Staff

Our dedicated staff is working to improve outcomes for students with disabilities in the nation’s capital.

Abeo Venzor

Senior Program Coordinator

Amita Lathigra

Program Quality Specialist

Cotora Holland

Secondary Transition Specialist

David Fridie

Community Engagement Coordinator

Erika Thomas

Director of Secondary Transition

James Eric Call

School-Based Medicaid Program Specialist

Julie Camerata

Executive Director

Laura Lorenzen

Program Quality Specialist

Meagan Alderton

Director of Education Innovation and Improvement

Monica Lesperance

Deputy Director

Paula Almond

Secondary Transition Specialist

Samantha Walukonis

Program Quality Specialist

Abeo Venzor Bio

Senior Program Coordinator

Prior to joining DC Special Education Cooperative, Abeo served as the Center for Public Integrity’s Senior Manager for Membership Development Operations role where she cultivated member relations, managed the Salesforce donor database, and coordinated and analyzed membership donor campaign outcomes. Abeo has been able to demonstrate her passion for community empowerment and business development in many capacities at various DC non-profit organizations, such as United Planning Organization. She has also shared her business expertise as a Consultant for Howard University, the Inter-American Development Bank, The Centech Group, and several other small- to medium-scale development firms.

In July 2005, and for eight years, Abeo collaborated with a group of local arts educators to launch her own non-profit 501c3, youth after-school arts enrichment organization, Raising Expectations Inc. Abeo is a native Washingtonian and a proud alumna of DC Public Schools graduating Salutatorian from Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, a blue-ribbon high school in Washington, DC.

Abeo received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stanford University in International Relations with a minor concentration in Latin American Studies and Spanish. She continued her education and achieved her Master’s degree from American University in Comparative and Regional Studies: The Americas. In addition to international relations, Abeo’s interest in business development and entrepreneurship led her to pursue a M.B.A. from American University to educate and empower fellow DC residents and entrepreneurs.

Abeo enjoys raising her son and daughter, nature & outdoors, cooking, dancing, exercising, and tennis.

Amita Lathigra Bio

Program Quality Specialist

Amita Lathigra’s career has spanned jewelry arts, commercial real estate, business development, and education. In her 10 years in education, she has devoted her energy to taking her life’s experiences and turning them into meaningful learning opportunities for children and adults. For the last 5 years, Amita’s primary focus has been developing strong special education programs that serve both staff and students well. She believes in collaborative practices and leads by modeling what she feels is best put forth into the world — self-awareness, diplomacy, and adaptability.

At the Special Education Cooperative, Amita has channeled that methodology into a learning series that taught special education leaders at newly authorized charter schools how to build programs with vision and forward thinking. She also regularly provides individual coaching to school leaders who seek her guidance in staff and program development, and managing overwhelming workloads. Amita sees herself primarily as a change agent — someone who can transform the city’s outcomes for students with disabilities by growing the leaders inside of our schools.

Cotora Holland Bio

Secondary Transition Specialist

Cotora joined the Co-op in June of 2020. She provides support to the Director of Secondary Transition and is responsible for a wide range of workforce activities, to include, development and program delivery. Cotora is a part of the DC3C program, where she launched the inaugural Summer Internship Program 2020.

Before joining the Co-op, Cotora worked at a non-profit organization that provided vocational training to adults with disabilities. The last 12 years, she has worked with transition age youth at non-public schools and DC Public Schools. Cotora is very passionate about working with youth with disabilities to ensure they have success after high school.

Cotora holds a B.S. from Coppin State University in Management & Human Services

David Fridie Bio

Community Engagement Coordinator

Pioneering this new role at the Co-op, David is working to develop and enhance the organization’s partnerships.

Before joining the Co-op, David served as a Program Analyst in the Office of Educational Technology within the Office of the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, David worked for the United States Department of Education from 2012 until 2018. While at the Department, David worked under (three) Secretaries of Education in various functions and roles. From October 2016 until May 2018, he worked as a Program Analyst the Office of Educational Technology within the Office of the Secretary serving as the Contracting Officer’s Representative for several federal contracts. Prior to joining the Office of the Secretary, David held the position of Agency Acquisition Workforce Coordinator within the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. David was responsible for making sure over 600 employees were compliant with mandated federal acquisition regulations. David also served as a Contract Specialist on several federal contracts, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) State Coordinator Program.

