Zach Verriden, Ed.M., executive director, Wisconsin region
Zach comes to the role of executive director after having served as National Director of People Development and principal of HOPE Christian High School. In his time as principal, the HOPE team increased their student’s ACT average to outperform the city, state and national averages for African-American students and achieved 100% college acceptance in each of those three years (a first in the city of Milwaukee). Furthermore, overall EXPLORE/PLAN/ACT averages during Zach’s tenure with the high school demonstrated more than two points annual growth and this amount of growth led the way among the Schools That Can-Milwaukee cohort of high-performing urban high schools in the city. Zach attributes this achievement to the outstanding team of dedicated professionals at the high school.
In addition to the work of the HOPE team at the high school, Zach has also been instrumental in the creation of the Leading With HOPE internal leadership development series, in addition to The IMPACT Series external leadership development series. Zach also teaches a graduate level class on frameworks for curriculum development at Alverno College.
Prior to joining HOPE, Zach worked in multiple roles with Teach For America-New Jersey and YES Prep Public Charter Schools in Houston where he also earned his business certificate from the Rice University Jones School of Business. Zach has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he was recently awarded the Distinguished Recent Alumni Award, and a master’s degree in education policy and management from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.
Ciji Pittman, J.D., national director of strategic growth and national principal director
Ciji is responsible for facilitating growth and expansion across the organization including new school startup, regional startup, and overall organizational expansion.
Previously, Ciji founded and led a high performing charter school in Memphis through the Building Excellent Schools Fellowship. As the Founder and Head of School Ciji was responsible for school operations, student academic achievement, board development, human resources, budgeting, and facility expansion. During her time in the Building Excellent Schools Fellowship, Ciji completed school leadership residencies with high performing charter networks and schools, studying and implementing the best practices that have led to outstanding academic achievement in schools that serve predominantly low-income students.
Ciji began her career in education as a Teach For America corps member in Atlanta, GA. During her experience she wrote curriculum as part of the first Student Achievement Toolkit for the Atlanta Institute and also served as a Corps Member Advisor for incoming corps members. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia where she received her bachelor’s degree and the University of Chicago Law School where she was a Butler, Rubin, Saltarelli, & Boyd Diversity Scholar.
Erica Samz, director of operations, Wisconsin region
Erica comes to the role of regional director of operations after serving as a director of operations at HOPE Fortis for four years. In her regional role, she supports the school level operations in the HOPE schools and ensures excellence and compliance in areas such as the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, finances and vendor relations.
Erica received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After graduation, she moved to New Orleans, Louisiana where she taught high school foreign language as a Teach For America corps member. She made the decision to use her strengths to impact and improve urban education through school operations and left the classroom to join the school operations team at KIPP McDonogh 15 Middle School in New Orleans.
Upon moving back to Milwaukee, she learned about HOPE schools, and found HOPE to be the perfect intersection of her passions – her faith and desire to ensure equal opportunities for all children regardless of socioeconomic status. Erica loves serving behind the scenes to make school operations work seamlessly so teachers and school administrators can focus on scholars.
Melanie Johnson, community relations director, Wisconsin region
Melanie supports the regional team, leading student recruitment, marketing, communications and the building of community relationships across Milwaukee and Racine.
Melanie taught special education as a corps member with Teach For America in Charlotte, NC. During her time in Charlotte, Melanie orchestrated her school’s first annual trip to Washington, D.C. for 68 fifth graders and was a coach for Girls on the Run. Melanie believes deeply that all children, regardless of zip code, deserve an excellent education.
Melanie received her master’s degree in nonprofit management and leadership from the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee and her bachelor’s degree in community leadership and nonprofit management form the University of Wisconsin- Madison.
Fatima Wakefield, community relations director, Wisconsin region, Racine schools
Fatima is a Racine resident and founding family member of HOPE Via in Racine. She has first-hand experience as a HOPE parent and is excited to bring HOPE’s 3 Cs of Christ.College.Character. to more families in her community.
Prior to joining HOPE, Fatima was an Economic Support Worker for Racine County’s Human Services Department where she determined eligibility for various federally funded programs. She is skilled in customer service and is excited to help families with HOPE’s enrollment process, which for many families includes enrollment in the Racine Parental Choice Program.
