Executive Coaches

Shehz Ali

Director of School Performance

Shehz Ali is a systemic thinker with a wealth of experience in multi-state school reform, coaching middle school leadership teams, and designing and implementing school transformations. He joined Houston A+ Challenge in 2012.  Shehz currently provides leadership coaching and project management in Challenge Network academies and partner schools - including focused family engagement work in Pasadena ISD - and strengthens internal collaboration and operations. 

Prior to coming to A+, Shehz worked as a Lead School Innovation Partner for Partners in School Innovation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit working to help transform low-performing public schools.  In that role, Shehz focused on middle school reform and saw one of his focus schools gain the highest growth of any middle school in the county, two years in a row. Shehz’s broad base of knowledge also comes from his time as a school evaluator, where he evaluated schools and educational systems in six different States.  He has nine years of experience as a teacher and school administrator at all levels.  While a middle school teacher, Shehz was nominated for The National Capitol Educator Award for his work with underserved refugees.  He also has been a guest lecturer at Brock University in Canada. He holds a B.A. in History from the University of Ottawa (Canada), a B.Ed. in Educational Leadership from Brock University, and a M.Ed. in Education Leadership and Policy from University of Ottawa.

Paul Castro

Director of School Performance

Paul Castro is a dynamic school leader with a track record of effective, innovative leadership and collaborative reform in both traditional and public charter schools. As Director of School Performance, Paul serves as founding principal of Houston A+ UP, Houston’s first mobile middle school. He also provides leadership to schools and performance coaches in the A+ Challenge Network and advises the Middle School Leadership Academy.

Paul comes to Houston A+ Challenge from KIPP Houston, where he served as Head of Schools. Under Paul’s leadership, KIPP Houston high schools made significant growth in enrollment and student performance, including significant increases in average ACT scores and matriculation to competitive universities. Before his tenure at KIPP, Paul served in Houston ISD as principal at Lee High School, leading the school to double-digit gains on state tests in three performance areas; and at Westside High school, where he helped to build an AP program that remains a model for comprehensive urban high schools in the state, and led a small-school restructuring that saw Westside spin off two high-functioning small schools within a school. Paul has also served as principal of West Briar Middle School, dean of students at Westside, and high school English teacher and soccer coach. A graduate of Texas A&M University, Paul received his Masters in Administration from the University of Houston. Paul is trained as a Masterful Coach and Cognitive Coach and enjoys every opportunity to discuss teaching and learning with fellow educators.

Tom Monaghan

Director of School Performance

Tom Monaghan is a relentless advocate for addressing both the affective and academic needs of adolescents, whose coaching style both challenges and inspires school leaders toward courageous leadership. He joined Houston A+ Challenge in June 2010 to launch A+’s work with students, teachers, principals and families in Challenge Network middle schools. He leads program design and implementation for the initiative, and provides executive coaching to principals and leadership teams at Challenge Network schools and through the Middle School Leadership Academy.

Tom came to A+ with 28 years of experience in Houston ISD, most recently (2005-10) having served as Executive Principal in the Central and West Region, where he coached and supervised principals and leadership teams at 18 elementary schools, eight middle schools, and nine high schools to strengthen leadership capacity and implement strong school cultures with a singular focus on high levels of achievement for ALL students. Prior to his years as an executive principal, Tom was Principal at Lanier Middle School (Houston ISD) from 1998 to 2005.  He led the implementation of the school’s Houston Annenberg Challenge Beacon School grant, as well as the work that led to the Lanier’s successful authorization in 2004 as an International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programme (MYP) school. He was Houston ISD’s Central District Principal of the Year in 2003-04, and the same year was a candidate for Region 4 Secondary Principal of the Year. He served Houston ISD as a mentor for first-year middle school principals from 2000-05, and has a decade of experience (1999-2009) as a Leadership Coach for principals and assistant principals with Houston Annenberg/A+ Challenge. He holds a B.S. in Education from Western Michigan University and an M.S. in Educational Leadership from University of Houston-Clear Lake.

Literacy Coaches

Gwynne Grohmann

Performance Coach - Literacy

Gwynne Grohmann's expertise in literacy education was honed over eight years as an educator in Houston-area public schools.  Most recently, Gwynne served as 7th and 8th  gradeTitle I Reading teacher  in Alief ISD, utilizing data, individualized learning plans and best practices to increase reading mastery for struggling readers.  During Gwynne's tenure as a 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts teacher in Katy ISD, students in her classroom consistently outperformed or matched the state average and closed the achievement gap between upper- and lower-income students.   She also has served as grade level team leader and coach to new teachers, and was selected to serve on district-wide curriculum and technology pilot teams.  Gwynne holds a B.S. in Speech Communication from the University of Texas at Austin and a teaching certificate in English Language Arts (grades 4-8) and special education (grades pre-K through 12).  She is pursuing an M.Ed in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus in Adolescent Literacy from Concordia University.

Gwynne joined Houston A+ Challenge in 2013 and provides literacy coaching for Albright MS, O'Donnell MS and Olle MS in Alief ISD and Grantham MS in Aldine ISD.