Since 2016, David has served on the Reader Committee of the U.S. Department of State Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. In the past few years, he has also served as an application reviewer for the U.S. Department of Education/Institute of Education Sciences’ Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program as well as a reviewer for the Prince George’s County Public Schools Social Studies Department.

David has also worked within the District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation, working at the DC Therapeutic Recreation Summer over the course of two years as an Inclusion Aide as well as Camp Counselor/Director at the Chevy Chase Community Center. His love of kids, especially those with disabilities, is something very essential to his core being. As a stutterer himself, he is cognizant of the importance of affirming every child, especially our Black and Brown children with disabilities!

David is a proud 4th-generation native Washingtonian, who was educated in the District of Columbia Public Schools system (Shepherd Elementary) as well as Catholic Parochial schools (St. John’s College High School). He attended Howard University (as a 3rd generation Bison), majoring in History with a minor in Political Science. Mr.Fridie comes from a long line of educators. His 3rd great-grandfather helped found an HBCU in South Carolina. As the son of a school teacher, education has played a profound role in his life. He is committed to the uplift and preservation of his beloved community!

Erika Thomas Bio

Developmental Educator

Erika Thomas is an experienced developmental educator with over 17 years of experience within the education sector and has extensive experience in alternative, public, and charter education settings across all grade levels. Erika’s previous experience includes Alternative Education Program Advisor, Home and School Consultant, Campus Coordinator, College and Career Center Specialist, Student Support Services Coordinator, and Transition Manager.

Erika is committed to making sure that all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential and follow their dreams. Her unwavering commitment to student success and academic growth fuels her passion.

Erika graduated high school from the historic Little Rock Central High School, from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with a Bachelor of Liberal Arts, and from Angelo State University with a Master of Arts in Mental Health and Wellness Counseling.

She is married and has a son. She enjoys shopping and entertaining family and friends.

James Eric Call Bio

School-Based Medicaid Program Specialist

Eric Call is a Medicaid Specialist for the Co-op with more than seven years of experience as the contract administrator of multiple state implementations and more than 13 years of special education and health policy and program experience. Mr. Call has managed staff, resources, and timelines to track and improve the documentation and data collection for students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and health-related services in the District of Columbia and several states across the country. With the Co-op, he works with our partner schools to recover federal dollars through direct service claiming and optimization efforts while ensuring compliant claims and accurate data.

Prior to his time with the Co-op, Mr. Call supported the school-based skills program for dozens of districts across several states and oversaw Time Study activities for three states with Public Consulting Group (PCG). He also led the project teams supporting PCG’s EasyIEP system (Web-based Individual Education Plan software known as SEDS in Washington, D.C.) for D.C., Utah, and charter schools elsewhere across the country. Before that Mr. Call directed the creation of an award-winning online curriculum development platform and implementing it in school districts and charter schools. He earned a Master’s in Public Administration degree from the University of North Florida and a Bachelor of Arts in History degree from Brigham Young University—Hawaii.

Julie Camerata Bio

Executive Director

Julie Camerata has served the DC charter community for nearly two decades. As the executive director of the Co-op, she facilitates programming and services that reach over 5,000 students with disabilities enrolled in 50+ DC charter schools. She has successfully written and administered large grants to grow the organization’s reach and internal capacity. In 2018, Julie was appointed by the Mayor as the Chair of DC’s State Advisory Panel for Special Education. Prior to joining the Co-op, she worked in the District’s non-public, public and charter schools as a special education teacher and administrator.

Julie has a Master’s degree in Transition Special Education from George Washington University and a Bachelors of Arts in Politics from Oberlin College.

Laura Lorenzen Bio

Program Quality Specialist

Laura Lorenzen is a proven special education leader in Washington, DC who, as the parent of a child with special needs, is passionate about ensuring the success of every child.

Laura has spent nearly two decades leading innovative and quality programming for students with disabilities, from early childhood through high school. She began her career at a non-public school for students with language-based learning disabilities, ADHD, and autism, before taking the helm as Director of Student Support at a DC Public Charter School, building its reputation as a local and national leader in quality inclusive special education services. Under her leadership, the school was recognized in 2018 as one of only four nationwide “Centers of Excellence” by the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools.