Kiesha Johnnies, Founding Principal, HOPE Caritas
Kiesha is a native of Milwaukee, WI and her passion for education is derived from a lifetime of experiences, conversations and knowledge about the state of Milwaukee’s educational disparities. In her role as Founding Principal, Kiesha is eager to broaden her impact and change the nation’s largest race-based achievement gap one teacher and one child at a time.
Kiesha completed a two-year commitment with AmeriCorps and is an alumna of Teach For America Milwaukee. She spent two years in the classroom as a kindergarten teacher, and worked as a Founding Senior Corps Member with City Year Milwaukee as their Training project Leader. There she had the opportunity to work with 60 corps members serving six MPS schools.
Kiesha graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a bachelor of arts degree in social welfare.
Katie Lambert, Founding Principal, HOPE Veritas
Katie Lambert is leading the expansion of our second Racine school, HOPE Christian School: Veritas. Her mission as an educator is “to make school a place where every child can thrive and succeed, feel safe and loved, and develop a faithful relationship with Jesus.”
Katie began her service to HOPE Christian Schools in 2013 as a third grade teacher and Grade-Level Chair (GLC) at HOPE Fortis in Milwaukee. In the summer of 2015, she became the Founding Dean of Students for HOPE Christian School: Via. While at HOPE Via, she developed the HOPE Via Parent Leadership Organization and school-wide systems that fostered a positive learning environment for children.
Prior to joining HOPE, Katie served in the Teach For America Milwaukee region. During this time, Katie was a third grade teacher at an International Baccalaureate charter school on the north side of Milwaukee. While teaching, she served as a mentor for aspiring urban teachers and led professional development on effective instruction and classroom management as a Content Team Leader (CTL). During the summers of 2013-2014, Katie coached new teachers from across the Midwest at the Teach For America Chicago Institute as a Corps Member Advisor (CMA). It was during these foundational years that Katie realized the essential need to provide children with a faith-based education. This led her to HOPE.
Katie has participated in numerous leadership trainings from the Milwaukee Emerging Leaders Program and Uncommon Schools. In 2016, Katie was awarded the “Serving Leader” award at the annual HOPE Celebration in recognition for her ability to lead others with a servant heart and humility. Katie is excited to help build the HOPE network in Racine and looks forward to bringing Christ. College. Character. to more children.
Katie holds her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Criminal Justice through Indiana University and received her M. Ed. in Educational Policy and Leadership from Marquette University. She also holds a teaching license for first through eighth grade in the State of Wisconsin.
Edie Martwick, Founding Principal, HOPE Fidelis
Edie is a graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran College where she majored in education. As a college student she was awarded the “Impact Award” recognizing her leadership and contributions to the mission of the college. As a teacher she continued to demonstrate the importance of teacher as leader, serving at St. Marcus, HOPE Christian School, and EAGLE College Preparatory Schools in Arizona. While at EAGLE, she completed her Master’s Degree program in Curriculum and Instruction at Arizona State University (ASU).
Edie moved back to Milwaukee in 2009 to assume another leadership position as Director of Coaching for the Center for Urban Teaching. She mentored first and second year teachers, organized regular small group mentoring meetings, and coordinated the Urban Conference in Milwaukee.
In 2011, Edie returned to St. Marcus where she served as a kindergarten teacher, an instructional coach, Director of Primary, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and Assistant Principal. In 2015, Edie joined the HOPE team as a Founding Principal. Edie received her master’s degree in educational leadership from Alverno College in 2016.
Brenna Prochnow, Principal, HOPE Fortis
Brenna’s passion and commitment to urban education is rooted in her desire to be see all students afforded excellent educational opportunities, and in turn, become agents for change in their communities.
Brenna joined the HOPE Fortis team in 2012 as a teaching assistant. Her talents and dedication propelled her to a lead teaching role for middle school math, and she remained in the classroom for the next two years as a 5th and 6th grade math teacher. She served as the Middle School Grade Level Chair, mentoring and leading a team of middle school teachers as they transitioned to a new behavioral management system. She then spent two years as the Dean of Instruction before transitioning into the Principal role in 2017.
Brenna graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a bachelor of arts in legal studies and sociology. She then spent a year abroad working for a Christian mission organization in the Middle East. Upon completing her year commitment, she heard about the great work HOPE was doing on the north side of Milwaukee and could not wait to move to Milwaukee to join the HOPE team and family.
