Meet our committed staff who work each day to fulfill our mission.
Visiting Senior Fellow
Mary Ross is presently Visiting Senior Fellow to Classroom Inc. and a Visiting Fellow to The New Criterion and its sister organization, Encounter Books, working one day a week for each developing new programs, Board members and donors.She is also a Trustee of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and Grants Committee member of the Barker Welfare Foundation. She recently retired from The JM Foundation Board after 35 years as a Trustee.
Mary has 40 years in the field of philanthropy, working with the less fortunate and needy by designing solutions in her free market, non profit, public policy and foundation executive positions. She worked with Richard Gilder in November 2003 to 2011 as the Executive Consultant to The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, to design, plan and raise new funds for the national expansion of the Institute’s document-based education programs as he had been the sole donor. This included adding 34 History High schools, 21 Saturday Academies, 1,522 affiliate schools and raising funds for 162 teachers a year. Also, she was part of advising/ strategizing and raising the funds with Mr. Gilder for the $6 million raised for the 2004 Hamilton exhibit at the NY Historical Society, where the Gilder Lehrman collection is based.
From 1994-2003, as Vice President and Director of Programs for the International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics (IFREE) and the University of Arizona’s Economic Science Lab, Mary created IFREE with 2002 Nobel Laureate Vernon L. Smith,plus the design and funding for educational programs and financial strategies.She was a Claremont Institute of American Statesmanship Research Fellow on national issues and finance during the period of 1994-2003. She served as executive consultant to the National Center for Policy Analysis from 1995-2003; and, was Director of the Federal Mandates Project for the Goldwater Institute, where she generated $225,000 and designed the capital campaign.
From 1983-94, Mrs. Ross, a native New Yorker, was the Executive Director and Secretary to the Boards of the Achelis and Bodman Foundations.
Jie Gao has been a Data Analyst at Classroom, Inc. since July 2018. Previously, Jie received her MS in Learning Analytics at Columbia University and worked as a Data Analyst Intern at McGraw-Hill Education. She also holds a MS in Accounting and a BS in International Business and Economics.
Product Marketing Manager
Rachel Samuel leads our marketing and communication strategy. Her vision is to help educators find, use, and enjoy Classroom, Inc. products. Our users are her top priority. She works with the team to create fresh and relevant content to share our story with the world.
Rachel has led marketing efforts at two large organizations. Before Classroom Inc., Rachel worked for TIME for Kids, a K-8 current events magazine. She also piloted Amazon Art’s marketing and merchandising program.
Rachel graduated with honors from the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. In her spare time, she writes a blog about faith, culture, and identity.
Executive Assistant to the President
Matt Chacko, Executive Assistant to the President since April 2018, first joined
us as a Development Intern in October 2017. Before that Matt received his MA in
English at Syracuse University and worked as an editor and writer for several
online news publications. He also taught at Academics West, a special needs
school, before moving to the nonprofit world.
Ivan Xavier Garcia Jr. has had the opportunity to work on public, private and charter school literacy teams. Through various roles he has delivered personalized learning and differentiated instruction by becoming adept at implementing various educational technologies. He has provided personalized professional development to new teachers entering the field, as well as coached veteran educators on the incorporation of technology into their classrooms. Ivan has also taught international ELL students from the Middle-East, Western and Central Africa and all of Latin America.
Marquis Smalls achieved great success in his first ten years teaching in Paterson and Maplewood, New Jersey. Working diligently to close the achievement gap in reading and math, Marquis was selected to work on a team with Harvard University Professor Ronald Ferguson committed to analyzing and providing solutions to teachers and students for innovative and practical ways of raising achievement levels. As an early adopter of computer based and blended learning approaches that incorporated games, music, art, dance, performance and real life problem solving skills, Marquis guided his students to the top of the district in state test scores while instilling an authentic love of learning into a vast majority of students. In Brooklyn, New York, Mr. Smalls helped build a successful new school M.S. 354 in Crown heights that is now one of the model New York City public schools. By focusing on literacy and reading through social studies and writing, Marquis established a culture of success that spread throughout the school and provided a foundation for success at every middle school grade level. In Harlem, Mr. Smalls took on the challenge of helping another new school, Frederick Douglass Academy II out perform their goals and establish a positive learning environment for all students. Working with and supporting teachers as UFT chapter leader, Marquis coached teachers into successfully integrating computer based innovative teaching strategies into their daily practice.
Adrienne O’Neill is a dynamic and passionate educational leader, bringing an array of best teaching practices through her background as a middle school English as a 2nd language and English as a foreign language teacher for five years in Puerto Rico. She has also been an instructional technology coach for over six years in the New York City area, working with PK-8 teachers and students. During her time as a coach, Adrienne also assumed instructional leadership roles such as Director of Professional Development and Regional Liaison with Staten Island Catholic School Leaders, promoting expansion and growth. Her commitment and dedication to improve student achievement are also evidenced in her 3-year volunteer service as the education manager in The Legacy Center, a non-profit community center, in which she helped develop, coordinate, implement, and evaluate tutoring and enrichment educational programs. She holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching English as a Second Language and a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management.
