Staff

Michelle Francois, Senior Director of Compassionate Systems 

Michelle Francois leads the Compassionate Systems work at the National Center for Youth Law which includes FosterEd, an initiative in 4 states to help young people who come into contact with public systems to graduate high school with a wide array of possibilities for their future. Prior to coming to NCYL, she served as the Associate Director of Child Welfare with the Stuart Foundation, where she led a major initiative to improve education outcomes for foster youth across California. Her life’s work has been focused on helping young people realize the vastness of their potential and supporting systems change efforts that put the needs of youth at the center of policies and practices. Francois’ life and work experience span a broad spectrum: as an artist, stage director, community activist, strategic planner and program director – all the while as a passionate advocate for young people and families. Her superpower is finding out what is uniquely awesome about people, lives in San Francisco with her amazing husband, Cliff and step-son Theo and holds a Bachelor of Arts from Macalester College in Minnesota.


Program Support Team

Atasi Uppal, Attorney, Juvenile Justice and Education

Atasi Uppal is an attorney on NCYL’s Juvenile Justice and FosterEd teams. She leads program and policy advocacy to improve the education outcomes of youth in the juvenile justice system, and much of this advocacy aims to support youth who are living in the community and supervised by Probation. Atasi also provides training and support to off-site FosterEd staff, who provide direct services to system-involved youth, and she assists with juvenile justice-focused litigation. Prior to joining NCYL, Atasi was a Trial Attorney at the Committee for Public Counsel Services in Massachusetts, where she represented low-income children and parents in state custody, termination of parental rights and status offense cases. Atasi received her B.S. in Brain, Behavior and Cognitive Science and her J.D. from the University of Michigan. At Michigan Law, Atasi was an Executive Editor for the Michigan Journal of Race & Law and worked at legal services organizations focused on child welfare, special education and juvenile justice.

Daniel Senter, Deputy Director & Counsel, Research & Program Support, FosterEd

Daniel Senter provides legal and programmatic support for FosterEd primarily in the areas of juvenile rights, special education, and education technology legal issues such as privacy and IP rights. Prior to NCYL, Senter served as an intellectual property attorney at Donahue Fitzgerald LLP, founded and directed the Education Advocacy Project at the East Bay Children’s Law Offices, and was a special education teacher in OUSD. Senter is the recipient of the Irmas Fellowship and Jefferson Award. He was named Outstanding Young Lawyer by the National Association of Counsel for Children (2014). Senter is a graduate of Harvard College and USC Gould School of Law.

Crystal Garcia, Program Coordinator

Crystal Garcia joined NCYL in June 2020 as the Compassionate Systems Program Coordinator. Through this role, she supports the work of Compassionate Systems (CS) team, provides project management for CS fundraising and operational efforts, contributes to CS Learning, Research and Evaluation projects, and manages the CS student data software program –EdTeamConnect (ETC). Prior to joining NCYL, Crystal provided targeted school-based mental health services at a Title 1 elementary school in San José, CA through Seneca Family of Agencies as a mental health clinician.  Prior to this role, Crystal worked on earning her Master of Social Work, during which time she served as a school social worker in Sunnyvale, CA and as a Learning & Evaluation Program Associate at PIVOTAL, a Bay Area non-profit that supports youth in foster care with their college and career aspirations. In addition to these experiences, Crystal brings 4 years of experience supporting research and evaluation projects aimed at improving policies and programs for children, youth, and families across the U.S. as an Education Research Analyst at SRI International.

Crystal is a Bay Area native and holds a Master of Social Work (MSW), and California Pupil Personnel Services Credentials in School Social Work and Child Welfare & Attendance from San José State University. Crystal also holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley.


