Who We Are

Meet the Coalition

The Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) works with communities to accelerate system change and expand educational and workforce opportunities for young people and their families. IEL is leading a national effort to expand a Coalition for Community Schools in urban, rural, and suburban communities. We provide national leadership to help build learning systems that unite communities, families, and schools to accelerate the improvement of student outcomes.

The Coalition helps support Community School advocacy, making sure all voices, particularly those of marginalized groups, are elevated and heard. We are a leading resource for information, research, and data on Community Schools.

IEL and the Coalition partner with communities to create systems tailored to local communities to support new ways to learn and work, providing technical support at all stages of a Community School, from increasing awareness, to facilitating community alignment for sustainability, to accelerating improved outcomes through implementation.

The Coalition is full of talented leaders. In the spirit of our values and principles, IEL practices distributive leadership by enlisting the support of Network Co-Chairs. Visit our Networks to meet the Co-Chairs. To learn more about our Regional Deputy Directors and what jurisdictions they serve, click here.


Meet the Team

Eddie Koen

IEL President

Before his arrival at IEL, Eddie Koen served as the President and Chief Executive Officer for the Urban League of Greater Southwest Ohio (ULGSO), one of the largest Urban League affiliates in the country serving Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and Dayton, Ohio. He grew the League from 45 to 90 staff members during his tenure, increased the budget from 4.9 to 13 million, and launched the first Center for Social Justice to serve as the regional catalyst for collaborative police reform efforts. ULGSO secured at least one job per day in the region and served 1600 black, brown, & women-owned businesses a year with total revenues of over seven billion and 60 thousand employees. After securing the most significant programmatic personal gift of $1M, the center expanded to education advocacy and health equity work. The Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio also serves as headquarters to the Small Business Development Center of Hamilton County.

Before his role, he served as the Chief Impact Officer for Mile High United Way, where he directed $18 million in investment strategies and programming shifting the work towards neighborhoods needs.

A Chicago native with roots in Alabama, he has a passion for education, equity, and criminal justice reform.

Eddie served as the chief-of-staff for Denver Public Schools (DPS), the largest school district in Colorado with a one-billion-dollar budget, where he was charged with overall coordination of policy, lobbying, and strategy. Under Eddie’s efforts, DPS eliminated expulsions and drastically reduced suspensions for all students in the district from K-3.

In Denver, Eddie served as vice-chair of the Board of Trustees for the Denver Foundation (TDF), an $820M community foundation, chaired their work around racial equity, and served as a finance committee member. Eddie is the past co-chair of the Denver African-American Philanthropists and a member of the TDF’s EPIC Initiation -elevating philanthropy in communities of color.

He served as the Colorado State Policy Adviser for Lumina Foundation’s Strategy Labs, a platform to advance targeted initiatives on racial equity and degree attainment in underrepresented groups. Eddie served as the founding regional executive director for College Track, a comprehensive multi-state education nonprofit in a prior role.

He served as the executive director of Charity’s House Ministries, a housing reentry nonprofit, targeting black men suffering from substance abuse and reentering society from prison. After law school, he worked as a legal fellow at Equal Justice Initiative- an advocacy organization serving defendants denied fair treatment in the legal system.

While living in Birmingham, Alabama, he co-founded the Birmingham Roundtable; a grassroots policy group focused on holding stakeholders accountable to the electorate. While serving as national chair for the National Black Law Students Association, he organized one of the largest death penalty moratorium rallies in history at the Carter Center. He co-founded Konbit Pou Edikayson – an international nonprofit focused on education and youth gang prevention in Cité Soleil (Sun City), Haiti.

In law school, he collaborated with the American Bar Association’s “Death Penalty Representation Project” to provide critical legal services to clients on death row. As a result, the Alabama State Bar awarded and recognized Eddie for his outstanding work.

He served on the board for Cincinnati Country Day School, Mount St. Joseph University, Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, the Human Services Chamber, and the Community Investment Network. He served on the Advisory Board for the Barton Institute for Philanthropy and Social Enterprise, the Advisory Board for National Pre-Law Diversity Initiatives, Inc., the Board of Directors for Colorado Latino Leadership and Research Organization (CLLARO), the Colorado Forum, Board of Directors for Denver Health Community Health Services, Board of Directors for NAACP Denver, and vice-chair for the commission for the Denver Office of Strategic Partnerships. He also served on the Rocky Mountain Black Economic Summit board of directors.

