The REL Midwest Governing Board provides strategic guidance on REL Midwest work to maximize local effectiveness and leverages its regional networks to amplify and disseminate REL products.
Executive Director, Wisconsin Association of School Boards
John Ashley has been executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) since September 2005. The WASB is dedicated to serving as an advocate for education and students. A nonprofit organization, the WASB seeks to advance education through supporting the tradition of local school board control of the state’s public schools. Ashley graduated from Harvard College and did his graduate work at Northwestern University and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He serves on the Wisconsin PK–16 Leadership Council, Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Board of Control, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s Collaborative Council, Wisconsin Higher Education Business Roundtable, and the Advisory Board of Wisconsin Operation Military Kids. Ashley is secretary of the Wisconsin School Attorneys Association, the WASB Insurance Plan, and the Center for Public Education Advisory Board. He is also a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Education and the Governor’s Early Childhood Advisory Council.
Executive Director, Buckeye Association of School Administrators
David Axner, PhD, joined the Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA) staff on January 1, 2015, and became the executive director in 2021. Prior to BASA, Dr. Axner began his administrative career in Sandusky City Schools, then accepted a job in the Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School District where he served as high school principal and superintendent over 17 years. From Chagrin Falls, Dr. Axner was hired at Dublin City Schools and was that district’s superintendent from 2007 to 2013. Upon retirement, he worked for 1 year with the Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators (OASSA), then joined the BASA staff. Dr. Axner is a University of Akron graduate and defended his dissertation successfully there on instructional leadership. As a superintendent, Dr. Axner was active in BASA, chairing a number of committees, serving on the Executive Board and represented BASA for two terms on the Educators Standards Board.
State Superintendent, Illinois State Board of Education
Carmen I. Ayala, PhD, was appointed as state superintendent by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) on March 1, 2019. Previously, Dr. Ayala had served since 2012 as the superintendent of Berwyn North School District 98, where she steadily turned around lower performing schools. Dr. Ayala has held a wide variety of roles in her 36-year education career, including assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Plainfield District 202 and director of school improvement and programs at Community Consolidated School District 300. She also served as an assistant superintendent, director of bilingual services, and teacher in Aurora East School District 131. She began her career in education as a teacher in Chicago Public Schools. She previously served as an executive board member on the Latino Policy Forum, where she championed equitable funding and increased resources for English learners. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Mundelein College with a focus on bilingual–bicultural education and Spanish literature. She went on to earn her master’s degree in business administration from Dominican University and her doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from Loyola University Chicago.
Executive Director, Urban Education Network; and Partner, Iowa School Finance Information Services
Margaret Buckton brings more than 20 years of legislative and lobbying experience to her roles at both the Urban Education Network and Iowa School Finance Information Services (ISFIS). Among her responsibilities at ISFIS include lobbying for the Urban Education Network and the Rural School Advocates of Iowa. Buckton has been part of ISFIS since September 2009. She is a product of Des Moines Public Schools, and earned her Bachelor of Arts from Northwestern University in speech communications while traveling the national circuit on Northwestern’s debate team. Buckton was a fiscal analyst with the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, where she staffed various appropriations subcommittees. She joined the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) in 1998 as school finance director, later serving as associate executive director, Public Policy, through 2009. She served a 2-year appointment on the Legislative Property Tax Interim Study Committee in 2008 and 2009, and was a member of IASB's Lighthouse Study research team before joining the Urban Education Network. Buckton is an instructor for the Iowa Principal Leadership Academy, Drake University, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa's administrator programs, and has been a distinguished lecturer at the University of Iowa School of Education. She has served as a community representative board member for the Drake University Head Start Policy Council and as a Des Moines Public Schools school board member, and is on the Drake Head Start Advisory Committee working on budget and federal compliance issues.
Chief Deputy Superintendent, Michigan Department of Education (designee for state Superintendent Michael F. Rice, PhD)
Sue C. Carnell, PhD, is the Chief Deputy Superintendent at the Michigan Department of Education. Dr. Carnell has more than 40 years of experience in educational and governmental settings. Her past roles include superintendent of the Westwood Community School District, deputy superintendent of Detroit Public Schools, and assistant director of special education and principal for the Southgate Community School District. Her government experience includes serving as director of the Office of School Excellence and the Office of Community Services for the Michigan Department of Education. She also was education policy advisor for former Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm and worked as group executive for former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing. Dr. Carnell participated in the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Education Policy Fellowship Program and attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She has a bachelor’s degree, with distinction, from the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, and a master’s degree and doctorate from Eastern Michigan University.
