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The Opportunity Trust is pleased to announce the nine outstanding education leaders chosen for our fourth Catalyst Fellowship cohort.

Catalyst Fellows are educators and entrepreneurs working to forge the next frontier of learning environments in St. Louis. At this moment, when educators find themselves facing one of the most significant opportunities in a generation to reimagine school, The Opportunity Trust’s Catalyst Fellowship provides community and support to help develop innovative, research-backed plans to transform learning experiences.

This year’s program will be conducted through six virtual sessions to imagine, build, and test new ideas and approaches to teaching and learning. Fellows will engage in virtual inspiration visits to innovative schools across the U.S. to expand their thinking around how learning environments in St. Louis need to evolve. The culmination of the program will be concrete designs that can help transform the student experience and a plan of action to launch and pilot those ideas. Learn more about the Catalyst Fellowship.

This year’s cohort is made of education leaders holding various roles in traditional public schools, charter schools, and education non-profits. They each bring their unique backgrounds and experiences to the cohort but share a track record of achieving strong results with their students, a deep conviction and optimism about the need to reimagine school, a voracious curiosity and openness to learning, and a commitment to partnering with students and families.

Catalyst Fellowship 
2020-2021 Cohort

Michael Baird
Hickey Elementary – Saint Louis Public Schools

Michael is just returning to Saint Louis from Nashville, Tennessee, where he served as a dean of students for the RePublic Schools Charter Network. He is thrilled to be back in a city that he loves so much. In his spare time, Michael enjoys attending various live performing arts events and spending time with his friends.


Nikki DeLeo
Associate Director of Academics
College Bound St. Louis

While Nikki enjoys working with high schoolers and their college aspirations, teaching middle school math is her first love. Nikki can be found wearing orange every Friday as a tradition of a proud alumna of Clemson University.


Dr. Bonita Jamison
Executive Director of Integrated Supports and Accelerated Learning
Ferguson-Florissant School District

Bonita leads the district-wide implementation of multi-tiered systems of supports, district-wide professional development, and supervises an Innovation High School patented after the Big Picture Learning Design. Under her leadership in 2015, she helped produce and implement the inaugural Care Counts program, a collaborative venture with Whirl Pool, aimed at removing barriers to student attendance by installing washers and dryers in schools. Dr. Jamison enjoys traveling, reading, and spending time with family in her free time.


Tyler Jones
Secondary English Language Arts Curriculum Coordinator
Normandy Schools Collaborative

Tyler began his career as a management consultant with Deloitte, having graduated with a concentration in management and finance, but his real passion – running a youth basketball league in West Philadelphia – inspired his career switch to education. Having served in the district for going on 10 years, he believes in the tremendous promise of traditional public education. In his spare time he enjoys consuming quality food, literature, and music, and is currently forced to watch more basketball than he plays.


Jessica Pachack
School Leader
KIPP Inspire Academy

Prior to this role, Jessica served as an Assistant School Leader and 5th grade ELA teacher at KIPP Inspire after completing Teach for America in Detroit, MI where she taught 3rd grade at a charter school. Jessica is a proud native St. Louisian with soft spot for both Detroit and upstate New York. She’s an avid reader and HUGE St. Louis Cardinals and Blues fan.


Christan Shelton
Instructional Coach for Math and Science
Westview Middle School – Riverview Gardens School District

Prior to becoming an instructional coach, Christan taught math at Westview Middle School for seven years. During her last year as a math teacher, 100% of Christan’s Algebra I students scored advanced or proficient on the Algebra I EOC exam and 95% of her 8th-grade students scored advanced or proficient on the MAP test. She enjoys spending time with her nephews, watching basketball (Kansas & The Celtics), reading, and working out.


Dr. Sam Smith
Assistant Principal
Maplewood Richmond Heights High School

Sam is a passionate advocate for educational equity and has enjoyed a career in education in the St. Louis region for over fifteen years. A former English teacher and instructional coach, she currently serves as an Assistant Principal and debate coach at Maplewood Richmond Heights High School in the Maplewood Richmond Heights School District. She serves on multiple boards and regional school accreditation teams, and enjoys reading, cooking, and folding origami cranes.


Kirsten Tidwell
K-12 Instructional and Curriculum Coordinator
Lift for Life Academy

Kirsten has an educational background in neuroscience and first started her career in education as a high school science teacher before moving into her current role. Last year she served on the founding leadership team to start Lift for Life Academy’s first elementary school centered on exploratory learning, student autonomy, and whole-child education. She enjoys outdoor time exploring the many parks in St. Louis with her husband Andrew, one-year-old son Connor, and dog Coal.


Michael Zitzer
Assistant Principal
Parkway North High School

This is Michael’s 9th year in education. Previously he served as a middle school math teacher and instructional coach. As a teacher, Michael was named the Hazelwood School District’s Most Outstanding First Year Teacher and the district’s Teacher of the Year. He enjoys going on hikes with his dog Eleven, playing pickleball, and all things music.