FosterEd Arizona

Rose DeBlas, Program Manager, Maricopa County

Rose is an Education Liaison with FosterEd: Arizona. While she is originally from Texas, she has lived in New Mexico, Arizona, and spent a year teaching in South Korea. These experiences have given her a strong cultural competence that she brings to NCYL, along with her passion for social welfare. After graduating from the University of Arizona with a B.S. in Public Management and Policy in 2012, she worked with Arizona’s Children Association (AZCA) as a bilingual behavioral health case manager, where she gained an understanding of the state’s behavioral health systems and needs of families within our communities. She then transitioned into child welfare as an Independent Living Specialist II, where she taught teens in the foster care system life skills and assisted them in their transition out of care. Rose enjoys working with youth and strives to empower them to dream big and reach their full potential.

Jennie Hedges, Program Manager, Pima County 

Jennie is an Education Liaison with FosterEd: Arizona. Originally from New Jersey, she moved to Tucson to study Psychology at the University of Arizona and graduated in 2013 with a B.A. in that field. Jennie has experience working with underprivileged youth within many rural communities of Arizona. She also has an extensive background working with local non-profits and behavioral health networks. As a foster parent herself, Jennie wants nothing more than to aid system-involved youth in their journey to success as each and every child is capable and deserving of such.

Jacki Lusher, Education Liaison, Pima County 

Jacki is an Educational Liaison with FosterEd: Arizona. After completing her B.A. in Human Development at Sonoma State University in Northern California, she moved to Phoenix, Arizona to join Teach for America in 2013. In Phoenix, Jacki taught as a Special Education teacher and earned her Master of Special Education from Arizona State University. Since then, she has worked extensively with at-risk and unaccompanied young adults in Pima County with a focus on supporting students as they work towards high school graduation and their college and career goals. Jacki is driven by her passion to support young adults as they navigate their future, so they can be as successful as possible. She is committed to supporting system-involved students recognize and capitalize on their strengths and skills to overcome obstacles and reach their goals.

Julia Aros-Thornton, Education Liaison, Pima County

Julia (Julee) is an Education Liaison with FosterEd Arizona. She holds an undergraduate degree in family studies from the University of Arizona. She began her career over two decades ago working with youth involved in the juvenile justice system and their families through the juvenile court, providing case management services to improve educational outcomes and reduce recidivism. She then moved on to provide in-home services to families who had been referred to Child Protective Services. Working with families in their homes gave her a real life understanding of the challenges disadvantaged families face day to day. Prior to joining NCYL, she worked in foster care, educating, licensing and supporting foster families to meet the needs of the foster children in their homes. Julee speaks Spanish, providing her the ability to work with Spanish-speaking families, and she also has knowledge of American Sign Language.

Jennifer Harris, Education Liaison, Pima County

Jennifer is an Education Liaison with FosterEd Arizona. She graduated from The University of Arizona with a B.S. in Family Studies and Human Development. Her interest in child welfare began when she interned with Child Protective Services and continued to develop through her work at Casa de los Ninos children’s shelter. In 2003, Jennifer began her service in the United States Peace Corps in the Pacific country of Vanuatu as a Youth Development Volunteer, working with youth in rural communities to develop programs around gender advocacy, sexual and reproductive health, and education. She remained in Vanuatu after her service, working at a local NGO as Research Manager and Youth Center Manager for 8 years before returning to Tucson. Jennifer’s 18 years of experience in multi-cultural settings working with at-risk children and youth has given her insight in working with children in the foster care system and the unique challenges they face.

Shane Carr, Education Liaison, Yavapai County 

Shane is an Education Liaison with FosterEd: Arizona. After serving in the U.S. Army, Shane attended the University of Wisconsin-Parkside on an Athletic Scholarship for Cross Country and Track and graduated in 1999 with a B.A. in Criminal Justice.  Shane spent 5 years working in law enforcement before moving to Arizona where he worked for 6 years with the Arizona Department of Child Safety as an Investigator and then as a Case Manager for the Young Adult Program.  For the past 5 years, Shane has worked with students and families in the Tucson and Marana Unified School Districts as a Drop-Out Prevention Specialist and as a District Social Worker. Shane was a board member on a local non-profit where he worked on a charitable race. Proceeds went to the Title I school where he coached and to Youth On Their Own, a local non-profit helping homeless youth graduate high school. Working with foster youth and helping them to graduate and be successful members of the community has always been his passion.

