Our Board


With decades of collective expertise at the forefront of teacher preparation, our leadership works to help break down silos 
as well as amplify the collective voice and unique contributions that MSI’s offer in training highly effective diverse educators for America’s classrooms.

Learn more about who we are and how we got here.

Dr. Curtis E, Martin has served in the field of education for forty-four years.  He has served as a classroom teacher, graduate teaching assistant, professor at the community college level, as an associate member of Ph.D. faculty, as a Department Chairperson, as a College Dean, as Executive Vice president, as Dean of Students, and as Interim President.

Having earned the Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, his interest and energies have been devoted to equity in education and closing the gaps in achievement between the different ethnic groups.  The focus of these efforts has been the accreditation of teacher preparation programs through activities which were based on standards-based curriculum and program delivery and enhancement of programs through evidence supported decision making.  This work led to the development and funding of the Charter Teacher Education Program at Fort Valley State University where candidates advanced to the next level through the achievement of standards rather than through the earning of letter grades.

He has served in several leadership positions beyond his campus including as a member of the executive committee of AACTE and as a representative to NCATE.  He has written grants, obtaining more than five million dollars, all geared toward improving the quality of education of minority learners.  He has devoted years to serving on accreditation review teams and continues to do so, while consulting with institutions of higher education on going beyond accreditation to becoming leaders in preparing teachers and advocating for and championing the cause for quality education for all learners.

A native of North Carolina, Dr. Inger Swimpson moved to Maryland after earning her bachelor’s degree in Biology and her teaching certification at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

Passionate about teaching and education, she worked as a middle school science educator for 25 years at the Montgomery County Public Schools—and attained progressive leadership roles that included: department chairperson and Supervisor, Staff Development Programs, Director, Certification and Staffing, and Director, Talent Acquisition.

Dr. Swimpson is a skilled facilitator and excels at helping leaders discover their creativity and passion through shared leadership challenges and aspirations. Dr. Swimpson’s most gratifying professional accomplishment lies in the establishment of the BOND (Building Our Network of Diversity) Program, a networking, leadership, mentorship, and fellowship program created for African American and Latino male educators in Montgomery County Public Schools. This program allows these men of color to connect, share, and build upon a shared craft: teaching.

Dr. Swimpson uses her extensive leadership and K-12 experience to assist institutions of higher education, such as Howard University, the University of Maryland College Park, Hood College, and Towson University, in the development of partnerships with school districts.

Dr. Damara Hightower has been an educator and administrator for more than 20 years. Within one year of beginning her career as an English Teacher, she was promoted to Dean of Students and went on to become an assistant principal by the age of 24. Since that time, she has held progressively responsible leadership roles in K-16 settings to include Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs at Benedict College, Education Associate at the South Carolina State Department of Education, Assistant Professor and Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Claflin University, and an Academic Administrator in the Office of the Provost and Leadership Capstone instructor at the University of South Carolina.

Having earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Education from Benedict College, a Master of Education in Educational Leadership and Supervision-K-12 from the University of Southern Mississippi, and a Doctorate of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of South Carolina, Dr. Hightower is clear that her purpose is to help others transform their lives through education. Her work and scholarship center on educational equity and access for underrepresented populations with an emphasis on first-generation college students and learners from low socioeconomic backgrounds. She has also garnered extensive experience in accreditation and assessment and is a sought-after consultant and motivational speaker as the owner of Catalyst Educational Consulting.

In August of 2015, Dr. Hightower proudly accepted the challenge of rebuilding educator preparation at her undergraduate alma mater and was appointed Dean of the School of Education at Benedict College and currently serves as the President of the South Carolina Association for Colleges of Teacher Education.

A few of her most recent honors and awards are 2017 Fulbright Hays Project Scholar: Cameroon, Africa; 2017 Celebrating African Life: Honoring Women of Distinction Honoree, Kemetic Institute for Health and Human Development; Deans of Impact Leadership Academy Fellow; 2015 International Perspectives in Higher Education Delegate: Dublin, Galway, and Limerick Ireland; and 2014 University of South Carolina Women of Influence Award.

Dr. Luzelma Canales serves as the executive director of the RGV FOCUS, a collaboration with Educate Texas, a public-private initiative of Communities Foundation of Texas (CFT). Canales provides leadership for a large-scale collective impact initiative.