Laura has been actively involved in the Special Education Co-op for many years, having served for 2 years as member of its Advisory Board. In SY 2020-21, she served as a consultant for the Co-op, providing professional development and coaching around Response to Intervention (RtI) practices.

Meagan Alderton Bio

Program Quality Specialist

Meagan Alderton is the Co-op’s Director of Education Innovation and Improvement.  In her role at the Co-op and work with LEA leaders, Meagan emphasizes practical and data driven approaches to improving outcomes for all students. Meagan’s experience in the education sector spans many roles – teacher, parent, program director, adjunct instructor, and most recently a member of the Alexandria City School Board.

Meagan was first elected to the Alexandria, VA School Board in 2018, and is the second African American female to be elected to the role of Board Chair in the history of Alexandria City Public Schools, following in the footsteps of Shirley Tyler. She served as Board Chair from 2021-2023. While on the School Board, Meagan has served on the Superintendent’s Evaluation Committee, to help develop the superintendent evaluation tool and process, as well as on the Educational Design Team for the Connected High School Network. She co-drafted legislation approved by the Virginia General Assembly to bolster pre-licensure preparation for teachers in the areas of crisis prevention and positive behavioral interventions and supports. 

Meagan led  the Alexandria City School Board during the COVID-19 pandemic, working with staff, teachers and community stakeholders through various transitions in the instructional format, including the shift to virtual learning and the process to safely reopen school facilities. All of Meagan’s work is driven by her deep commitment to marginalized students and her belief that with the right mindset, educational leaders can realize transformational change. Meagan holds a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Towson University and a Bachelor of Honors in Communications and Women’s Studies from York University in Ontario Canada. 

Monica Lesperance Bio

Deputy Director

Monica joined the Co-op in 2009 to lead the organization’s work around school based Medicaid and transitioned into the role of Deputy Director in 2011 to develop and manage the Co-op’s programs and services. A problem-solver and advisor by nature, Monica enjoys working to develop programs that meet schools where they are and provide the necessary supports to move them forward. Monica is the curriculum author and lead instructor of the Early Childhood section of the Co-op’s highly regarded course in special education for general educators, INCLUDE DC. She has led countless workshops on special education and inclusive practices and has served as a practicum supervisor for new special education teachers at the Catholic University of America and George Mason University. Before joining the Co-op, Monica worked in DCPS and charter schools as both a teacher and program coordinator for 10 years.

Monica has a Master’s degree in Education and Human Development with a concentration in early childhood special education from George Washington University and a Bachelors of Arts from Tufts University with a major in Anthropology.

Ms. Paula Almond Bio

Secondary Transition Specialist

Ms. Paula Almond joined the Co-op in April of 2022. She provides support to the Director of Secondary Transition and is responsible for a wide range of workforce activities, to include, development and program delivery. 

Before joining the Co-op, Paula worked at E.L. Haynes Public Charter High School for five years as a Transition Teacher, where she taught Introduction to Transition and College and Career Readiness. The last 11 years, Paula has worked with students on various levels in Elementary, Middle, High School, and also being a Special Education Coordinator.

Paula holds a Bachelor of Science in Special Education from St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Virginia. When attending St. Paul’s College, Paula was the President of the Best Buddies Leadership of America organization.

Samantha Walkonis Bio

Program Quality Specialist

Samantha Walukonis is a dynamic education leader with broad experience across charter, nonpublic, and private special education schools. Samantha leverages her legal and advocacy background to promote policies and practices that support high-quality public education for diverse learners. Samantha has been actively involved in the Co-op for several years, having served as a member of its Advisory Board and targeted working groups. Previously, she was the Director of Student Support Services at Inspired Teaching Demonstration PCS, where she designed an expanded continuum across grade levels, and partnered with the Co-op to introduce multiple research-based intervention programs that accelerated student achievement.

Samantha has a J.D. from Vanderbilt University School of Law, where she began her work in Special Education law through the Civil Practice Clinic. She then completed graduate work in Executive Function, Dyslexia, and Education Program Management, and obtained formal training in research-based structured literacy intervention while working as a Special Education teacher and administrator. As the parent of two twice-exceptional children, Samantha has a passion for building collaboration between school systems and families, and developing multi-disciplinary expertise in School Leaders to support innovative, holistic programming.