Associate Executive Director, Professional Learning, Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators
Brian Davis, PhD, is associate executive director for Professional Learning for the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators (MASA). He previously served as a member of MASA’s Executive Board and the Middle Cities Education Association Board of Directors, as well as MASA’s Professional Growth and Leadership Committee, Strategies for a New Educational Landscape workgroup, and the Michigan Department of Education’s New Better Normal Workgroup. Throughout his career, Dr. Davis has collaborated with MASA to develop programming for district leaders, including MASA’s Mentor Coaching Cadre and Horizon Leadership Academy for aspiring district leaders. He is a former MASA council member and Region 3 president, and also served as a professional judgment approach panelist for the Michigan School Finance Research Collaborative. He was named MASA’s Superintendent of the Year in 2011. Dr. Davis is the former superintendent of Holland Public Schools after serving as an administrator in the district for 21 years, 13 as superintendent. He has experience in rural, urban, and suburban school districts in the various roles of teacher, counselor, principal, assistant superintendent of instruction/school improvement, and superintendent. He has a PhD from Western Michigan University in Educational Research, Leadership and Technology.
Research and Evaluation Officer, Illinois State Board of Education (designee for Carmen Ayala)
Brenda M. Dixon, PhD, is the research and evaluation officer at the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). In this position, Dr. Dixon provides data analysis and supervises research that contributes to the evaluation of educational programs and initiatives. She works to assess, integrate, and align the functions and operations of the information systems, data strategies and analytics, research, and assessment departments to support practices for improving student outcomes. Dr. Dixon has an extensive background in teaching, education research, data analytics, assessment, and accountability. Previously, she served as a research and analysis manager in ISBE’s data strategies and analytics department. Additionally, Dr. Dixon served as an assistant principal at both Hazel Crest School District 152½ and Valley View School District 365U and director of assessment, data, and accountability at Oswego Community School District 308. She also served as director of assessment and accountability at Plainfield Community School District 202 and director of research and evaluation at Wayzata Independent School District 284. Dr. Dixon began her career in education as a fifth-grade teacher at Indian Prairie School District 204. As a former educator, Dr. Dixon understands the crucial relationship between data-informed decisions and positive student outcomes.
Executive Director, Wisconsin Public Education Network
Heather DuBois Bourenane is passionate about ensuring public schools are places of joy for all students. She is a proud public school parent, a founding member of Support Sun Prairie Schools and the Sun Prairie Action Resource Coalition, and co-director of the SPARC Local Action Fund 501(c)(3). She taught college English and literature and worked in K—12 outreach at the University of Wisconsin–Madison before becoming executive director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network. She has been with the network since 2015.
NEA Director, Iowa State Education Assocation
Sara Earleywine, a Des Moines Public Schools middle school teacher, was elected in 2021 to the National Education Association (NEA) Board of Directors for the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA). Earleywine became an ISEA member as a student at Iowa State University, where she earned her BA in Elementary Education with an endorsement to teach math in grades K–8. In her third year of teaching, Earleywine became active in her local association and was awarded the Des Moines Education Association Paul Mann Emerging Leader Award in 2016. She has served the association in many roles at the local, state, and national levels, and serves as vice president of the Des Moines Education Association. At the state level, she chaired the Resolutions and New Business Committee for 3 years. Nationally, Earleywine represented Iowa on the NEA Resolutions Committee for 6 years and serves on the National Council of Urban Education Associations Executive Committee as a Central Region director.
Associate Director, Program on Intergroup Relations, University of Michigan
In his role with the Program on Intergroup Relations (IGR), Roger Fisher teaches training and practicum classes, directs IGR’s partnership with the School of Social Work on the Summer Youth Dialogue Program, performs high-level administrative functions for IGR, trains K–12 professionals, consults with other Higher Education institutions on dialogue programs and works on special Student Life projects. Fisher has been a National Co-Lead Facilitator for LeaderShape Inc. for more than 20 years. Fisher also volunteers as vice president of the Board of Directors for Power Inc. He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Michigan, and did graduate work there.
Research Analyst, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
Carl Frederick, PhD, is a research analyst at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI). In addition to managing DPI’s research agenda and building tools to put data into the hands of decision makers, he chairs the Wisconsin Education Research Advisory Council and acts as a liaison between DPI and its external research partners. Dr. Frederick earned his PhD in sociology with a focus on educational inequality and civic outcomes of education at the University of Wisconsin and was a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Saguaro Seminar, where he worked with Robert Putnam documenting growing class gaps among American youth for the book Our Kids.