In 2020, 2021, and 2022, Eddie was honored as one of the most powerful Cincinnati 300, an annual report on Greater Cincinnati’s top 300 business leaders—the most influential and impactful people shaping Cincinnati. He was named as a “Top Boss to Watch” in 2020 and 2021 by the Cincinnati Business Courier. He was a Livingston Fellow by Bonfils Stanton for 2019; and, he was honored as a “Community Champion” by the City of Denver’s Office of Children Affairs. He received the “Shoes of Justice Award,” by Shorter AME Church in 2017 for his commitment to equity in education and recognition by the TheEduCtr for supporting educators of color. In Atlanta, GA, he was honored by the Community Investment Network for his dedication to philanthropy and giving in 2016. He was named one of Denver Urban Spectrum’s Top 15 for 2015. He is one of Denver Business Journal’s Forty under 40 for 2014 and a MODEL Man (Man of Distinction, Excellence, and Leadership) by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.

In 2012, ColoradoBiz Magazine recognized Eddie as one of Colorado’s Top 25 Most Influential Young Professionals. In August of 2013, Eddie received the Sebastian Owens Community Service Award from Urban League of Metro Denver. He received his law degree from Samford University, his Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and his bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. He enjoys traveling with his family, playing chess, and live music.

Kwesi Rollins

Coalition for Community Schools Interim Director and IEL Senior Vice President for Leadership and Engagement

A member of IEL’s Senior Leadership Team, Kwesi Rollins guides IEL’s portfolio of programs designed to develop and support leaders with a particular emphasis on Family and Community Engagement, Early Childhood Education and Community-based Leadership Development. Kwesi directs the District Leaders Network on Family and Community Engagement and Leaders for Today and Tomorrow, an initiative that designs and delivers professional learning and support opportunities for school and district leaders.

Kwesi has years of experience working with local communities and state agencies to improve cross-sector collaboration and service delivery systems supporting children, youth and families. Mr. Rollins provided technical assistance and training to a range of state and county agencies, school districts, local schools and community-based organizations in projects funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Working with young people is also a personal passion for Kwesi who has special expertise in resiliency and youth development.  He has been recognized as the Big Brother of the Year in the District of Columbia and is an ex-officio member of the Board of Directors of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the National Capitol Area.  He holds an MSW degree from the University of Maryland at Baltimore School of Social Work where he was a Maternal and Child Health Leadership Training Fellow. Follow Kwesi on Twitter: @kwesibaby58

Areas of expertiseCommunity Schools, Family and Community Engagement, Juvenile Justice, Youth Engagement/Leadership, Collaborative Leadership, Leadership Development and Capacity Building, Program Design/Implementation/Support, Event Planning and Logistics, Grant Development/Development and Fundraising/Disability Inclusion, Racial Justice, Youth Development

Joline Collins

Northeast Regional Deputy Director for the Coalition for Community Schools

Joline Collins serves as the Deputy Director of the Northeast Regional TAC Center. She is a proud first-generation college student and is currently a 2022 Ed.M. candidate at Harvard University Graduate School of Education; studying education policy and management. Since 2017, Joline has honed her expertise in systemic family and community engagement, leadership development and network management at IEL. She has supported the growth of IEL’s District Leaders Network on Family and Community Engagement, a peer-driven knowledge network designed to engage over 175 members as both experts and learners through a national structure to support member capacity building activities, organized professional learning experiences, co-authored Taking it to the Next Level: Strengthening and Sustaining Family Engagement through Integrated Systemic Practice, and more.

“I came into this work initially for personal reasons, as a parent first. After I had my first child, I reflected on my own school experiences and thought about what I wanted for my daughter. I knew that she couldn’t live in a bubble and that her experiences and success would be connected to other children in her generation. Therefore, I begin to ask myself how do you ensure a positive education experience and plethora of opportunities to an entire generation? Understanding the need is great and solutions are complex, one person cannot do this work alone. Instead, to be successful, it will take leaders representing multiple systems to come together, strategize, and innovate on how to best serve our students, families and communities. To be clear, the solution must involve a two-generation approach because if our families are not well or engaged, then the students/youth they love, and support will not be well,” shares Collins.

Looking forward to the path ahead, Collins reflects on why this role is so timely: “COVID-19 forced leaders to think about schooling differently and the importance of family and community engagement. Right now, we have an opportunity to truly engage in cross-sector collaboration, and with Community Schools as a vehicle, restructure systems to better serve students and their families. IEL is an organization with deep expertise. Through our networks, we witness both the patterns and challenges local leader are facing. With IEL’s new place-based strategy, through a regional approach, we can more strategically and efficiently partner with communities to improve outcomes locally and uplift what works nationally.”

