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Staff Directory

Profile of Victor Perez

Victor Perez

Director, Center for Education in Small Urban Communities

Dr. Perez has worked in various capacities in university administration for over two decades. In these various roles he has focused on P-16 research projects and collaborations, public policy, diversity, and equity issues in education. At the Center, Victor oversees collaborations with local public schools, community colleges, and other educational institutions to strengthen and model effective University-Community partnerships. His work has been published in Educational Policy: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Policy and Practice; Interactions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies; and in the Handbook of Latinos and Education: Theory, Research, and Practice. Dr. Perez holds a Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Profile of Mackenzie Gillespie

Mackenzie Gillespie

Program Coordinator, Center for Education in Small Urban Communities

Dr. Mackenzie Gillespie joined the Center in 2023 as a Program Coordinator to facilitate the biannual Youth Literature Festival. She recently obtained her Ph.D. in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she researched issues of language and identity in dual language elementary classrooms, as well as best practices in language education and policy in the US. 

Profile of Jill DeHart

Jill DeHart

Teacher Collaborator , Center for Education in Small Urban Communities

Jill DeHart joined the Center for Education in Small Urban Communities in 2012 as a Teacher Collaborator focused on literacy instruction. Jill currently works with local school districts to provide job embedded professional development to area teachers and at the district level. Prior to joining the Center, Jill worked in public elementary schools as a classroom teacher, reading interventionist, and instructional coach. Jill enjoys working and learning alongside teachers while continuing to improve her instructional craft. She continues to study and employ effective models for professional learning to provide the greatest impact on student learning and teacher efficacy.

Jill holds a MA in Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership, MA in Curriculum and Instruction with a Reading and ESL Endorsement from the University of Illinois, and B.A. in Elementary Education from Indiana University.

Profile of Brad Thompson

Brad Thompson

Teacher Collaborator, Center for Education in Small Urban Communities

Dr. Brad Thompson brings his expertise in mathematics education to the Center as an elementary focused Teacher Collaborator. Brad has a doctorate in mathematics education and a MED in curriculum and instruction from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to beginning his career in education, he received an MBA with a specialization in finance from Indiana University and a BA in Economics from DePauw University. He taught for ten years in both elementary and middle schools. Brad has served as a K-8 mathematics professional development consultant for multiple school districts in Illinois for over twenty years. In his teaching experiences, Brad has been guided by an on-going belief that student talk, discussions, and connecting instruction to students at a personal level are foundational to making sense of mathematics. 

Profile of Tara Lash

Tara Lash

Visiting Teacher Collaborator, Center for Education in Small Urban Communities

Tara Lash is an instructional specialist with over 25 years of experience in elementary education, including: classroom instruction, reading intervention, professional development, and coaching. She received a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Wichita State University and a master’s degree in Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership from the University of Illinois. Tara also holds an Illinois Reading Specialist endorsement and has worked closely with the UChicago STEM Education Center supporting the development of mathematics and science education of children. 

Profile of Maria Lang

Maria Lang

Visiting Teacher Collaborator , Center for Education in Small Urban Communities