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Board Member Spotlights
Cydney Peyton Walton
Director of Programs and Outreach
Advocates for Justice and Education
Kingsman Academy Public Charter School
When she was in private practice as a legal advocate working with special education students, Maria spent much of her professional time in an adversarial role with schools, advocating for the needs of her student clients. While she felt her work was important, she was also frustrated by her limited ability to help change the problems in the system that were at the root of the issue.
“One of the hard things about doing individual advocacy and litigation is that you’re only fixing it for one kid. After 10 years I saw that when I fixed it for one kid there were 10 more kids just like him, right behind. I wanted to be part of a space where I could work on a system to serve all of those kids. That’s really why I joined the Kingsman board.”
In addition to a specific and relevant skill set and experience, Maria says the most important thing a board member brings to a school board is a “belief and understanding that all kids have a civil and human right to education.” And that belief makes the work both easier and more meaningful, she says. “Spreadsheets are boring, but spreadsheets in service of a human right are kind of amazing.”
Associate Director of Training
Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University
Creative Minds International Public Charter School
Eric Reese helps governments use data to inform their work and improve results for the people they serve. Originally from Indiana, he brought his data analysis, training, and project management skills to his role serving on the board of Creative Minds International, joining the board in November 2016. Less than a year later he was elected Vice Chair.
“I previously worked for the DC Public Education Fund and I was really interested in getting back involved in the education community and really having an impact on the ground for the school and the community where I live,” Eric says, adding that being able to see the impact of the school on students and families is especially meaningful. He makes a point of being in the school building at least twice a month to meet and speak with people.
He gives two pieces of advice to new school board members: “One, ask as many questions as you can while you can get away with being the new person. Second is to really dive in and meet and talk with different people at the school, from staff to parents, to students, and other board members. It’s really critical to dive in and get as much knowledge first-hand from people, as much as you can.”
Eric also advises board members to have an open and clear dialogue with the school's executive director. There's a lot for board members to pay attention to without also doing the job of the executive director, he says. "It's not hard to stay out of the weeds."
Program Evaluation Consultant
DC Bilingual PCS
Blanca says she was hesitant to join a board initially. “I don’t see myself as someone who brings in money and has connections” to people with money, she says. But then she learned that her experience with data was a valuable asset to a school board and now plays a leading role in digging into the school’s academic data, and asking tough questions.
“Being on the board is for people who are passionate about education and passionate about students and are willing to put in some work and take on the responsibility to hold the school accountable to do right by those students,” she says. “If you are afraid to ask difficult questions or afraid to have difficult discussions, then I wouldn't push you to be on the board.
Bilingual education is important to Blanca, who grew up in a bilingual family, sends her two young children to a bilingual school, and serves on the board of another.
“The value of bilingual education isn't just the language itself. The language is a vehicle to connect with other cultures. It's not just a communications issue; it truly is your connection to a whole different world. For people of Latino heritage it's also your connection to your history and to your family.”
Associate Director, Marketing & Proposals
DISYS in McLean, VA
Development and Communications Committee
DC Bilingual Public Charter School
Cydney Peyton Walton
CBP works hard to seek out leaders in the community with valuable skill sets that are missing in DC charter school boards. CBP’s Director of Board Recruiting and Diversity encouraged Cydney Peyton Walton to consider serving on a charter school board due to the critical need for her 10 years of experience in communications and business development.
Passionate about education, Cydney felt board service gave her the opportunity to marry her skill set with a social cause. She states “education is the most reliable path to social mobility and leadership equality in our society and I’m committed to creating opportunities for all students to have access to excellent educational experiences.”
Cydney felt that the education sector could benefit greatly from best practices that have proven successful for the private/corporate sector. As a member of the Development and Communications committee she is working to foster more formalized communication between parents and the board, developing integrated marketing strategies that leverage multiple distribution and access channels as well as building fundraising plans that combine traditional philanthropic philosophies with proven corporate business development approaches.
