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FirstLine Schools

We believe New Orleans can be the first city in America where every child goes to a great school.

FirstLine Schools Leadership

Jay Altman, Co-Founder and CEO

Since 1990, Jay has partnered with like-minded parents and educators to provide quality educational opportunities for students in New Orleans open-admission public schools. He taught in the city for several years before co-founding New Orleans Charter Middle School. He was also a founder of James Lewis Extension School, New Orleans Outreach, New Orleans Summerbridge, and Leading Educators. As director of education for London-based ARK schools from 2005 to 2008, Jay helped develop a British network of academies, charter-like schools in complex urban environments. He also was instrumental in establishing two training programs there – Future Leaders for aspiring principals of open-admission schools, and Teaching Leaders for mid-level school leadership.

Joseph Neary, Chief Operating Officer

Joe moved to Louisiana in 2008 from New York. Prior to working at FirstLine, Joe spent six years as a Bursar at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York and seven years in charter business operations for Edison Schools. With over 30 years of professional experience and 14 years working with charter schools, Joe brings his expertise in finance, budgets, legal, contract performance, school operations, federal and state statues and regulation compliance, human resources and grants management to FirstLine Schools.

Sabrina Pence, Chief Academic Officer

Sabrina Pence graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and subsequently joined Teach For America,  teaching in Pointe Coupee Parish for four years.  During that time, she received her Master’s Degree from Louisiana State University in Educational Administration in 2005.  She served as a teacher leader, leading parish-wide professional development and teaching a K-3 alternative teacher certification course through the New Teacher Project.  In 2006, she moved overseas to Qatar and worked in educational reform as a science consultant for K-6 schools, training Qatari teachers to implement standards-based science instruction.  In 2008, she returned to the U.S. to join New Leaders for New Schools, because of a belief that all students have the right to attend an excellent school. After completing her New Leaders residency at Arthur Ashe, Pence served as Principal of Albert Wicker Literacy Academy, where the school saw unprecedented gains, then returning to Ashe as Vice Principal, because she knew it was home.  Sabrina served as the School Co-Director at Arthur Ashe Charter School from 2012-2014 and became FirstLine's Chief Academic Officer in July 2014.   

Claudia Barker, Chief Development Officer & Executive Director, Edible Schoolyard New Orleans

A native New Orleanian, Claudia has enjoyed serving the non-profit community for the past 30 years both as an executive and as an independent consultant specializing in programs that benefit youth.  From 2004 to 2011 Claudia served as the Executive Director of New Orleans Outreach, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of public education in New Orleans by bringing community resources and volunteers into the schools.  Before this she served as Director of Young Aspirations/Young Artists (YA/YA), Inc., an arts and social service organization that trains urban youth to become professional artists.  As Executive Director of Edible Schoolyard New Orleans, Claudia manages FirstLine Schools' nationally known seed-to-table garden and food education programs. As Chief Development Officer for FirstLine Schools, Claudia manages the fundraising, communication and community partnerships strategy for FirstLine.

Linda T. Brown, Director of Special Education

Linda matriculated through Orleans parish public school system. She is a Certified Special Educator and a Licensed Master Social Worker with over 30 years of experience. Linda has served Students With Disabilities since 1996 with the belief that all children can and must be educated. She has worked as a Classroom Teacher, Coordinator, Supervisor, as Director of Special Education for The Street Academy Charter School and various other positions in her area of expertise. As Director of Special Education at FirstLine Schools, it is Linda's task to support our schools with quality programming, and to achieve positive outcomes for our students through collaboration with School Leaders and Network Teams.

Rebekah Cain, Director of Operations

Rebekah came to FirstLine Schools, in 2011, from the local chapter of the American Red Cross where she was the Manager of Marketing and Communication.  Prior to her time with the Red Cross, Rebekah had ten years experience in relationship management, first at the Smithsonian Institution and later at a wholesale tourism company.  Rebekah spent over three years as FirstLine's Director of Development and Communication and became the Director of Operations in 2014.  She volunteered in a leadership capacity for two dog rescue organizations in Washington, DC, Boston and New Orleans over a nine-year period.  Rebekah has a Master’s Degree from The George Washington University.

