You can find a complete list of Leadership Institute alumni here.
Rose Acerra, Interim Executive Director, We Raise NJ
Rose is excited to serve as the Interim Executive Director of We Raise NJ. Rose credits her strong advocacy skills, having served as a PTA leader for the past twenty-five years on the local, state, and National levels. Currently, Rose serves as a member representative on the National PTA Board of Directors and is the immediate past 2016-2019 New Jersey PTA State President. Serving on various Boards of Directors for more than 20 years has allowed Rose to work with numerous state-wide education groups that have made it possible for the parent’s voice to be recognized. As a volunteer leader, Rose has also had the honor to serve on many state-wide committees and commissions such as the 2016 US Department of Education Standards Review Committee, ESSA State Accountability Committee, and the 2018 Governor’s Education Transition Committee. Rose is a founding member of the We Raise NJ Statewide Coalition and has served on the steering committee since 2015.
McKenzie Allen, Executive Director, Maryland Alliance of Public Charter Schools
McKenzie Allen, originally from Southern Indiana, is a former public-school educator, Teach for America alumni, and education policy expert. She has a BA from Purdue University in elementary education, a MA from The George Washington University in political management, and an MBA Certificate from Michigan State University in strategic business. McKenzie has worked for the past 10 years in education policy and advocacy for charter schools, political campaigns, Leadership for Educational Equity, Association of American Educators, and the Office of Maryland State Senate President Ferguson. Currently, she serves as executive director of the Maryland Alliance of Public Charter Schools. She enjoys traveling with her partner, Ben, and spending time with her dog, Bianca. They reside in Baltimore and love exploring all the city (and state) has to offer.
Nicholas Banovetz, Chief of Staff, Great MN Schools
Nicholas’ career has encompassed leading complex strategies and building relationships to advance the mission of an organization, including 15 years across the business, philanthropy, and nonprofit sectors. He currently serves as Chief of Staff for Great MN Schools—a network of funders, advocates, and schools he helped incubate at The Minneapolis Foundation—where he leads strategic initiatives, operations and finance, and external communications. Prior experiences include Director of New Sites & Expansion for 50CAN, Deputy Director of MinnCAN, and a Senior Account Executive, Investor Relations at Padilla. Nicholas has served on various boards of directors to preserve and protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the most-visited Wilderness Area in the United States. He has degrees from American University—a master’s in Public Communication and a bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies, combining Communications, Legal Institutions, Economics, and Government. Nicholas resides in the Twin Cities with his wife and their three children, and is an avid runner.
Dia Bryant, Interim Executive Director, The Education Trust–New York
Dia Bryant is the Interim Executive Director at The Education Trust–New York. She works alongside civil rights, business, and advocacy organizations to advance educational equity in the state of New York. Dr. Bryant previously worked as the Special Assistant to the First Deputy Chancellor in the New York City Department of Education working on equity-focused instructional support to schools and strategy. She earned her doctorate at Harvard Graduate School of Education where she studied the history of Black education in America and school district leadership. While at Harvard, Dia worked as a teaching fellow in courses that focused on the intersections of leadership and race. She worked as a fellow in the Data Wise project and Reimagining Integration: Diverse and Equitable Schools (RIDES). Dia also facilitated professional learning for some of the country’s largest school systems with the Public Education Leadership Project (PELP) at Harvard Business School. Before graduate school Dr. Bryant founded and led Vista Academy in Brooklyn, NY. Prior to her principalship she served as an instructional coach and math teacher. Dia’s passion for equity in education came about when she discovered that math had answers when life did not – as a young child in Detroit, Michigan. She holds a BA in Economics from Kalamazoo College, a Masters in Math Education from Brooklyn College and a doctorate in Education Leadership from Harvard University.
