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Pilot Year 2019

Kia Debnam | Montgomery

Kia grew up in Harlem, NY attending struggling schools until her father made the sacrifice of relocating simply to access a better education for his daughter. She went on to attend Howard University, North Carolina Central University, and Canisius College, earning multiple degrees in Psychology and Childhood Education. She has taught in traditional and charter schools alike, and she is an alumnus of Teach For America. She also completed a highly-selective fellowship for aspiring charter school leaders of color at the Freedom Fellows Institute in Memphis, TN.

Kia is the founding leader of LIFE Academy, located in Montgomery, AL. LIFE Academy will be a K-8 charter school emphasizing trauma-informed instructional practices rooted in a culturally-responsive curriculum; the school will instill civic awareness and social-emotional health in its students in an environment where students are empowered and equipped to have agency over their education. In January of 2020, the charter application was approved by Montgomery Public Schools, making it the first startup charter to be authorized by a local district.

Darren Ramalho | Perry County

A resident of Marion, AL, Darren is an alumnus of UCLA, and the M.Ed. program for Public School Building Leadership at Columbia Teacher's College. Darren is an alumnus of Teach For America, having taught for six years at R.C. Hatch High School in the Perry County School District and for four years as an adjunct instructor at Marion Military Institute. Darren has also been a fellow in Teach For America’s Rural School Leadership Academy and a member of the State Superintendent Teacher Cabinet with the Alabama State Department of Education.


Darren will be the founding leader of Breakthrough Charter School, located in Perry County. Breakthrough will be a diverse-by-design K-8 school emphasizing project-based and experiential learning rooted in a rigorous, aligned curriculum. Breakthrough will also capitalize on its partnership with Marion Military Institute to ensure that students have access to best-in-class leadership training and resources and to establish clear postsecondary pathways for students to thrive in the community.


The 2019 application cycle is now closed.

Return in Spring of 2020 to apply for the fellowship.