In her spare time, Collins enjoys traveling, organizing things, reading a good book, or binge-watching Netflix.

Dr. Donnie Ray Hale, Jr. Ed.D.

Southern Regional Deputy Director for the Coalition for Community Schools

Dr. Donnie Hale is a proud father, husband, son, and friend that loves to create possibilities with others.  Dr. Donnie Hale serves as the Regional Deputy Director, Southern Regional TAC. He is responsible for engaging leaders and networks, coaching and supporting, and building capacity for community schools to positively impact youth and families.  Dr. Hale brings 20+ years of experience in higher education, teaching, research, coaching, community building, and relationship cultivation. He previously has served as Executive Director for Community Engagement and Strategic Partnership at Florida Memorial University, Assistant Director for the University of Central Florida – Center for Community Schools, and Director of The Education Effect (University-Assisted Community School Partnership) at Florida International University, and Assistant Professor of Education at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.   His body of work is focused on race, equity, educational opportunity, college access and human development. His teaching experience has been in areas of sociology, education, African American history, and cultural diversity.

Hale is originally from Stockton, CA.  He attended undergraduate at Willamette University and graduate school at Boise State University.  He is a father to Taylor, Chloe, and Donnie III. Husband to Heather Hale. Proud son to Donnie and Debra Hale and brother to Michael, Michelle, Glen, and Terrence.

Dr. Ryan Hurley

Midwestern Regional Deputy Director for the Coalition for Community Schools

Dr. Ryan Hurley (he/him) serves as the Regional Deputy Director of the Midwest Technical Assistance Center.

Ryan brings experience as a community organizer, Community School Coordinator and the Director of a regional Community Schools initiative. As the Director, Ryan supported the establishment and growth of a network of Community Schools, developed cross-sector partnerships, and collaboratively created a transformational strategy grounded in shared leadership, equity and cultural relevance. Under his leadership, the partnership grew exponentially and is regularly recognized as a best practice in systems building across the national Community Schools network. Ryan has supported and advocated for Community Schools policies at the local, regional and national level. Before transitioning to IEL, Ryan developed an organizational and financial structure to support continued growth and sustainability, including securing a highly competitive multi-year Department of Education grant and the passing of a Community Schools policy by the local school board.

Ryan served as the co-chair of the Coalition for Community Schools United Way Network, co-founded a state Community Schools Coalition, and is member of the Coalition’s Community Schools Leadership Network. Ryan has advocated for disability inclusion, developed award-winning arts education programming, and collaboratively organized spaces for educators to build culturally responsive and restorative classrooms and schools.

Christa Rowland

Western Regional Deputy Director for the Coalition for Community Schools

Christa Rowland believes in the power of uniting communities to create a brighter future for all children. Before joining the IEL team, Christa was the Director of Community Impact at the United Way of Treasure Valley in Boise, Idaho. She helped grow the system of Community Schools in Idaho, founded the Idaho Community School Learning Network, and co-founded the Idaho Coalition for Community Schools.

Christa began her career as a Music Educator, teaching hundreds of students the joy of creating music. She has  a Masters Degree in Public Administration, a Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Administration, and Bachelors Degrees in Music Education and Violin Performance.

Liz Thacker

IEL Community Connections Manager

Liz Thacker joins IEL as the Community Connections Manager. She is no stranger though to IEL having contracted with IEL for nearly four years to support the operations of our Coordinators Network. She brings over 10 years of experience working as a Coordinator with three different Community Schools. In her last role, she did partner onboarding and development helping transform the high school experience through career themed academies.

Liz holds a Master of Education from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a Bachelor of Science from Furman University. She currently resides in East Tennessee with her husband and two young children.

Dr. Michelle Lessly Blackburn

IEL Senior Policy Manger

Joining IEL in 2022, Michelle Lessly Blackburn is the Senior Policy Manager, working to advance the policy agenda of both IEL and the Coalition for Community Schools on the federal level. She brings 15 years of experience in higher education administration and policy research. Her policy work focuses on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the Clery Act, and accreditation innovation. Prior to joining IEL, Michelle was the Head of Student Success at an EdTech nonprofit based in San Francisco and worked at MIT in the Division of Student Life. She currently serves as the Executive Director for the Blackburn Foundation, a non-profit focused on college readiness for K-12 students in North Texas. She holds a Doctorate in Law and Public Policy from Northeastern University and a Master’s of Education from Abilene Christian University.

