Educator Advisory Council for the Houston Region

Amid persistent teacher vacancies and increasing numbers of under-prepared and uncertified teachers, local leaders must find effective ways to increase the quality and diversity of the teacher workforce. When creating and implementing policies that affect classrooms, it’s imperative that educators have a seat at the decision-making table.

That’s why The Education Trust in Texas created the Houston-area Educator Advisory Council.

Local classroom teachers, school and district leaders, and teacher preparation leaders in the field are shaping and advancing a policy agenda that addresses the unique needs of local school systems. Learning from each other, as well as advocacy leaders, subject matter experts, practitioners, and policymakers, these leaders serve as the voices of their own lived experiences, research, and recommendations.

Dr. Viveca Allen-Grant is the Director of Certification and an Associate Professor in the College of Education at Texas Southern University. She has 40 years of experience in public schools, alternative certification and higher education, with degrees in Political Science and Educational Administration. Her educational journey entails 15 years as a public school teacher, 10 years as an Administrator and 15 years in Higher Education.  In Higher Education, she has worked in Educator Preparation Programs and as a Coordinator of a Principal Program.

Dr. Allen-Grant advocates for aspiring teachers to become certified and improve their students’ lives.  She participates in the Houston Region Teacher Pipeline Community of Practice (CoP).  She was the Principal Investigator and was awarded the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) Educator Preparation Direct Grant for creating innovative ways to address the current teacher shortage.  She is currently researching, publishing and presenting locally, state-wide and nationally about the best teaching practices regarding utilizing STEM and technology in the classroom.

Dr. Viveca Allen Grant headshot

Italia Cea’s lifelong dedication to multilingualism and cultural expression unfolded when she joined the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara’s study abroad program in 1993. Her belief in catalyzing positive change among educators, students, and families led her to the United States. Encouraged by a professor, she embraced the Alternative Certification Program and became a bilingual teacher during the formative stages of the bilingual program.

She began her career as a 4th-grade bilingual teacher at Oleson Elementary in Aldine ISD in 1994; Italia later transitioned to Anderson Academy, where her interest in the Montessori philosophy grew. This passion led her to the Bilingual Montessori classrooms. In 2004, she joined Reece Academy, encountering an influential educational mentor. During her seven years there, Italia held roles such as LPAC Administrator, RTI Interventionist, Dyslexia Coordinator, and Assistant Principal.

In 2011, Italia became the EC-2nd grade Bilingual and ESL Program Director, collaborating closely with district educators, students, and families for eight transformative years. Recognizing a fresh prospect in 2019, she pioneered Aldine ISD’s literacy department, playing a vital role in cultivating adaptable educators capable of meeting evolving student and family needs. Italia’s journey epitomizes her commitment to fostering inclusive education and empowering learning communities.

Italia Cea headshot

Dr. Kelli Charles, originally from Jeanerette, Louisiana, possesses a rich academic background and a distinguished career in education. Graduating in 1996 with a BA in History from Grambling State University, she pursued higher education, earning an MA in Social Science from Southern University in 1998. In 2019, she achieved a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Houston Baptist University, demonstrating her commitment to growth.

With over 20 years in education, she’s been a teacher, principal, and central office administrator. Her New Leaders for New Schools training prepared her for pivotal roles, notably as a turnaround principal with the Louisiana Recovery School District, revitalizing schools and working to create a supportive and thriving educational environment for students after Hurricane Katrina. Additionally, Dr. Charles thrived in Houston Independent School District, enhancing teacher development and later becoming Executive Director of School Support in Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools.

Returning to Houston during the pandemic, Dr. Charles became Director of High School Curriculum at Spring Independent School District. Her profound expertise and dedication empower her to navigate the challenges of today’s educational landscape while impacting the city she loves.

Kelli Charles headshot

Shea Culpepper, Director of Teacher Education at the University of Houston (UH), recognizes that improving the quality of students’ PK-12 education begins with preparing exceptional teachers. Shea, alongside other leaders at UH, has scaled and sustained a state and nationally-recognized residency model of teacher preparation that has proven to increase the quality and retention of PK -12 educators in the region.  In addition to her administrative responsibilities, Shea teaches courses in the Mathematics Education program at UH and serves as a clinical and curriculum design coach with other university-based educator preparation programs across the nation, where she strives to serve as a practitioner focused on refining teacher-educator practices to improve candidate outcomes.

Before her work at UH, Shea was the Elementary Math Coordinator at Fort Bend ISD, where she attended as a Pk-12 student and later taught third grade. Shea holds a BA in English from Texas A&M University, an MEd in Elementary Education from Boston University, and a PhD in Educational Leadership-Teaching, Learning and Curriculum from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Brandon Jenkins is a recent graduate of the University of Houston- Downtown (UHD) with a degree in Early Childhood Education with a focus on ESL. As he graduates from UHD to pursue his ambitions, Brandon epitomizes the word empowered—he’s confident and excited about the future he will create for himself. During his time at UHD, he was nominated as the graduation commencement speaker, lead for the student advisory board and representative for higher education at the Texas State Capitol. Brandon will enter his first year of teaching in Galena Park ISD as a 4th-grade teacher.