Sandra Preciado, Education Liaison, Maricopa County 

Sandra is an Education Liaison with FosterEd: Arizona. Her educational background in social work and experience in working with vulnerable populations allows her to identify and address a multitude of systemic barriers facing students in foster care. Sandra strives to make the public education system a more equitable one, a place in which all children have an opportunity to achieve their full potential. She received both her BSW and MSW with a concentration in Planning, Administration, and Community Practice from Arizona State University. Outside of her role as an Education Liaison, Sandra promotes social justice by increasing civic engagement within the social worker community.  She volunteers her time with a local non-profit organization in an effort to make the political landscape more diverse and inclusive. Sandra is fluent in Spanish.

Jessica Montoya, Education Liaison, Maricopa County 

Jessica is an Education Liaison with FosterEd: Arizona. Jessica attended Northern Arizona University and graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. Prior to working as an Education Liaison, Jessica interned for the Department of Child Safety in Flagstaff and soon after began working permanently with the Department. Jessica understands from her own experience the difficulties of obtaining higher education and having the support to do so. Jessica’s goal is to see all children, especially those in foster care, succeed and she knows that it takes all of the systems involved in our foster youth’s lives, working together, to make that a reality.

Ashely Dickerson, Education Liaison, Maricopa County 

Ashely Dickerson is an Education Liaison with FosterEd: Arizona. She is a proud Arizona native and attended the University of Arizona where she studied the Social and Cultural Foundations in Public Education while focusing on Adolescent Development, Ed Policy and Africana Studies. Ashely has extensive experience both in and out of the traditional education field and has worked with various nonprofits including serving as an elementary school teacher, completing four terms as an AmeriCorps member in her community, and launching her own leadership and empowerment program for girls of color. Education campaigns and civic engagement are at the core of her efforts. She is passionate about creating an equitable and just education system in Arizona, which has led her to FosterEd: Arizona.

Victoria Gonzales, Education Liaison, Maricopa County 

Victoria is an Education Liaison with FosterEd: Arizona. Victoria has worked in the education and behavior health fields for over 10 years. Previously, she worked for Valley of the Sun United Way as a Destination Graduation Coordinator where she case managed high school students and ensured that they were on track to graduate. She is an active advocate for youth, and as a licensed foster care provider she is experienced and passionate in delivering and supporting positive change to all children, families, and community members.

 


FosterEd California

Margaret Olmos, Director, FosterEd California

Margaret Olmos joined NYCL in 2017, returning to her home state to serve as State Director for FosterEd California. Prior to joining NYCL, Margaret was the Assistant Superintendent of Student Programming for the Recovery School District in New Orleans, LA. In her role, Margaretexpanded career-pathways to bridge K-12, Community College, and industry partnerships aimed at serving at-risk youth. Prior to joining the RSD, Margaret served in the Obama Administration, first serving in the White House as the Deputy Director of Research, and then moving to the U.S. Department of Education as the Chief of Staff for the Office for Civil Rights. Margaret began her career as an AmeriCorps NCCC member. She earned her B.A. in Political Science from Haverford University, with a minor in Special Education, and earned a Masters in Comparative Politics from Queens University in Northern Ireland, where she was trained as a mediator.

Jessica Maxwell, Deputy Director, FosterEd California

Jessica Maxwell joined NCYL in January 2019 as the Deputy Director of FosterEd California.

Prior to joining NCYL, she was at Children’s Aid in New York City. There Jessica focused on leading the Fostering Youth Success Alliance (FYSA),  a statewide coalition she founded to focus on reforming budget, policy and legislation that impacts the child welfare system. Under Jessica’s leadership, FYSA established a new statute and program, the Foster Youth College Success Initiative, and secured $15 million in state funds to support foster youth attending college in New York. Additionally she has been successful in advocating for the implementation of several city and state laws and budget items that created new resources and expand access to services for transition age youth.  She is the recipient of the New York Nonprofit Media Cause Award in Education for her efforts in education equity advocacy on behalf of foster youth, and the Innovation and Excellence awards.

