Meet Our Fellows

Astor Fellows are ten to twelve full-time classroom teachers from the New York City public schools, selected from a competitive application process. Fellows represent multiple boroughs and levels of experience within K-12 instruction. Read below to meet our fellows.

2015: Special Education Beyond Borders
Buenos Aires, Argentina


Ronald Banks
Curtis High School
Staten Island

As a graduate of Curtis High School, Ronald Banks has a personal attachment to his students’ success. He pioneered a team teaching model, co-founded his school’s AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program, and has guided Curtis High’s Warriors track teams for over 19 years, giving him the opportunity to work with a wide range of students. He intends to use his experience as an Astor Fellow as a springboard to get involved in his school’s international exchange program.


Lilibeth Bernal
The School for Legal Studies 

Lilibeth Bernal teaches general mathematics and special education. Currently going into her fourth year as an educator, she also serves as a testing administrator, algebra coach, senior cohort leader, curriculum core team member, and freshman grade adviser at her school. She plans to use her experiences as an Astor Fellow to develop her knowledge of educating students with disabilities.


Peter Chang
D75, Hearing Education Services Citywide Program

Peter Chang received his graduate degree in Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing thanks to the New York City Department of Education’s Scholarship Program and now serves the city’s students in need. He teaches a range of subjects to students in various grade levels at the Hearing Education Services Citywide Program, and intends to use his time as an Astor Fellow to move closer to his professional goals, which include developing hearing education services in impoverished areas of the world.


Danielle DeCristoforo
Francis Lewis High School

After working as a systems engineer for several years, Danielle DeCristoforo felt the need for a career change, In 2011, she became a New York City Teaching Fellow and began her career as a teacher. She is now in her fourth year of teaching mathematics and students with disabilities in grades 7-12. She also teaches a variety of other classes, including general education, integrated co-teaching, self-contained diploma-bound classes, and self-contained alternative assessment classes.


Simone English
FDNY High School for Fire and Life Safety

Simone English has been a teacher for 12 years and currently teaches AP English, English and language arts, and special education. Because  so many of her students are immigrants, her professional development focus is on the academic and cultural special needs of students. She wishes to especially help students who experience cultural divides between themselves and their teachers.


Uraline Septembre Hager
P.S. 126, Manhattan Academy of Technology

Uraline Septembre Hager is a visual artist and special education teacher. This is her ninth year teaching in New York City public schools, with most of her teaching career in Bronx’s District 11. After teaching in the full range of special education settings available within community public schools – from self-contained classes to special education teacher support services and resource room –  she began to notice a pattern between special education referrals and students’ race, gender, and socio-economic status. Interested in issues of social justice, equity, and access in regard to public education, she has been researching the school-to-prison pipeline, and her artwork has become increasingly informed by her teaching practice.


Jeffrey Louis
I.S. 311 Essence School

Jeffrey Louis graduated from Brooklyn College with a master of science in special education. He is certified in two areas: studies with disabilities generalist, grades 5-9 and social studies, grades 7-12. He believes in communicating the importance of education to his students and places great value on the strong connection between teacher and student as a way to build confidence in their abilities.


Larisa Pechersky
East-West School of International Studies

Larisa Pechersky focuses on special education and teaches all core subjects in multiple settings, thanks to possessing five certificates. Her professional interests and successes include early literacy, co-teaching, and leading music club students in performing at Carnegie Hall. She was first a public school teacher in her native home of St. Petersburg, Russia, where she helped establish a network of schools and educational programs. She has taught adults and children of all ages; trained teachers in a university setting; and been involved in many publications, including a book and pedagogical articles in three languages. Her instructional initiatives are internationally recognized, and she has won several grants to study and lecture in the US (Columbia University), Israel, France (Sorbonne), and many other countries. She was invited to immigrate to the US and teach in New York City in 1998.


Lindsey Powell
P.S. 59, The Beekman Hill International School

Lindsey Powell earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in special education with a focus on learning disabilities and behavioral disorders at the University of Maryland. She has been teaching at P.S. 59 for 11 years, in areas including special education teacher support services, collaborative team teaching, and general education, all for early grades. She now teaches science for grades K-3 in both general and special education classes, and provides at-risk services to children who struggle with the curriculum.


Jeanne Quarto
James Madison High School

Jeanne Quarto has been a high school special education teacher in New York City for 28 years, teaching everything from Earth Science to aiding seniors as they transition to the working world. She dedicates herself to providing her students with both academic and social “TLC,” using personal interests like running to launch class discussions on health, nutrition, life skills, and stress management. She looks forward to many more years in her special education career.


Gisela Rivera
P.S. 513, Castle Bridge

Born and raised in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, Gisela Rivera earned her MA in comparative literature before coming to New York City nine years ago to obtain a degree in education. She has been teaching for eight years and works to empower her students and their families to advocate for themselves and their communities. Much of her work is with special education students who are also bilingual. As an Astor Fellow, she intends to continue building best practices and finding resources to enhance her students’ experiences.


Jordan Simons
P.S. 203Q, The Oakland Gardens School

Jordan Simons is a dual-certified special education and ESL teacher for grades K-5. He has a BS in childhood education/history and an MS in special education from SUNY New Paltz, an MS in education leadership from Long Island University, and an extension in TESOL from St. John’s University. He has worked with a range of students with special needs, from learning disabilities and speech and language impairments to autism and multiple disabilities. As an instructional lead and RTI (response to intervention) coordinator, he supervises and collaborates with staff members to create interventions for students struggling with English language arts and mathematics. He believes that quality 21st-century education includes inquiry-based learning and accentuates the arts, social and emotional intelligence, physical education, and technology.


Jamie Solano
P.S. 19
Staten Island

Jamie Solano received her master’s degree in special education from Wagner University and has taught special education at P.S. 19 for ten years. A proud member of the Teacher Leadership Program, she has taught in both self-contained and ICT settings. Her current focus is immersing students with disabilities into general education settings. As an advocate of giving all children the opportunities to learn from each other in academic and social contexts, she values collaboration with her co-teachers in order to learn innovative strategies for improving student progress.


Catherine Walton
Benjamin Cardozo High School

Before becoming an educator, Catherine Walton was a design engineer, assistant manager, and paraprofessional. She was fortunate to have pedagogues and administrators who encouraged her to return to college and complete her degree in mathematics. Since graduating in 2005, she has been teaching at Benjamin Cardozo High School. She advocates for mainstreaming students with special needs and believes they can be successful in such environments if given adequate support. She is interested in discovering different approaches to help students learn content.


Program Leader:

Mark Alter, PhD
Professor of Education Psychology
Teaching and Learning Program
NYU Steinhardt School of Education, Culture and Human Development

Dr. Alter receive his B.S in Psychology and his M.S. in Special Education and Mental Retardation. In 2006 he was awarded a position as a Fulbright Senior Specialist and in 2007 was granted the NYU Distinguished Teaching Award. His research includes: special education instructional programming, shaping special education policy, preparation of teachers in special education, and integration of general and special education practices. He has contributed to numerous published works on teaching and special education, and has taught several special education centered study abroad courses.


Program Assistant:

Sergio Saldivia
NYU Doctoral Student

Sergio is a fourth year doctoral student in the Educational Leadership program at NYU Steinhardt. He has an Educational Psychology degree from Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, and a Master's degree in Education, from Universidad de Chile. Before coming to NYU, Sergio worked in a variety of educational programs in Chile, supporting the work being done in public schools by teachers and administrators. His research interests include school reform and educational policy. He is currently working in his dissertation, focused on the work schools administrators do, to mediate policy changes.