 25 years of experience working in senior leadership positions in education-focused, youth development and community building organizations. She developed and executed capacity-building needs assessment and strategic plans for institutional expansion and sustainability and implemented improvement plans in the areas of organizational communication, human resource, program evaluation, grants writing and fundraising. Sonia has a B.A. from Barnard College and an M.Ed. from Lesley University. She also attended Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Science, the School of International Affairs at Columbia University, and the Institute for Not-for-Profit Management of the Graduate School of Business of Columbia University. She is a Certified Coach by the Newfield Network (NNPC), the Generative Leadership Institute (CEO Program), and has received Professional Coaching Certification (PCC) from the International Coaching Federation. She is also an Executive and Leadership Coach with the Generative Leadership Institute with clients in the United States and Latin America.

Kathryn J. Curry, M.Ed

Coach

Kathryn, a native of Chicago, Illinois is a career educator.

Her love of children and the educational barriers she faced in a substandard school system prompted her to become an educator. She began singing, playing in the church,
and training choirs at a very early age.

Kathryn was one of the first African-American students to be accepted to the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. Despite the challenges of attending a previously
segregated institution, she received a BA in Music Education with a concentration invoice. Kathryn has performed in theatre, and many other entertainment venues. She later obtained a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership (Administration) from Grand
Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.

Kathryn’s classroom teaching experience in education include Music teacher K-12, Choral Director, and Middle School all subjects. Kathryn’s administrative experience
includes: Youth Home Director, Program Director, Assistant Principal, Principal, Leadership Coach, and Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) Trainer.

Through her consulting business, Kathryn facilitates DEI workshops at schools and at conferences and continues to give voice to the need to understand, reach, and provide
equitable educational access to ALL students. Kathryn also enjoys performing, traveling, and gardening in her spare time.

Kathryn is married and the mother of four children.