With Cydney’s help, DC Bilingual PCS will soon be launching a new school website – rooted in the belief that “two-way family communication is imperative to student success. This new website will go a long way towards increasing parent and prospective parent engagement, expanding dialogue and better informing parents of the full DC Bilingual experience their children are receiving.”
Cydney encourages those who are considering board service to understand that “your contribution is valuable, necessary and you’ll surely get more than you give. Few things are more rewarding than advocating for others and I can think of no more important advocacy than working to ensure educational excellence for our next generation of leaders."
Vice President, Programs & Education
Tiger Woods Foundation
Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy
Kathy Bihr has been involved in education for more than 20 years as a teacher, coach, and school administrator. Prior to joining the Tiger Woods Foundation, she was principal of Vista View Middle School in Fountain Valley, California. Under her leadership, the school received recognition by The Council for Special Education and was deemed a California Distinguished School. In 2010, Kathy joined the board of Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy, which serves more than 1,400 students in grades 6-12 on four campuses in Wards 1, 6, and 7.
Kathy’s exemplary leadership has played a pivotal role in helping the Chavez board transition from a founding board to an effective and sustainable governing board. She first served as governance chair before moving into the board chair role. As governance chair, Kathy helped the board implement key policies, including establishing a formalized committee structure and setting guidelines for board participation to ensure members understand their responsibilities.
“Developing and providing training to the board so that we all understand our roles and responsibilities as board members – that alone has lead to a more stable system,” Kathy said.
Once Kathy assumed the role of board chair in February 2013, her talents in leadership and management fused with a relentless focus on academics to take the board and the organization to the next level. Now, the board sets annual goals by committee to help support the organization in meeting its annual goals. As board chair, Kathy also established an executive committee and led the development of a new performance evaluation process for the CEO. Additionally, the board brought on new members who provided needed expertise in education and finance.
When board members play their roles well, they make decisions that benefit students and strengthen school quality. The Chavez board recently saw the fruits of some of their labor when the Parkside Campus was rated Tier 1 on the Public Charter School Board’s 2014 Performance Management Framework. The board celebrated that accomplishment, but got right to work on its next goal: the organization’s new CEO leading a strategic planning process to make system-wide improvements that will lead to even stronger outcomes for students.
Some of Kathy’s biggest fans are her fellow board members. They appreciate the results of her leadership and hard work, which have had a profound effect on each board member’s experience. Several Chavez board members note how much they enjoy their board service under Kathy’s leadership.
“Kathy leads by example with her calm and thoughtful approach to making our schools the best that they can be, which quietly encourages all of us to be better board members,” said Chavez governance chair Sulee Clay.
Like many charter school boards, Chavez has had to make some tough decisions in the last few years. Under Kathy’s leadership, board members worked together to make decisions that are already paying off and will benefit the school in the long term. Kathy said she is very proud of the board’s leadership on behalf of the students attending Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools, and she is grateful for the opportunity to help ensure that they get the education they deserve.
Director of Instructional Practice
NewSchools Venture Fund
Achievement Prep Public Charter School, DC International School, Paul Public Charter School
Melissa Kim serves on three charter school boards across Washington, DC that offer very different and powerful models for supporting student success.
Melissa brings deep expertise in education to her board roles. After teaching and serving as a vice principal in DC and Arlington, VA, she served as principal of Alice Deal Middle School, where she managed the school’s expansion, raised academic standards, and led a major facilities renovation.
Melissa’s first-hand experience in schools helps her contribute to the charter school boards on which she serves. As a board member, she focuses on ensuring that board conversations connect to the school’s academic program and school quality. She helps her fellow board members understand academic data and discuss how to support the school leader in improving academic achievement and leading effectively.
As a member of DC International’s start up board, Melissa helped the board build a strong governing structure and prepare to launch a school that now serves students who are bilingual in three different languages—French, Spanish, and Chinese. At Achievement Prep, Melissa and her board colleagues are working on a facilities expansion that will allow the school to serve hundreds more students and add an elementary school to its successful middle school. And Melissa’s board service at Paul Public Charter School is enhanced by her experience as a school principal, where she launched an International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Program; as a board member, she is supporting Paul’s launch of its International High School.