A Texas native, Michelle now lives in Oakland, CA, with her husband and son.

Mia Calys

IEL Communications Manager

Mia joined IEL in October 2019, and leads IEL’s communications and elevating IEL’s online presence through our various digital platforms and networks of partners.

Prior to her time at IEL, Mia worked to support digital communications for almost 8 years at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. Her experience there included leading social media and online campaign efforts focused on servicing hardworking union members by creating a platform for their stories and amplifying their voices to help them build better lives and gain agency, as well as educating the masses about the union difference and Labor’s impact on social justice issues.

During that time Mia also earned her MFA at George Mason University where she concentrated on creative nonfiction writing and utilized courses in professional writing and web design to enhance her skills in writing for the web to engage a wide variety of stakeholders.

Mia is also an advocate of Type One Diabetes, helping to support groups like Type One Run, that connect area diabetics and their friends and family through running and community. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband and German Shepard Sarah.

Emily Cheng

IEL Senior Data Analyst

Dr. Emily (Li) Cheng, the senior data analyst at the Institute for Educational Leadership. She has a Ph.D. in public policy and administration and a master’s certificate in applied statistics. She also has a professional certificate in Result-Based Accountability (RBA). At IEL, Dr. Cheng supports data-related work, research, and strategic planning. Meanwhile, she oversees internal and external data capacity building, program evaluation, and impact analysis. Dr. Cheng is also the leading author of the IEL Annual Youth Transition Reports and the interactive youth transition data tool and one of the co-authors of the Youth Voice in Community Schools Guide and protocols. Before joining IEL, Dr. Cheng led a project to analyze the gap between academic training and job requirements for the FAA Center of Excellence for Technical Training and Human Performance (TTHP); managed a state-funded college mentoring program that was launched for academically and economically disadvantaged high school seniors and first-year college students; and prepared an annual accreditation data report for NASPAA, a global accreditor of master’s degree programs in public policy, public affairs, public administration, and public & nonprofit management. She joined IEL in 2019 and wanted to advance people’s ability to use data to improve community-level equity trajectories.

Areas of expertiseYouth Engagement/Leadership, Leadership Development and Capacity Building, Program Design/Implementation/Support, Event Planning and Logistics, Disability Inclusion, Racial Justice, Youth Development, Data-informed Decision Making, Data Capacity Building

Pele Le

Events and Operations Program Associate, Coalition of Community Schools and Family & Community Engagement

Pele Le is a proud second-generation Vietnamese American and a first-generation college graduate of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities with a B.A.S. in health services management and a minor in psychology, public health, leadership, and Korean.

Prior to joining IEL, Pele bridged communities and developed advocates in his work at universities, state and federal-level civil rights organizations, and nonprofits. At the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center, he advocated for the largest refugee population to ever resettle in the United States, leading equitable outreach research and national community engagement efforts. At the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, he coordinated local grassroots and national campaigns to mobilize the AAPI community for the elections.

Sherene Lewis

Event Manager

Born and raised in New York City, Sherene previously worked for The Rockefeller Foundation as a Senior Associate working with their design team to plan and design convenings.  After graduating from New York University with a Master’s in Event Management, she started an Event Management Agency and relocated to Alexandria, VA. She loves spending time with her two sons and traveling.

Area of expertise: Event Planning and Logistics

Helen Janc Malone

IEL Senior Vice President for Strategy, Research, and Policy

Dr. Helen Janc Malone is the Senior Vice President, Strategy, Research, and Policy, and Secretary of the Board. Her work focuses on scaling promising practices through research and data, incubating innovating leadership initiatives, supporting a national network of leaders for equitable education policy, and growing research-practice network. Her areas of expertise include education policy and leadership, out-of-school time learning, and systems-level change in both national and global contexts. Helen is the series editor of the Information Age Publishing book series “Current Issues on Out-of-School Time.” Her recent publications include: Bridging Educational Change Through Partnership (Journal of Educational Change, 21, 2020); The Role of Context in Scaling Up Educational Change (Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 17(3), 2018); The Growing Out-of-School Time Field: Past, Present, and Future (Information Age Publishing, 2018, co-edited book); The Future Directions in Educational Change: Social Justice, Professional Capital, and Systems Change (Routledge, 2018, co-edited book); Opening Doors, Changing Futures (IEL, 2018; co-edited technical report); Collaborative Partnerships for Systems Change (Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 2(4), 2017). She has co-founded two special interest groups (SIGs) within the American Educational Research Association (AERA), has served as the Chair of three SIGs, and is the founding editor of a long-running series, Lead the Change. She serves as a peer reviewer on several academic journals and has served on editorial boards across out-of-school time, youth development, and education leadership journals. She has given lectures domestically and abroad and has appeared in mass media, including PBS, C-SPAN, Huffington Post, and has run two Education Week blogs. Helen holds Ed.D. in education policy, leadership, and instructional practice from Harvard University.