Jessica is a New York City native, and has a Master’s of Science, in Urban Affairs from Hunter College where her focus was Public Policy and Nonprofit Management. Jessica is committed to improving the lives of young adults, by empowering them to make good decisions, become self- sufficient, and active participants in creating social change. She is also spends time mentoring students, serving on the New Yorker’s for Children Board of Directors, and various advisory groups related to youth empowerment.

Antelope Valley

Kawena Cole, Program Manager, Antelope Valley 

Kawena is the FosterEd California Program Manager for the Antelope Valley area of Los Angeles County. She was promoted to Program Manager, after serving as a FosterEd Education Liaison from 2015 – 2018.  Prior to joining the FosterEd team, Kawena worked for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) as a Children’s Social Worker (CSW) for nearly 7 years. During the last 2 1/2 years with DCFS, Kawena worked in the Foster Youth Education Program. She provided services to youth in high school, created individualized education case plans and advocated for youth to access services they needed to ensure positive educational outcomes. While transitioning from her role as a CSW, Kawena also spent time as a substitute teacher. Kawena earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s in Social Work, with a sub-concentration of children and families in the school setting. She hopes to use her education and experience working with youth involved in the child welfare system to ensure the educational needs of system-involved youth are being met on an individual level, but also impact systemic change.

Shelbby Bambrick, Education Liaison, Antelope Valley 

Shelbby is an Education Liaison in the Antelope Valley region of Los Angeles County. Prior to joining the FosterEd team, Shelbby worked as a Children’s Therapist in a community mental health setting serving children and families in Los Angeles. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a master’s in Social Work and Certificate in Child Welfare from the University of Michigan. While in her graduate studies, Shelbby concentrated on the impacts of trauma, youth advocacy and building resiliency for families. She has several years of experiencing working directly with youth and has spent time as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) advocate, community organizer, educator and group facilitator. Shelbby is fluent in Spanish, enabling her to serve both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking families.

Jasmine Barber, Education Liaison, Antelope Valley 

Jasmine is an Education Liaison in the Antelope Valley region of Los Angeles County. She earned a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, followed by a Master’s of Education from Lesley University in 2018. Barber is committed to improving the lives of youth through the provision of services that link them with beneficial resources and empowering them to access those resources as needed. Prior to joining the Compassionate Education Systems team, Barber served youth in various capacities through education, arts integration, foster care and adoption services, therapeutic behavioral services and programming in partnership with non-profit organizations from Washington, DC to Southern California.

Christal Heard, Education Liaison, Antelope Valley Christal is an Education Liaison in the Antelope Valley region of Los Angeles County. Prior to joining NCYL, she served as a Student Interventionist in the Palmdale School District. There, she collaborated with administrators, parents, students and site Social Emotional Learning Specialists to decrease suspensions and produce positive behavioral practices. She’s a proud mother and mentor who firmly believes that every child has a purpose and potential to greatly impact others. This belief drives Christal’s passion to uplift, guide, protect and serve the disadvantaged.

 

Joanne Rodriguez, Education Liaison, Antelope Valley 

Joanne is an Education Liaison in the Antelope Valley of Los Angeles County. She received her B.A. in Liberal Studies at California State University Northridge. She comes to NCYL with extensive experience in trauma informed practice and strength-based work. Prior to joining FosterEd, she was a Wraparound Facilitator and worked with high-risk, system-involved youth to develop family-centered, needs driven plans and provided 24/7 crisis intervention. Her ability to connect with youth and help them identify their strengths is a skill she utilized in her previous role and looks forward to using as an Education Liaison to help youth achieve their greatest potential. She is excited to continue to work with youth and hopes to inspire young individuals to set goals and be motivated for their future.

 

Contra Costa County

We currently do not have FosterEd staff serving Contra Costa County.

 

Monterey County

Kayla Antes, Senior Education Liaison, Monterey County 

Kayla joined in November 2020 as an Education Liaison in Monterey County. Through this role, she supports high school students and their families who are experiencing homelessness. Prior to joining NCYL, Antes provided targeted school-based mental health services at a high school and elementary school in San José CA through Seneca Family of Agencies. Prior to this, Antes supported middle school students at a charter school in downtown San José as a school-based social worker.