The RGV FOCUS collective impact initiative was launched to transform college readiness, access and success across a four-county region in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. Prior to her work with RGV FOCUS, Canales served as a community college and university administrator for over 25 years. She led numerous institutional community college national reform initiatives, including Achieving the Dream and Breaking Through, and several with Excelencia in Education.

Canales serves on local, state and national boards related to closing equity gaps in voter turnout and educational attainment. She was born and raised along the Texas-Mexico border in deep South Texas. She and her family migrated to Washington and Oregon to work in the fields during the 1960s and 1970s. Her life experiences informed her commitment to work with organizations to identify and eliminate barriers faced by Latino students as they navigate high school and college.

Canales earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Pan American University, master’s in business administration from the University of Texas – Pan American, and doctorate of philosophy in human resource development from Texas A&M University.

Allana Jackson is a manager in Bridgespan’s Boston office where she focuses on the Education and Children, Youth, and Families practices. Her work with nonprofit organizations and foundations has included strategic planning, talent strategy, organizational design, and customer strategy with public school districts, charter management organizations, foundations, and innovative nonprofits.

Prior to joining Bridgespan, Allana was a manager at Bain & Company in its Consumer Goods & Retail Practice where she helped clients with a range of issues including organizational effectiveness, growth strategy, and mergers & acquisitions. Allana was also a member of Bain’s pro-bono Education practice where she worked with clients in K-12 education and led Bain’s relationship with Rowe Elementary School, a Bain-sponsored school in Chicago.
Allana graduated from Harvard University with her BA in Economics and Sociology. She also has an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management, where she was a Siebel Scholar. A native of Atlanta, Allana currently lives in western Massachusetts with her husband and son.

John is a leading expert on teacher evaluation, leadership and preparation reforms. He has worked closely with district and state reform, union, and management groups to build these new systems and help overcome implementation challenges. He also led projects to build a five-year human capital strategy for Delaware, a new turnaround principal pipeline in New Jersey and currently leads two school turnaround projects in Syracuse to build new turnaround leadership teams and new teacher leadership roles. John has advised several teacher voice and state-level advocacy organizations.

John began his career in education as a high school social studies teacher and became passionate about education policy after working in an urban public school district. Prior to joining Education First, John worked at the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and SRI International. He took a brief leave of absence from Joyce to work in the Illinois Governor’s office and helped develop the state’s performance evaluation reform act and alternative certification legislation that were passed in January 2010.

John is a founding board member of Teach Plus and in 2012 he was selected as an Aspen Institute-NewSchools Entrepreneurial Leaders for Public Education Fellow. He has a Ph.D. and M.A. from Stanford University in education administration and policy analysis and a B.A. from Brown University. John enjoys volunteering in his children’s classrooms in Evanston, IL, and coaching baseball. He remains a diehard fan of the Chicago Cubs.

Dr. Cassandra Herring is President & Chief Executive Officer of the Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity (BranchED), a start-up that she incubated for a year as Dean-in-Residence at Deans for Impact. BranchED is a national effort to maximize programming and drive innovation to prepare highly effective diverse educators for all learners.  Dr. Herring’s passion about culturally relevant educator preparation reform fuels her work.

Prior to BranchED, Dr. Herring served as Dean of the School of Education and Human Development at Hampton University.  Under her leadership, struggling education programs were transformed, earning state approval and highest commendations by accrediting bodies.  She doubled her school’s enrollment through strategic recruitment efforts and securing external resources for student support.

Dr. Herring also conceptualized and launched Hampton U Online, the university’s virtual campus for the delivery of online degree programs and opened the Hampton University International Office, a hub for supporting international students and faculty, promoting study abroad, and building global connections.

Dr. Herring has served on national and international boards, including serving as Chair of the HBCU Academic of Deans of Education Council and as a member of both Deans for Impact and the advisory board for The Jandris Center for Innovative Higher Education.  She has served as a member of the Board of Directors for the international Online Learning Consortium and as a Salzburg Global Institute Fellow at Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Herring holds the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Educational Policy from Georgia State University, and Master of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Texas at Austin.  She is married to Theodore Herring, owner of University Insurance Agency and an international business insurance consultant; and they have three children: Emmanuel, Joshua, and Elizabeth.