The Practitioner Council of the Hoover Education Success Initiative is comprised of 15-20 leading education policy voices from across the country.  Collectively they serve as brain trust from which HESI members and authors draw insight and inspiration.  Each member occupies a unique space in the education system—sitting inside Governors’ offices and state legislatures, leading state education agencies and educational non-profits, convening other systems leaders on university campuses and in membership organizations.  Members provide input and guidance as pressure-testers of policy proposals, distributors of policy recommendations, identifiers of early adapters and connectors to potential partners.  Each member commits to an 18-month term of service, and participates in the annual HESI Symposium.  They serve an important role in the HESI network of collaborators.

Practitioner Council

Melanie D. Barton has served since September 2019 as senior education advisor for the governor of South Carolina. She is responsible for advising the governor on policy and finance issues related to early childhood education, public education, and higher education. She previously served as the executive director of the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee (EOC), an independent nonpartisan committee composed of eighteen educators, business leaders, and elected officials, appointed by the South Carolina General Assembly and governor to oversee enactment of the state’s accountability system for K–12 education. During her eighteen years working for the EOC and the general assembly, Barton directed the evaluation of the state’s full-day 4K program and assisted the general assembly in developing public education finance policies. Since 2012 she has represented South Carolina on the Southern Regional Education Board, serving on several commissions, including Early Childhood, Computer Science, Teacher Preparation, and Dual Enrollment. She earned her master’s degree in public-policy analysis from Duke University and her undergraduate degrees in history and political science from Furman University.


State Rep. Bob Behning has served in the Indiana House of Representatives since 1992 and represents House District 91, which includes portions of Marion and Hendricks counties. He was born and raised in Indianapolis and has been a proud Hoosier his entire life. In 1976, he received a BS degree from Indiana University. Throughout his tenure as a representative, he has advocated for education reform in Indiana. As chair of the House Education Committee, he led a multiyear effort to successfully pass the most comprehensive education reform package in the United States. Behning believes that all parents deserve the right to choose the school that best meets their child’s needs. In 2011, he authored legislation creating the School Choice Scholarship program, providing scholarships or vouchers to families who do not have the financial means to pay private school tuition. Indiana has the largest school voucher program in the United States. Behning currently works at Marian University as the director of external affairs for the Educators College.


Dr. Holly Boffy is a member of the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, representing District 7. She was re-elected to serve a third term in 2019. Boffy founded EdTalents to support schools, districts, and organizations in building educator talent systems to attract, hire, place, develop, leverage, and retain strong teachers and leaders. Previously, Boffy spent six years with the Council of Chief State School Officers, supporting state education agencies with teacher and leader initiatives. She taught middle school for ten years, earned National Board Certification in 2006, and served as an adjunct instructor for the University of Louisiana–Lafayette. Boffy is the 2010 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year. She earned three degrees from Louisiana State University, including a bachelor of science, master of education, and education specialist in curriculum and instruction. She earned her doctorate from Walden University with a study on the implementation of student standards, Progression of Elementary Teachers in Implementing Language Arts Common Core State Standards.


Stephen Bowen serves as the deputy executive director for state leadership at the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). In his role, he directs the activities of the membership services, leadership academy, and data and information services teams. Bowen oversees the development and implementation of programs and services designed to support the leaders and staff of state education agencies. At CCSSO, Bowen previously served as a senior advisor, working directly with chiefs and their senior staffs in collaboration with the Leadership Academy and other council teams to improve the performance and effectiveness of their state agencies; and as the strategic initiative director for innovation, where he worked to worked to improve the leadership capacity and capabilities of state agencies and to support states as they advanced promising innovations to improve student outcomes. Bowen is also a former state chief, having served as Maine’s commissioner of education from 2011 to 2013, a former state legislator, and a middle and high school social studies educator. Bowen holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Drew University and a master’s degree in education from George Mason University.