Kelly Caufield, Vice President of Government Affairs, Colorado Succeeds
Kelly currently works as the Vice President of Government Affairs for Colorado Succeeds, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that brings business leaders together to ensure all of the children in Colorado are educated to their greatest potential. She leads Colorado Succeeds’ government affairs and policy work. Previously, Kelly served as a federal lobbyist for the world’s largest human resources professional association, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in Washington, DC. Before lobbying for SHRM, Kelly spent eight years on Capitol Hill. She worked as a professional staff member for U.S. Senator Mike Enzi (WY) on the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Kelly had a key role in drafting a reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act to strengthen employer engagement at the local level. After working in the U.S. Senate, she served as the legislative director for Congressman Lou Barletta, a member of the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee. Kelly received a Bachelor of Arts from the College of William and Mary in Virginia and a Master of Public Policy degree from George Washington University with a focus on public finance and tax.
Paula Cole, Executive Director, Educators for Excellence-Minnesota
Paula was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, a place she left to pursue her dream of a college education in the United States. After six years as an E4E member and teacher leader, Paula joined the Minnesota chapter as executive director. Prior to this role, Paula worked as an elementary education teacher and academic coach at Minneapolis Public Schools. As a teacher, Paula learned that teachers’ voices were rarely sought and often ignored by policymakers. Paula enjoys her work at E4E because it allows her to ensure that teachers’ voices are included when crafting the education policies that directly impact children’s education outcomes. Education was not Paula’s first career. She used to work as a legislative aide at the New York State Assembly. However, when her son was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, her family had to move in order to access the services of a school district that could better support her child’s intensive intervention needs. Paula believes that parents should not need to uproot their families in order to ensure that their children receive a good education. This vision drives Paula’s work and supporting teachers as leaders is the most important step.
Jessica Giles, Director, Democrats For Education Reform DC
Jessica Giles is the Director of Democrats For Education Reform DC (DFER DC). Previously, Jessica served as Deputy Director of DFER DC, where she demonstrated her commitment to advancing equitable access to educational opportunities for every student regardless of race, background, or neighborhood. Before joining DFER DC, Jessica worked in the DC Council’s Committee on Education for four years. She helped advance key legislation that would help provide affordable childcare for families and ensure students receive high-quality education and support. Jessica earned a bachelor’s degree in History from Furman University in 2009 and a master’s degree in Public Policy from American University in 2013.
Tom Greene, Vice President of Advocacy, Foundation for Excellence in Education
Tom Greene is the Vice President of Advocacy for ExcelinEd. In this role, he manages the organization’s advocacy team and works with leaders and policymakers from across the states to promote student-centered solutions focused on educational quality, innovation and opportunity. Previously, Tom was ExcelinEd’s Senior Regional Advocacy Director, where he served policymakers in the western region of the U.S. as a resource in education policy and advocacy for more than five years. Prior to joining ExcelinEd, Tom served as the Manager of Campus Programs for the American Enterprise Institute, a D.C.-based think tank, where he launched a college outreach program on campuses across the country. Before joining AEI, he worked as a policy analyst and senior strategist at an education advocacy nonprofit start-up. Tom served as a public-school teacher for five academic years, teaching in both California and North Carolina. He taught economics, civics and history, including as an instructor for a Duke University youth program. Tom earned his Master of Public Administration at the University of Southern California Price School of Public Policy and currently resides in Sacramento, CA.
Shannon Hodge, Founding Executive Director, DC Charter School Alliance
Shannon is the founding executive director of DC Charter School Alliance. She previously served as the executive director of Kingsman Academy Public Charter School in Washington, DC, which she co-founded to serve students at risk of dropping out because they were overaged and under-credited, had attendance and truancy issues, or had emotional and behavioral challenges. A former high school counselor and guidance director, Shannon has worked in and around education at the local, state, and federal levels for much of the past twenty years. Before becoming a charter school leader, she was an attorney representing a variety of educational organizations, including school districts and universities. Shannon has served as co-chair of the editorial boards of the Harvard Educational Review and the Stanford Journal of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties. Shannon holds a bachelor’s degree in Afro-American Studies from Harvard, where she also completed the Undergraduate Teacher Education Program; a master’s degree in educational and psychoeducational studies from Purdue; a master’s degree in educational administration, planning, and social policy from Harvard; a law degree from Stanford; and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Georgetown.
