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CAFE Staff

Rita Perez

Project Director for CAFE & Senior Education Equity Specialist

Rita is a Project Director with the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium’s Collaborative Action for Family Engagement (CAFE) and Senior Educational Equity Specialist Center for Education Equity (CEE).  In her role as the Project Director for CAFE, she provides staff management, budget oversight, and liaisons with the Maryland State Department of Education and the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Her work with CEE includes providing technical assistance and training for state departments of education, districts, and schools to improve educational opportunities for all learners. Rita’s lifelong commitment to educational equity focuses on the areas of systemic school improvement, professional development, teacher and principal effectiveness, instructional and school climate practices, and teacher leadership. She has served diverse learners, families, and communities throughout her career.

Rita has almost three decades of experience in Pennsylvania public education as a teacher, elementary and secondary school principal, and district office cabinet member. She has experience working in large and medium-sized school districts of various contexts including urban, urban characteristic, and suburban. Rita had the honor and privilege of serving in cabinet-level positions at the Pennsylvania Department of Education, including as Acting Deputy Secretary of the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education and Director of the Bureau of Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction. She holds an Ed.D. from Immaculata University in Education Administration, an M.Ed. from Lehigh University in Educational Leadership, and a B.A. in Psychology from Cedar Crest College.

Rita balances her life by cooking, gardening, traveling, and spending time with her husband watching movies.

Jessica Webster

Senior Family Engagement Specialist

Jessica serves as a Senior Family Engagement Specialist working primarily for Collaborative Action for Family Engagement (CAFE). She works with families and educators in building and sustaining effective partnerships focused on student learning and growth.

Jessica is a Pennsylvania native with over twenty years of classroom and leadership experience in both public and private education. In addition to classroom teaching, Jessica has served as a District Inclusion Specialist, supporting family engagement practices and providing technical assistance and training to district staff. During her tenure as an Assistant Middle School Principal, she focused her leadership on equitable disciplinary practices, mental health programming, STEAM, and student engagement practices. Prior to joining the MAEC team, Jessica led a university laboratory school through a strategic plan and realignment focused on literacy, culturally responsive and equitable practices, staff and student diversification, student supports, family engagement, and community partnerships. Throughout her career, Jessica has served on local, regional, and state task forces, as well as committees focused on equity in education. She has taught literacy, principal certification, and special education courses as an adjunct professor.

Jessica completed her Ed.D in Educational Leadership at the University of Pittsburgh. Her dissertation focused on engaging families through the transition to middle school. She earned an M.Ed in Educational Leadership with K-12 Principal Certification from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, and an M.Ed in Literacy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Jessica is a proud mom of three who loves Harry Potter, music and theater, yoga, reading, and cooking.

Nikevia Thomas

Nikevia Thomas

Senior Education Equity Specialist

Nikevia manages MAEC’s youth development initiatives, most notably the ALIVE afterschool program, a 21st Century Community Learning Center. In addition to youth development work, she is responsible for liaising MAEC’s webinar planning. Nikevia is the recipient of MOMIE’s TLC’s “Ella Baker Changemaker” Award. 

For 17 years, Nikevia has been dedicated to enriching the lives of children and families. Prior to joining MAEC, she served as the program director or coordinator of enrichment and educational programs in nonprofits throughout Washington, DC and Long Beach, California. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education from Western Governors University and Master of Business Administration from Trinity Washington University.  

Nikevia has seen every episode of “The Golden Girls.”

Carol Gant

Associate Director of Early Childhood Programs

As Associate Director of Early Childhood Programs, Carol provides leadership and vision in the establishment of policy and procedures to effectively deliver comprehensive services, technical assistance, and training to assist state departments of education and local education agencies in improving education services and educational outcomes. These projects address all children’s needs with a focus on equity for vulnerable or underserved children. Carol represents MAEC in key education policy and advocacy stakeholder networks and serves as a liaison with community-based organizations and coalitions. She also serves as a leadership team member on the MAEC Strategic Planning team.

After starting her career as a special education teacher at Prince George’s County Public Schools, Carol served as the Early Head Start and Head Start Special Education Program Coordinator for Johns Hopkins Hospital/Department of Pediatrics and Educare of Washington DC. She has also worked at Bowie State University as Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Special Education and Bethany College as Assistant Professor of Special Education. Carol joined The National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning (NCQTL) in 2013, where she served as a Regional Field Specialist in the Migrant and Seasonal Program Branch of the Federal Office of Head Start (OHS) and transitioned to the same position at the National Center for Early Childhood Development, Teaching and Learning (NCECDTL) in 2015. In this position, Carol supported the OHS staff by delivering training and technical assistance, providing consultation on data collection and analysis, and overseeing grantees to assess program performance.

Carol holds a BS in Interpersonal Communication from Ohio University and a Masters of Education from Bowie State University with a concentration in Special Education. Carol completed her doctoral coursework in Early Childhood Special Education at the University of Maryland and is currently completing her Ph.D. in Non-Profit Organizational Leadership at Columbia International University.

Carol was born and raised in rural Ohio in a harness horse racing and farming family and always had a garden. Her garden is her lab; she feels that she learns something from every garden and season that she can pass along to others.

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