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Who We Are 2019-11-24T00:40:58-06:00

At the Diverse Learners Cooperative, our team is made up of experienced teachers who know firsthand how valuable this role is in realizing a vision of inclusion and equity in schools. We also have the support of a Board of Directors with extensive expertise as educators, advocates, and parents.

The DLC Team

Brooke Allen (Founder, Director): Brooke is the founder and Director of Diverse Learners Cooperative. After training at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College in special and English learners education, she taught in a variety of settings, including overseas, a special day school, and two charter school founding teams. As Student Support Director, Brooke was responsible for coordinating services, coaching teachers, and ensuring that compliance meant thoughtfully planned success for all students. Driven by the belief that individualized learning is possible if we work together, the DLC aims to create a purposeful community of educators, connected to quality resources and tailored coaching that moves schools toward inclusive programs.

Mary Rakes (Director of Fellowship and EL Strategy): Mary Rakes is the director of EL strategy and the DLC Teacher Leader Fellowship for the Diverse Learners Cooperative. In addition to leading the 2019-2020 Fellowship, she works with school teams to implement creative and effective solutions for English learners, centered around research-based best practices. She received her B.A. in Elementary Education from Taylor University and her M.Ed. in Reading Education with a focus on English Learners at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. She is a seasoned EL teacher, specializing in teaching students who are brand new English learners. In 2016, she was awarded the Teacher of the Year at Una Elementary and was a Fishman Prize Honor Roll recipient.

Mary Matthews (Program Specialist): Mary is excited to join the DLC as a Special Education Program Specialist. Originally from Philadelphia, Mary moved to Nashville to start her teaching career. She has served in MNPS as a Special Education teacher, received her Master’s in Special Education from Vanderbilt University, and became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). Mary looks forward to supporting teachers in developing best practices to use with students as well as leadership skills to advocate for all students’ needs.

Cristina Villarreal Smith (Engagement Specialist): Cristina has worked in education in a variety of settings, most recently serving as the Family Involvement Specialist for Cole Elementary in Nashville. She is passionate about educational equity, and has worked to bring leaders and community partners together around a shared goal of supporting students and families. Cristina will be sharing the DLC’s story and work with current and new supporters as we continue to scale our work throughout the city.

Interested in working with the DLC? Find more information on our careers page.

The DLC Board of Directors

Wendy Tucker (Board Chair)
Wendy currently serves as the Senior Director of Policy for the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS). An attorney and special education advocate, she was co-chair of Nashville Mayor Karl Dean’s Special Education Advisory Council before joining his administration in 2012 as Senior Advisor on Education.

After leaving Mayor Dean’s administration, Wendy created and served as Co-CEO for Project Renaissance, a Nashville nonprofit focused on increasing the number of high performing schools in Nashville. An advocate for parent empowerment, Wendy co-created the Special Education Advocacy Center of Tennessee, has led numerous training sessions for parents of students with disabilities and previously served as the board chair of the ARC of Davidson County and on the steering committee for WCSLink, a collaboration between parents and special education administration in her home school district.

In 2014, Governor Bill Haslam appointed Wendy to serve on the Tennessee State Board of Education, a position she continues to hold.

Tiffany Acuff

Tiffany Acuff
In 2011, while working in the TN Prison for Women, Tiffany co-founded the Faith-based Nonprofit Corner to Corner with her husband Will. They seek creative ways to meet the needs of their community, believing Nashville can be a place where all neighbors flourish. Their three areas of focus are Education, Economic Development, and Spiritual Growth.

Tiffany has a passion for Restorative Justice and Racial Reconciliation. As a proud Mother and White Latina, raising a Black son and an Afro-Latina daughter, she feels particularly called to Bridge Building among different cultures and races. Her Advocacy centers around increasing Awareness through Education and Action in Relationship.

Her passions equally extend to Adoption and Autism Advocacy. She is proud to serve as a Board Member of Diverse Learners Cooperative in honor of her Son with autism, and the one in six school-aged children who have a Developmental Disability like him.

Andrea Capizzi (Board Secretary)
Andrea has worked in the field of special education for over 25 years. Her work as a special education teacher for a range of students with significant learning disabilities and emotional and behavioral challenges led her to interest in training teachers. Her passion about special education brought her back to Nashville to complete her doctoral work in special education at Vanderbilt University.

Andrea is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst-D and is currently on faculty in the Department of Special Education at Vanderbilt University, where she is focused on preparing pre-service teachers in special education teacher preparation programs. Her college teaching is focused on the use of evidence-based practices, behavior analytic principles, and classroom management.

Marcus Hayes
Marc received his B.S. in Deaf Education (1983) from the University of Tennessee and his M.Ed. (1993) in Special Education from Peabody College of Vanderbilt University.

Over the past 36 years, Marc has been an advocate for students with disabilities as a classroom teacher, cluster-wide consulting teacher, special education coordinator, and director of special education. He is currently the director of preschool programs at Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center.