Nathan Hoffman, Chief of Staff – Government Affairs, Empower Illinois
Nathan C. Hoffman serves as the Chief of Staff – Government Affairs for Empower Illinois, where his leadership has advanced the core work of the organization and expanded into new policy verticals in the areas of CTE and next-generation learning. Nathan previously served as the Policy and Research Director for Empower Illinois. Prior to Empower Illinois, Nathan worked for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national education policy organization founded and chaired by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, where he played a leading role in passing multiple pieces of education reform policies in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Nathan has also worked for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Senate Republican Caucus, and U.S. Congressman Darin LaHood. Nathan is active in many professional and civic organizations, serving on the Associate Board for The Gray Matter Experience, a Chicago-based organization focused on exposing Black students to entrepreneurial experiences, and on the Board of Advisors for the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism. Nathan is also a member of the American Enterprise Institute’s Leadership Network and Conservative Education Reform Network. A lifelong Illinoisian, Nathan was born and raised in Springfield, IL, and graduated from the University of Illinois-Springfield, where he served as the student member of the University of Illinois System Board of Trustees.
Tim Langan, Chief Operating Officer, National Parents Union and Massachusetts Parents United
Tim Langan is Max and Dylan’s Dad and the Chief Operating Officer of the National Parents Union and Massachusetts Parents United where he focuses on supporting leadership development, delegates and members with the tools needed to advocate for the children and families across the nation from their neighborhoods to at the table with elected officials and policymakers. He is also one of the co-hosts of NPU’s popular “Dad-to-Dad” program – a first of it’s kind effort to connect fathers across the country to advocate for their children from their unique perspective.
Lisa Lazare, State Director, Educators for Excellence Boston
From an early age Lisa Lazare was inspired and supported to advocate for herself and her education. Lisa has always had a passion for STEM, and in college, it became apparent that few women or men of color majored in the sciences. She assumed that the lack of representation stemmed from the lack of educators of color in the classroom. To combat that inequity, Lisa became a chemistry teacher. In the classroom, she found her calling as an education advocate and developed a deeper understanding of the root causes for the lack of representation in the STEM field. Understanding that the problem was systemic and institutional, she endeavored to broaden her impact to include as many students, families, and communities as possible. She transitioned from the classroom into education policy and advocacy and witnessed the power of grassroots organizing as a vehicle for change. She is an immigrant and a woman of color and recognizes there have been many spaces where her voice was either stifled, not allowed, or just blatantly ignored. She currently is the State Director at Educators for Excellence Boston. In every aspect of her life, Lisa grounds herself in listening to the community’s needs and always bears in mind that the best intentions do not always have the intended impact.
Laura Jimenez, Director of Standards and Accountability, Center for American Progress
Laura Jimenez is the Director of Standards and Accountability at the Center for American Progress (CAP), where she focuses on developing federal and state policy that ensure that all students graduate high school prepared for good jobs in the future of work. Previously, Jimenez served as the director of the College and Career Readiness and Success (CCRS) Center. Prior to her role at AIR, Jimenez served as a special assistant in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education, where she advised on policy for key K-12 education programs and initiatives, including the Title I program. Jimenez has also overseen large scale college access programs funded by the National Institutes for Health and the Gates Foundation and served as a teacher in the U.S. Peace Corps. Jimenez received her bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles and holds a master’s in social welfare from the University of California, Berkeley.
