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CASA of Southern Connecticut is fortunate to benefit from the advice of individuals from around the country as well as the state.  On a volunteer basis, these experts assist the organization as it grows to serve the children and families of Connecticut.

Advisory Council

  • Abie L. Benítez

    Abie Lane Benítez is Director of Schools for the School District of Lancaster, PA, which is linguistically and culturally diverse, with many refugee students; she supervises principals in half the schools. Previously she held leadership roles in the New Haven Public Schools, including as a Director of Instruction for a portfolio of schools, as well as supporting all schools with a high prevalence of English language learners (ELL), and then oversaw bilingual/ELL instruction district-wide. She served over a decade as Principal of Columbus Family Academy, a dual language school. Before that, she was a curriculum/staff developer, Title I consultant, guidance counselor, and Adult Education teacher. Originally from Puerto Rico, where she earned her bachelor’s, she holds a master’s from the University of Pittsburgh and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from UConn. In 2002, the AERA awarded Dr. Benítez the Best Bilingual Education Dissertation Award, and she was named an Illustrious Woman of Puerto Rico by its government. She has received the Elm/Ivy Award from Yale and the City of New Haven and the Heritage Award from the Board of Alders' Black and Hispanic Caucus, and is founding past president of the Connecticut Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (CALAS).

  • Travis J. Bristol is an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of California, Berkeley. Previously, he was a Peter Paul Assistant Professor at Boston University. He is a former student and teacher in New York City public schools and teacher educator with the Boston Teacher Residency program. Dr. Bristol's research is situated at the intersection of policy and practice and is centered on three interrelated strands: (1) district and school-based practices that support educators of color; (2) national, state, and local education policies that enable and constrain the workplace experiences and retention for educators of color; (3) the intersection of race and gender in schools. His research has appeared in various peer-reviewed journals, and he has received multiple fellowships, most recently a 2019 Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship. In 2016, he received the inaugural teacher diversity research award from the AACTE and in 2019, an emerging scholar award from the CIES, African Diaspora SIG. He is on the boards of Teach Plus; the National Center for Teacher Residencies; and the East Bay School for Boys. His Ph.D. in education policy is from Columbia University.

  • Professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Connecticut, Preston A. Britner explores: attachment/care-giving relationships; application of developmental research to child welfare and primary prevention; family-focused, community-based prevention programs and diversion approaches; and promoting positive development and educational outcomes among youth in foster care (for example, through the UConn Rising Scholars Program). He serves on the Editorial Boards for Advances in Child and Family Policy and Practice, the Journal of Behavioural Sciences, and the Journal of Child and Family Studies, and was Editor of the Journal of Primary Prevention. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, winner of the 2011 UConn AAUP “Service Excellence” award, and was the 2013-2016 Philip E. Austin Chair in the Social Sciences. Professor Britner's Ph.D. in developmental and community psychology is from the University of Virginia.

  • Jonathan F. Fanton was most recently President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences after having served as Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College. He was President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation from 1999 to 2009 and for 17 years was President of the New School for Social Research. Earlier, Dr. Fanton was Vice President of Planning at the University of Chicago and before that, in the administration at Yale University, where he earned his Ph.D. in American history, taught, and was Special Assistant to President Kingman Brewster. Jonathan Fanton's numerous volunteer leadership roles include having served as chair of the boards of Human Rights Watch, Scholars at Risk, and the 14th Street-Union Square Local Development Corporation in New York City.

  • Edward Joyner has been an assistant principal and principal of urban public schools and an assistant professor and administrator at the Yale Child Study Center, where he was Executive Director of the School Development Program at Yale. At Sacred Heart University, Dr. Joyner served as the Director of the Master of Arts in Education Program. He has trained educators and social policy makers throughout the U.S., is author of the Ebony Guide to Black Student Excellence, and has earned various awards. He is co-author of six books addressing the education of poor and/or minority children, including Rallying the Village and Child by Child, two of the best sellers at Columbia Teachers College Press. He is the lead author of the Field Guide to Comer Schools in Action that describes thirty-five years of work done by the staff of the School Development Program and its founder, Dr. James P. Comer. As a volunteer, Dr. Joyner is an elected member of the New Haven Board of Education. His M.A. in teaching is from Wesleyan University and his doctorate in school administration from the University of Bridgeport.

