Mashea Ashton: Founder & Principal
Mashea recently returned to the Washington, D.C. area after spending the last 20 years implementing and scaling best practices in urban education across the country. Mashea is deeply committed to changing the narrative about students who live in Ward 7 and 8 in Washington, D.C. Her family has been in Washington, DC for six generations and her early career started as a special education teacher at Anne Beers elementary in D.C. Most recently, Mashea served as the CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund, where she oversaw a $48 million initiative to support the quality growth of charter schools. Before leading the Newark Charter School Fund, Mashea served as the executive director for the New York Program, and senior advisor for charter school policy, for New Leaders for New Schools. Mashea has also served as the executive director for Charter Schools for the New York City Department of Education and the national director of recruitment and selection for the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP). Mashea is a frequent speaker and panelist for charter school and education reform advocacy organizations around the country.
Mashea has a M.Ed. in special education with an emphasis on learning disabilities and emotional disturbance and a B.A. in sociology and elementary education from the College of William and Mary. She and her husband are the proud parents of twins who are in first grade.
Nima Farshchi: Founding Director of Operations
Nima joins Digital Pioneers Academy after being an operational leader at charter schools in both Washington, D.C. and New York City. He was drawn to working in urban education because of his passion for creating the greatest trickle-down impact in under resourced communities, through his business development and management skills.
Nima began his journey working as an Operations Coordinator at Success Academy, but most notably Nima was the Business Operations Manager for Success Academy Bed-Stuy 1. He helped lead the school to reaching the 4th highest percentage of scholars passing the 2016 New York State Tests in all of New York State. Nima was also responsible for school’s procurement, communication, event planning, and facilities; receiving a 2nd place ranking amongst the 41 schools’ network-wide review metrics. Nima returned to his home in the Washington, D.C. area in Fall 2017 to pursue his Master of Business Administration from the University of Maryland, and also worked as the Director of Operations of Excel Academy Public Charter School in Ward 8.
Before working in charter schools, Nima worked at the United States Chamber of Commerce Foundation, collaborating with a team to develop the Business for Good Map, an interactive database analyzing 3500 Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives of 140 corporations.
Nima graduated from the University of Maryland with dual B.S. degrees in Operations Management and Accounting, and also a Minor in Leadership Studies.
Tiffanie Williams: Founding Director of Curriculum and Instruction
Tiffanie is bringing a breadth of experience and enthusiasm with her as she joins team DPA as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction. Beginning her career as a fourth grade teacher in Ruleville, Mississippi, Tiffanie has spent the greater part of her time working in both the public and charter school sectors in our nation’s capital. For five years, Tiffanie taught fourth and fifth grade students at Gage-Eckington Elementary School before she transitioned to KIPP DC. During her tenure with KIPP DC, Tiffanie worked as a math teacher, vice principal, principal, and campus director where she honed her skills as an instructional expert. Tiffanie is passionate about the academic achievement of our students and wants every child to experience a life that is teeming with choice and opportunity.
Tiffanie received her MAT in elementary education from American University in Washington, DC and her B.A. from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Tiffanie is a proud native of Cleveland, Ohio where she frequently returns to visit her family.
Donna MacAlester: Founding Director of Special Projects
Donna joins the DPA team with 10 years of experience in nonprofit management with a background in talent and hr, school culture, operations, development, and community engagement. Donna has a deep belief that everyone deserves equal access to quality public education that will prepare them for choice-filled lives, that all students can learn, and that all children are good. It is up to the adults to create and support schools that are accountable to their results, develop programs to support all students, and foster a community where all children thrive and are their best selves. For the last 7 years, Donna was a founding team member of Collegiate Academies in New Orleans, LA, a high-performing charter network boosting some of the most impressive results for high school students in the country, while also creating innovative and robust special education and restorative programs to support students. Donna supported the CEO in the first phase of growth, moving from 1 school to a charter network with a portfolio of 3 schools. She then worked directly at Abramson Sci Academy creating and growing the co-curricular department from a few after school clubs, to a full fledged high school athletic, performing art, leadership and music department. As a founding team member, she helped create, define and implement many of the staff, student and operational best practices that have been used as a model across the country.
Donna has a BA in American Studies from Tulane University. She and her husband are also the proud parents of twins who are in Pre-K 3, as well as a 6th grader, a 4th grader, and are expecting a soon to be-er in the fall.
