Our Team

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The Spark Team

We are a passionate, innovative and collaborative team focused on celebrating students and promoting possibility.

Amanda Ruud
Carolyn Liptak
Jeanette Castellanos
Jim Schroder

Amanda Ruud
High School Pathways Program Manager

Amanda has broad experience tutoring, teaching and developing curriculum. After graduating from Tufts University with degrees in Spanish and English literature, she taught 7th grade English and social studies at KIPP Bayview Academy in San Francisco. Amanda comes to Spark from Saddleback Community College where she led faculty in the design and implementation of academic programming made to meet the needs of all learners. At Spark, Amanda is thrilled to support the success of middle school students as they transition to high school.

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Carolyn Liptak
Controller

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Jeanette Castellanos
CEO

Jeanette joins Spark with a proven record in fundraising, program development, and advocacy and with a passion for social change.  In her most recent role as Executive Director of Citizen Schools Illinois, Jeanette strengthened programs and expanded partnerships aimed at closing the achievement and opportunity gaps.  Prior to her time with Citizen Schools, Jeanette served in progressive leadership roles at United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, overseeing over a grant portfolio of over $20M and serving as the key architect and driver of the United Way Neighborhood Network Initiative, a model for advancing community-level change in some of the most challenged communities in the Chicago region. Prior to joining United Way, Jeanette dedicated over ten years of her career to addressing issues of sexual violence; leading Illinois’ largest rape crisis program, which provided services to over 100,000 individuals each year. She has served as Board Chair of the Illinois Coalition against Sexual Assault and Vice-Chair of the National Board of YWCA USA. She is also a member of the Women United Giving Circle at the Chicago Foundation for Women. Jeanette studied Clinical Psychology at Case Western Reserve University and completed her undergraduate degree at Binghamton University. A native New Yorker, Jeanette currently resides in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park with her son and daughter. 

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Jim Schroder
Head of Program

Jim leads the design and implementation of Spark’s Career Exploration and Self-Discovery Program. With more than 10 years of experience in the education sector and a passion for creating diverse partnerships that provide excellent educational opportunities for students, Jim drives program quality, innovation, operations and scalability across the organization. Previously Spark's Executive Director in Philadelphia, Jim grew Spark's impact in the region and managed relationships with key stakeholders, from corporate and community organizations to partnering schools. Prior to Spark, Jim worked as the Director of Corps Learning and Development for City Year Philadelphia. A native of Atlanta and graduate of Williams College, Jim worked at Wesleyan University and Hartford City Mission before completing his master's degree in Non-Profit Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania. 

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Cristen Lain
Michael Kolodner
Heather King, PhD
Amanda Kilibarda Gutierrez

Cristen Lain
Director of Alumni Programming

Cristen's passion for education and her diverse background led her to Spark. Before joining the organization, she led a Chicago Public High School program for seventh and eighth grade students who were accepted into a unique selective enrollment high school program. She previously taught high school math for five years and also worked many years as a consultant. Cristen is excited to use her experiences in developing programs for students in the middle grades, designing curriculum and creating a program for Spark's alumni students. Cristen has a M.Ed. in Secondary Education with an endorsement in Middle School Education from DePaul University and a B.S. in Mathematics, with Minors in Statistics in Actuarial Science from Loyola University.

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Michael Kolodner
Director of Information Systems

Michael Kolodner spent much of his career designing and managing systems for tracking information. Most recently managing a Salesforce database for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and consulting with a sister organization, Michael has previously designed databases for organizing membership for a co-op swim club to tracking global responses to the 9/11 attacks for the US State Department. Michael earned his BA in Middle Eastern Studies from Amherst College and put that degree to work in the Foreign Service, serving in Sana’a, Yemen and Washington, DC. Michael moved back to his home town of Philadelphia, where he supports the local food movement, and enjoys photography. Michael is a member of Spark's Shared Services Team, based out of Spark’s Philadelphia office.

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Heather King, PhD
Director of Evaluation

Heather began her career as a research scientist at the University of Chicago where her work and discoveries made international news. She was also a fellow in the National Science Foundation's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT), which trains graduate-level scientists to integrate a wide range of disciplines into their research. Heather has been passionate about improving education since mentoring middle school girls as a graduate student. After completing her doctorate in evolutionary biology, she then transitioned to Outlier Research & Evaluation at UChicago. At Outlier, Heather studied the implementation of STEM high schools, the landscape of K12 computer science education in the United States, and also led an evaluation of Code.org’s national offerings. She was also an entrepreneurial lead in the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps for Learning program (I-Corps-L), a seven-week entrepreneurial bootcamp for education researchers.

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Amanda Kilibarda Gutierrez
Manager, Special Projects

An Indiana native, Amanda is a graduate of Indiana University with a B.A. in Political Science and Spanish with minors in Latino Studies and Western European Studies. A founding member of Spark's Chicago region, Amanda joined the team in 2011 as an Americorps VISTA Outreach Coordinator excited to help bring Spark's unique model of individualized learning to Chicago. Prior to joining Spark Amanda volunteered with several organizations committed to improving educational opportunity. Through her work with these programs, Amanda saw firsthand how critical volunteer involvement is in providing learning opportunities for youth in the community, as well as how one-on-one attention empowered students to achieve. Amanda firmly believes that all students should have the opportunity to reach their full potential and never ceases to be amazed by the incredible work of Spark students as they discover new possibilities for the future. After 3 years on the Chicago program team, Amanda joined the Shared Services team in 2014.

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Dave Martin

Dave Martin
Head of People Operations

Dave brings to Spark more than 15 years of diverse and extensive experience in people management and operations with such companies as Netflix, Inte Q and Avatar Solutions.  A true champion of his coworkers and their respective talents, Dave excels at communicating effectively with all levels of an organization - building trust and commitment as well as driving operational efficiency, job satisfaction and productivity that are natural outcomes of a connected and engaged team. As a leader, Dave is most proud of his work strategizing, collaborating and enabling others to succeed and thrive in their careers. Dave holds a B.A. in English Composition from DePauw University and is a Certified Professional with the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM).

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National Board Members

Board of Directors
Alicia Winckler, President and CEO of A WIN Consulting, LLC; former Chief Talent Officer at Chicago Public Schools and Strategic Talent and Human Capital Executive in Private Sector Alyssa Rapp, Principal, AJR Ventures; Lecturer in Management, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business Ben Rowe, Board Treasurer; Managing Partner, KHP Capital Partners Chris Balme, Spark Co-Founder; Head of School, Millennium School Dr. Adrian K. Haugabrook, Board Chair; Vice President, Student Success and Engagement, Wheelock College Elena Gomez, Chief Financial Officer, Zendesk Holly Depatie, Board Chair Emeritus; Philanthropist, Advocate and Activist, Writer James Ramo, President, Allenwood Ventures Jesus Ramos, Spanish Instructor/Independent Study Coordinator, Sacred Heart Schools Rodney Prezeau, Consumer Platform, Managing Director at Aviva Sarah Friar, Board Vice Chair; Chief Financial Officer, Square

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