Breakthrough's Amazing Staff


Dr. Robbin Washington-Smart

Executive Director

I am honored and excited to be the new Executive Director of Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia. My life's work has been devoted to a career in the leadership of educational institutions, in addition to having years of experience as a classroom educator. I am personally committed to the lifelong learning and advancement of all students in an atmosphere that is dedicated to achieving excellence. As the challenges facing first-generation college students in this country deepen and the need for qualified, committed educators grows, I am proud to be part of an organization that has developed a bold new vision to support students to and through college, and to establish the organization as a key element within the teacher pipeline and certification process.

Let me share a bit more about me. Prior to joining Breakthrough, I served in several leadership capacities including the Interim Director of Enrollment Management at Girard College, the Principal and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of a charter school, and as a mentor and coach for novice and experienced teachers. I began my career as a teacher at Friends Select School in Philadelphia. 

I was awarded a Doctorate in Educational and Organizational Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania, a Master's Degree in Multicultural Education from Eastern University, and Bachelor of Arts, with a major in Political Science, from Swarthmore College. I also have principal certifications in Pennsylvania and Delaware. My focus on education extends outside the classroom. I have served on the Board of Directors of the Eastern University Charter School in Philadelphia and on the Board of Directors for A Better Chance, Strath Haven. 


Bruce Bekker, MA

Director of Development

I am delighted to serve as Director of Development here at Breakthrough, leading and partnering to increase our mission impact and sustainability. It feels great to be part of this creative, high-energy team. Breakthrough connects two passions I've pursued throughout my career -- urban education and collaborative engagement -- and it does so in a way that totally transforms lives. 

Prior to coming to Breakthrough, I led development at two cultural institutions and two institutions supporting underserved youth. I most recently served for six years as Director of Institutional Giving at Girard College, a residential college-prep academy in the heart of North Philadelphia, and an ongoing collaborator with Breakthrough. 

As a parent of a Germantown Friends School graduate, I am honored to serve at a key partner institution and to know that Breakthrough is further expanding GFS's extraordinary commitment to the community and to Philadelphia region-wide. 

I received an Honors BA in English from the University of Rochester, and I received an MA and completed doctoral coursework in Musicology at the University of Pennylsvania. During my two-plus decades as a development professional, I've also served as a teaching artist in inner-city schools and libraries and as a volunteer for historic-site educational programs. 


Tascha Chalmers, MHS

Director of Access and Community Outreach

Hello, my name is Tascha Chalmers and I am excited to join the Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia team as the Director of Academic Programs, Community Outreach, and Special Projects. I come to Breakthrough after a long career of working to improve equity and access in Philadelphia. I have experience working in non-profit organizations, the government, mental health institutions, and college access programs. I am excited to lend my experience to the team. I am a proud graduate of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and Lincoln University.


Miriam Leisman, MSEd

Director of Operations and Quality Assurance

My name is Miriam Leisman and I am the Director of Operations at Breakthrough.  I have been involved with the organization as an Instructional Coach since 2010, and I am thrilled to direct a program of so many engaging and talented students and staff members from throughout the Greater Philadelphia area.


For the past nine years, I have taught Mathematics to middle and high school students in the Philadelphia area.  I earned my Masters of Education in Secondary Mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania and my Bachelor of Arts in Jewish Studies from Scripps College in Claremont, California.  I look forward to working with our students, families, and partners to provide the best possible programs for our community.



Debra Stevens, BS

 Executive Administrative Assistant 

My name is Debra Stevens and I am the Executive Administrative Asssistant at Breakthrough. I joined Breakthrough this year and I am excited to be a part of a program that provides academic enrichment to the students of Philadelphia. I am a native of Philadelphia and I attended Community College of Philadelphia, where I received an Associate's degree in Information Technology and then I attended Saint Joseph's University where I received a Bachelor's of Science degree in Healthcare Administration. Prior to joining Breakthrough I was a practice manager of a primary care office and also as a software analyst and training consultant for ten years at a large company.