Alexis Brown: Founding Special Assistant to the CEO
Alexis joins Digital Pioneers Academy with a passion for education and STEM, and is beyond thrilled that DPA merges the two. Alexis studied engineering in college, and is dedicated to increasing opportunities for young people of color to pursue and excel in STEM fields. She truly believes that DPA is providing critical exposure to and knowledge about computer science, which is important for all students in this era, but especially those hoping to pursue STEM.
Alexis’ professional career began in Chicago as a founding charter middle school teacher with the LEARN Charter Network. Alexis then taught at NOBLE’s Gary Comer Middle School. Moving back to the DMV, she taught at Glasgow Middle School in Fairfax, VA and served as a program manager of Ascend, a college persistence and career readiness program with Management Leadership for Tomorrow.
Alexis has a B.S. in Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania.
Jordan Johnson: Founding Dean of Social-Emotional Learning
Mr. Johnson began working in the mental health industry as a residential counselor in 2009 at Elk Hill; which is located in Richmond Virginia. Elk Hill is a residential facility that treats adjudicated youth from ages 8 to 21. While serving youth and families from the community DMV area, Mr. Johnson became the crisis intervention specialist for the organization. He trained staff from the organization and school leaders from local districts on relationship building with youth, communication skills, conflict resolution, and other interventions to keep individuals safe. In addition, Mr. Johnson led psycho education groups with residents to teach them skills in the following areas: stress management, anger management, social skills, health and wellness, and money management.
Mr. Johnson felt that there was a need to reach struggling youth at an earlier stage of intervention and sought out a more direct pathway to impact the community he was serving. This lead to Mr. Johnson joining Uncommon Schools as an Associate Dean of Students, then quickly becoming the Dean of Students of Vailsburg Elementary School in Newark, New Jersey. UnCommon Schools' mission is to serve low income students by giving communities access to urban public charter schools that close the achievement gap. While serving as the Dean of Students for the highest performing charter network in New Jersey, Vailsburg 3rd grade scholars exceeded the nationwide PARCC ELA proficiency rate by 30% and 4th grade exceeded this same test by 40%. As the Dean of Students, Mr. Johnson ensured that all scholars and families met school expectations while also implementing a school wide system that ensured all scholars exemplified the core values of the school: respect, responsibility, courage, caring, and justice. As a testament to his work with his school and community, Mr. Johnson was awarded the Vailsburg Community Service Award in 2017 and received a Senate Resolution from Senator Rice.
Mr. Johnson is moving back to the area with his wife, Brittni Johnson, who is an Assistant Professor at Relay Graduate School. They are expecting their first child in August.
Tarneil Miller: Founding Associate Dean of Social Emotional Learning
Tarneil moved to Washington, D.C., in 2017 to serve as an Assistant Dean of Culture in a D.C. public charter high school. Tarneil believes in openness and allowing room for each individual student to feel safe to express themselves. Relationship building, anger management, coping skills, meditation, and code switching are a few techniques Tarneil uses with his students. Tarneil is dedicated to impacting DPA’s scholars in the same way.
Tarneil has always had a soft heart for struggling youth. Raised by a single mother in a small two-bedroom apartment with six other siblings, he understands the unique challenges struggling youth face. He practices a philosophy of openness, believing in the power of student advocacy and autonomy in student behavioral management.
Before working in charter schools, Tarneil served as a social worker in Arkansas for over two years, where he implemented protection plans, conducted home and school visits, provided family services, and facilitated foster care services.
Jacqueline Baron: Founding Humanities Teacher
Jacqueline is proud to bring to Digital Pioneers Academy her passion for education and socio-emotional learning. She is incredibly excited to combine both passions with DPA's mindset of high expectations and high empathy. She truly believes that DPA is creating a known, loved, and respected community, while simultaneously thinking critically, creatively, and thoughtfully to solve complex problems.
Jacqueline began her professional career with Teach For America in San Antonio, Texas. During her three years at SJ Davis Middle School, she taught ELA and AVID, coached several sports teams, and functioned as treasurer for TFASA’s Council of Elders, an organization of alumni dedicated to mentoring current TFA Corps members. She later co-founded EAST, an organization of educators seeking to embrace, educate, and empower the east-side community of San Antonio through culturally responsive pedagogy and community outreach.
Jacqueline has an M.A. in Clinical Social Work with an emphasis on Family Systems and Violence Prevention from the University of Chicago. She also holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. She has experience in facilitating psychosocial groups focused on subject matters such as grief and loss, peer relationships, anger management, and social skills. Jacqueline is beyond thrilled to provide the highest quality teaching while keeping scholars’ individualized needs in mind.