Director of Development
Nick leads fundraising efforts for Classroom, Inc., building partnerships with the individual, foundation, corporate, and government supporters who make our programs possible. He is excited to be working at the intersection of education and technology to empower students in underserved communities. Before joining Classroom, he held development roles at PowerMyLearning, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and St. John’s University. Nick earned a BA in History at the University of Richmond and an MBA in Marketing at St. John’s.
Chief Technology Officer
Ben leads our technology, marketing, and business development projects, including the creation of a digital platform that delivers our learning games across desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones; the acquisition of more educators and students than ever before from our various market segments; and partnerships with external education organizations in support of sustainable revenue for Classroom, Inc.
Prior to joining Classroom, Inc., Ben gained valuable experience in both technology and education. He led the development of the mentorship platform at iMentor, built education apps for the Amplify tablet, and designed financial research apps at S&P Capital IQ and Bloomberg. Furthermore, Ben spent time in the classroom as an English teacher on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, and he presented American culture to schools in former East Germany during a Fulbright Scholarship at the US consulate in Hamburg.
He graduated summa cum laude from the General Honors Program at Rutgers University with a BA in German literature, and he holds an MBA with distinction from the NYU Stern School of Business.
The National Director of Professional Learning and School Support
Kwamara brings over a decade of experience being a teacher leader, coach and mentor in schools as well as on district, state, and national platforms. As the Common Core Coach within her school building, she created a successful approach to coaching and mentoring teachers to harness their talent for student achievement. Using a systematic approach of pre-conferencing, video observations, post-conferencing, video reflections, self-reflections, lesson plan analysis, formative and summative assessment analysis, and creating working Professional Growth Plans, she was able to move 95% of the teachers (whether new or experienced) across the continuum along the Effective Evaluation Framework for Teaching.
She has also designed a professional development framework and a system of accountability to infuse literacy throughout all content areas, which resulted in 40% gains over four years in ELA. Through her work in the Newark Public Schools Teacher Leader Institute (TLI) and the New Leaders Emerging Leaders Program, she gained district-wide experience aligning their literacy curriculum guide to the Common Core, assessing different curriculums, resources and best practices.
As a result of Kwamara’s work through Education Pioneers, she created a data-driven culture throughout a charter network of five schools in Tennessee. She has also consulted and partnered with several schools, districts, and non-profit organizations across the states of TN and NJ in data management, systems analysis, talent recruitment and retention as well as curriculum design.
She currently serves as the Education Pioneers Alumni Board Chair, and is on the Rekindled Dreams Board as an education consultant.
As the National Director, Kwamara will supervise CIs Professional Learning & School Support Team through the use of achievement centered systems to track the progress of the team and our school partners. Kwamara will maintain and manage many of our school, community and district partners (including local and national public school partners, OST partners and summer partners). Using her deep experience, she will work with the team to transform and streamline school training and support processes in a replicable and efficient way with a focus on virtual as well as full service school partners. Kwamara will lead the codification efforts of our most promising practices in the successful use of CI’s newest learning games. She will support a small cohort of schools working with the team to develop and model effective coaching techniques and how to best leverage literacy games in a blended learning. Kwamara, with the program team will present Classroom, Inc.’s programs and professional learning model at conferences throughout the nation.
Director of Content and Curriculum
Ali is leading Classroom Inc.’s Online Educator Support Project to create web-based professional development and resources that will enable teachers to use our newest games successfully. Ali is a New York University graduate with an M.A. in Elementary Education from the University of South Florida. With a lifelong appreciation for children’s literature, her focus in education has been to create engaging literacy curricula while supporting teachers. Ali has taught in several high-need areas in Florida, New York, and Rhode Island. She served as the lead 2nd grade ELA teacher in East New York, Brooklyn for three years. During this time Ali mentored teachers in reading and writing instruction at TFA Institute and wrote curriculum for Amplify. She was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to Cyprus where she created a cross-cultural blog for American and Cypriot elementary students. Most recently, as Manager of Curriculum and Instruction at Advancement Courses, she helped develop online professional development courses for K-12 educators and wrote proposals for course approval in several districts across the US.
Educational Programs Intern
Janna is a Cristo Rey New York High School freshman student. One of seven freshman to achieve first honors at Cristo Rey this year, Janna comes to Classroom, Inc. as part of Cristo Rey’s Corporate Work Study Program where she hopes to gain real life work experience before studying abroad.
Max provides support to the Development department and the Executive Office for the team’s fundraising efforts. Prior to joining Classroom, Inc., he spent seven years working with the Greater New York Region of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He helped raise funds for scholarships for deserving students, as well as for innovative and groundbreaking research such as vaccines for Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes. He holds a B.A. from both Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Nicole Guagliardi works in the Research department analyzing the effectiveness of Classroom, Inc.’s programs and gathering student and educator feedback to share with schools, partners, and funders. She started working with Classroom, Inc. as a summer research intern six years ago and has since joined full time. Nicole recently earned a B.S. in Actuarial Science from CUNY’s Baruch College.
