Rural Strong: Announcing the First Rural Learner-Centered Leadership Lab Cohort
Transcend is proud to announce the first rural cohort of the Learner-Centered Leadership Lab (LCLL), a program specifically designed for the most forward-thinking and visionary systems leaders who are committed to putting learners first. Through the LCLL—and in tandem with the Rural Schools Design Community (RSDC)—nine rural leaders from across the country will work collaboratively and support each other to create conditions that will enable learners to thrive in a world that is constantly evolving.
Rural communities hold unique opportunities to innovate and adapt their education offerings to respond to the 21st century. Although they historically experience underinvestment when compared to urban centers, rural communities are eager to pursue true transformation, and their size promotes both relationship-building and the entire community being part of the change. For the superintendents leading rural school systems, school innovation is an investment in their communities.
Rural LCLL leaders will have access to a national network of like-minded individuals who are just as passionate about transforming education as they are. Through the complementary 10-month RSDC, leaders will work locally to create an education vision that reflects community aspirations and equips young people with the skills needed to thrive in and transform the world. The RSDC leverages the expertise, methods, and network of Transcend to support these #ruralstrong communities as they move through the process of gathering community input and implementing a locally driven plan that strengthens how students, families, and staff experience school.
Transcend is proud to announce the 2023-24—and first rural—cohort of the Learner-Centered Leadership Lab:
Dr. Audra Pittman
Superintendent, Calistoga Joint Unified School District
Dr. Pittman is in her second year as superintendent of the Calistoga Joint Unified School District (CJUSD) and in her 25th year of educational service. Before joining CJUSD, Dr. Pittman served as the superintendent of the Bayshore Elementary School District and director of Administrator and Beginning Teacher Support Services for the San Mateo County Office of Education. Dr. Pittman also worked in Los Angeles County, serving as a principal for the La Cañada Unified School District, and assistant principal for both Long Beach Unified School District and the Whittier Union High School District.
Dr. Pittman began her career in education as a high school math teacher and curriculum coach for the Long Beach Unified School District. Dr. Pittman holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and secondary education from the University of Evansville, a master’s degree in educational leadership from California State University at Dominguez Hills, and a doctorate in urban education from Claremont Graduate University.
Director, East Range Academy of Technology & Science (ERATS)
Tara Lere is passionate about engaging with dedicated staff, hard-working parents, and ambitious students. Now the director of East Range Academy of Technology & Science in Mountain Iron, Minnesota, Lere initially joined the school as a health teacher. After earning a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, a graduate certificate in education innovation and technology, and both a superintendent’s and principal’s license, Lere stepped into her leadership position focused on increasing student achievement.
Lere holds over 25 years of experience working in education. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, waterfall hunting, nature photography, road trips, and gardening. The mother of two adult children, Lere is looking forward to becoming a grandma in 2024.
Superintendent, Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools
Keith Parker’s career in education began as a social studies teacher at SouthWest Edgecombe High School in Pinetops, NC. Later, he had the privilege of serving as the principal of Martin Millennium Academy—a K-8 magnet school, also in Edgecombe County. Among many things, he is proud of the Spanish Dual Language Immersion program that his team implemented and their efforts to close the achievement gap for all students in the school. Parker currently serves as superintendent of Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools.
Parker believes that the purpose of school is to prepare our young people with everything they will need to live a choice-driven life. To fully achieve this, he believes we must work together to think creatively about how our public schools can transform to meet the needs of the 21st-century learner.
Superintendent, Champlain Valley School District
Rene Sanchez is the superintendent of Vermont’s Champlain Valley School District. Assuming the role in the summer of 2021 provided a homecoming for his family since he is married to a native of Brattleboro.
Sanchez previously served as the assistant superintendent for operations for the South Bend Community School Corporation in Indiana. Overseeing human resources and transportation, Sanchez made national news by enabling the district’s school buses with Wi-Fi—helping South Bend Schools bridge the digital divide during the COVID-19 pandemic. As principal of Houston Independent School District’s 3,000+ student Chavez High School, Sanchez led a team recognized by America Achieves and the Organization for Economic and Community Development for closing the academic gap with affluent schools.
