Karen Symms Gallagher, Ph.D.
Dean, USC Rossier School of Education


Karen Symms Gallagher is the Emery Stoops and Joyce King Stoops Dean of the USC Rossier School of Education.  She has been Dean since 2000.  Her distinguished career has established her reputation as a leader who helps educational organizations successfully reach their goals. 

The school’s mission, to improve learning in urban education locally, nationally and globally, guides all of the Dean’s work. In 2009, the USC Rossier School, under her leadership, launched a groundbreaking online Master of Arts in Teaching Program, the first from a major research university.  It now has aspiring teachers in its rigorous preparation program in 47 states and 38 countries, and has over 1800 graduates. Dean Gallagherhas become a respected national speaker and thought leader on the emergence of online learning models.  Among her other innovations was the launch of Math for America LA, a Fellowship program bringing talented math teachers to local urban schools. In 2011, under her leadership, the Rossier School designed USC Hybrid High School, which opened in fall 2012.

In 2012 Dean Gallagher was awarded the inaugural Provost’s Prize for Innovation in the use of educational technology.  She has been a professor, scholar and academic administrator at both public and private research universities throughout the United States.

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marcia aaron
executive director, kipp LA SCHOOLS

Marcia Aaron is the Executive Director of KIPP LA Schools. KIPP is a national network of free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public schools dedicated to preparing students in underserved communities for success in college and life. Prior to being named the Executive Director, Ms. Aaron was the founding Board Chair of KIPP LA and the Board Chair of KIPP Academy of Opportunity.

Previously, Ms. Aaron worked as a Senior Analyst at Pacific Growth Equities, and as a Managing Director at Deutsche Bank and Montgomery Securities. She is currently a member of the University of Oregon College of Education Advancement Council. She also serves as the Charter Management Organizational representative on the California Charter Schools Association Member Council. 

Ms. Aaron is a Pahara-Aspen Institute Fellow. She previously served as a member of the University of Oregon Alumni Center Campaign Committee and on the board of All Stars Helping Kids, as well as a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Oregon Foundation and the University of Oregon Journalism Advancement Council. She was named the university's Outstanding Young Alumni in 2003. Ms. Aaron holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Oregon.



Alex Hernandez is a Partner at Charter Schools Growth Fund, where he leads the Impact Team and built CSGF’s next generation schools practice. Alex joined CSGF in July 2010 as the lead investment partner for the western U.S. and Texas. He is a former area superintendent at Aspire Public Schools, a leading K-12 charter school network, where he managed schools in the California Central Valley. He taught high school math in South Los Angeles and later served as a Broad Fellow at Portland Public Schools. Before that, Alex worked for several years with JP Morgan and Disney’s venture capital arm, Steamboat Ventures. He is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College, has an MBA and master’s degree in education from Stanford University, and is a Pahara-Aspen fellow for leaders dedicated to transforming public education. In addition to his role on the board of Ednovate, he is also a board member of DSST Public Schools, 4pt0 Schools, and Rocketship Education.



Kate Hirsh is an Associate Vice President at CIM Group, an urban real estate and fund manager with $20B of assets under management.  Kate is responsible for the repositioning and development of projects in one of CIM's identified "emerging urban neighborhoods" located in a Los Angeles.  Kate's portfolio includes execution on developing 200 residential units, 200k SF of retail space, 150 hotel keys & 150k SF of office.  Prior to joining CIM Group, Kate held the position of COO at Pacific Charter School Development where she was responsible for identification, evaluation and development of new charter school investments and was devoted to providing long-term facilities to charter schools nationally. As a part of the PCSD Executive team, Kate  formulated and executed on strategic plans for new business development, fundraising, and public-private partnerships. Kate earned a B.S in Architecture form the University of Michigan, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and an MBA in Real Estate from  the University of California Los Angeles, The Anderson School of Management.

Maria G. Ott, Ph.D.
Executive in Residence, USC Rossier School of Education

Dr. Ott is currently the Executive in Residence at the Rossier School of Education at USC. She previously served more than seven years as Superintendent of the Rowland Unified School District, leading the district through major instructional improvement initiatives. Prior to joining Rowland Unified, Dr. Ott served five years as the Senior Deputy Superintendent in LAUSD.

Dr. Ott represents the Rossier School of Education as a member of the Greater Crenshaw Education Partnership Board (GCEP), serving as Vice-Chairperson in order to address the current reform efforts designed to improve student academic achievement.

As the Superintendent of the Little Lake City School District, she was known for her accomplishments in improving student achievement, utilizing strategic planning to align resources to district priorities, and achieving excellence in governance with the Board. She is highly regarded throughout the state’s educational community for her strong leadership, her commitment to public education and her proven results working with children from diverse and multi-ethnic backgrounds.

Dr. Ott earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Mount St. Mary’s College and her Ph.D from the University of Southern California.

Elliot Sainer
Co-Founder and CEO, Aspen Education Group, Inc.


A leader in the behavioral and education field for over 30 years, Elliot Sainer, as the Founder and CEO of Aspen Education Group, led the growth of the company from its inception in 1998 into what became the nation’s leading and largest therapeutic education company. Aspen has assisted over 40,000 struggling young people and their families from every state in the country and over 30 foreign countries.

He was recognized in 2007 as the Entrepreneur of the Year for the Los Angeles area for consumer services, and was one of four finalists for the National Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2007.

Prior to starting Aspen, he was a senior health care executive for the country’s largest psychiatric hospital company. Since selling Aspen in 2006, he currently serves on the Board of Directors of five other private companies in the education technology and healthcare fields.

He received his MBA from George Washington University and his BA from the University of Pittsburgh.