Jennifer Fowler

Performance Coach - Literacy

Jeni Fowler has 14 years of classroom experience as a middle school reading teacher in Houston ISD, including roles as a cluster leader and department chair until 2007. She was named teacher of the year at Pershing Middle School and engaged in some curriculum writing for the district in reading and writing.  After two years as a campus-level middle school literacy coach, she moved to Houston ISD’s West Region as a content specialist. In that position, she worked with 15 secondary schools to improve their literacy programs, provided model lessons, instructional strategies and student data reviews for teachers. During this time, Jeni worked alongside and was coached by Donna Santman, a nationally known reading consultant and trainer from Columbia University Teachers College. She also arranged and participated in learning opportunities with literacy experts such as Randy Bomer, Gaby Layden and Isoke Nia for teachers in the West Region. She holds a B.A. in Education from Texas A&M University and an M.A. from University of Houston.

Jeni joined Houston A+ Challenge in 2010 and currently provides A+ literacy coaching for Alief MS in Alief ISD, Atascocita MS in Humble ISD, KIPP Polaris, Sanchez Charter School, and Teague MS in Aldine ISD.

Erica Milson

Performance Coach - Literacy

Erica Milson brings to the A+ team strong experience as an educator in Houston ISD and a deep commitment to enriching the lives and learning of middle school students. During her six-year tenure as a middle school English Language Arts teacher, she also served as an ELA department chair, cluster leader and extracurricular coach.  Her classroom was one of two selected to model the Readers/Writers workshop pilot at Pershing Middle School. Erica later supported teachers as a literacy coach and testing coordinator at McNamara Elementary, working in coordination with New York-based literacy consultant Gaby Layden. As a Teacher Development Specialist for Houston ISD, Erica modeled lessons, analyzed data, provided writing camps, assisted with creating assessments, and provided professional learning opportunities for teachers during and after school.  Erica also worked as a Faculty Advisor for Teach for America, providing instructional support for first-year teachers during their Summer Institute and intern year.  She holds a B.A. in Education from Prairie View A&M University.

Erica joined Houston A+ Challenge in 2013 and currently provides coaching at Drew MS, Plummer MS and Stovall MS in Aldine ISD.

Numeracy Coaches

Torrey Conerly

Performance Coach – Numeracy

Torrey Conerly is a former math major whose love for children drew her from the financial sector into the classroom. After five successful years as a middle school mathematics teacher, she became a teacher of teachers, working as a Math Content Specialist to serve four middle and elementary schools in Houston ISD from 2007 to 2010. In this role, Torrey provided model lessons, formal and informal teaching assessments, interventions, coaching and mathematics leadership to teachers and grade-level teams. She is a certified trainer for Laying the Foundation/Advanced Placement Strategies, and has served on a TEA Data Review Committee to evaluate state-level mathematics assessments. She holds a B.S. in mathematics from the University of Houston, and an M.A. in Education Administration from Lamar University.

Torrey joined Houston A+ Challenge in 2010 and currently provides A+ mathematics coaching at Killough MS and Olle MS in Alief ISD, Teague MS in Aldine ISD and KIPP Liberation.

James Dirden

Performance Coach - Numeracy

James Dirden is a passionate and dedicated educator who relishes the opportunity to help students maximize their full potential to become productive and successful citizens.  James was Math Department Chair during his time at E.O. Smith Education Center (Houston ISD) and was named Teacher of The Year in 2003 (EO Smith Education Center) & 2012 (Phillis Wheatley High School).  He has taught resource mathematics and general education mathematics from 6th grade through Algebra I and holds Texas Teaching Certifications in Special Education (EC-12), Mathematics (4-8), and Mathematics (8-12).    Prior to his career in education, he attained his Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from Xavier University of Louisiana and contributed to 5 scientific publications as a researcher for Xavier University and Morehouse School of Medicine.

James joined Houston A+ Challenge in 2013 and provides mathematics coaching at Albright MS in Alief ISD and Grantham MS and Plummer MS in Aldine ISD.

Jen Mascheck

Performance Coach - Numeracy

Jen Mascheck began her education career as a mathematics coordinator for the Upper School at St. Stephen’s Episcopal, a private school located in Houston’s Museum District. She contributed to the growth of the brand-new school and as well as the development of curriculum, assessment tools, and professional development for her fellow teachers. During her decade in the classroom at St. Stephen’s, she also gained experience teaching all levels of middle school and high school mathematics, from Pre-Algebra through AP Calculus. She then spent a year as a Secondary Numeracy Curriculum Specialist in Houston ISD, where she coached and mentored 24 teachers and three administrators at two campuses. She served from 1992 to 1995 as a non-commissioned officer and engineer in the U.S. Navy, after graduating with a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Houston. She holds an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Texas A&M University and earned her Texas Master Teacher certification in 2013.

Jen joined Houston A+ Challenge in 2010 as a Performance Coach and continues to coach in Challenge Network partner schools, lead numeracy workshops and contribute to academies in that role.  She has also served as a founding Learning Coach at A+UP Museum District.

Post-Secondary Coaches

June Giddings

Post-Secondary Success Coach

June Giddings joined Houston A+ Challenge in 2012 and currently provides coaching and implementation support for the eleven K-12 school districts and eight community colleges participating in the Gulf Coast PASS initiative, in partnership with the University of Texas-Austin and the Institute for Evidence-Based Change. She also provides post-secondary success resources and technical support to A+ Coaches who work with educators in A+'s Leadership Academy and Challenge Network.

June comes to A+ from Houston Independent School District, where she was most recently Manager of P-16 College Readiness. Her work at Houston ISD included planning, implementation, and evaluation of career and college readiness services designed for all students.  She developed and monitored transition programs for Pre-K, elementary, middle, high school, to college and ensured that their design would help to bridge previous successes, remove barriers to learning and promote academic and social/emotional success for all students. June previously worked as program director for I Have a Dream Houston, and she has spent years in the Houston region developing relationships with education institutions and service providers. For the past four years, June has served as chair of the Houston National College Fair, working to connect students with admission representatives from hundreds of colleges and universities at no-cost. In October 2013 she begins a three-year term on the Standing Committee on National College Fairs for the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).  She also serves on the Executive Board for the Texas Association for College Admission Counseling (TACAC) and is actively engaged in Houston FAFSA Day, Houston Hispanic Forum Career and Education Expo, and the City of Houston's Follow Your Path Career Expo.


A+UP Coaches

Cicely Benoit

Learning Coach - A+UP

Cicely Benoit became a teacher in 2003, when she realized that continuing to guide the education of her children was the greatest gift a mother could give. That first year, she taught a classroom of first graders at Peck Elementary in Houston ISD, using high-quality, student-centered, bilingual instruction that introduced Spanish and English as a Second Language (ESL) across all content areas. Over the following three school years, Cicely moved up each year, eventually teaching almost all grade levels in the elementary school. As a constant learner herself, Cicely drew on these experiences to inform her first campus-based teacher leadership role as Instructional Coordinator at Osborne Elementary (Houston ISD). There she designed high-impact lesson plans and modeled effective instruction across all content areas (reading, writing, mathematics and science) for the school's teachers in grades K-5. Next, as a literacy content specialist in Houston ISD's North Region, Cicely spent two years coaching teachers and school administrators to improve classroom instruction through critical thinking, research-based strategies, and analysis of student data. She holds a B.A. in History from the University of Houston.

Cicely joined Houston A+ Challenge in 2010 as a Performance Coach and currently serves as Principal Learning Coach at A+UP Museum District.

Aditi Rao

Learning Coach - A+UP

Aditi Rao is a committed educator with a passion for utilizing technology to improve learning in the 21st century classroom. She has worked as a technology integration specialist at the Emery/Weiner School and developed a path-to-college education program for the nonprofit Breakthrough Collaborative Houston. Aditi holds an M.S.Ed in Instructional Technology from Johns Hopkins University, where she conducted educational technology research under the direction of Dr. John Castellani. Prior to this, she graduated with a B.A. in English and received her teaching certification in English Language Arts (grades 8-12) from the University of Texas at Austin. The culmination of her undergraduate career resulted in a faculty-directed study on the implications of developing the skill of empathy in educational settings, centered on research she conducted in Ahmedabad, India.

Aditi joined Houston A+ Challenge in 2013 as Technology Coach for A+UP and continues to serve both cohorts in this role while also serving as a Learning Coach at A+UP Museum District.

Susanna Reid

Learning Coach - A+UP

Susanna Reid has a varied background as a middle school teacher, a writer, a communications professional, and an international learner. She came to the teaching profession as a Teach For America corps member, and spent two years teaching reading and writing at Sharpstown Middle School before moving to Pin Oak Middle, both in Houston ISD. At Pin Oak, she served as chair of the ELA Department, and an advisor and extracurricular coach for students. She also worked two summers as a Resource Room Specialist at Teach For America’s Houston Institute, where she supported corps members and institute staff with instructional materials, classroom management strategies and assessment writing. She holds a B.A. in journalism from American University (Washington, D.C.), including a semester of study abroad at Peking University in Beijing, China, and has experience in media relations, providing editorial, research and production assistance at a firm in D.C. for media, authors, corporate executives, members of Congress and Administration officials. Susanna is co-leader of the American University Houston Alumni Chapter.

Susanna joined Houston A+ Challenge in 2012 as a performance coach in Literacy.  She currently serves as a sixth grade Learning Coach at A+UP.

Dave Weldon

Learning Coach - A+UP

Dave Weldon’s gift for connecting with students and fellow teachers was cultivated during his 29 years in the middle school classroom. He began teaching reading and English Language Learners in 1982 at Jackson Middle School (Houston ISD), and in 1986 moved to Lanier Middle (also HISD), where he was named Teacher of the Year in 1995-96 and again in 2006-07. He is certified as a teacher for English Language Learners, and has worked extensively with this population of students in the classroom.  He holds a B.A. in English from the University of Toledo, and a B.Ed. in elementary education and a J.D. from the University of Houston.

Dave joined Houston A+ Challenge in 2011 as a Performance Coach in Mathematics.  He currently serves as a sixth grade Learning Coach at A+UP.