Ariel Johnson, Chief of Staff, Illinois Network of Charter Schools
Ariel Johnson currently serves as the Chief of Staff for the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. In her capacity at INCS, she supports a staff of fifteen, drafts and lobbies legislation that supports educational equity for underserved communities, builds coalitions, serves as in-house legal technical support for schools, and directs political strategy for the organization’s sister entity INCS Action, the third largest super PAC in the state. This political operation supports high-quality candidates for public office at the state and local levels. Ariel began her career in the juvenile justice space serving as a legal advocate for students adversely affected by the criminal justice and school discipline systems. She is also the founder of Manor Strategies, a Chicago-based legislative advocacy firm that supports a diverse array of clients to create and execute legislative, policy, and political campaigns. Her passion for education equity stems from her own experiences as a lifelong resident of the South Side of Chicago in under-resourced communities. She has an innate drive to stabilize such neighborhoods through education access and economic development.
Jack Minor, Vice President of Strategy and Advocacy, Tennesseans for Student Success
Jack Minor serves as the Vice President of Strategy and Advocacy for Tennesseans for Student Success. He has experience working in the U.S. House, U.S. Senate, congressional and presidential campaigns, and at a leading national think tank and advocacy organization. Previously, he served as Chief of Staff and lead communications staffer to U.S. Representative Mark Walker – the House Republican Conference Vice Chairman – and as the Digital Content Manager for Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign. As a communications, advocacy, and policy professional, Jack has helped raise millions in online donations, managed seven-figure campaign spends, booked clients on premier national news outlets, and assisted candidates from local school boards to Congress and the presidency. He is a graduate of Elon University, a North Carolina native, and a former student of Tennessee public schools.
Christopher Nellum, Interim Executive Director, The Education Trust-West
Dr. Christopher Nellum (he/him/his) is the Interim Executive Director at The Education Trust—West, a civil rights and education equity research and advocacy organization working on educational justice and to close attainment and opportunity gaps. In addition, Chris is a gubernatorial appointee to the Student-Centered Funding Formula (SCFF) Oversight Committee charged with reviewing and evaluating the implementation of the community college system’s new funding formula. He began his career on college campuses in student affairs and has been a higher education researcher and advocate for nearly a decade. Chris, raised in the Imperial Valley (Brawley), defied the odds after experiencing rural poverty to become a first-generation college student and graduate. An alumnus of three public universities, he is committed to guaranteeing that the doors to an affordable, quality public education are wide open for the next generations of Californians, especially low-income students of color.
Matthew Pahl, Executive Director, Public Charter Schools of New Mexico
Matthew Pahl is the Executive Director of Public Charter Schools of New Mexico. He has focused his career with education transformation in New Mexico since 2005, which began as a first-grade teacher and included positions with the state Legislature and as the Director of Policy, Innovation and Measurement at the Public Education Department. Matt believes education is the fundamental tool to achieving equity in our country, and is interested in how varied academic programs and organizational structures can help improve public educational experiences for all. He received his B.A. in History from St. John’s University in Minnesota and a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Southern California.
Kerry Savage, Director of Policy, PAVE
In this role, Kerry manages the research and policy campaigns on the issues that parent leaders identify and collectively drive every year. Prior to PAVE, Kerry spent three years in the classroom as a Teach For America corps member in North Carolina. She taught English Language Arts, served on the School Leadership Team to consult on school culture and policy, and was a lead for professional development. Kerry began her policy career as an Urban Leaders Fellow with the Metro Nashville Public Schools Board and Hands on Nashville. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Management and Marketing at the University of South Carolina and earned a certificate in education finance from Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy.
Colin Sharkey, Executive Director, Association of American Educators and AAE Foundation
Colin Sharkey is executive director of the Association of American Educators and AAE Foundation, overseeing all elements of the organization’s mission, budget, operations, and goals. He also serves on the board of both organizations and AAE’s four state affiliates. Colin previously served as Executive Vice President, responsible for day-to-day operations, including setting and meeting membership and revenue goals, hiring and supervising managers and staff, controlling expenses, and developing and directing operating procedures to support AAE’s objectives and policies. Before that, he served as senior director of national projects for AAE, spearheading numerous innovative technology, membership, expansion, and development initiatives. Prior to joining AAE in 2008, Colin worked in coalition building at The Heritage Foundation and on college journalism programs at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Colin is a proud product of Abington public schools. Colin graduated from the University of Notre Dame after completing a two-year honors program at Shippensburg University in central Pennsylvania. Colin and his wife, Jenn, have two sons and reside outside of Philadelphia.
