Dr. Ana F. Ponce is the Executive Director of Great Public Schools Now. Most recently, Ana was the CEO of Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, a network of six charter schools and an early education center serving more than 3,600 students in central Los Angeles. Her accomplishments prompted Forbes Magazine in 2011 to name her one of the top seven most powerful educators in the world.
Ponce is the youngest daughter of Mexican immigrants and the first in her family to graduate college. She holds multiple degrees from Middlebury College, Columbia University, UCLA, and Loyola Marymount University. She spent a decade as a classroom teacher and founding team member of the first startup charter school in South L.A. before joining Camino Nuevo in 2001. She is also a national board member of UnidosUS, a national Latino advocacy organization, and a founding member and advisory committee member of EdLoC, an organization dedicated to elevating the leadership, voices, and influence of people of color in education and to improving public education through more inclusive efforts. She also serves on the LA. County Commission on Local Government Services.
Parag A. Pathak is the Class of 1922 Professor of Economics at MIT. He is also the director of MIT’s Blueprint Labs, a research laboratory which uses tools from market design and research design to produce rigorous evidence that can help decision-makers design and implement better policy. Pathak is also a co-founder of Avela Education and director of the NBER’s Working Group on Market Design. His scholarly work focuses on education. He has played a role in designing student assignment systems across the country, including in New York City, Boston, and New Orleans. Pathak has received numerous awards for his research, including the John Bates Clark medal, given to the economist under 40 whose work is judged to have made the most significant contribution to the field.
Cassandra Herring, Ph.D., is the President, Chief Executive Officer, and founder of Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity (BranchED). BranchED is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to maximizing programming and driving innovation in preparing highly effective diverse educators for all learners. Dr. Herring’s passion for equity-driven education reform is firmly rooted in the belief that diversity and excellence are inextricably linked. Dr. Herring has more than 20 years of experience in education, and her career spans all levels of education. She has worked in early childhood settings through higher education and has led several state education policy initiatives.
Prior to founding BranchED, Dr. Herring served as Dean of the School of Education and Human Development at Hampton University for nearly 10 years. Under her leadership, struggling education programs were transformed, earning state approval and highest commendations by accrediting bodies. She doubled her school’s enrollment through strategic recruitment efforts and secured external resources for student support. In addition to her work within the school of education, Dr. Herring conceptualized and spearheaded Hampton U Online, the university’s virtual campus for the delivery of online degree programs, and opened the Hampton University International Office, a central hub for supporting international students and faculty, promoting study abroad, and building global connections.
Dr. Herring has served on numerous national and international boards, including on the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) Equity and Diversity Committee, the Board of Directors of Data Quality Campaign, and advisory boards for the Cato College of Education at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and Teachers College at Western Governors University. Previously, Dr. Herring served on the Board of Directors of the international Online Learning Consortium, the External Advisory Committee for the North Carolina Educator Quality Data Dashboard, the advisory board for the Jandris Center for Innovative Higher Education, and as Chair of the NAFEO Academic of Deans of Education Council. She has been recognized as a Salzburg Global Institute Fellow at Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg, Austria. Currently, Dr. Herring is a distinguished Emerson Collective Dial Fellow.
Dr. Herring earned her Doctor of Philosophy degree in Educational Policy from Georgia State University, and Master of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Texas at Austin.
Jeff Davis is a Chicago-born, Boston-area resident who has committed to living a life as an advocate of truth, justice, and equity for all. He is a loving partner of 11 years of marriage and the parent of two beautiful young boys. He is a blerd who believes in Black heroes, sharing more BIPOC stories, running for the joy and pain of it and finds balance via yoga, therapy, and quality time. He runs every Saturday with his brothers at Black Men Run Boston (BMR) Boston, a healthy community he started that seeks to enrich the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of all Black Men in Boston.
Professionally, Jeff is a people & culture professional focused on maximizing the human experience in working environments. He believes in the exponential potential of all persons to achieve incredible outcomes, if allowed to be their most authentic selves. He brings 18 years of working experience into his role as the Director of the AERDF People Experience & Culture Team.
Beki’s AERDF’s Chief Operating Officer, charged with building an effective, agile infrastructure, a high performing, equitable, inclusive and sustainable organization in service of AERDF’s mission. She is responsible for strategic planning, finance, people, procurement & investment relations and governance and also serves as Treasurer for the AERDF Board.