Phil Firsenbaum is a coach and consultant with Classroom, Inc. and has been so for the past decade. He is a former district-based educational technology facilitator and staff member of the then-NYC Board of Education’s Technical Assistance Center. Upon his retirement, he worked as a consultant in a District One database project and at Teaching Matters. He taught educational technology courses at Iona College and Bank Street College of Education as well as for the New York City DOE After School Professional Development Program. He holds a Master’s degree in Computing in Education from Teachers College. Prior to his retirement he was a middle school computer lab teacher where he taught programming for 11 years in the NYC school system.
Sharon Waddler manages the needs of the office. She comes to Classroom, Inc. with over 15 years of experience in the office administration field. Sharon also worked as office manager for Bruce Phillips Staffing, an agency that has hired individuals for major corporate companies and nonprofit organizations.
Peter Scaglione has direct responsibility for all matters related to the daily finances of the corporation, including maintenance of the books and records of the corporation, cash management, payroll, and also works with the VP of Finance on budgeting and the year-end audit. He joined Classroom, Inc. following his studies at Baruch College, where he earned a BBA in Accounting. During his academic career, he peer-tutored in a variety of subjects, including math, English, and Spanish. He also assisted in running the first Saturday-school program offered at James Madison H.S. In the next few years, Peter hopes to earn his CPA license.
As community services manager, Nicholas Overton provides technical assistance to program users, while supporting various departments with communications to their constituents and ensuring efficient dissemination to the districts, schools, and CBOs the organization partners with. He came to Classroom, Inc. as an intern in early 2012. He has a deep passion for video games (both making them and playing them!) and is currently earning a degree in Game Programming from the University of Advancing Technology. After spending three months extensively testing The Sports Network 2—Classroom Inc.’s Next Generation Learning Challenges-funded pilot for a new embedded-assessment learning game —Nick joined full-time as an operations associate.
Emily Otalora manages the organization’s operations and inventory needs, and supports the Implementation department’s work with schools and organizations. Before coming to Classroom, Inc. she worked as a production assistant at Meltzer Media Productions, and she also interned at Liberty Studios, NYC’s longest-running multimedia production house. She graduated with a BFA in Film and Animation from Pratt Institute. Emily loves to travel, and by age 21 she reached the ambitious goal of visiting all seven continents.
Chief Program Officer
Christina Oliver identifies and works with a wide range of partners to inform the distribution and development of the organization’s newest learning games. As part of a seamless product development and implementation process, she oversees the educational initiatives team tasked with working closely with educators and students to ensure Classroom, Inc.’s learning games and instructional guidance lead to instructional improvements and increases in literacy competencies. She brings over a decade of experience working in non-profit education reform in New York City. Most recently, at the nonprofit ReadWorks she was responsible for integrating ReadWorks reading comprehension curriculum and teacher training with the research, development, and launch of ReadWorks 2.0. In her past role at Classroom, Inc. Christina served as the VP of educational programs. She designed and managed teacher professional development, and secured strategic partnerships to expand the impact of Classroom, Inc. with individual schools, nonprofits, and urban districts. She gained a deep understanding of school organization, programs, and curriculum from her work as director of educational initiatives at the Urban Assembly, a NYC nonprofit manager of small public schools. Prior to that, Christina taught at J.H.S. 56 in Manhattan and at Bronx Preparatory Charter School. She graduated from the University at Buffalo with a B.A. in History and Secondary Education. She holds a master’s degree in Education Policy and Public Management from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
Lisa Holton is the President of Classroom, Inc., a nonprofit Ed Tech organization that helps middle school students develop literacy and leadership skills by inviting them to “be the boss” in digital learning games and curriculum set in the professional world and by supporting educators. When students take on the role of a leader in a diverse professional world, they begin to create new stories about themselves.
Lisa has over 25 years of experience in literacy, education, publishing, and children’s media. Most recently she was the founder of Fourth Story Media, a digital media company that created The Amanda Project, acollaborative, interactive fiction series of mystery novels and Webby Award-winning creative writing website.
Prior to Fourth Story Media, Lisa was President of Scholastic’s Trade and Book Fair divisions. Her responsibilities included publishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, developing the interactive book and online games series The 39 Clues, and acquiring and publishing a wide variety of award-winning and bestselling books including The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
Before joining Scholastic, Lisa was head of Disney’s Global Children’s Books, where she oversaw all aspects of the global publishing business. During her nine-year tenure at Disney, she built the Hyperion Books for Children division, publishing many distinguished authors and illustrators including Mo Willems, Jules Feiffer, Rick Riordan, Maurice Sendak, and Brian Collier. She also founded Jump at the Sun, the first children’s imprint dedicated to African-American culture at a major publishing house. As Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books, she developed a number of early childhood and beginning reading programs.
Lisa is a board member of the Feminist Press and on the Advisory Council of First Book. She is an alumni of the New York Women’s Foundation Board, where she has worked for many years with community-based organizations devoted to economic and social justice for women and girls.