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Valerie Nguyen is a dedicated educator with a diverse background. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in marketing from UT Austin. Following her passion for education, she taught 11th-grade Language Arts in China for two transformative years, fostering cross-cultural connections and expanding her understanding of effective teaching practices.

Recently, Valerie graduated from the Relay Graduate School of Education with a teaching degree. She is a 2nd-grade teacher at KIPP Sharp College Prep, aiming to create an inclusive learning environment that caters to their students’ unique needs and backgrounds.

Beyond the classroom, Valerie finds joy in traveling, fishing, and expressing her creativity through art. She aspires to create an inclusive environment that benefits students and teachers alike.

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Dr. Brenda Rangel is the Assistant Dean at Rice University’s Glasscock School and leads strategic initiatives supporting the university’s EC-12 educational outreach programs, notably the Rice University Center for Education. She oversees program development for the Center for College Readiness, School Literacy and Culture, Summer Pre-College, and Education department programs. With 25 years of experience in public education, including roles as Chief Academic Officer and principal, Dr. Rangel is deeply engaged in the Houston community, mentoring emerging leaders and volunteering with various organizations.

Dr. Rangel was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, TX. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Spanish from Sam Houston State University, a Master of Science in Curriculum & Instruction from Houston Baptist University, and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership & Policy from the University of Texas at Austin.

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Brionne “Bri” Roberts is a seasoned leader in Special Education, boasting 16+ years of experience and 11+ years in leadership roles. With an unwavering commitment to equitable education, Bri excels in curriculum accessibility, instruction, coaching, project management, and cross-functional collaboration. Her impactful career is marked by achievements such as reducing district-wide discipline disproportionality from 2.5+ to 1.3 for Special Education students and decreasing failure rates from 16% in 2020 to 5% in Fall 2022. Bri also pivotally elevated STAAR Domain 1 scores in 12 out of 14 tested areas for students with Individualized Education Programs from Spring 2018 – 2019.

She was recently appointed Managing Director of Special Populations for Secondary Programs at YES Prep Public Schools.  In her past role as Director of Special Education, she led professional development, advocated for educational equity, and developed programs aligned with the district’s vision.

With a Master of Education Administration, Superintendent, Principal, Special Education, and Generalist 4-8 certifications and a Rice University Education Entrepreneurship Program Business Certificate, Bri is also the founder of EPIC Special Education Consulting. Through this initiative, she empowers district and campus leaders with executive coaching for specialized leadership growth.

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Jose Sanchez Garcia is a recruiter for Lamar CISD in the Greater Houston Area. In this role, he provides the district with strategic staffing initiatives for one of the fastest-growing school districts in Texas. He earned his B.A. in Psychology from the University of Houston and an M.Ed. from Concordia University and is a proud first-generation college graduate.

With 14 years of experience as an educator, Jose has worked as a teacher, coach, and Human Resources professional. His career began as a 7th-grade teacher in Cy-Fair ISD, where he worked at a Title I school and helped develop an after-school program that resulted in higher attendance and passing rates. He also has experience as a High School History teacher in HISD and Lamar CISD.

Jose likes to read dystopian novels in his spare time and travel with his wife, a special education teacher at Katy ISD.

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Ruth Stephen is a High School Director of Instruction and a proud Latinos for Education Fellowship alum. She was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. She has a strong passion for student learning and is a committed advocate for teachers and educational leaders. She brings over two decades of dedicated education experience. Throughout her dynamic career, she has served as a Spanish teacher, spearheaded the establishment of the campus’s inaugural New Arrival Center as an ESL Coordinator, and excelled as an Academic Achievement Specialist and Assistant Principal. Ruth is deeply committed to creating opportunities for all students and teachers and fostering their success.

Ruth Stephen headshot

Marjorie Yap is a teacher specialist within the Houston Independent School District, where her commitment is to foster positive rapport and trust, ultimately maximizing outcomes for students and fellow educators alike. With a rich and diverse career spanning roles as a data specialist, department leader, middle school English teacher, UIL coordinator, and debate coach, Marjorie has consistently demonstrated her dedication to educational excellence. Notably, she was honored as a Teach Plus Policy Fellow for the 2021-2022 academic year, further highlighting her commitment to shaping policy and practice in the education sector.

Marjorie’s educational journey began at Trinity University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English, followed by a Master of Arts in Teaching, solidifying her foundation for her impactful career in education.

The Education Trust in Texas advocates for equitable education for historically-underserved students across the state. We believe in centering the voices of Texas students and families as we work alongside them for the better future they deserve.