Derrell Bradford is the executive vice president of 50CAN: The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now, and the executive director of its New York branch, NYCAN. In his role, Derrell trains and recruits local leaders across the country to serve as executive directors of state CANs, advocacy fellows, and citizen advocates. He leads the National Voices fellowship which focuses on education policy, media, and political collaboration, and is a member of the organization’s executive team. Derrell previously served as the executive director at Better Education for Kids. At B4K Derrell worked to secure passage of the tenure reform legislation TEACH NJ. Prior to B4K, Derrell spent nine years with New Jersey’s Excellent Education for Everyone (E3) as director of communications and then executive director. While there he also served on the state’s Educator Effectiveness Task Force. Derrell is a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network (Pahara Fall 2016) and serves on several boards including Success Academy Charter Schools and the PIE Network. He was the founding board chair of EdBuild and a senior visiting fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. A native of Baltimore, Derrell attended the St. Paul’s School for Boys and the University of Pennsylvania.


State Rep. Ashton Wheeler Clemmons has always had a passion for serving the people of North Carolina, the state she proudly calls home. After graduating from University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, she taught as a NC Teaching Fellow in Durham and Guilford counties and later earned her Master’s degree in school leadership from Harvard University and her Doctorate of Education from University of North Carolina–Greensboro. As principal of schools in Rockingham and Guilford counties, she led the turnaround of one of the state’s lowest-performing schools. While serving as assistant superintendent of the Thomasville City Schools, Clemmons was selected one of the Triad Business Journal’s “40 Leaders under 40” and was also honored by the United Way with its Human Rights Advocate award. In 2018, Clemmons was elected to serve in North Carolina’s 57th House District and has been appointed to the Commerce, Education K–12, Education-Universities, and Finance Committees. She also serves as the House Democratic Freshman Caucus cochair. Clemmons is an energetic and passionate advocate for better schools and job training programs, as well as policies that protect our health care, environment, and voting rights.


Mike Cohen is a nationally-recognized leader in education policy and standards-based reform. He became President of Achieve in 2003.  Created in 1996 by the nation's governors and corporate leaders, Achieve is an independent, bipartisan, non-profit education reform organization based in Washington, DC that helps states raise academic standards and high school graduation requirement, improve assessments and strengthen accountability so all students graduate ready for college, work and citizenship. Under Mike's leadership, Achieve launched the American Diploma Project Network, formed the Partnership for the Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC) - one of two multi-state consortia developing common assessments - and helped develop the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards.  Cohen has held several key roles in education during the past 20+ years, including Director of Education Policy at the National Governors Association (1985-90) and Director of Planning and Policy Development at the National Association of State Boards of Education (1983-1985). During the Clinton Administration he served as Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, Special Assistant to President Clinton for Education Policy, and Senior Advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley.


Stephen Dackin has been superintendent of School and Community Partnerships at Columbus State Community College since 2014. Dackin oversees the Central Ohio Compact, a regional strategy focused on a goal that 65 percent of central Ohio adults obtain a postsecondary degree or credential by 2025. Dackin previously served as superintendent of the Reynoldsburg City School District. During his tenure, the district achieved markedly improved performance with reduced spending, transformed a large, comprehensive high school into four college/career academies, and created one of the nation’s largest STEM K–12 pipelines, serving over one-third of the district’s students. Dackin has served on a variety of boards and civic and professional affiliations, including the Thomas B Fordham Institute and Foundation, the KnowledgeWorks Foundation Board, and the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio. In 2019, Dackin was appointed by Governor Mike DeWine to serve on the State Board of Education.  


State Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. a native of Hialeah, Florida, has worked with the youth of his community as a teacher, coach and administrator over his entire career, including as assistant principal at Hialeah Miami Lakes Senior High and as founding partner of the Beyond the Bell Learning Center in Miami Springs. Diaz earned a bachelor’s degree in human resources and education from St. Thomas University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern, and completed the prestigious Harvard Graduate School of Education Principal’s Summer Institute in 2006. Manny was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2012 and was re-elected in 2014 and 2016. He chaired the Choice and Innovation and the PreK–12 Education Appropriations Subcommittees and sat on the Education Committee as well as the K–12, Education Appropriation, and the Health Innovation Subcommittees. In 2018, Diaz was elected as state senator for District 36, and he currently serves as chair of the Education Committee as well as on several committees and subcommittees.


