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Press Release: Inaugural Cohort of Leaders Announced to Help Drive a Nationwide Movement for Excellence and Equity in Education through Linked Learning

February 9, 2021

February 9, 2021
Contact for Linked Learning Alliance
Rachel Zaentz

Inaugural Cohort of Leaders Announced to Help Drive a Nationwide Movement for Excellence and Equity in Education through Linked Learning

SAN FRANCISCO– The Linked Learning Alliance (“the Alliance”), a national coalition of educators, employers and community organizations dedicated to the success of all young people, announced the selection of nine remarkable professionals for the inaugural 2021 Linked Learning Fellows program. This group of accomplished education practitioners from across California will embark on a six-month long journey to help communities nationwide address racial and economic equity through Linked Learning. The approach integrates rigorous academics with real-work experiences to make learning powerful and relevant, and provides comprehensive support services, recognizing that all students don’t come to school on the same footing.

Linked Learning was created to stop the harm done to generations of young people, especially those in marginalized groups, who faced an “or” in high school. Students were deemed to be college material, or not. Millions were tracked away from degrees, high-paying jobs, and economic and social mobility. But independent research shows that Linked Learning activates the “and”— enabling all students to achieve more in high school and ignite their college and career ambitions in a supportive environment.

The Linked Learning Fellows program builds on the Linked Learning field’s longstanding leadership in driving equity in local communities. The program engages highly experienced education practitioners who have brought learning to life by successfully transforming programs, systems, and policies to ignite students’ college and career ambitions. By joining the Linked Learning Fellows program, incredible practitioners will grow their networks and impact through collaboration. Fellows will also be provide a national platform to share knowledge and expertise with other education and community leaders from across the country.

The inaugural program generated great interest from across the education sector. This first cohort includes those with significant Linked Learning experience, representing leaders from the county, district, school, and community levels across diverse geographies, and includes teachers, principals, and district and county office of education administrators. Fellows bring a variety of knowledge and skills to this program that will propel the Linked Learning movement forward, including developing meaningful partnerships with local industry and postsecondary leaders, ensuring high-quality practice, and building political and public will for policies that prioritize high-quality college and career preparation.

“This group of innovative leaders brings decades of expertise advancing equity in education. Their continued leadership—together—will help to ensure all have what some have today: genuine access to postsecondary education as well as supports to gain a credential and high-skill job by age 24,” said Anne Stanton, president and CEO of the Linked Learning Alliance. “We know that within the Linked Learning movement lies the power and potential to transform our communities. It is only when we work across systems and geographies, leveraging distributed leadership, that we can achieve equity at scale. And our young people—who have unlimited potential—are deserving of unlimited futures.”

Members of the inaugural cohort of Linked Learning Fellows program include:

  • Matin Abdel-Qawi, High School Network Superintendent, Oakland USD
    Matin has been an equity centered educational leader in Oakland USD for over 20 years. As a High School Network Superintendent, Matin is responsible for supervising the schools supported by the High School Network and the Linked Learning office. Matin started his career in education as a teacher at Claremont Middle School. It was there that he realized the need to bring Oakland’s legacy of social activism to the classroom. He advocated for all scholars, not just the scholars from the neighborhood, to have access to Algebra in the eighth grade. Matin is also the founding principal of East Oakland School of the Arts (EOSA). On the Castlemont campus, he created a small autonomous school founded on the belief that all students will perform at high levels when given the love and support needed. After leading EOSA for seven years, Matin took his experience of advocating for African American male students and became the director of African American Male Achievement’s Manhood Development Program (MDP). In that role he designed and started several MDP programs at schools across the district. In 2013, Matin became the principal of Oakland High School where he created systems and programs that are rooted in equity, diversity, and access for all students.
  • Cynthia Bater, Program Administrator for Linked Learning, Long Beach USD
    Cynthia is a widely respected educator and expert on district-led systemic implementation of Linked Learning. Cynthia is currently the Long Beach USD’s Program Administrator for Linked Learning, a position she has held since 2015, after previously serving in a key role supporting the district’s Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools and as the Dean of Students at the California Academy of Math and Science (CAMS). At Long Beach USD, Cynthia manages Linked Learning as a district-wide strategy and oversees implementation to ensure quality pathway experiences for all students. She has secured and currently manages multiple multi-million-dollar grants to accelerate integrated college and career preparation. A collaborative leader, Cynthia works closely with partners representing institutions in the Long Beach College Promise, with industry representatives to expand work-based learning opportunities for students and serves as the project manager for the Advancing Linked Learning Innovation Network (aLLin), a regional Linked Learning Hub of Excellence.
  • Cynthia "Cindy" Brown, Director of Student Pathways, Porterville USD
    Across Cindy’s 35-year career in education, she has consistently advocated for student success in college and career preparation with her work extending into the public and private sectors, spanning from K-12 into postsecondary levels. She has been at the forefront of leading Porterville USD in their district-wide implementation of the Linked Learning Pathways Program. Securing over $62 million in public and private funding, she has reinvigorated education using the Linked Learning approach. Cindy has led and developed a notable district-wide system of implementing college preparatory and career themed pathway academies that have received statewide, national, and international recognition. Cindy has also been instrumental in building multiple partnerships with workforce and professional industry experts to connect educational lessons with the real world. She is a member of numerous committees and has provided various consultancies to district educators across the nation. Her mentoring focus is on developing equitable school district systems and implementing innovative strategies to create meaningful work-based learning experiences that empower our future leaders.
  • Kerin Coffey, Teacher and Academy Coordinator, Biomedical Sciences Academy, Eastside High School, Antelope Valley USD
    Kerin Coffey is a veteran educator with over 20 years of classroom teaching experience. Kerin spent the early years of her career teaching seventh grade life science. When Project Lead the Way launched Principles of Biomedical Science, Kerin found herself reinvigorated with the opportunity to share her love of science through the lens of health-related careers with high school aged students. In fall of 2015, Kerin joined the Biomedical Sciences team at Eastside High School in Lancaster, California. In partnership with her dedicated colleagues, this learning pathway quickly grew into a flourishing Academy grounded in the Linked Learning approach. In 2019, Eastside High School’s Biomedical Sciences Academy was recognized as one of the first 12 Gold Certified Linked Learning pathways in the nation.
  • Esther Dabagyan, Principal, STEM Academy of Hollywood, Los Angeles USD
    Esther has deep experience teaching students of all ages, from middle school to adults. She loves to empower students and educators at the Linked Learning Gold Certified STEM Academy of Hollywood, where she was a teacher, design team member, lead teacher, instructional coach, and now a principal. Esther emigrated from Armenia in 1987 and has lived in Los Angeles since then. She graduated from University of California, Irvine with a BS in Biology and BA in Comparative Literature and holds an MA in Science Education from California State University, Northridge. Esther was also a dedicated science teacher for more than 15 years.
  • Laura Gallardo, Principal/Coordinator of College and Career, Hemet USD
    Before joining Hemet USD as a district leader for college and career readiness, Laura had 16 years of classroom experience including teaching CTE in the field of Agriculture and Energy Utilities, as well as biology in San Bernardino City USD. As a classroom teacher who successfully combined rigorous academics with CTE learning, Laura helped Linked Learning pathways across the district earn Linked Learning Gold Certification. As a part time professor at California State University, San Bernardino Laura works to help future CTE teachers earn their credential and start their journey into education from industry. Laura is a strong believer in the power of integrated learning and advocates for equitable access to high-quality educational experiences for all students.
  • Renée Shipman, Vice Principal, Wilson High School, Long Beach USD
    For the past 10 years, Renée has been a leader in Linked Learning high school reform in Long Beach USD. Her work includes district and site implementation of Linked Learning pathways, expansion of work-based learning experiences, and bringing college and career readiness to scale. Renée has served as a coach and mentor to district staff, including administrators, teachers, and counselors. Renée has also supported other districts in their Linked Learning implementation, collaborating with regional partners and districts across the nation. At the center of Renée’s work is the idea that all students should have equitable access to high-quality educational paths that lead to multiple opportunities for college, career, and success.
  • Joy Soares, Director, College and Career, Tulare County Office of Education and Director, Tulare Kings College and Career Collaborative
    Joy has been a member of the Tulare County Office of Education team since 2012. In her role as the Director of College and Career, she provides mentorship and support to leaders and districts in Tulare County and across the state with several collaborative networks. As the Director of the Tulare Kings College and Career Collaborative, she serves the two-county regional network to advance college and career readiness for all students working within the intricate and intentional workgroup and network system that vertically and horizontally aligns the K-12, postsecondary, and industry segments. Her approach to education is unique, stemming from 15 years in industry and a desire to ready students for college and their career beyond. Her 12-year teaching career was in high-poverty schools with high English Learner populations. She was in school site administration before joining the county office as the Project-Based Learning Staff Developer.
  • David Trachtenberg, Teacher, STEM Academy of Hollywood, Los Angeles USD
    David teaches biology at the STEM Academy of Hollywood where he also serves as chair of the Community Outreach Committee and Science Department. He has been instrumental in developing and sustaining strong industry partnerships to provide opportunities for meaningful work-based learning. Recently, he led the charge to ensure student internships continued on a virtual basis as the pandemic persists. He passionately believes that syncing education with the skills required for success in college and career is vital in enabling our students to address the world’s problems and live meaningful, fulfilling lives.

To learn more about the fellows and their visionary ideas for creating more equitable schools and communities through Linked Learning visit:


The Linked Learning Alliance is the engine that drives a movement to help every young person determine their own future through a proven approach to education called Linked Learning. Linked Learning integrates rigorous academics with real-world learning and strong support services to prepare students for success in college, career, and life. The Alliance helps create public will for equity and excellence in education, elevate the practice of Linked Learning across America, and advance policies that serve and support all youth.