Assistant Commissioner, Office of Educational Opportunity, Minnesota Department of Education
Stephanie Graff is the assistant commissioner for the Office of Educational Opportunity at the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), overseeing the divisions of School and Educator Support, Career and College Success, Student Access and Opportunity, and Data Practices and Analytics. Graff previously worked as a special advisor on education for Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. She previously held multiple roles at MDE, providing leadership and support for efforts focused on equitable opportunities and outcomes for all of Minnesota’s students, most recently as the former director of the Equity and Opportunity Division. Prior to her 10 years of service at MDE and the governor’s office, Graff was a high school math and Advancement Via Individual Determination teacher. Graff graduated with two bachelor’s degrees in marketing and management from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, and earned a master’s in public policy and leadership from the University of St. Thomas.
NEA Director, Illinois Education Association
Gina Harris, after 15 years in corporate life, followed her passion and added a Masters of Teaching to her MBA. Currently working as a Culture and Climate Coach, she has taught content across both elementary and middle school. A certified yoga instructor, mindfulness, SEL and restorative justice facilitator and trainer, she currently supports educators across the country in implementation. Harris founded the Unity Dialogues, a circle process where students and adults learn from each other and grow from authentic, open dialogue about race and unity development. Harris also teaches educator preparation at Roosevelt University and National-Louis University. As a leader in both the National and Illinois Education Associations, she has facilitated restorative practices, equity development and fiduciary processes. Harris currently sits on the school board for District 200, Oak Park and River Forest High School, where she is the chair of the board subcommittee Culture, Climate and Behavior.
Executive Director, Minnesota Association of School Administrators
Deb Henton, EdD, was appointed executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA) on July 1, 2020. She has been an active member of MASA, participating on various committees and serving as president of the association in 2018/19. She has been a teacher, assistant principal, principal, executive director, chief of staff, and for 13 years was a school superintendent. Dr. Henton was appointed to two terms on the Minnesota Board of School Administrators by Governor Mark Dayton. In 2018, she was named the Minnesota Superintendent of the Year. Dr. Henton received her EdD in educational leadership from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in 1999. She holds master’s degrees in educational administration and education, both from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. Dr. Henton also has a bachelor’s degree in social studies and history from the University of Wisconsin–River Falls.
Secretary of Education, Indiana Department of Education
Katie Jenner, EdD, was appointed as Indiana’s first secretary of education by Governor Eric J. Holcomb, effective January 11, 2021. Prior to her appointment, Dr. Jenner served as senior education advisor to Governor Holcomb, a role in which she provided guidance on statewide policy and initiatives for preschool, K–12, and higher education. Dr. Jenner began her career in K–12 public education as a career and technical education teacher in Kentucky. After moving to Indiana, she held various administrator roles, including assistant superintendent, for Madison Consolidated Schools. Dr. Jenner later served as vice president of K–12 initiatives and statewide partnerships for Ivy Tech Community College, where she led statewide strategies and formed partnerships among K–12 education, career centers, and Ivy Tech. Dr. Jenner earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Transylvania University in Kentucky, a master’s degree in business education from the University of Kentucky, an MBA through a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship at Indiana State University, and a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Kentucky.
Director, Iowa Department of Education
Ann Lebo, EdD and EdS, most recently served as the executive director of the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners, where she had been since 2016. She was previously a secondary principal in Grundy Center and an adjunct faculty member in education and leadership at Waldorf University, and serves as Iowa’s chief talent officer for the Council of Chief State School Officers. Dr. Lebo was an athletic coach and English instructor at the secondary and postsecondary levels for 17 years and worked in the private sector for five years. Dr. Lebo also served on the statewide Teacher Leadership and Compensation Task Force in 2012 and was appointed to the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council in 2017. Dr. Lebo holds an EdD and EdS, both in educational administration; a master’s degree in English language and literature; and bachelor’s degrees in English education and speech communication.
Executive Director, Education Minnesota
Carrie Lucking became executive director of Education Minnesota in November 2021. Lucking is a former social studies teacher. She has served as the union’s director of policy and public affairs since 2020. Before that, she was the union’s Director of Policy, Research, and Outreach. In her time at Education Minnesota, Lucking led the Education Minnesota department that supports the union’s think tank, the Education Policy and Innovation Center, which produced reports on topics including helping students recover from disrupted learning, reforming school discipline, expanding preschool and full-service community schools and recruiting and retaining teachers, especially teacher of color. She also worked with staff and members on engaging educators of color, developing the FIRE antiracism programs, and supporting educator professional development. In 2018, Lucking took a leave of absence to manage the Walz/Flanagan gubernatorial campaign. Before coming to Education Minnesota, Lucking served as executive director of the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, where she was the chief strategist for 29 legislative campaigns and coordinated communications research for progressive organizations throughout the state. Lucking spent the first 10 years of her career as a social studies teacher, where she was active in the Hopkins Education Association and sat on the governing board of Education Minnesota, and coached the high school debate team.
Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Education
Heather Mueller, EdD, was appointed Minnesota’s education commissioner effective April 1, 2021. Originally from Yuma, Arizona, and the daughter of two educators, Dr. Mueller moved to Minnesota to attend college in Mankato. Upon graduation, she started her career at Mankato Area Public Schools in August 1997, teaching social studies. During her time in Mankato, she also worked as a continuous improvement coach, professional development coordinator and the director of teaching and learning. Prior to her appointment as commissioner, Dr. Mueller served as the Minnesota Department of Education’s senior director of teaching and learning, assistant commissioner, and deputy commissioner. She earned her doctorate in educational leadership with an emphasis in organizational analysis and change from St. Mary’s University. She earned her specialist and K–12 administrative license, master’s degree in educational leadership, and a bachelor’s degree in social studies from Minnesota State University—Mankato.
Chief of Staff, Indiana Department of Education
Brian Murphy is chief of staff for the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE). In this role, he oversees a team committed to building capacity, sparking innovation and forging partnerships at all levels of Indiana’s PK–12 education system to support educators and empower families. In this role, he also serves as Executive Director for the Indiana State Board of Education, which oversees K–12 education policymaking in the State of Indiana. Before joining IDOE, Murphy served in various roles with the State Board of Education, including general counsel and chief of staff. He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Kentucky and a Juris Doctor from the University of Mississippi.
Chief of Community Engagement, Kids First Chicago
Natalie C. Neris, EdD, leverages her work in policy and community engagement to advocate for social justice and equitable access to education for all students and families. The first in her family to graduate from a 4-year university, Dr. Neris began her career with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in her own Humboldt Park community. A part of Chicago’s educational ecosystem as a third-generation CPS graduate, parent, teacher, and administrator, Dr. Neris is keenly aware that access to a quality education is a game-changer, especially for students living in communities most impacted by injustice. She earned her undergraduate degree from Northeastern Illinois University and her graduate degree from Concordia University. While in the classroom, Dr. Neris earned a Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching and became a Nationally Board Certified teacher. She completed her doctoral studies at National Louis University in 2021, where she focused on designing systems to accommodate radically inclusive policy design. In addition to her work at Kids First Chicago, Dr. Neris is a 2017 Surge Fellow, a 2020 CUE Fellow and serves on the board of directors for Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center and Epic Academy Charter School.
Superintendent of Public Instruction, Michigan Department of Education
On May 7, 2019, the Michigan State Board of Education voted to appoint Michael F. Rice, PhD, as Michigan superintendent of public instruction. Dr. Rice officially began his work as state superintendent on August 1. For the preceding 12 years, Rice had been superintendent of the Kalamazoo Public Schools. During his tenure, the district grew approximately 13 percent, improved student achievement in all board-approved academic goal areas, constructed its first three new schools since 1972, and quintupled the number of full-day kindergarten students. Previously, Dr. Rice served as superintendent of the Clifton Public Schools in Clifton, New Jersey. Dr. Rice began his career in D.C. Public Schools, where he taught high school French and founded and coached award-winning speech and debate programs. He served as a cabinet-level administrator in D.C. Public Schools, Fort Wayne Community Schools, and the Lansing School District. Dr. Rice earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with honors from Yale University and a master’s degree and doctorate in public administration with honors from New York University.
Deputy Executive Director, Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators
Sarena Shivers, EdD, has been an educator for nearly thirty years. She has served as an elementary teacher, elementary assistant principal, elementary principal, director of curriculum, director of school services, transportation director, assistant superintendent of achievement and 5 years as the superintendent of Redford Union School District No. 1, in southeast Michigan. In July 2020, Dr. Shivers became deputy executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators. Her key areas of expertise and professional accomplishments are curriculum and instruction, program development and alignment, program evaluation and opening innovative and award-winning secondary school programs (alternative high schools, early college, and honors programs). Dr. Shivers has steep knowledge of teaching and learning and has led key initiatives in the areas of school change, adolescent literacy, writing, mathematics, STEM, cutting-edge instructional technology (augmented reality and artificial intelligence) and school leadership. For over a decade, Dr. Shivers has led work regionally and across the state of Michigan in cultural relevancy, cultural proficiency, equity, social justice and diversity in education. She received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Morgan State University, master’s in Administration and Supervision from Ball State University and doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from Indiana University in Bloomington.