Dr. Sydnee Dickson has been serving the children of Utah as a proud educator for the past 39 years. She joined the Utah State Office of Education in 2007 and was named state superintendent of public instruction in 2016. Prior to joining the Utah State Office of Education, Dickson served in Utah public schools in roles including teaching, school counseling, and school and district administration. Superintendent Dickson began her education in a two-room schoolhouse in rural Utah and went on to earn two master’s degrees in school counseling and school administration as well as a doctorate in education leadership and policy at the University of Utah. Dr. Dickson is a frequent participant on state and national committees, task forces, and boards, including currently serving on the board of trustees for the Council of Chief State School Officers and on the West Ed board of directors. Her professional expertise is grounded in engaging community partners, providing educators with evidence-based professional learning, and developing transformative school leadership. Dickson is passionate about developing equitable school systems to close achievement gaps and ensure students are prepared to have choices for their future.


Dr. Chad E. Gestson has served as superintendent of the Phoenix Union High School District since fall 2015. Under his leadership, Phoenix Union has launched six new schools, including a Gifted and Talented Academy, a Digital Academy, and the Phoenix Coding Academy. Phoenix Union has seen tremendous increases in graduation rates, scholarship totals, and college matriculation rates since 2015. Gestson was formerly with the Broad Academy and Teach for America, and is a member of Chiefs for Change. He has also served as a leadership director, high school principal, middle school principal, elementary school assistant principal, and teacher. Prior to his public education career, Gestson was a commercial construction superintendent. He holds a BA from the University of Washington, an MEd from Arizona State University, and an MEd and EdD from Northern Arizona University, where he was named the Outstanding Doctoral Student of the Year.




Michael Horn speaks and writes about the future of education and works with education organizations to improve the lives of students. A senior strategist at Guild Education, which creates partnerships to offer education and upskilling opportunities to America’s workforce, he is also cofounder and distinguished fellow of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. Horn has written multiple works on education, including Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World LearnsBlended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools, and, most recently, Choosing College, which aids students and parents in making better choices and schools in designing better experiences. He serves on the boards of the Robin Hood Learning+Tech Fund, and the LearnLaunch Institute; is an executive editor at Education Next; and is a venture partner at NextGen Venture Partners. Horn holds a BA in history from Yale University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.


Johnny Key began serving as the commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education in 2015. In May 2019, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Key as the department’s secretary as part of his plan to transform state government. Key now serves in both capacities. Key helps guide the agency in transforming Arkansas to lead the nation in student-focused education; and in providing leadership, support, and service to schools, districts, and communities so that every student graduates prepared for college, career, and community engagement. Key began his public service career in the Baxter County Quorum Court as a justice of the peace. Afterward, he was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives and Arkansas Senate. During his state senate tenure, Key served on the Education Committee and served as chair for one term. Key graduated from University of Arkansas–Fayetteville in 1991 with a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering.


Christina Laster, proud parent of four and grandparent of three, is a fierce advocate for children and families in our education system.  She currently serves as the Director of Policy and Legislation with National Parents Union (NPU).  Previously she worked in the San Diego Unified School District-Early Childhood and Special Education Program Offices.  She formerly served as Statewide Community Organizer for the California Policy Center and as local NAACP Education Chair.  With academic background in Political Science and Business Administration, a track record of advocacy on civil rights issues, and deep understanding of grassroots-community organizing, Christina empowers families to advocate for learning justice.  She elevates authentic family voices through articles and podcasts and now dedicates her life to training families in attacking persistent racial disparities in education.  In her role at NPU, she works alongside families and local leaders in underserved and vulnerable communities, zealously advocating for quality schools.


Patricia Levesque is the chief executive officer of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), a leading education policy organization founded by former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Working in more than 30 states across the nation, ExcelinEd develops customized student-centered solutions for policy makers seeking to transform education systems. Patricia is also executive director of ExcelinEd in Action, a national advocacy organization dedicated to turning bold, proven education reforms into reality. Levesque currently serves on the board of the Policy Innovators in Education Network and on the Florida Charter School Alliance, the External Advisory Committee for the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard, the Workforce Readiness Working Group for the Florida Talent and Development Council, and the Florida Government Efficiency Task Force. She previously served on the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (2018), the Florida Taxation and Budget Commission (2007–08), and the Florida Government Efficiency Task Force (2007), and was a Fellow Cohort 7 of the Pahara-Aspen Education Fellowship. Levesque has held leadership positions in education policy, including serving for nearly a decade in the Florida legislature and the executive office of the governor. 


