Tuesday, June 18, 2019
The RP Group
Meet our Steering Committee Members..

Robert Gabriner, Director

Robert Gabriner, Director

Robert Gabriner is one of the founders of Leading from the Middle; an RP Group program established in 2013. He currently serves as the program’s Director.

For the past 57 years, Robert focused his energy and career on social justice through the civil rights movement and within higher education reform. (Read More)

As an educator for 21 years, he taught at several community colleges and has served as executive secretary of the Peralta Federation of Teachers; the president of the Community College Council of the California Federation of Teachers; as the Dean of Research, Planning, and Grants at City College of San Francisco; as Vice Chancellor of CCSF and the Director of the Educational Leadership Doctoral Program at San Francisco State University from 2009 to 2016.

Since the 1990s Robert Gabriner has provided key leadership to the RP Group, including founding the RP Group’s Center for Student Success, a key source for statewide research on student success in California Community Colleges.

As one of the architects of the Community College Reform Act of 1988, he also served on statewide task forces that became the foundation for the 2004 Community College Accountability Act and the 2012 Student Success Act.

Ireri Valenzuela, Associate Director and Coaching Lead

Ireri Valenzuela, Associate Director and Coaching Lead

Ireri Valenzuela joined the RP Group as a senior researcher in 2014. In this role, she primarily conducts qualitative research focused on gathering student voices that help inform the efforts of California Community Colleges address student equity gaps, improve academic programs and services, and create more equitable experiences for all students to support their success. In addition to her researcher role at the RP Group, Ireri became part of the Leading from the Middle Academy team in 2017. (Read More)

Prior to becoming a “formal” educator, Ireri taught English to low-income Latino and South East Asian immigrants in the Central Valley.

Inspired by her students’ resilience and witnessing the impact education had on their lives, Ireri returned to school and got a masters in Adult Education from SFSU. Ireri started her education career designing, implementing, and leading adult basic education and workplace education programs for homeless and formerly homeless adults in San Francisco.

Later in her career, she worked at California Tomorrow where she developed and lead the Campus Change Network (CCN) which focused on working with California Community College practitioners seeking to address equity issues on their campuses by leading systems change efforts.

Rebecca Wong, Curriculum Lead

Rebecca Wong, Curriculum Lead

Rebecca Wong has been with Leading from the Middle since its inception in 2013. She is a Steering Committee member, facilitator, and lead curriculum developer for the program.

Rebecca started her career in education as a high school teacher at one of the largest high schools in California located in a very diverse and economically challenged community. (Read More)

She has served as a Chapter I Resource Specialist; has helped develop and evaluate programs designed to improve proficiency in Language Arts and mathematics; and has coordinated the University and College Opportunity Program, assisting underrepresented students in enrolling in 4-year institutions after high school graduation.

Rebecca has served as chair of the Mathematics Department and as the Division Chair of the Science/Math division at West Valley College and is currently the director of its Title III grant. As an active leader in her community, she also serves on the East Side Union High School District Education Foundation Board, supporting the needs of the ESUHSD community.

Debra Polak

Debra Polak

After “graduating” from LFM’s first academy in 2013, Debra Polak continued her involvement with LFM, and currently serves as an LFM coach and facilitator.

Debra began her work in education 20 years ago as a part-time instructor at Diablo Valley College and UC Berkley, where she also earned her BA in English and her MA in Education. Shortly after becoming a full-time English faculty member at Mendocino College in the Spring of 2000, she was asked to coordinate the college’s ESL program. In this role, she was instrumental in growing the program and bringing on the college’s first full-time ESL instructor. (Read More)

Debra also served as the first Basic Skills coordinator at Mendocino College; was involved in organizing union affiliation for full-time faculty; served as Curriculum Committee Chair; and as Dean of Instruction and Dean of Centers, where she led the establishment of the new Center on the Mendocino Coast, previously under College of the Redwoods.

Around the same time that she assumed this role, Debra was appointed to Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs. In this position, Polak was a part of the Education Master Plan, the implementation of new Accreditation standards and Guided Pathways.

In August of 2018, the Mendocino-Lake Community College District announced it had appointed Debra Polak as the new Vice President of Academic Affairs. According to Mendocino College, she was selected “to provide the leadership and direction needed to strengthen the academic vision of the institution while continuing to support the district’s diverse student population.”

Ben Gamboa

Ben Gamboa

Ben Gamboa began his participation in Leading from the Middle as a member of the LFM Crafton Hills College team. Subsequently, he became an LFM coach and is now the Research Lead and a member of the Steering Committee.

Currently, he is the Associate Dean of Strong Workforce Programs at San Diego Miramar College where he manages the Strong Workforce, Perkins, and career education grants programs. (Read More)

Fascinated with effective and transformational leadership, Ben has led several transformative efforts, including integrating instructional and student services career-related programs into a new single cross-functional team, developing sustainable efforts to promote equity-mindedness, revitalizing staff participation in college governance, designing campus processes in support of undocumented students, and collaborating on a professional development program for aspiring future faculty members.

Previously, Ben served in appointed and elected leadership roles for a labor organization, where he led outreach efforts for six years — communicating the organization’s message to its quarter-million members and the California electorate.

Outside of higher education, he has served on the San Bernardino City Workforce Investment Board delivering job training programs and successful job placements to thousands of unemployed residents.

Kristina Whalen

Kristina Whalen, Coaching Co-Lead

Kristina Whalen’s first joined LFM as a participant with her City College of SF team and recently became an LFM coach.

After years of following her passion for teaching in the community college system, Kristina Whalen moved into district-level leadership positions, including Department Chair for Communication Studies and SLO Coordinator at (CCSF), which, at the time, was under heavy sanction for its outcome assessment practices. (Read More)

In this latter role, Kristina worked with other like-minded faculty leaders to further institutionalize a standard process for reporting assessment while validating the necessity of varied and multiple methods of collecting assessment data. She and her team also worked closely with the CCSF Research and Planning Office in order to inform and support the college’s assessment and equity goals.

In addition to these roles, Kristina Whalen has served as Chair of the Student Preparation and Success Committee; on two accreditation self-study teams; and as a member of the Accreditation Steering and Professional Development Committee.

Currently, she is the Dean of Fine, Applied and Communication Arts at CCSF, guiding support for 10 departments and the Fort Mason Art Campus. District-wide, she works on the launch of a Maker Space, on the introduction of a campus-wide Early Alert system, and with Basic Skills Initiative coordinators.

Rose Asera

Rose Asera, Evaluation Lead

Rose Asera began her participation in Leading from the Middle as the Academy’s internal evaluator. She is currently a member of the LFM Steering Committee and a researcher and leader for the RP Group, where she has helped produce the Strengthening Student Success Conference. In this role, she worked with the the partner organizations, the conference’s steering committee, and RP Group staff to build the breadth and depth of the conference content.  (Read More)

Rose Asera has also served as director of the Carnegie Foundation’s community college project, Strengthening Pre-collegiate Education in Community College (SPECC), which was a powerful incubator for segments of present day community college work and has been responsible for nurturing a number of campus and statewide leaders.

Across her career, Rose has been a leader from the middle, side, and back. While she steps to the front when the need arises, she prefers to provide support from behind the curtain.