Originally from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, Sanchez earned a earned a bachelor’s degree in government and international studies from the University of Notre Dame, a master’s degree in education from the University of Texas at Austin, and a law degree from Ohio State University. He is currently pursuing his doctorate at Indiana State University.
Alejos Salazar, Jr.
Superintendent, Lasara ISD
Alejos Salazar, Jr., is the proud superintendent of Lasara ISD. He began his career in education as a bus driver and a teacher aide in 1993 while he completed his degree. Salazar has since worked as a teacher, coach, assistant principal, and principal. Salazar believes that as the educational leader of Lasara ISD, it is his responsibility to ensure that each student has an equitable opportunity for educational success. As a strong proponent of servant leadership, he works closely with teachers, administrators, parents, and the community to create environments that foster student support—giving every student the best opportunity for a successful school experience.
Superintendent, Riverhead Charter School
Ray Ankrum is a firm believer that education can be the catalyst to eradicate generational poverty. Since working in Baltimore City Public Schools and transitioning into the charter school world, he has served students in the positions of dean of students at Democracy Prep Public Charter School, principal at Harlem Village Academies, and now as superintendent of Riverhead Charter School located on Long Island, NY. Ankrum is currently in advanced candidacy for his doctorate at Manhattanville College, where he is set to defend his doctoral dissertation in the fall of 2023. The title of Ankrum’s doctoral proposal is “Black Male Principals’ Engaging Black Parents in Urban Charter Schools: An Interview Study.” Ankrum is also an alumnus of the prestigious Pahara Fellowship and Summer Principals Academy at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
Dr. Mike McNeff
Superintendent, Rugby Public Schools
Dr. Michael McNeff is serving his 19th year in the education profession. He has worked in four rural schools, holding positions ranging from social studies teacher to high school principal to superintendent. Dr. McNeff has served the Rugby, ND community as superintendent for the last 11 years. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Valley City State University and his master’s degree and doctorate from the University of North Dakota. Mike has spent his career in rural schools and strives to provide high-quality learning experiences in these underserved areas. He is a husband and father of four, all of whom attend the Rugby Public School District.
Dr. Beth Regulbuto
Superintendent, Southern Berkshire Regional School District
Dr. Beth Regulbuto has served as the superintendent of schools at the Southern Berkshire Regional School District (SBRSD) since 2017, where she works with 620 students and 200 staff members across three schools to drive positive change for students, teachers, and institutions alike.
Dr. Regulbuto has led several groundbreaking SBRSD initiatives, including the Early College Program (which helps students graduate with up to 30 college credits at no cost), Innovation Pathways Program (which provides coursework and experience in high-demand industries), and District-Wide Safety Committee (which is committed to staff and student welfare).
Dr. Regulbuto previously served as the associate superintendent of schools and assistant superintendent for business at the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District. She is actively involved in Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials, Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, and other professional organizations.
Dr. Regulbuto holds a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership from the University of the Cumberlands, an Master of Education in Organizational Management from Endicott College, and a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from Central Connecticut State University.
Superintendent, Warren County Schools
Keith Sutton is an education innovator, entrepreneur, and advocate for children and families. In his role as superintendent of Warren County Schools, Sutton leads a district of seven schools, 250 employees, and 1,700 students (approximately).
A North Carolina native, Sutton has worked across sectors to improve education in the state. He previously served on the Wake County Board of Education, as the founding principal of FocusED LLC (a firm supporting organizations to transform education), and excellence director of BEST NC (a think tank advancing education policy and advocacy across the Tar Heel State). For over two decades, Sutton has served his community through work on boards and committees including the state’s NAACP, Triangle Urban League, Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, and more.
Sutton is a member of the Triangle East Chapter of 100 Black Men, Unity Lodge #64 of Prince Hall Masons, and the Iota Iota Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
The Rural Schools Design Community takes place at no cost to participants thanks to generous grant support. The current cohort commenced in August 2023.
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