The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is proud to honor 10 individuals with the 2022 Changemaker Award who are making a positive difference at charter schools and in their larger community. The leaders are unsung heroes and heroines who, through their exceptional effort, touched the lives of people in their charter school community, brought innovation and creativity to solve problems, and consistently amplified voices around them. The honorees have proven that they go the extra mile to support their community’s unique needs, even in the face of ongoing challenges. The recipients come from 10 different states and roles vary from classroom teacher to parent advocate.
“We are thrilled to honor these incredible, innovative, and caring individuals who do the hardest work: supporting, educating, and leading their school community on the ground every day. These recipients are the heartbeat of the charter school movement. Please join us in celebrating their unwavering commitment to giving our students a brighter future,” said Nina Rees, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Join the National Alliance for a virtual event on Thursday, May 12 at 4 p.m. ET to celebrate our 2022 Changemakers.
The 2022 Changemakers are:
Sol Avalos (Nevada): Originally from Argentina, Sol moved to the U.S. in 1999 where her passion for education continued to blossom and she became the English Language Director for three Mater Academy charter schools in Nevada. Knowing that Nevada families urgently needed more high-quality public school options, Sol was driven to lead advocacy work in her state, including helping stop a 2019 moratorium aimed at delaying the approval of new charter schools. In 2021, she continued her political engagement by bringing awareness to the lack of capital funding for charter schools, ultimately helping to bring $20 million in federal funding to Nevada to support Title I charter schools.
Raquel Crader (Louisiana): Raquel was among the first to get her students online during the pandemic. As a fifth-year teacher at Dolores T. Aaron Academy, Raquel built an interactive YouTube channel for parents and students to continue their love of reading when they had less access to books and reading time at school. She went above and beyond to reach her students while they were learning at home – putting together virtual lessons, connecting via Facetime, and doing all that she could to make sure none of her students regressed. When they returned to in-person learning, her virtual lessons were one of the most talked about topics amongst students. As one of her students says, “Raquel Crader is a superhero.”
Tonya Kelly (OH): After both of Tonya’s children experienced bullying in school, she decided to do something about it. Knowing firsthand the negative impacts that bullying can have on a child’s self-esteem and quality of life, she founded the Empower Our Youth Foundation, serving students between the ages of 5 and 17 and providing mentoring, social and emotional health support, health and wellness education, anti-bullying reporting, and community education. For the past three years, Tonya has shared her story and used her experience as a fourth-grade teacher to help design education and prevention programs for families.
Ms. Kelly says, “This award is a great blessing and allows me to showcase what I do in my community and my school, and that is to show acceptance, inclusion, and respect for all youth and families who I service.”
Leah Okimoto (Massachusetts): Leah is a Massachusetts mom and community advocate who founded Aaron’s Presents after her second child, Aaron, sadly passed away in infancy. Honoring his legacy, the program gives middle school students the opportunity to lead a project to benefit their community and feel empowered to make meaningful contributions. Aaron’s Presents has mentored more than 2,000 youth and served more than 48,000 people. Projects include volunteering at animal shelters, cleaning streets, and working with foster children. Mentors spend one lunch period each week with students, and Leah’s work has developed a cycle of caring and giving back that is now embedded in the culture at Lowell Community Charter Public School.
Mrs. Okimoto says, “The team at Aaron’s Presents are engaging over 150 of LCCPS’s middle school students each year, and from this homebase and model partnership, we know that we can continue to grow from here and engage thousands of kids in the Lowell area in this program to discover and develop and share their gifts with the larger world. Thank you so much for this honor.”
Margarita Porter (New Mexico): Margarita’s school, New America School – Las Cruces, serves teenage students who are English learners, young parents, or have previously dropped out of school. Last year, Margarita opened the school’s childcare center so students with children can continue their education and receive safe childcare. Although 100% of the school’s students qualify for support, Margarita provides opportunities for her students to give back. The school holds an annual drive to collect personal hygiene items for a local shelter and donates hundreds of items annually. New America School – Las Cruces is the only school in the area to attend school on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which they have transformed into a day of organized service, a model that other area schools plan to replicate.
Ms. Porter says, “Together we have accomplished the opening of a free daycare so that our teen parents may continue to go to school. Our goal is that all students may be given every opportunity to achieve the American dream. I am deeply thrilled and honored to have been selected as a 2022 changemaker.”
Dr. Jeremy Sager (Tennessee): Dr. Sager leads the team at Nashville Prep with compassion, trust, and high standards. He has been with the school for 12 years, rising from an English teacher to assistant principal, and finally as the school’s principal in 2021. Coming into position during the pandemic, Dr. Sager focused on building a positive and strong school culture and implemented activities for the school community including a quarterly “Food, Fun, and Fellowship” event, quarterly student awards, and weekly celebrations to recognize teachers and students. He also built out a teacher support and coaching program, biweekly teacher touchpoints, and oversees the school’s weekly data scoreboards to track student progress and incorporate data-driven instruction protocols into teaching practices.
Dr. Sager says, “I am excited, humbled, thankful, and will continue to serve my school community through fostering strong relationships with teachers, scholars, and families…this is just the beginning of greatness at Nashville Prep, and we will continue to thrive through love, achievement, and anti-racism as we reimagine public education in the south.”
Gwen Samuel (Connecticut): As an education and social justice advocate and public school parent, Gwen has founded three Connecticut-based organizations: The Connecticut Parents Union, the State of Black Connecticut Alliance, and the Meriden Kids Walk Safe Coalition – Safe Routes to School Initiative. Driven by her motivations as a parent, she has also helped empowerment bills become state law, including a bill inspired by California’s “Parent Trigger Law,” which now requires low-performing schools in Connecticut to implement parent-school governance councils. Gwen also influenced a law preventing felony arrest of parents who enroll their students in schools outside of their zip code. She believes every parent should be involved in their child’s academic, social, and emotional journey.
Melissa Tracy (Delaware): Melissa, a former Delaware STEM Teacher of the Year, utilized the flexibility of the charter school model to design a combined social studies and STEM program in urban farming which produces food for the school and surrounding community each month. Her students have donated over 5,000 pounds of fresh produce to individuals in need, and her program is being replicated in a nearby district school, complete with a student-to-student mentoring program. Melissa makes learning fun for her students and teaches a popular History of Rock & Roll course, and is helping her school become one of only 50 schools in the country to pilot an AP African American studies program.
Ms. Tracy says, “It is such a huge honor to be recognized for the changemaker award, particularly during such a challenging time in education, and I believe the award is a testament to the amazing work that I do with my students each and every day.”
Eric Tucker (New York): Eric is the Co-Founder of Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools in New York, and believes that every learner—regardless of race, culture, gender, or difference in learning style—deserves access to a high-quality education. As a child, Eric struggled with undiagnosed learning disabilities and was diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and language acquisition delays as an adult. His experience drove him to create the Educate All Learners Alliance website, featuring resources on teaching students with learning disabilities. Eric helps his team engage with families to build plans for their students with IEPs and leads a community fund for students and families facing challenges.
Blair Williams (North Carolina): Blair creates opportunities for all of Island Montessori School’s preschool through eighth-grade students to participate in community service on campus and at locations throughout New Hanover County, NC. Over the past year, she has led her school community in monthly fundraisers to assist local organizations such as homeless shelters, bird rescues, and foster family support groups, and has created the opportunity for service learning to become a part of the school’s curriculum.
Ms. Williams says, “I am truly passionate about connecting our students with opportunities to serve in our local community. This award means so much, and I hope that I can continue to have an impact on our students and families here, and collectively we can have an impact in our local community.”