Matt Smith, Vice President of Policy, A+ Education Partnership
Dr. Matt L. Smith currently serves as the Vice President of Policy for the A+ Education Partnership (Montgomery, Alabama). He brings a practitioner’s mindset to his advocacy work, with one foot in the statehouse and one foot in the schoolhouse. He gained a love of education from the teachings and back yard experiments of his grandfather, a lifelong Physics teacher. Called to the education profession, Matt became a high school social studies teacher in an urban school district in metropolitan Atlanta and served his school district for 11 years. Before leaving to complete his education leadership doctoral work at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Matt led Morrow Middle School in Morrow, GA as Principal. Matt’s major accomplishments include founding the first Dual Language Spanish Immersion program in his school district as well as leading statewide strategic improvement work with Pennsylvania Department of Education. Matt recognizes that equitable, innovative reform can significantly improve educational outcomes for all children. Matt believes school can be a place that challenges, inspires, and is fun. It is in this process Matt believes we can better prepare all students to be college and career ready and successful within the greater global economy.
Kate Sobel, Partner, Policy & Advocacy, TNTP
Kate Sobel is a Partner of Policy & Advocacy at TNTP, an organization focused on ending the injustice of educational inequity. In her role she seeks to drive policy change grounded in racial equity, a commitment to all students and community-driven priorities. During her tenure at TNTP, she founded TNTP’s Pathway to Leadership in Urban Schools programs which prepare dynamic leaders to help schools, teachers and students thrive. Prior to joining the team at TNTP Kate was principal of Camino Nuevo Charter Academy in Los Angeles providing students with rigorous college preparatory learning. Under her leadership, the school was awarded California Distinguished School status in 2009 and the National Gold Epic Award for charter schools. Kate began her career in education as a 1st grade teacher in Compton, CA with Teach For America where she went on to join staff. She completed her bachelor’s degree at Tufts University and a master’s degree in Administration, Planning and Social Policy at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. She is the proud mother of two boys adopted through the foster care system and applies her passion for advocacy to ensuring children like her own are loved and provided opportunities to fulfill their dreams.
Krista Spurgin, Executive Director, Stand for Children Colorado
After Krista graduated from the University of Nebraska, she moved to Washington, D.C. to teach high school students from across the nation civics education and community involvement. After this, she spent several years in many locations working on campaigns. Krista then served as the Senate Caucus Director in North Carolina, managing a statewide program to elect candidates to the state senate. Krista has worked for Stand for Children since 2013. She started her career at Stand for Children as the Government Affairs Director in Colorado. In this role she was responsible for developing and implementing policy, legislative, and political strategy. She then joined the Stand for Children national team supporting all of Stand’s 11 affiliate states in their electoral work. In 2017, Krista was named Executive Director for Stand for Children Colorado. In her free time, Krista enjoys being outdoors, cooking, roasting coffee and traveling. She also volunteers for CASA and the Optimist Bicycle Recycle Program.
MacKenzie Stroh Hines, Chief of Staff, Mississippi First
MacKenzie Stroh Hines earned her BA in Studio Art, Art History, and Communications from Elon University in North Carolina. While attending Elon University, she worked for a variety of art organizations. MacKenzie was an assistant at the Alamance Art Council, worked for a photography gallery in London, England, completed a conservation internship at the Tucson Museum of Art and spent a summer working at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City where she focused on federal, state, and foundations grant writing for upcoming exhibitions. MacKenzie began her education career as a 2007 Teach For America Corp member in Marks, Mississippi; where she taught High School Visual Arts at Madison Shannon Palmer High School. Before arriving at Mississippi First, in 2013, she held an executive director position at the Greenville Arts Council and E.E. Bass Foundation in Greenville, Mississippi, where she was responsible for the overall operations of both organizations and the arts education program. At Mississippi First, MacKenzie is responsible for promoting, enhancing, and protecting Mississippi First’s brand reputation as well as a broad range of public relations and operations activities relative to the strategic direction and positioning of the organization and its advocacy agenda. Also, while at Mississippi First, she was an integral member of the development of Teen Health Mississippi, a spin-off nonprofit focused on youth access to high-quality sex education and health services.
