CAST Schools Staff

Maria Luisa Cesar


Maria Luisa is the founder of Greater Good, a communications consulting firm rooted in storytelling. She previously worked in the Office of Mayor Ron Nirenberg as a senior policy advisor and deputy communications director. She kicked off her professional career as a journalist for the San Antonio Express-News, where she covered all things education. As a former education reporter, she’s convinced that CAST Schools have found the secret formula to making high school engaging, relevant, and immensely rewarding. Cesar was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and received a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. Her work focuses on bringing student, parent and partner voices to light and helping better tell the story of how CAST Schools are impacting families and the larger community.

Carol Mendenhall

Director of Program Design & Professional Development

Carol Mendenhall is an educator with 45 years of experience who has done everything from teach high school English to direct professional development for a nationally recognized school district. Mrs. Mendenhall’s commitment to equity was forged in her first teaching experience in Jacksonville, Florida but continued through her many jobs as an assistant principal, leadership coach, and educational consultant. She is passionate about student voice and believes that CAST Schools are transforming the education model by giving students the best resources and support to “determine their own path in life.” Mrs. Mendenhall has been involved with opening 40 new high schools through the Asia Society (globally focused schools) and through Educate Texas (STEM focused schools). She is a national facilitator for the Courage to Teach and Courage to Lead programs and believes all teachers deserve to take the time to remember why they became educators in the first place. Mrs. Mendenhall most recently worked as a leadership coach for Trinity University and was part of the founding design team for the Advanced Learning Academy. She now tackles a similar role for the CAST Network. “Young people are transforming themselves every day,” she said. “At CAST schools, we give them the space and support they need to develop their creativity, their problem-solving skills, and their desire to make a difference.” Mrs. Mendenhall has a Master’s in Anthropology from the University of Texas at San Antonio and Master of Science in Supervision from the University of Florida.

Jeanne Russell

Executive Director

Jeanne Russell began her nontraditional career in education as a teacher, reported on education as a journalist, and shifted into public policy work to improve not just the classroom but the system. Her commitment to equity was shaped through early work in Oakland, East Harlem and Central America, where she also learned the value of giving students’ ownership of their own learning. She has helped create some of San Antonio’s most innovative education initiatives, including Café College, PreK4SA, Upgrade and SA Works. She joined Kate Rogers as part of the founding team that conceptualized CAST and was recently named executive director of the growing network. Her personal passion is for student voice, and she led the San Antonio Youth Commission in the year that it presented the first youth-informed public policy agenda to City Council, also introducing the citywide civics fair Speak Up Speak Out! to San Antonio. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of California-Berkeley, a master’s degree in education from the University of California-Davis and a joint master’s degree in journalism and Caribbean and Latin American Studies from New York University.