Staff & Board Members

Liz Thacker

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

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Zipporah Olukanni

Zipporah joined IEL in December of 2022. As a program associate, Zipporah is responsible for ongoing administrative and logistic support for the staff and initiatives at IEL. Currently, she supports the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program, the Virginia Career Pathways project, and IEL’s portfolio youth leadership programming. Before joining IEL, Zipporah held a variety of

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Sherene Lewis

Passionate about and committed to helping and bringing people together. Specializing in personalizing diverse events and handling stressful event situations with grace. Creative designs with incredible attention to detail and structured + logistical event flow is a signature.

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Christa Rowland

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

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

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

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Dr. Michelle Lessly Blackburn

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

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Dr. Gislaine Ngounou

Education, Philanthropy, and Organizational Change Advisor Dr. Gislaine Ngounou is a change agent on a journey to embody the practice of freedom, abundance, love, rest, and joy. She believes these elements and practices are essential in the quest to manifest organizations, environments, systems, and societies in which we all flourish. With more than twenty years

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Pele Le

Rooted in love and justice, Pele (he/him/his) is a second-generation Vietnamese American driven to create impact by bridging communities, building advocates & centering marginalized communities.

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Dr. Emily (Li) Cheng

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

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