Dr. Wayne D. Lewis Jr. recently served as Education Commissioner for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. His resume includes experience in public school districts, postsecondary institutions, and state government. He has worked as a classroom teacher, teacher educator, postsecondary faculty member, program administrator at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and executive administrator in state government. Prior to assuming appointments in state government, he was associate professor with tenure in the College of Education at the University of Kentucky. His published research and writing over the last decade has been in the areas of education policy and politics, school-family-community engagement, and school choice in American and international contexts. Lewis completed undergraduate studies at Loyola University, New Orleans. He earned a master’s degree in urban studies with a concentration in public administration at the University of Akron, completed a post-baccalaureate teacher preparation program in special education at the University of New Orleans, and earned a PhD in educational research and policy analysis with a cognate in public administration at North Carolina State University.


Mike Magee is chief executive officer of Chiefs for Change, a nonprofit network of diverse state and district education leaders dedicated to preparing all students for tomorrow’s world. He previously cofounded and was chief executive officer of Rhode Island Mayoral Academies (RIMA), where he worked with a statewide coalition of mayors to enact sweeping changes to state education policy and to build a statewide network of regional, diverse-by-design charter schools. Before starting RIMA, Magee taught American literature and philosophy at Haverford College, Wheaton College, and the Rhode Island School of Design. In 2004, his book Emancipating Pragmatism won the Elizabeth Agee Prize in American Studies. He is a 2013 Pahara Aspen Education Fellow and Pahara Fellowship moderator. Mike holds a PhD in English from the University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor’s degree in political science and English from the College of the Holy Cross.  


Dr. Candice McQueen has been chief executive officer of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) since January 2019. NIET is a national nonprofit with 20 years of evidence-based work in building educator excellence to ensure all students have the opportunity for success. Prior to joining NIET, she was Tennessee’s commissioner of education. She led the creation of a strategic plan, Tennessee Succeeds, which outlines strategies to increase college and career readiness for Tennessee's one million students. Today, students are posting record-high ACT scores and graduation rates, and a 2018 state assessment found that students in historically underserved student groups often outpaced their peers in growth. McQueen has long advocated for focusing on human capital as the primary lever for change. In 2018, researchers at Georgetown University pointed to Tennessee's teacher evaluation and professional development model as leading to career-long improvement in teachers and gains in student achievement. Prior to being commissioner, McQueen was dean of the college of education at Lipscomb University. She started her career as a classroom teacher, teaching in elementary and middle schools in Tennessee and Texas.


As Massachusetts secretary of education, James Peyser directs the Executive Office of Education, which oversees early education, K-12, and higher education. He sits on each of the boards governing the commonwealth’s education agencies, as well as the University of Massachusetts system. He is Gov. Charlie Baker’s top adviser on education and helps shape the state’s education reform agenda. Before serving as secretary, Peyser was the managing director at NewSchools Venture Fund. He supported innovative education entrepreneurs in urban communities to transform public education. He chaired the Massachusetts Board of Education from 1999 to 2006. He also served as education adviser to governors Bill Weld, Jane Swift, and Mitt Romney. He developed state policies of standards and assessments, school accountability, and charter schools.


Angelika Schroeder represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District on the Colorado State Board of Education. Appointed in January 2009 and re-elected three times, she was named chair in 2017. Schroeder earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and an MBA and PhD in accounting from the University of Colorado–Boulder. She is a former tax CPA and college professor of accounting. For the past 35 years she has also been active in education issues at the local, state, and national levels. She was appointed in 1995 by then governor Roy Romer to Colorado’s Teacher and Special Services Professional Standards Board, and from 1999 to 2008 was a member of the Boulder Valley School Board, serving as treasurer and vice president. She has also served on the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Alliance for Quality Teaching. She is currently on the Education Leadership Council, a board member of the Colorado Public Education and Business Coalition, a recent Gates Foundation Fellow, and treasurer/secretary of the board of the National Association of State Boards of Education. 