Melissa believes in the power of boards and enjoys seeing regular progress at the schools on whose boards she serves. “In our busy lives where we all have many priorities, I am so grateful to know that each of these schools has a board made up of people from across the community who leverage their experience and bring their ‘A’ game for the good of the school. When I look around the board table and I see members engaged and really leaning in—that is a beautiful thing.”
Melissa Kim is the Director of Instructional Practice at NewSchools Venture Fund and leads the DC Pilot for the DC Schools Fund. Previously, Melissa served in a number of education leadership roles as both an administrator and classroom teacher in DC and in Arlington, VA. She received her Ed.D from the University of Pennsylvania, where her dissertation focused on practices to integrate within schools to close the academic achievement gap as well as the social engagement gap.
Education Advisory Board
Creative Minds International Public Charter School
Melanie Bowen joined the Charter Board Partners network in October 2013. Shortly thereafter, she was matched to the board of Creative Minds International Public Charter School (CMI), a school located in Ward 1 in Washington, DC that, at capacity, will educate students in grades PK-3 through 5. Melanie was voted onto the board and was elected board chairperson just six months later.
To say that Melanie hit the ground running would be an understatement. “In a very short time, Melanie read all the school documents and familiarized herself with the DC Public Charter School Board’s policies, not only in the area of finance, but in every aspect of governing a public charter school, including academic accountability,” said CMI Founder and Head of School Golnar Abedin.
Melanie’s capacity for quickly assessing, adapting to, and impacting new environments has served her well. She joined the CMI board during its second year of operations, a pivotal moment as the board was beginning to transition from the startup to adolescent phase of growth. As the board chair, Melanie has drawn upon her experience as an entrepreneur, adviser, and independent school trustee to stabilize the board during a period of high turnover, bring structure to the planning and implementation of monthly board meetings, formalize the board’s relationships with outside stakeholders, and optimize the committee structure. She has also leveraged the considerable financial and real estate expertise she and other board members offer in order to lead the school through a lengthy and complicated lease negotiation process.
"Melanie brings her professionalism and enthusiasm for education to the Creative Minds board," said Sarah Spreitzer, CMI Vice Chair. "She's ably led the board through a major facilities negotiation and is helping the board strengthen its relationship with the school community. Most importantly, Melanie inspires our board and uses her enthusiasm to recruit critical new board members."
Melanie has found her experience on the board rewarding and the opportunities to apply her expertise and passion for education endless: “It is a privilege to partner with the talented team at CMI as we work to ensure our unique new school matures to serve an even larger group of school children across DC."
Melanie Bowen is an Executive Director at the Education Advisory Board. Before joining the firm, Melanie was based in New Delhi, India, where she focused on growing and strengthening social businesses, especially in the education space. Previously, she was the general manager of the consumer health website RevolutionHealth.com of Revolution Health Network, and a senior executive at Discovery Communications. Her experience spans Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and the U.S., including time with McKinsey & Company, the U.S. Department of State, and PriceWaterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers).
Latham & Watkins
Paul Public Charter School
As a member of the inaugural cohort of fellows within the Charter Board Partners Fellows Program, Rami Turayhi has had an outsized impact both as a charter school board fellow and within the CBP network itself. CBP Fellows are emerging leaders nominated by CBP's corporate partners to provide added capacity and support to local charter school boards. Rami, an Associate in the Investment Funds Practice Group at Latham & Watkins LLP, was nominated and accepted into the Fellows Program in 2012 and subsequently matched with Paul Public Charter School in the Brightwood neighborhood of northwest DC.
Rami is finding his experience providing ongoing legal expertise and support to Paul's board rewarding and worthwhile: "Serving as a CBP Fellow is a fantastic opportunity. It's been fascinating to learn how the local education system functions in DC—I feel as if I'm no longer simply an outside observer. Additionally, being able to play a part in supporting quality educational opportunities in DC is incredibly motivating, particularly because the work is local in nature. You can see your impact immediately in a very tangible way."