  • Earl Martin Phalen is founder and CEO of the George and Veronica Phalen Leadership Academies (PLA), named in honor of his parents, who adopted him at age two. PLA is an educational management organization that turns around underperforming traditional public schools and charter schools. Started in 2013, PLA currently serves 10,000 scholars. Earl Martin Phalen began his career in education while a law student at Harvard, where he founded Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL), which operates after-school and summer education programs. Under his leadership, the organization grew from a local project to a national nonprofit educating 15,000 children annually. In 1997, President Clinton awarded him the President’s Service Award for his impact on the lives of children. Phalen is a Mind Trust and Ashoka Fellow; received the Black Entertainment Television (BET) National Hero Award; and is a three-time recipient of Fast Company’s Social Capitalist Award. He has earned recognition in numerous national media outlets. In 2014, he received the NCAA Silver Anniversary award, 25 years after he graduated from Yale (where he played varsity basketball). Earl Martin Phalen holds a B.A. in political science from Yale and J.D. from Harvard.

  • Jessica Sager is co-founder and CEO of All Our Kin, a nationally recognized nonprofit that trains, supports and sustains family child care providers to ensure that children and families have the foundation for success in school and in life. A lecturer in Education Studies at Yale, she is a trustee of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, serves on the Board of Directors for the State Education Resource Center Foundation, and is active in numerous initiatives to improve the quality and sustainability of child care in low-income communities. She has received various honors, including the Seton Elm-Ivy Award for her efforts to strengthen partnerships and understanding among the New Haven and Yale communities, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s “Women in Business Champion” award, and New Profit’s “Extraordinary Female Social Entrepreneur” designation. Jessica Sager has provided commentary on child care issues for multiple national media outlets and is a 2016 Pahara Aspen Fellow, an Aspen Braddock Scholar, and an Ashoka Fellow. She worked as an artist-in-the-schools in New York City before attending Yale Law School, where she earned her J.D.

  • Dena N. Simmons, Ed.D., is the founder of LiberatED, an antiracist approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) and healing. She is the former Assistant Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, where she supported schools in using the power of emotions to create a more compassionate and just society. Earlier, she served as an educator, teacher educator, diversity facilitator, and curriculum developer. Her research interests include teacher preparedness to address bullying in K-12 school settings, culturally responsive pedagogy, and the intersection of equity and SEL interventions--in an effort to advance justice and safe spaces for all. She has written and spoken widely about social justice pedagogy, diversity, education reform, emotional intelligence, and bullying in K-12 settings--including at the White House, Obama Foundation Summit, United Nations, two TEDx talks, and a TED talk on Broadway. Profiled in MAKERS: Women Who Make America, and in a Beacon Press Book, Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, she is a recipient of multiple fellowships. She is author of the forthcoming book, White Rules for Black People (St. Martin's Press, 2022), and earned her doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University.

  • Susan M. Swearer is Willa Cather Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). She has been a high-school special-education teacher for students with emotional and behavioral disorders and has worked as a licensed professional counselor with children, adolescents, and families in residential treatment, inpatient, and outpatient settings. In addition to her role as a professor, she is a licensed psychologist in the state of Nebraska, where she was Director of the Nebraska Internship Consortium in Professional Psychology for seven years. She is a supervising psychologist in the Counseling and School Psychology Clinic at UNL and founder of the Nebraska Bullying Prevention and Intervention Initiative. Professor Swearer's areas of expertise including bullying and peer victimization in children, youth, and young adults; youth empowerment and engagement; and cognitive-behavioral interventions with youth and their families. Chair of the Born This Way Foundation's Research Advisory Board, she earned her Ph.D. in school psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. She was inspired to advise CASA of Southern Connecticut after having been impressed with CASA programs in Texas and Nebraska.

  • Sandra Trevino-Ranalli joined the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation (YCCI) as Associate Director for Community Research--responsible for development of strategic plans for community engagement activities to support clinical research at Yale. In the role, she oversaw YCCI's community outreach program, including the YCCI cultural ambassadors program and new initiatives to expand this program--of which she was a founding member--throughout Connecticut, North Carolina, Puerto Rico and beyond. Previously, she was Executive Director for Junta for Progressive Action for more than a decade. She is a Licensed Certified Clinical Social Worker specializing in childhood mental disorders. She was a New Haven Police Commissioner from 2007 to 2014 and has served on several other boards, including the Tow Youth Justice Initiative Advisory Council at the University of New Haven and Read to Grow. She was a recipient of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund One Woman Makes a Difference Award. In 2010 and again in 2017, she received the Yale University Seton Elm-Ivy Award, recognizing work strengthening collaboration between Yale and New Haven. She earned her M.S. in social work from the University of Texas-Pan American.

CASA By The Numbers

  • Children Served Nationally


  • National Volunteers


  • Connecticut Children in need of Assistance


  • Connecticut Children with CASA Advocates


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