Don Shalvey is currently a deputy director for K–12 Education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In July 2020, after 11 years at the foundation, Shalvey returns home to be the founding CEO of San Joaquin A+.  In 1992, as superintendent of the San Carlos School District, Shalvey sponsored the first charter school in California. Widely recognized as a leader in public education and the charter school sector, he was the founder and CEO of Aspire Public Schools and is a member of the National Charter School Hall of Fame. An Ashoka Fellow and recipient of the James Irvine Leadership Award for “inspirational leadership benefitting the citizens of California,” Shalvey is a frequent advisor to school systems across the country. He earned an EdD in Educational Leadership/Administration from University of Southern California, an MEd in Counseling and Guidance from Gonzaga University, and a BA from LaSalle College.


Dr. David Steiner is executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and professor of education at Johns Hopkins University. He currently serves as a member of the Maryland State Board of Education and the Maryland Commission for Innovation and Excellence in Education. Additionally, he serves on the boards of Core Knowledge Foundation and Relay Graduate School of Education. He previously served as commissioner of education for New York State, as the Klara and Larry Silverstein Dean at the Hunter College School of Education, and as director of education at the National Endowment for the Arts. As  commissioner, Steiner took a lead role in the state’s successful $700 million Race to the Top application to support the redesign of state standards, assessments, and teacher certification requirements. Steiner consults regularly with the federal government, state education leaders, educational reform organizations, and universities. He has addressed audiences on both side of the Atlantic, and authored books, book chapters, and more than fifty articles. He holds degrees from Balliol College, Oxford University (BA and MA), and Harvard University (PhD in political science). 


Margie Vandeven is passionate about ensuring that each child has the opportunity to graduate prepared for success. She [DH1] has more than 30 years of student-centered service in education, including five at Missouri’s top educational post. She is a teacher who has provided education leadership in classrooms, in schools, and in state and national roles assumed throughout her career. Dr. Vandeven joined the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education [DH2] in 2005. She was appointed commissioner of elementary and secondary education by the Missouri State Board of Education in December 2014 and served in that capacity until December 2017. She was reappointed in January 2019. During the interim, Vandeven worked as the director of educational partnerships for the SAS Institute in Cary, North Carolina. As commissioner, Vandeven works collaboratively with a diverse group of stakeholders to improve educational opportunities for more than 918,000 Missouri students. Vandeven earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Missouri State University and a master’s degree in educational administration and supervision from Loyola University Maryland. She received a doctorate of philosophy in educational leadership from Saint Louis University and has been recognized by Missouri State University and Saint Louis University as a distinguished alumna. 


Jenn Vranek is an expert in district, state, and federal education policy, politics, and advocacy. Over the last 20 years, she has worked with K–12 and postsecondary school educators, policy makers, and philanthropists in more than 30 states. She has advised many national foundations and education organizations such as the Aspen Institute, Achieve, American Federation of Teachers, Council of Chief State School Officers, Data Quality Campaign, Educators 4 Excellence, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Teach Plus, and the US Department of Education. Before starting Education First, Jenn made advocacy grants at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, led and lobbied state legislators for Washington State’s Partnership for Learning, cofounded the Washington, DC, office of Achieve, and researched academic standards at the American Federation of Teachers. Honored as one of Puget Sound Business Journal’s “40 under 40” in 2010, she also volunteers as vice chair of the Danielson Group board of directors and as an advisory board and PAC board member for Washington’s Stand for Children. Jenn earned her MPP from Georgetown University and her AB from the College of William & Mary.


Dr. Carey M. Wright became the state superintendent of education for Mississippi in 2013. Under her leadership, Mississippi has initiated aggressive education reforms that have increased literacy skills in pre-K through 3rd grade, pushed student achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress to a faster improvement rate than that of most other states, and increased the graduation rate to an all-time high of 84 percent. Wright spearheaded initiatives in Mississippi that nearly doubled the Advancement Placement participation and success rate, resulted in significant annual gains in English language arts and mathematics proficiency, and earned Mississippi annual recognition from the National Institute for Early Education Research as one of only seven states meeting all or most quality standards for early childhood education. Wright is a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, past president of the board of directors of the Council of Chief State School Officers, and a Chiefs for Change board member. She also serves on the Reagan Institute Summit on Education steering committee and is a Broad Academy alumnus. 

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