Chelsea Prochnow, Principal, HOPE Prima
Chelsea Prochnow joined the HOPE team and family in 2010 as a 7thgrade teacher at HOPE Fortis. She remained in the classroom for the next two years serving as the 5th and 6th grade math teacher. While a teacher at HOPE Fortis, Chelsea started a track team, coached the middle school boys basketball team, and led her scholars to win first place in Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap for two consecutive years.
At the start of the 2013 school year Chelsea moved into the role of Dean of Instruction at HOPE Fortis and led the school-wide implementation of rigorous, Common Core aligned instruction as well as differentiated small group work for reading and math. During her two years as Dean of Instruction, HOPE Fortis outperformed peer schools across the city of Milwaukee, and the HOPE network performed on par with some of the highest performing networks in the nation.
Chelsea believes strongly in Nelson Mandela’s words: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” and desires to partner with parents and teachers to provide HOPE scholars a transformational education focused on the three Cs: Christ. College. Character.
Tammy Rasco, Principal, HOPE High School
A native of Milwaukee, Tammy’s passion for Christ, urban schools and Milwaukee’s youth is contagious. Tammy’s teaching experience ranges from early childhood to intermediate and middle school. After 13 years of dedicated service in Milwaukee Public Schools, Tammy served charter schools in leadership positions including dean of students, assistant principal, and principal. She is passionate about the impact of project-based learning and STEM education, often encouraging scholars to choose career paths in engineering, science and math.
A Sunday school teacher in her church, Tammy knows the impact that a growing relationship with Christ can have in the lives of HOPE scholars. As principal of HOPE Christian High School, she is committed to upholding the legacy of 100% college acceptance for all HOPE Christian High School graduates and leading HOPE to become the premier faith-based high school in Milwaukee. She is motivated by her favorite scripture passage, Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Tammy holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from Cardinal Stritch University, a master’s degree in urban education and curriculum & instruction from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from St. Cloud State University. She obtained her teaching certification from Milwaukee Teacher Education Center.
Ryan Samz, Principal, HOPE Semper
Ryan graduated from Marquette University with Bachelor of Arts in History and Minor in Criminological Theory/Law Studies. He then joined Teach for America and relocated to New Orleans, LA, where he taught 5th and 6th grade science and social studies over the course of four years at KIPP: McDonogh 15 School of the Creative Arts. During that time he transitioned into the 5th/6th Grade Level Chair and completed the KIPP Teacher Leader Program. Concurrently, he worked with Teach for America as a science content leader, mentoring new science corps members and revamping KIPP’s middle school curriculum.
After four years in New Orleans, Ryan had the opportunity to move back to Milwaukee to help found Rocketship Education’s first school outside of California as a Founding Assistant Principal. During this time, his desire to serve urban education combined with a faith-based institution grew. In the summer of 2014, he left Rocketship Southside Community Prep and joined HOPE Semper as a Dean of Instruction. During this time, he helped revamp the lower elementary ELA curriculum. Ryan stepped into his current role of principal at HOPE Semper in 2015.
Castenzio Venegas, Founding Principal, HOPE Via
Castenzio has led the new school startup of HOPE Christian School: Via in Racine.
Previously, Castenzio was the Director of Teacher Development at the Center for Urban Teaching (CfUT) in Milwaukee, WI, where he served as a resource for aspiring urban teacher candidates and beginning teachers, equipping them with the training necessary to be highly effective in the urban classroom. He served as the Assistant Principal of CfUT’s summer school program at Risen Savior Lutheran School in Milwaukee. He started two new CfUT summer school sites at HOPE Christian School: Prima and Sherman Park Lutheran School. He served for three years in Phoenix, AZ as a Teach For America Corps Member, taught abroad in Italy for one year, and taught freshman English at HOPE Christian High School. Castenzio was awarded the “Faith-in-Action” award at the annual HOPE Celebration in recognition of his courageous Christian leadership.
He holds his bachelor’s degree in business administration/marketing from Carthage College and received his M.Ed. in cross categorical special education K-12 at Arizona State University. He also earned a graduate certificate in instructional mentoring through the Southeastern Wisconsin New Teacher Project (SEWNTP).