Donna Cavato, Director of Culture and Wellness

Originally from Chicago, Donna found her true home in New Orleans fourteen years ago. Donna first joined FirstLine Schools in 2006 as the Founding Director of Edible Schoolyard New Orleans. She holds a Master’s of Urban Planning and Public Policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago and brings 25 years of experience in non-profit management and youth and community program development to FirstLine.  Being part of the process to develop the potential and aspirations of our students is what inspires her to do this work. She believes that when we are successful at creating great schools for all children, our city will be forever changed for the better.   

Lindsey Cross, Director of Teacher Development

Lindsey Cross is new to the FirstLine network team and works as the Director of Teacher Development. Lindsey recently relocated to New Orleans from Kansas City, where she most recently worked as an instructional coach in an urban K-5 charter school. She started her career in education with Teach For America and taught 7th grade English language arts on the Navajo Nation before moving into a role as a teacher coach and eventually program leader with Teach For America. Lindsey has taught teacher ed courses at the University of New Mexico and is currently a Leading Educators fellow.

Alex Fallon, Director of Blended Learning

Alex Fallon has spent the last decade working with teams large and small to advance excellent learning experiences for students. She began her career teaching 8th and 9th grade English as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique. As a Program Officer at the Academy for Educational Development, Alex started and managed technology-infused educational programs for at-risk youth in Brazil and Mozambique. Since arriving in New Orleans in 2012, she has been an active participant in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem with Idea Village, the New Orleans Startup Fund, and 4.0 Schools. Prior to FirstLine, Alex worked directly with teachers and students across New Orleans to personalize math education as the COO at mSchool. Alex is an Education Pioneer alumna and a co-organizer of the NOLA EdTech meetup. She holds an AB from Brown University and an MBA from MIT Sloan.

Kirsten Feil, Director of Teaching & Learning

Kirsten Feil graduated from Furman University with a BA in Sociology, and through Teach for America became a Reading teacher at St. Mark's Treme Street Academy, then taught Social Studies at New Orleans Charter Middle School for 5 years.  After Katrina, Feil evacuated to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill to get a Masters in School Administration.  She returned to New Orleans in 2008 to help rebuild New Orleans public schools with a focus on curriculum development and teacher development and training and has been with FirstLine ever since.  You may see Kirsten running around town training for marathons.

Dominique Harris, Director of Communication and Community Partnerships

Dominique is a New Orleans native and has worked for various non-profit and for profit businesses over the past 10 years in the Marketing/Communications capacities. Her experience in non-profit communications and management began at KIPP: Academy of Opportunity in Los Angeles, Ca. There she served as a founding teacher, as well as the Director of Special Projects and High School Placement. Dominique returned to New Orleans in 2007 to join the education reform movement. Since then, she has further developed her professional resume in corporate communication and community outreach.  Prior to joining the FirstLine team, Dominique provided independent consulting services in communication, marketing and brand management for a variety of businesses.  She is a proud 3rd generation alumnae of Xavier University Preparatory School and holds a BA from the University of New Orleans. Passionate about highlighting the successes of the network, Dominique is eager to share with you all of the great things that are happening at FirstLine Schools!

Angela Herbert, Director of Summer and Extra-Curricular Programming

A New Orleans native, Angela has been in education since 1996. She received her BS in Psychology from Loyola University, and her Masters in Education in Special Education from the University of New Orleans. Angela began her career as a Special Education Teacher in Jefferson Parish, after which she moved to Teaching Responsible Earth Education (TREE) as Earth Educator and Assistant Director. Angela joined New Orleans Outreach in 2006, eventually becoming the Executive Director in 2011. Outreach's model connects schools with community resources to meet the needs of schools and the students. Angegla was integral to Outreach's transition from being an independent non-profit organization to becoming a program of FirstLine Schools. Passionate about giving our scholars learning experiences outside the traditional classroom, Angela is excited to be a part of the FirstLine Family.  

