Meet Our Team

Our network is composed of a diverse group of individuals that share a dedication to ensuring 100 percent of our students gain the skills and knowledge they need to graduate from high school, succeed in college and achieve their dreams.

Our team demonstrates an appreciation for setting and achieving ambitious goals through perseverance and grit, humor, kindness, and a deep belief in the collective strength of the team.














Morty Ballen

CEO & Founder

Morty founded Explore Charter School in Flatbush, Brooklyn in 2002. Seeing first-hand the demand for better schools and the powerful impact that strong schools have on student achievement, Morty founded and launched Explore Schools, Inc., a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that creates and supports a network of public schools in underserved communities in Brooklyn. Prior to founding both Explore Charter School and Explore Schools, Inc., Morty served as the School Director for the Teach For America Institute. Additionally, he spent years teaching, designing curriculum, and supporting other instructors with professional development regarding pedagogy and classroom management at The New York Settlement School, Teacher's College of Columbia University, The Sol Plaatie Educational Centre, and Baker High School.

Morty has been featured on CNN and was named a 2011 Entrepreneurial Leader for Public Education in the Aspen Institute-New Schools Venture Fund Fellowship. Morty has taught in underserved communities in Louisiana, New York, and South Africa. He received his BA from Franklin and Marshall and his Master's Degree in Educational Administration from Columbia University. Morty lives with his husband in Brooklyn.





Lizz Pawlson

Chief Strategy Officer

Lizz has worked with Explore Schools since 2008. In her current role as Chief Strategy Officer, she oversees organizational growth planning, finance, fundraising, external affairs and governance. Previously, she served as the organization’s COO, managing the implementation of all non-instructional support for network schools. Prior to joining Explore Schools, she served as the Director of New Site Development and Interim Director of Recruitment for the KIPP Foundation. She holds a BA from The George Washington University and an MBA from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.



Ken Baum

Chief Academic Officer & Superintendent

Ken is responsible for the overall academic quality of the schools in the Explore Network. He leads network-wide efforts to create and sustain a culture of academic excellence and he provides supervision and support to school leaders.

Prior to joining the Explore Schools team, Ken was a principal for eight years, founding and leading the Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science, a non-selective district school in the South Bronx serving grades 6-12. Located in the poorest Congressional District in the United States, the school has a 95% four-year graduation rate, with 70% matriculating at four-year colleges. Recently, Ken was given a 2012 Brook Russell Astor Award for public service from the New York Public Library.



Keith Vigraham

Chief Operating Officer

Keith manages network-wide program initiatives at Explore Schools. Prior to Explore, he worked at the Success Charter Network in Harlem in Recruitment, focusing on teacher and school leadership selection. Keith also worked as a Program Director at Teach for America, where he professionally developed first- and second-year Special Education teachers. He is an alumnus of Arizona State University (2003) and the New York Teach For America Corps (2006).



Rebecca Daverin

Senior Director of Operations

Rebecca has been with Explore Schools for two years. In her current role, she oversees external reporting and ensures our schools are compliant with all applicable rules and regulations. Additionally, she supports schools with authorizer visits, charter revisions, charter renewal, and data management. Prior to working at Explore Schools, Becca worked in various operations and data management Roles at charter high schools in Brooklyn for six years. Becca holds a B.A. from Hunter College. She is a lifelong resident of Brooklyn and a product of the NYC public school system.



Richard Smyth

Director of Technology

Richard oversees and manages all aspects of information Technology across the Explore Schools network.Richard has been with Explore Schools since 2009 as the Director of Technology. He has been working in the IT field for more than 10 years and has a Masters in Information Systems from University College of London. Richard's background is primarily based within Children Services in the U.K. During this time, he was responsible for the planning and implementation of an IT infrastructure and data management framework, to enhance service delivery and decision making processes.



Shawn-Ann Mullen

Managing Director of Finance

Shawn-Ann supports Explore Schools' school-based finance teams and works to support and improve the financial functions of the network. Prior to joining Explore Schools, Shawn-Ann worked for four years in operations and finance at two other charter schools, one located in New York City, and the other in New Orleans. She holds a BA from Ithaca College, and an MBA from Tulane University.



