Impact Makers: Women of LEE

Dr. Michelle Cantú-Wilson

Dr. Michelle Cantú-Wilson is the Vice President of Education and Workforce at Outreach Strategists in Houston, Texas. She is the first Latina to serve on the San Jacinto College Board of Trustees, and she is a new member of the National Assessment Governing Board, having been appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Education to oversee policy for the National Assessment on Educational Progress. Only two Texans currently serve on this board, and both are Latinas. Michelle worked to create the first generation student program at San Jacinto College, and she led several instructional equity programs at the college as the Director of Teaching and Learning Initiatives and Special Projects. 

As a woman, she has learned to lean into her cultural and societal roles as a Latina mother, wife, daughter, and beyond and utilized them as strengths rather than weaknesses. Michelle believes that this unique, innate strength that women and girls possess are the keys to creating a more equitable and inclusive society. “We are the solution, the vehicle, the judge and jury and the benefactors of this work. As we advance, we must make space for other women. As we earn decision-making roles, we must decide to do better for women and girls and to grow networks that hold each other accountable.”

Annette Barile

Annette is a proud Japanese American who grew up in both Tokyo and Hong Kong. She moved to the United States for the first time to attend Wake Forest University. There, she took an education policy class which ignited her passion for education. Learning about the educational inequities in the U.S. that impacts students of color and low-income students led Annette to create her own major in education policy. Her commitment to fighting these inequities solidified when she became a high school math teacher in Atlanta as a Teach For America corps member. Annette’s students continue to ground her in her work. 

After teaching, Annette completed her Master’s in Education Policy and Analysis at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. During her time at Harvard, Annette helped plan and emcee the university’s first ever Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) affinity graduation. After graduation, Annette worked for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as a LEE (Leadership for Educational Equity) Public Policy Fellow, where she worked for the Early College team. During her time working in the classroom, Annette realized how important systemic changes are in order to truly change the educational trajectory for many of her students. This led her to her current role on Capitol Hill as an APAICS (Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies) Fellow. 

In her leadership roles, she believes that full authenticity is the way to go to be a successful leader, especially for women. “A good leader is able to empower others because they are authentically themselves and are strong and confident, even in a world where these qualities in women are often not rewarded or encouraged.” 

Judith Escuin Checa

Judith is a 2023-24 LEE Public Policy Fellow with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and a former 2020 LEE Policy and Advocacy Summer Fellow with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Education Department. Born and raised in Barcelona, Spain, she pursued her graduate studies in the UK before moving to the United States and joining the South Dakota Teach for America corps in 2018. 

In her current PPF placement she is assisting elected Tribal leadership in advancing multiple policy projects in a variety of ways, from conducting policy research to creating reports, strategic plans and contacting partners and stakeholders. Two ventures she is particularly focused on at the moment are a housing development project that would increase housing security for a significant portion of students and families across the Reservation and a High School internship program designed with an equity lens and focused on the local job market's generational sustainability. She also continues to work for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Education Department in a consultant capacity, where she gets to build the Department's capacity for specialized policy research and advance the Building Bridges initiative, focused on building genuine partnerships between schools, families and communities. 

As a first-generation immigrant and graduate, she is deeply committed to continue serving her (former) students and families in a greater capacity than she could in the classroom, as well as devoting her career and skills to fostering educational equity and self-determination for all young people across the nation.In her teaching, her journey has made impacts on many students but when she taught a particular second grade class, Judith shared a deep sentiment from one of her students that she took with her and applied it to her advice for women looking into starting a career in leadership: “ ‘It’s okay, I don’t need to be tough. I need to be strong’. It’s such a simple statement, but so important. In a world that more often than not tells us ‘being tough’ is a requirement for success and leadership, we can choose to be strong instead. Humanizing yourself and others, navigating feelings and emotions, seeing them as insights and lessons rather than something to push away or compartmentalize can be difficult. But what is leadership after all if not the willingness to be a catalyst for change?”

Robin Brice

Robin Brice

Robin was born and raised in a tight knit community in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her passion for educational reform started at an early age through her educational experiences within public and private schooling. As a high school student, Robin attended both a private and public school and became outraged at the disparities that she noticed around opportunity, access and resources. Since her sophomore year in high school, Robin has rallied around equitable access for students including exceptional children, diverse language learners, female students and students of color. Robin is currently an 8th grade Math Teacher at The Soulsville Charter School and continues to be an advocate for educational equity in Memphis, TN. She is a proud Teach for America Alumna and previous participant of the Diverse Learners Cooperative Teacher Leader Fellowship. Robin has 12 years of service in education, educational advocacy and community organizing through professional organizations such as Leadership for Educational Equity, 901 Organizing Network for Equity and the New Memphis. 

Throughout her career, she has faced many challenges as a woman, including being seen as “too aggressive” or having her voice silenced at tables or organizations that were predominantly run by men. Rather than stunting her or chasing her away from her equity goals, she used those moments positively going forward. In an effort to overcome this challenge, I had to get to a place where when I spoke, I spoke like an expert and I didn’t allow those around me to intimidate me into silence or interrupt my point before I was done. When others see me as aggressive, I invite them to share my passion and commitment for change in a way that is both positive and productive.”

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