Brett Hunt, Director of Finance

Brett Hunt brings 12 years of accounting experience to FirstLine Schools, with a BS in Accounting.  Prior to working at FirstLine, Brett had 6 years experience in government and nonprofit accounting.  Noted Saints fan, father of two and all-around awesome guy, Brett ensures the fiscal accountability that allows our schools the freedom to think innovatively about education.  

Krista Markert, Director of Student Support

Krista Markert graduated from Drew University in Madison, NJ.  She moved to New Orleans in the spring of 2008.  She worked on the west bank of Jefferson Parish as a special education teacher.  Later, she served as a Master Teacher through the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) and a special education coordinator. Krista has also worked with Teach for America’s summer institute for the past four summers, delivering professional development and coaching both new teachers and teacher leaders.  As the Director of Student Support Services, Krista is grateful for the opportunity to work alongside many wonderful colleagues in pursuit of FirstLine’s mission. 

Emmy O'Dwyer, Director of Early Care and Education

Emmy is a New Orleanian, born and raised, and has worked as an educator with children from infancy to adulthood.  Over the last 20 years, her experiences as  a teacher, administrator and parent have reinforced the importance of early care and education in shaping the development of confident, curious and resilient citizens.  She is the founding executive director of Abeona House, a parent-initiated, non-profit childcare center started by parents after the storm inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to education. Emmy holds teaching certificates in early and elementary education, and is in the process of completing her masters degree in education from the University of New Orleans. She also serves as a 2014  W. K. Kellogg Community Leadership Network Fellow, working to make lasting change in the New Orleans community for vulnerable children.

Jon Randall, Director of Information Systems

A Massachusetts native, Jon moved to New Orleans in 2012. Jon began his work in education in 2000 as a City Year corps member at the Paul A. Dever School in Boston, helping to bring academically rich afterschool programming to underserved students. City Year, a FirstLine partner, is an education focused non-profit organization that unites diverse teams of AmeriCorps members for a year of service in high need schools in 25 communities across the country. Jon, subsequently, held a variety of analyst and systems building roles throughout his 14 years on City Year's staff, working with multiple functional areas of the organization including Development, Human Resources, Finance, and Strategic Planning. Most recently, Jon led the budgeting and facilities planning work for a new charter school launch in Denver. Jon holds a BA in Economics from the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Sarah Welinsky, Director of Research and Development 

Sarah Welinsky, a native of Connecticut, came to New Orleans in 2003 where she received a Bachelor's degree in Finance and French from Tulane University. She then worked for five years as Finance Manager for Save The Children's New Orleans Field Office. During this time she also served as a member of Save The Children's domestic and international emergency response teams. She joined FirstLine Schools as Grants Manager in October 2012 and completed her Masters in Public Administration with a concentration in Hazard Policy in the Spring of 2014. Sarah is a member of Phi Kappa Phi and the Pi Alpha Alpha National Honor Socieities and volunteers with Evacuteer as an Evacuspot Captain. She is excited for the opportunity to help make a great organization even better!

Saima Zaman, Director of HR/Talent Management

Before joining FirstLine in 2011, Saima worked with The New Teacher Project in Shreveport, Louisiana helping recruit teaching fellows. Prior to joining the education sector, Saima worked in international development for several years. She was a Program Officer at the GlobalGiving Foundation in Washington DC where she ensured that featured projects fit donors’ requirements of quality and diversity. GlobalGiving works with small family foundations, individual donors and multi-national corporations to give to reputable, unique projects at home and around the world. Saima also worked in Islamabad, Pakistan with the Leadership for Environment and Development-Pakistan program (LEAD-Pakistan) where she worked on creating communications materials, managing the research paper series and working with LEAD Fellows on training and career development.  Saima has a Master's Degree in Public Policy from The George Washington University and a B.A. from Bryn Mawr College. She speaks Pushto, Urdu, English and French and is eager to learn more languages.

FirstLine Schools - Education for Life

Mailing address: PO Box 791729, New Orleans, LA 70179
Physical address: 300 N. Broad Street, Suite 207, New Orleans, LA 70119
Phone (504) 267-9038 | Fax (504) 287-0019
info@firstlineschools.org