Interim State Superintendent, Ohio Department of Education
Stephanie K. Siddens, PhD, is interim state superintendent of public instruction at the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). Dr. Siddens, who has been with ODE since 2006, previously was senior executive director of the department’s Center for Student Supports. In this role, she oversaw implementation of the whole child framework, early learning, special education, gifted education, nutrition, prevention education, positive behavioral intervention and supports, social and emotional learning, school climate, behavioral health and school-based health. In addition, her center implemented programs in support of special student populations, including students with disabilities; English language learners; youth experiencing homelessness; and migrant, foster care and justice-involved youth. Dr. Siddens has more than 26 years of experience in PK—12 education. She served as an administrator for Prince William County Public Schools and Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. She also served at the College of Wooster and the University of Iowa, where she was responsible for educational program evaluation, research, assessment and accountability. Dr. Siddens received her PhD in educational psychology from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Director, Office of Research, Evaluation, and Advanced Analytics, Ohio Department of Education
Gregory Taylor is director of the Office of Research, Evaluation, and Advanced Analytics at the Ohio Department of Education. His office provides agencywide project support, as well as oversight of external research partnerships. Current initiatives involve Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief impact evaluation, interagency data resources, postsecondary outcomes, literacy, the state’s evidence-based clearinghouse, and improving learning acceleration. Taylor received his bachelor’s degree in special education from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s in education from Harvard University. He started his career as a special education teacher before spending several years as a central office administrator at Dayton Public Schools, most recently as executive director of Data and Technology. Taylor also has consulted with large school districts, state departments of education, and other government agencies across the country with program evaluation, data analytics, and education policy.
Associate Director, Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents
Robert Taylor, PhD, is a third-generation public school educator. Throughout his tenure in education Dr. Taylor has served as a teacher, coach, assistant principal, and principal at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels in both the United States and Europe. Dr. Taylor is associate director for the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, based in Indianapolis. Dr. Taylor has served as an educational consultant and professional mentor for education/ business partnership development, educational programming, and education leadership. He has provided staff development training for business leaders, administrators/educators, and upper-level operational managers, throughout China, Europe, and the United States. Dr. Taylor earned a Doctorate of Education in Leadership and Policy and an MSEd in School Administration from Indiana University, and a BS in elementary education from Olivet Nazarene University.
Founder, President, and Executive Director, Minnesota Parent Union
Rashad Anthony Turner, a Twin Cities native, is executive director for Minnesota Parent Union, one of the fastest growing and most impactful school choice/parent advocacy groups in the state. Turner is a champion for school choice and quality education, and believes parents must step up and be the ones to bring an end to Minnesota’s worst-in-nation education gaps.
Superintendent, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
Jill Underly, PhD, was elected state superintendent of Public Instruction on April 6, 2021. She has worked in all facets of public education since 1999: as a high school and middle school social studies teacher, a University of Wisconsin College of Letters & Science academic advisor, a Title I consultant and assistant director at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), an elementary school principal and director of instruction, and a rural school district superintendent. Most recently, she served 6 years as superintendent of the Pecatonica School District and 5 years at DPI in Educator Licensing and Title I work. Dr. Underly received bachelor’s degrees in history and sociology from Indiana University—Bloomington, a master’s degree in secondary education from Indiana University—Purdue University, and a master’s degree in educational administration and a doctorate in educational leadership and policy analysis from the University of Wisconsin—Madison.
Program Manager, Center on Education and Training for Employment, The Ohio State University
Kenyona Walker, PhD, is an emerging scholar on the topic of Race in Education, leveraging her passion for education and equity by building the capacity of others to foster equity and diversity in educational contexts. She serves as a co-leader of the Steering Team for the Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) Movement for the Center on Education and Training for Employment, serving as a speaker at the national and local levels. She also teaches on urban issues in education at The Ohio State University. Dr. Walker is the Principal Investigator on the Parent Mentors Oversight and Professional Development Project, sponsored by the Ohio Department of Education. As a licensed school psychologist, Dr. Walker uses her previous experience working in schools and a scholarly approach to work collaboratively with educators, parent mentors, and local stakeholders across the state, to address issues related to the evaluation of students regarding Special Education and their specialized supports. As a Principal Investigator, Dr. Walker leads the Staying and Thriving: Cultivating Community with and for Black Women Undergraduate Students in the College of Education and Human Ecology project, which is designed to increase the sense of belonging among Black women students at OSU. In addition, she works to promote the power of collaborations in education, and has published research in both scholarly and creative works, including a pending book chapter. Spanning across PK-12 and higher education spaces and driven by the belief that we must “do” justice, Dr. Walker develops blueprints for the intersection of research and practice to reimagine what true equity in education can be. Dr. Walker received her doctoral degree from OSU.