Antes is a Bay Area native and holds a Master of Social Work (MSW) and a California Pupil Personnel Service Credential in School Social Work and Child Welfare Attendance Services from the University of Southern California. Antes also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work from California State University, Fresno.

Yvette Gomez, Senior Education Liaison, Monterey County 

Yvette is a Senior Education Liaison in Monterey County.

Santa Clara County

Joy Hernandez, Program Manager, Santa Clara County

Joy is the FosterEd Program Manager in Santa Clara County. Before joining NCYL, she worked with Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY), a local community-based organization, as the Evaluation and Learning Manager, where she supported the advancement of their Theory of Change and evaluation efforts. Also with FLY, she served as a Case Manager in Santa Clara and Alameda counties, where she supported young people in navigating the justice system and achieving their goals. Prior to working with FLY, Joy worked with several local law enforcement agencies and community based organizations, supporting adults and youth engaged in the justice system. She holds an undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice from San Francisco State University. Motivated by the challenges she witnessed in her home town of Vallejo, CA, she comes to NCYL with a deep passion for supporting justice involved youth and reducing recidivism.

Janelle Atienza, Education Liaison, Santa Clara County

Janelle Atienza joined FosterEd California in July 2018 as an Education Liaison for Santa Clara County. She earned her B.A. in Sociology and Ethnic Studies at Saint Mary’s College of California in 2017, inspiring her to empower others in creating individual, community, and systemic social change. As a first-generation college student, Janelle devoted herself as a mentor for first-generation and low-income college students, creating community and supporting her mentees in reaching their educational and leadership goals. Additionally, Janelle served as a student activist, organizing her peers to advocate for marginalized students by thinking critically about campus culture, engaging with community members, and successfully impacting institutional changes. After graduating Janelle was motivated to join efforts in disrupting the cycle of reincarceration and taught professional development training to formerly incarcerated individuals transitioning into the workforce. Janelle is thrilled to join the team at FosterEd where she’s able to blend her passions for youth empowerment, education, and disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. She is especially excited to be serving primarily in East Side San Jose, where she has the opportunity to give back to her hometown and learn about her community with a new lens.

Alejandra Davila, Education Liaison, Santa Clara County

Alejandra Davila joined the NYCL team in July 2020 as one of the Education Liaisons in Santa Clara County. Before joining NCYL, Davila worked with the Young Queens in Politics (YQP) program, an afterschool educational enrichment program in San Bernardino, CA. During her time at YQP, Alejandra facilitated discussions with femme-identifying high school students on federal, state, and local politics and supported students through the college application process. Davila’s commitment to challenging unfair educational systems comes from her experience attending an underfunded public high school in her hometown of San Bernardino, where she was taught by dedicated educators, but also saw the consequences of zero-tolerance policies on low-income students of color. As an Education Liaison, Davila hopes to care and advocate for her students and their families, just as her previous educators did for her. Davila received her B.A. in Politics from Pomona College in 2019.

Janette Saldana, Education Liaison, Santa Clara County

Janette joined the NCYL team in July 2018 as an Education Liaison for FosterEd in Santa Clara County, supporting young people who are system-involved. Prior to NCYL, Janette worked in south Santa Clara County, directly supporting low-income families and young people by providing them access to a wide array of services, including counseling, food assistance, medical services, and housing services. Working with the local school district, Janette was able to identify students and families in need of support and then match that need with available and appropriate resources. Janette comes from a small rural town nestled in California’s central valley, which is home to migrant workers and low-income families alike. She is one of three siblings and is a first-generation college graduate. Janette earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Child Development from San Jose State University in 2014. Her passion for supporting underprivileged and underserved populations is fueled by growing up in a similar landscape and by watching her parents make great efforts to provide their family with a better life. Janette hopes to expand her ability to support young people and their families with meeting their goals, creating possibilities, and becoming powerful self-advocates.