Leah Sutton, Vice President of Policy & Engagement, BEST NC
Leah Sutton’s passion for improving school quality and educational access is grounded in her experiences working with disadvantaged students and from her own upbringing as a public school student in rural eastern North Carolina. As BEST NC’s Vice President of Policy & Engagement, Leah leads the development and execution our Educator Innovation policy agenda, helps guide the organization’s communication efforts, and provides support for key BEST NC programs and publications. Prior to joining BEST NC in 2018, Leah worked at The Hunt Institute where, in her role as a policy analyst, she led the Institute’s policy work in North Carolina. Leah also brings six years of classroom experience as a North Carolina public school teacher to her role. She earned a bachelor’s degree in history education from North Carolina State University and a master’s degree in education policy and management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She also holds a certificate in education finance from Georgetown University.
Ariel Taylor Smith, Co-Executive Director, Transform Education Now
Ariel is the co-executive director of Transform Education Now (TEN). TEN works with parents across Colorado to advocate for a high-quality education for their child and every child. Prior to co-founding TEN, Ariel organized parents with DSST Public Schools. She started her career in education as a classroom teacher in Denver Public Schools where she taught reading intervention, social studies and special education. Prior to working in education, Ariel worked in criminal justice reform. She is a mom of two beautiful kids, Kayce and Magnolia.
Natalie Tovani-Walchuk, Founding Executive Director, GO Public Schools West Contra Costa
Natalie Tovani-Walchuk is the Founding Executive Director of GO Public Schools West Contra Costa. She launched this region in January 2016 in response to a request from community leaders. Natalie is a Richmond local and is proud to raise her children there. For 13 years, Natalie was a school leader at parochial and public schools in West Contra Costa and Alameda counties serving students in grades K-12. She was the founding school leader at Caliber: Beta Academy, designing and launching a CMO. Natalie was the principal of Glenview Elementary in Oakland Unified School District where, under her leadership, the school experienced double-digit growth in both Math and ELA on state testing. In her final year in Oakland, Natalie received the Excellence in Educational Leadership Award for her leadership, innovation, and commitment to increased student achievement. Additionally, her social emotional programming was profiled by Edutopia. As the leader of the work in WCC, Natalie oversees a small team with an outsized impact. Alongside their growing base of family leaders and other community members, the West Contra Costa team has led successful policy campaigns and developed powerful community tools including the Annual WCC Kids Can report and FAFSA guidebook.
Debbie Veney, Senior Vice President of Communications and Marketing, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
Debbie Veney is the senior vice president of communications and marketing at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. She brings more than 20 years of experience in strategic communications, advocacy, crisis communications, and media relations. She also brings a deep passion for equity in education and believes in the power of a high-quality education to change a child’s life. Before returning to the National Alliance, she held senior communications and policy positions at NewSchools Venture Fund, The Education Trust, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Communities In Schools, and previously at the National Alliance. Prior to entering the nonprofit arena, Debbie built a solid career in corporate communications, working with an impressive array of Fortune 500 corporations, including United Healthcare, DuPont, and CIGNA Corp. Her experiences include media relations, crisis communications, speech writing, community relations, internal communications, corporate publications, investor relations communications, and corporate giving. Debbie serves on the board of directors of the D.C. Jazz Festival, Education Writers Association, and the Contemporary American Theater Festival. She was also the founding board chair of the Philadelphia affiliate of Komen for the Cure. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Howard University, and a master’s degree in broadcasting, telecommunications, and mass media from Temple University, where she was honored with a Lew Klein Award and inducted into the Alumni Hall of Fame.
You can find a complete list of Leadership Institute alumni here.