Rami utilized his legal background and skill set during the most recent school year to revise and update Paul's Charter Agreement with the DC Public Charter School Board. His hard work has also resulted in a more robust set of governing bylaws that should enable the Paul board to provide more effective support to the school and its management. "Rami has been a tremendous asset to Paul PCS," said Paul's Governance Chair Mannone Butler. "He has played instrumental roles on the Board's School Expansion and Governance Committees. His keen legal skills, coupled with his commitment to quality educational opportunities for our young people, have made his tenure invaluable."
In addition to providing general governance support to the board, Rami has also assisted the board in developing responses to financing, negotiating and structuring issues in respect of significant capital projects being carried out at Paul. During Rami's time at Paul, the school began the process of undertaking a significant physical and programmatic expansion project, including the building and creation of a new high school and the renovation of the existing historic building.
"Rami has impressed me with the proactive approach he has taken throughout his fellowship at Paul. He identifies areas where he can add value and works closely with Paul's leadership to move critical work forward," said Kate Essex, CBP's Managing Director of Programs.
Throughout his involvement with CBP and Paul, Rami has been instrumental in ensuring that CBP continuously connects smart, committed professionals to local school boards where they can have a real and lasting impact. To this end, Rami has taken on a leadership role within the new cohort of CBP Fellows this past school year. He has dedicated time and resources to assisting CBP in selecting and placing new fellows and continues to provide them with ongoing support. Rami has additionally been a leading advocate for increased charter board service at Latham, helping to engage an increasing number of his professional colleagues in the CBP network and doubling the number of Latham fellows year-on-year.
Rami Turayhi is an associate in the Washington, DC office of Latham & Watkins. His practice focuses on the representation of private equity funds in their formation, fundraising, tax, and organizational structuring and their acquisition and divestiture of portfolio companies. Prior to joining Latham, Rami was a Foreign Affairs Officer at the U.S. Department of State and an energy and power investment banker in New York.
The Carlyle Group
Governance Committee Chair
Meridian Public Charter School
Bryan Corbett joined the Charter Board Partners network as a charter school board candidate in 2011. That fall, CBP matched Bryan to the board of Meridian Public Charter School, a school located in the U Street corridor of Ward 1 serving students in grades PK3 through 8.
Bryan has helped the Meridian board add a number of new directors who bring increased capacity and capability, as well as valuable skills and experience. He has exercised steady and strategic leadership in his role as Governance Committee Chair, leading the effort to improve the overall effectiveness of the board. “Serving on the Meridian Board has been both more challenging and rewarding than I had expected,” Bryan observed. “While the board addresses difficult governance and strategic issues, you can see the meaningful positive impact that your decisions have on the students, parents, and community.”
During Bryan’s tenure, the school has seen major change. Meridian was able to secure, finance, and move into a new facility in October 2012; the school was awarded the former DCPS Harrison School building, completed renovations, and moved in its 500+ students by that time. In the summer of 2013, the school underwent a leadership change as the board hired a new head of school. While the school continues to face increasing competition for students as the number of nearby charter schools has grown, its board has turned many of these challenges into opportunities; this is in large part due to the board’s energy, initiative, and focus on execution.
Bryan has been an active and supportive member of the CBP network; he has spoken at several CBP trainings, drawn on our tools and advice, and helped many of our recruits fill vacancies on the Meridian board. Overall, Bryan and the entire Meridian board are committed to their school, strong governance, and the bottom line: providing the best possible education to all children.
Bryan Corbett is a Managing Director in Carlyle's Executive Group in Washington, DC. Prior to joining Carlyle, Bryan served in the Bush Administration as a Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and as Senior Advisor to Deputy Secretary Robert Kimmitt at the Treasury Department. He also served as Majority Counsel on the Senate Banking Committee.