Emily Goldstein: Founding Resident Teacher
This year at Digital Pioneers Academy, Emily will join the team as a Resident STEM Teacher. She is originally from Boston, Massachusetts, and she moved here for a graduate school program called Urban Teachers. Prior to moving to Washington, D.C., she graduated from the University of Rochester where she majored in Psychology and minored in American Sign Language. Her teaching background includes working with Breakthrough Collaborative at their Boston site, where she taught 8th grade math for two summers. Next year she will be earning her M.A. in Education from Johns Hopkins University.
Trenisha Goslee: Founding STEM Teacher
Trenisha is a founding STEM teacher this year at Digital Pioneers Academy. She originally hails from Staunton, Virginia, and attended Old Dominion University, where she studied Technology Education. At ODU, she developed her passion for STEM education and educating students of color to pursue STEM careers. She joined Teach for America and taught Math/STEM for three years in Mississippi and Louisiana. While teaching, she furthered her own education by earning her master’s in Educational Technology Leadership.
After starting an elementary STEM program in El Paso, Texas, Trenisha decided to move back home and help found Digital Pioneers Academy. She is excited to develop the next generation of innovators. Digital Pioneers Academy’s values align with her own personal values. She believes that our scholars have the most talent and it just needs to be tapped into. She, along with her team at DPA, will ensure our scholars are represented and thrive in 21st century careers!
Simbisai Kahari: Founding Robotics Coordinator
While attending and after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University, Simbisai developed youth technology education in Richmond, Virginia. Simbisai joins the DPA team with over ten years of experience working with at-risk youth in both Richmond and Brooklyn, New York. Simbisai’s background in intellectual property law and scientific and medical patent illustration has grounded his development of youth technology education.
Simbisai believes that any student can learn technology and thrive in technology development and creation-driven careers. He has witnessed the power robotics has in unpacking engineering concepts and engineering management skills. Simbisai has an unwavering faith in the creative young mind’s ability to understand, adapt, and improve existing and future technologies.
Holden Ross: Founding Resident Teacher
Holden joins the DPA team as a resident STEM instructor. Holden is a recent transplant from Ft. Collins, Colorado who moved here to pursue his master's degree in Education at Johns Hopkins University through Urban Teachers. Holden graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder with a degree in Chemistry and a degree in Political Science.
Ashley Pettway: Founding STEM Teacher
Ashley is a native of Northern Virginia with over five years of education experience. As a certified special educator and experienced math teacher, she has served students in preschool through 12th grade. She began her career in Baltimore supporting the first graduating class of a STEM transformation school in the college application process. She has a wide range of experience but she is especially passionate about cultivating a love of math among middle school students. Since returning to D.C., Ashley has focused on ensuring that students with disabilities perform at or above grade level expectations. She firmly believes that all students can and must meet the highest academic standards.
Ashley holds a Bachelor of Arts from the College of William and Mary and a Master of Science from Johns Hopkins University. Her undergraduate and graduate research centered on developing academic self-efficacy in African-American students through African-American literature.
NyShayla Williams: Founding Humanities Teacher
NyShayla joins Digital Pioneers Academy with a zest for facilitating learning through experience. She takes pride in being raised in a Montessori school from Pre-K to 10th grade, where learning was all about discovery. Her approach to facilitating learning encourages students to explore disciplines that truly interest them, rather than waiting for someone to teach it to them. Students become empowered when they tackle content for themselves.
NyShayla moved to D.C. in 2015, where she joined an Americorps program that piqued her interest in teaching middle school students. Following her year of service, she joined a teaching fellowship, where she taught 4th and 5th grade math and writing. She most recently taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grade ELA and developed her pedagogy while simultaneously working on her master’s degree in elementary and special education at Johns Hopkins University.
NyShayla is most excited about building a strong community in her classroom and utilizing all of her students’ strengths so they can all be seen as leaders with excellent character and tenacity. She is a proud alumnus of North Carolina A&T State University, where she studied economics and took advantage of an amazing opportunity to study abroad in Ghana. NyShayla enjoys traveling around the world, baking and practicing yoga during her free time.
Bryant Wilson: Founding Humanities Teacher
Originally from North Carolina, Bryant attended Virginia State University. There he earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and a Master of Education degree. With a mission to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, Bryant started his teaching mission in 2014 at Highpoint High School in Beltsville, Maryland. While working for the Department of Juvenile Justice he oversaw the education of dozens of incarcerated youth. Bryant is at Digital Pioneers Academy because he shares its mission and wants to see a sharp decline in the opportunity gap.