Areas of expertiseCommunity Schools, Youth Engagement/Leadership, Leadership Development and Capacity Building, Policy/Advocacy, Program Design/Implementation/Support, Event Planning and Logistics, Grant Development/Development and Fundraising, Youth Development

Ken Simon

IEL Deputy Director, Leadership Initiatives

Ken believes in the power of communities, families, students, and teachers working together to drive meaningful learning. He began his journey as a teacher in outdoor education and eventually became social studies classroom teacher. He has served as a teacher, curriculum/instruction leader, mentor, coach, district administrator and professional development provider for teachers and school leaders. Over the course of his career he has collaborated with other educators to lead the development of several new schools. He currently serve as the Deputy Director of Leadership Initiatives for IEL. He also holds a doctorate in Educational
Leadership and is a published writer on various education topics ranging from equity, teaching and learning, to leadership coaching. He also teaches both undergraduate and graduate level courses and is currently teaching a graduate level course on collaborative leadership.

Areas of expertiseYouth Engagement/Leadership, Collaborative Leadership, Leadership Development and Capacity Building, Program Design/Implementation/Support, Youth Development, Professional Development for Educators

Ebony Watson

IEL Deputy Director, Center for Workforce Development

Ebony Watson is a Deputy Director for the Center for Workforce Development at the Institute for Educational Leadership. Ebony is the National Program Director of the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program  (RAMP), a career-focused mentoring program for court-involved and at-risk youth with disabilities. For the last sixteen years, Ebony has provided counsel, assistance, and guidance to youth and families involved in the juvenile justice and foster care system, collaborated with schools to improve attendance and graduation rates for system-involved youth, and mentored youth in goal-setting and decision-making skills. For the last eight years, she has worked at IEL to streamline best practices for mentoring youth with disabilities to include recruiting and training mentors, mentor-mentee match support, engaging families, case management, and records review. Additionally, Ebony has developed and facilitated trainings sharing the learned strategies and best practices of the RAMP program to assist in the development of peer mentoring programs across the country.

Ebony holds a Master of Social Work degree from Walden University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Augusta State University. Ebony is also a graduate of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services Leadership Development Institute.

Areas of expertise: Juvenile Justice, Program Design/Implementation/Support, Event Planning and Logistics, Disability Inclusion, Mentoring

Deanna Hron

Community School Coordinators Network Co-Chair

Full Service Community School Coordinator/Manager, King Elementary School

Nathalie Umaña

Community School Coordinators Network Co-Chair

Community School Coordinator, Los Angeles County Office of Education

Autumn Berg
Autumn Berg

Community School Leadership Network Co-Chair

Senior Manager, Chicago Public Schools (CPS)

Maxwell Akuamoah-Boateng, MBA-E

Community School Leadership Network Co-Chair

Director Of Operations, Community Schools, Office of Children and Families at City of Philadelphia

Jessica Knapp
Dr. Jessica Knapp, DPA

Community Schools Research Practice Network Co-Chair

President & State Director at Communities in Schools of Pennsylvania

Naorah Rimkunas, Assistant Professor, Community Schools, College of Community and Public Affairs
Dr. Naorah Rimkunas

Community Schools Research Practice Network Co-Chair

Assistant Professor of Community Schools at Binghamton University

Danette Townsend

Community School State Coalitions Network Co-Chair

Executive Director, ABC Community School Partnership

Luann Kida

Community School State Coalitions Network Co-Chair

Executive Director of Binghamton University Community Schools (BUCS)

Pam Romero

United Way Learning Community Network Co-Chair

Vice President, Community Schools United, United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley

Heyley Regan

United Way Learning Community Network Co-Chair

Collaboration Manager, The United Way of Treasure Valley