Beki has 25+ years of global strategy, operations and board governance experience, and has scaled, expanded and transformed complex, global nonprofits and for-profit companies with operations in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, and Middle East/Africa. As a mission-focused leader she expands access, elevates the voice of underserved communities and closes equity gaps – unlocking organizational/leadership value and driving impact through programs with significant expertise in DEI.
Previously, Beki served as the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) and Board Secretary of Graduate Management Admission Council, a $100M global association of leading graduate business schools in the U.S., Europe, India and China. She pivoted GMAC from a HQ centered organization to a global model and created a global philosophy/framework with culturally relevant local practices. Beki simplified operations through entity consolidation, changed tax posture and established shared services operations in India in six months. She also led the organization’s COVID-19 response on finance, people and facilities – maintaining strong cash and liquidity focus through investment portfolio, vendor negotiations, cost cutting measures and necessary staff restructuring.
Earlier at Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE), as SVP of Partnerships & Infrastructure, and inaugural COO, Beki led organizational strategy, setting enterprise goals through data and analytics and built high performing operational functions – including (not limited to) Strategy, Finance, HR, Fundraising, and Technology. She established and led LEE’s complex finance and governance structure of 501c3, 501c4 and 20+ PACs with 20+ states – each with varying IRS, state, and election rules. Beki helped scale LEE from 10K to 40K+ members, $200K to $30M annual revenue and 3 to 160+ FTES, also leading senior executive hiring, compensation, and succession of several VPs. She co-led the DEI strategy, increasing racial diversity from 40 to 58% across all levels, closing gaps in hiring, compensation, and promotion.
Earlier Beki served as Vice President of Strategy at Teach For America, Director of Strategy at Sprint Nextel, Consultant at McKinsey & Co.
Beki grew up in Turkey and has lived in the US and Europe and is passionate about bringing a global, diverse stakeholder mindset into both the business and the boardroom.
Kidus Mezgebu is the Educator Engagement Strategist at AERDF. He is currently in his final year of the Ed.L.D program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and has chosen to complete his residency at AERDF. In his role at AERDF, Kidus is leading the creation of an education engagement strategy. Previously, Kidus was a Senior Program Manager and District Partnership Manager at Everyday Labs where he worked to reduce chronic absenteeism using behavioral science-based interventions. Before that, he co-managed the Urban Superintendent Program at HGSE—a program that produced the most urban superintendents in the country—and he served on the Advisory Board for the Posse Foundation. Kidus also has experience doing research on the impact of the stereotype threat in testing performance and the role of framing on charitable giving. Kidus has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Denison University and a master’s in Education Policy from HGSE.
Katie Gary is a Research Scientist for Assessment for Good. Before joining AERDF, Katie was a Postdoctoral Associate Researcher for Duke University in which she studied racial disparities in Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (AD/ADRD). Specifically, she studied how the mental and physical toll of minority-related stress (i.e., everyday discrimination) could predict aging disorders through the lens of sociological theory. Katie received a Ph.D in Sociology from Kent State University where the focus of her research was on how emotion, identity, and the self intertwine with social structure and inequality from a social psychological perspective. She also received a M.Ed. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, where she performed child/family therapy to help improve the well-being of children and teenagers aged 5-18 using a systems-ecological, cognitive-behavioral, and strength-based approach.
Dr. Lauren D. Kendall Brooks describes her work as interdisciplinary scholarship, with work spanning cognitive, developmental, and health psychology through a culturally sensitive lens. Her research carries a broad range focusing on identity and academic achievement, academic resiliency in Black and Latine adolescents and college students, health disparities as it relates to academic achievement, and health disparities in Black women. Lauren views her work through the Phenomenological Variant of Ecological Systems Theory (PVEST), as she believes identity continuously influences all parts of life. Lauren completed her post-doc at the University of Maryland, College Park in the department of Human Development and Quantitative Methods in the Prather CogDev Lab. She is also the co-founder and current president of the organization Black in Psych, which aims to create space for future and current Black psychologists in all concentrations. Lauren received her Ph.D. in Health Psychology, with a concentration in Behavioral and Community Health from Virginia State University.