Our Mission

Our mission is to create a world-class K-8 school where all children are prepared for college, career, and life.

Catalyst Academy Charter School is a college-preparatory K-8 public charter school in Pittsburgh, focused on serving families in the Hill District, Garfield, East Liberty, Larimer, Lincoln-Lemington, Homewood, and East Hills communities as well as families from across Pittsburgh and neighboring communities that are looking for a great school.

We will open as a K-1 school in the fall of 2020, and then grow a grade each year to eventually serve kindergarten through 8th grade. As a public charter school, Catalyst Academy is a tuition-free, open-enrollment school for any student, including students with special needs and English-language learners.

Catalyst Academy is the first new K-8 charter school in Pittsburgh in 6 years and will be located in the Lincoln-Lemington neighborhood, in the    former Lemington school building.

Our Approach
Catalyst Academy classroom

Our Team

Brian Smith
Brian SmithFounder & CEO
Brian Smith is the Founder & CEO of Catalyst Academy. Brian started Catalyst Academy based on his deeply-held belief that all children, and especially historically disadvantaged children, should have access to a great education, one that can be a catalyst for changing the lives of their family and community. Brian was formerly the Executive Director of Strategic Priorities at the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS), where he led the district’s strategic planning process, and the development of K-2 literacy, and STEAM initiatives. Prior to his work at PPS, Brian’s career included a variety of roles in technology, corporate strategy, and online media. A native of Pittsburgh, Brian has a bachelor’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University and a master’s degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He also completed a two-year urban education leadership program through The Broad Center. Brian is the proud father of two wonderful children.
Darren Gray
Darren GrayFounding Principal
Darren Gray is the Founding Principal of Catalyst Academy. Darren is an experienced educator who started his career as a Teach for America Corps member serving at Simmons Junior-Senior High School in the Mississippi Delta. As a corps member Content Leader, Darren led professional development for teachers across the region. Darren later moved to Nashville, TN to serve as an 8th Grade Literacy Teacher at Liberty Collegiate Academy. After working as a teacher, he transitioned to the role of Assistant Principal. In this role, Darren led the coaching and development of teachers across several content areas. His leadership resulted in Liberty Collegiate having the highest increase in student growth across the seven school Republic Charter School network. Liberty Collegiate was also recently recognized as having student growth in the top 5% of schools in Nashville. A native of Alabama, Darren is a graduate of Samford University.
Monica Cooper
Monica CooperFounding Director of Scholars
Monica Cooper is the Founding Director of Scholars of Catalyst Academy. Monica began her career as a first grade teacher and later taught Kindergarten. As Monica developed her practice, she became a teacher leader and coached other teachers across first through fifth grades at Village Prep Woodland Hills Campus in Cleveland, Ohio. Monica’s passion for building strong relationships with students to ensure their success, both academically,socially, and emotionally led to her elevation as the Dean of Scholars at E-Prep Middle School, Woodland HIlls Campus. In this position Monica assisted in the redesign of the school discipline system,routines, and procedures. Monica later transitioned here to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and served as the PBIS Coordinator and member of the Student Support Services Team at Urban Academy. In this role, Monica directed the implementation of the first tier of PBIS. This PBIS implementation resulted in a 67% reduction in Level 1 referrals between November and February. Monica was raised in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Cleveland State University.
Laura Lerand
Laura LerandFounding Dean of Instruction
Laura Lerand is the Founding Dean of Instruction of Catalyst Academy. She began her work as an educator as a Teach for America Corps member in the Rio Grande Valley. As a corps member, she taught dual language kindergarten at an International Baccalaureate public school in McAllen, Texas, where she developed a passion for teaching young students the fundamentals of literacy. After Teach for America, Laura joined IDEA Public Schools as a founding bilingual kindergarten teacher, grade team leader, and instructional coach at IDEA Bluff Springs Academy in Austin, Texas, where she was recognized as Teacher of the Year. Most recently, Laura served as the Education Director for Reading is FUNdamental Pittsburgh.
She is a graduate of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and was born and raised in Wisconsin.
Carrie Potter-Murray
Carrie Potter-MurrayFounding Director of Inclusive Learning
Dr. Carrie Potter-Murray is the Founding Director of Inclusive Learning at Catalyst Academy. Over the past decade, Carrie served first as a paraprofessional before moving into instructional roles in Learning Support, Autistic Support, and Emotional Support. Carrie loves “school;” from the excitement of the first day of school to continuing education opportunities, Carrie considers herself a lifelong learner. She has degrees from Point Park University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Slippery Rock University. Carrie defended her doctoral thesis, a study proposing the original contextual feminist leadership theory, in July 2020. With a passion to promote equitable outcomes for all students commensurate with their abilities, Carrie is a fierce advocate for her school community. A Pittsburgh native, Carrie and her husband (who is also an educator) strive to raise their three children to be curious and welcome chances to improve our world for a more inclusive future.
MaLisha Scott
MaLisha ScottFounding Front Office Manager
MaLisha Scott is the Founding Front Office Manager for Catalyst Academy Charter School. MaLisha has worked in a variety of administrative roles in Pittsburgh for organizations that include The Bridge of Pittsburgh, which helps bridge the gap between the end of education and adulthood for foster care youth, Pressley Ridge, Propel Charter Schools, and UPMC. Malisha is a Christian, wife, and mother, who is
passionate about ensuring all children are seen, heard, supported, and loved.

Families interested in applying at Catalyst Academy please visit our enroll page.

For general inquiries about Catalyst Academy, please email us at info@catalystacademy.org or call us at 412-684-2400.

Apply Now