Emily Volpini

Director of External Affairs

Emily oversees external affairs at Explore Schools. Before becoming Director of External Affairs, Emily coordinated the high school placement and alumni program at Explore Charter School. Prior to this, Emily spent three years in Operations at another high-performing charter network in the city. She began her career doing public relations and community outreach through the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. Emily graduated from Penn State University with a degree in Public Relations.



Akelah Pemberton

Director of Human Resources

Akelah is responsible for onboarding of new employees, new hire paperwork, benefits set up and enrollment, compliance and retention data. Previously, Akelah dedicated nine years to the Department of Education in administration. Akelah holds an MS in Human Resources Management from Keller Graduate School and a BS in Psychology from Howard University and is pursuing SPHR certification.



Miriam Barry

Literacy Specialist

Miriam joined Explore Schools in 2012 and supports Literacy Coordinators and school administration in the planning and implementation of literacy instruction and professional development. Prior to her work with Explore Schools, Miriam worked for two years as a learning specialist and literacy specialist and worked for six years as a literacy and general-education teacher in elementary and middle schools. She coached and mentored other teachers throughout her experience. Miriam holds an MS in General Childhood Education from Bank Street College of Education, and an MEd in Advanced Literacy Specialization.



Avanthi Witana

Director of Data and Reporting

Avanthi has been with Explore Schools for two years. In her current position she works with the network Program Team and school-based Program Managers to coordinate the collection, analysis and reporting of all data related to student-achievement. Prior to joining Explore Schools, Avanthi worked as a post-award grant and contract administrator at the Research Foundation of CUNY. She received a BS from Brown University and an MS in Economics from Tufts University.



Alex Candee

Director of Recruitment

Alex assists with recruitment and hiring efforts for each school in our network. Prior to working at Explore Schools, he taught 4th and 5th grade for two years as a 2008 Greater New Orleans - Teach For America corps member. He is a graduate of Keene State College in New Hampshire.





Heath Williams

Communications Associate

Heath joined Explore Schools in 2012 as a Communications Associate. He is responsible for website management and board outreach, and assists with the network's grant requests and external communications. Before joining Explore Schools, Heath taught 2nd grade for two years as a member of the Teach For America - Connecticut corps. and 3rd grade for one year at a charter school in Brooklyn. He has a B.A. in Newspaper Journalism from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.



Adam Schulman

Data and Operations Manager

Adam joined Explore Schools in 2012 as a member of the Operations Team, where he supports school-based operations, data, and compliance initiatives. Prior to working at Explore, Adam held roles in Corporate Strategy & Business Development at Dow Jones Corporation and in Strategy and M&A Consulting at PrincewaterhouseCoopers. He graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Applied Economics and Management from the Charles H. Dyson School.


Joe Foley

Finance Associate

Joe joined the growing finance team at Explore Schools in 2013. Working alongside the Director of Finance and school-based Finance Managers, Joe handles budgeting and financial compliance ventures. Before joining Explore, Joe spent two post-graduate years on the Northern Cheyenne Indian reservation as a school administrator and a Jesuit Volunteer Corps member. He graduated from the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, with concentrations in Finance and Marketing.


Tiffany Butler

Recruitment & HR Assistant

Tiffany joined Explore Schools in February 2013. She is responsible for supporting our Talent team with recruiting amazing professionals to join our network, and assist with HR responsibilities. Prior to working at Explore, Tiffany worked alongside Jackie Rowe-Adams to build community awareness to reduce gun violence with Harlem Mothers Save. Tiffany was born and raised in New York City, and graduated with a B.S. in Business Administration (concentration in HR) from the University of Vermont.


Karina Pleitez

Community Relations and Alumni Associate

Karina joined the Explore Schools team in July 2013. She is responsible for supporting our alumni, coordinating events with the External Affairs team, and supporting the CEO. Previously, Karina worked as a Program Associate for the Chicago Scholars Foundation. Karina earned a BA in Sociology from Georgetown University and an MA in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago.