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

After teaching in Louisiana, South Africa, and New York City, and seeing first-hand how the institution of school dramatically impacts a child’s trajectory, Morty founded Explore Charter School in 2002. Explore graduated its first group of 8th graders in 2008; since then 100% of graduates have been accepted to outstanding public, private and parochial high schools. Based on the demand in the central Brooklyn community for more high-quality public education options, Morty founded and launched Explore Schools, Inc. in 2009. Today, the Explore network serves 1,600 students in four schools: Explore, Empower, Excel, and Exceed.



Morty was a 1992 Teach for America corps member in Baker, Louisiana. He earned his B.A. from Franklin & Marshall College and his M.A. from Teachers College, Columbia University. Morty was named a Pahara-Aspen Entrepreneurial Leader for Public Education year. Morty lives with his husband in South Slope, Brooklyn.




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

Managing 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.





Shawn-Ann Mullen

Chief Financial Officer

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

Chief of Staff

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 Manager

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

Director of Systems and IT

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.


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.