The School Founders Program is a highly-selective yearlong fellowship for aspiring charter school founders in Alabama. We recruit, select, and train high-caliber individuals as they launch new, high-quality charter schools around the state. The program consists of four training experiences: 


Application assistance.

Full-service assistance with the application and startup process.


School founder training.

Expert training on research-based skills aligned to Leadership Competencies.


Alabama compliance.

Assistance navigating regulatory compliance in Alabama.



A full-time administrative residency with high-quality CMO.


Fellows receive a one-year stipend to cover salary and fringe expenses as well as travel and other accommodations necessary to support fellows in their full-time commitment to the launch of a new school. 

Fellows will participate in an administrative residency with one of our high-performing charter management organization (CMO) partners from another state to learn best practices of charter school leadership. They will also participate in periodic site visits at innovative charter schools around the country.

 2020 COHORT

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Anthony Oliver


Born and raised in Birmingham and alumnus of Birmingham City Schools, Anthony plans to start a diverse-by-design charter school in his hometown. Anthony holds a M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and will soon complete his doctorate in Educational Leadership from Vanderbilt University. He also earned bachelor’s degrees from UAB and Virginia Military Institute, respectively. Anthony is also a former principal in Birmingham City Schools and previously served as Executive Director of Breakthrough Collaborative, a Birmingham nonprofit offering summer programming for underprivileged students by pairing aspiring teachers with experienced educators in a teacher residency program.

Anthony envisions an intentionally diverse 5-8 middle school in the heart of Birmingham, wherein students are equipped to become reflective, self-advocates empowered with the social, emotional, and academic skills to impact their communities while being prepared for college, career, and beyond. For his administrative residency, Anthony will work with Citizens of the World in Los Angeles.

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Ruben Morris


Ruben was born and raised in Birmingham, and his mother was a public school teacher in Birmingham for over 40 years. After attending Morehouse College for his undergraduate degree, Ruben became a teacher in Atlanta and eventually Director of District Strategy with Teach For America. He has served as principal in charter schools, traditional public schools, and private schools in alike, working in Atlanta and Denver before returning home to Birmingham. Ruben has also served at the executive level for multiple nonprofits, most recently as Program Director for the esteemed BuildUP school in Birmingham.  


Ruben has been chosen to spearhead the creation of the Alabama Aerospace and Aviation High School (AAHS), which is a collaboration of the Southern Museum of Flight, Birmingham City Councilman John Hilliard, the Birmingham Urban League, and others. Offering a unique curriculum, a multidisciplinary project-based approach, dual credit, and built-in apprenticeships, the AAHS will prepare Birmingham students with the STEM skills and experiences necessary they need to access the lucrative and expanding aviation and aerospace industries. Ruben will complete his residency at Freedom Preparatory Academy.

 2019 COHORT

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Kia Debnam


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


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.