Elite Chicago Leadership Development Program Admits First Class with Promise to Keep Black and Brown Leaders in Education

Surge Institute, Chicago’s newest premier education leadership development organization, announced the twelve (12) elite individuals in the Surge Fellowship 2015 Inaugural cohort. Surge Institute prepares, supports and connects emerging leaders of color


Surge Institute was founded in 2014, in response to a dearth of leadership of color at the decision-making tables within education reform. The Surge Fellowship, the Institute’s signature program, is designed to identify and groom emerging talent in education, and provide them with leadership development as well as access to networks and visibility, empowering them to bring new ideas, perspectives, and solutions that change the landscape of education. By preparing, connecting, and supporting high-capacity African-American and Latino leaders across organizations, Surge aims to dramatically improve education options and outcomes for low-income children.

A host of exceptional candidates applied for the fellowship, inspired by the promise to receive skills, networks, tools, and support necessary to deepen their impact. The diverse inaugural cohort is comprised of African American and Latino men and women from the Chicago Public Schools, high-performing charter schools and networks, non-profit advocacy agencies, higher education and justice reform.

2015 Surge Fellowship Awardees 

  • Adrian DeLeon, Data Strategist, Chicago Public Schools
  • Melissa Connelly, Senior Director of Regional College Persistence, OneGoal
  • Adria Husbands, Director of School Financial Support, AUSL
  • Angela Layne, Instructor, Noble Network
  • Grisel Maldanado, Impact Director of College Success, UC Urban Education Institute
  • Ana Martinez, Founding Principal, Rowe Elementary School
  • Stacey Mitchell, Senior Managing Director of Staff Diversity and Inclusion, Teach for America
  • Candace Moore, Staff Attorney, Chicago Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
  • Khair Sadrud-Din, College Years Counselor, LINK Unlimited Scholars
  • LeShonne Segura, College Seminar Teacher, Bulls College Prep
  • DuJuan Smith, Assistant Dean of Students, UIC
  • Cassie Williams, Director or High School Curriculum, Civitas Education Partners


“The outstanding quality of all of the applicants made the selection process challenging. Surge is very fortunate to have an incoming cohort that represents some of the best up and coming minds on education in Chicago,” said Sarah Duncan, Co-Director at the University of Chicago Network for College Success and member of the selection committee. 
Surge Institute is part of a new wave of organizations that focus on diversifying the education leadership pipeline.

Founder Carmita Vaughan captured the attention of large, prominent foundations and secured over $1 million of funding for Surge from The Walton Family Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, NewSchools Venture Fund, and Schusterman Family Foundation.

Education is often referred to as the “civil rights issue of our time.” One of the most glaring disparities between past social justice movements and the current education reform movement is that the most visible and active leadership “heroes” in education reform typically do not represent the socio-economic or racial diversity of the populations it seeks to serve. 48% of K-12 students nationwide, and significantly more in urban areas, are non-white; while only 17% of teachers, 6% of superintendents, and 11% of board members represent these populations.

Overlooked talent pools of people of color within the education sector are found within schools, advocacy and civil rights organizations, policy and philanthropy partners, and central administration offices at districts and CMOs. These talented individuals with deep community connections and shared experiences with the students and families served, often lack access to high-level opportunities for a variety of reasons. Surge is unique because it taps and develops these already high-performing individuals.

“Existing excellent programs like The Broad Residency in Urban Education and Ed Pioneers bring new private-sector talent into education. It is also critically important to engage talent that is already deeply committed to the education sector,” says founder and president, Carmita Vaughan. “I believe this untapped group of high-potential individuals will become influential education leaders over the next decade.”

"Our efforts to transform urban public school systems will not succeed without diverse, talented leaders who possess a deep understanding of the challenges facing low-income students of color because they have experienced those challenges themselves. While many leadership development opportunities exist in the education sector, the Surge Fellowship brings a critical focus on the development of strong African-American and Latino leaders, who are woefully underrepresented in educational leadership," says Becca Bracy Knight, executive director of The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems.

Darryl Cobb, partner at the Charter School Growth Fund and member of Surge’s board of directors says, “Through Surge, Carmita brings vision and her extensive leadership experience to solving a critical problem for the education sector – building a pipeline of high quality diverse talent. This effort is a heavy lift, but one that is critical to our ability as a sector and a reform movement to ensuring that we have great leaders serving our children in every capacity. I am extremely proud of Carmita’s tenacity in making the Surge Fellowship a reality.”

"I am honored to have this opportunity. It will give me access to spaces and people with whom I can build relationships to deepen the impact of our work within the community," says Ana Martinez, Surge Fellow and the founding principal of Rowe Elementary, Chicago’s highest performing single-site charter school. Khair Sadrud-Din, College Years Counselor at LINK Unlimited and product of Chicago Public Schools adds, "I relish the opportunity to learn from so many leaders, professionals and my peers in the education space, and further invest in the students that are following in my footsteps."

The inaugural cohort will receive 6-months of accelerated professional development including leadership courses and executive coaching. A second cohort will be admitted in September 2015 for a longer, 12-month fellowship program.


The Surge Institute broadly addresses issues of race and class in urban education through leadership development, technical assistance and advocacy. The Surge Fellowship develops high-potential talent within education to create the pipeline of influential education leaders of color. This network transforms status quo systems and approaches in education by sharing ownership of the change efforts, engaging communities in defining and working toward success, serving as role models for young people to pursue roles with influence and risk, and accessing financial capital and power brokers to develop new solutions. surgeinstitute.org