Isis Spann resides in South Carolina with her amazing husband, Terry Spann Jr. She also wears the title of mom to twin girls, Mia and Nia (9), Liara (4) and Princeton (1). She always strives to mention them first because family is the foundation of her work. As the mom of a daughter conquering a disability, Mrs. Spann recently co-authored a book with her daughter titled “Nia’s Purpose” to shed light on what it’s like to live with cerebral palsy as a kid in elementary school.
Mrs. Spann is a proud graduate of Johnson C. Smith University, a Historically Black College and University (or HBCU), where she received a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. Later, she received a master’s degree in Educational Administration and Supervision from Grand Canyon University. Mrs. Spann is currently in her 9th year as a public school educator in St. Stephen, South Carolina, leading both traditional and blended learning students. She aims to educate her students on the importance of their gifts, talents and reaching their personal potential.
Outside of the classroom, Mrs. Spann is the CEO of FUNdamentals of Learning which is a company that focuses on narrowing equity, engagement and instructional practice gaps. Its first program “Kindergarten Kounts” trains parents on how to effectively lead the learning in their homes so that their children are proficient in the area of early mathematics.
Mrs. Spann’s passion for education has afforded her many opportunities. Among those she’s most proud of: being honored by The BET Network, as a Walton Family Education Rising Star, serving as a United Negro College Fund (UNCF) K-12 fellowship alumni & mentor, founding delegate of the National Parents Union and being a part of a team of educators that led a summer learning series in 2020 through the Delta Teacher Efficacy Campaign that totaled 83,288 views.
Overall, Mrs. Spann’s goal is to be a voice for all of the children, families and educators that truly value education but whose voices are often silenced.
Nancy Poon Lue
Nancy Poon Lue is the Co-founder of the Advanced Education Research & Development Fund (AERDF), a joint initiative of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to dramatically accelerate innovations in learning. She previously served as executive director at the venture capital firm Global Silicon Valley (GSV), where she oversaw the launch of their edtech accelerator and the annual ASU+GSV Summit. Before moving to Silicon Valley, Ms. Lue was a senior official in the Obama Administration where she led the US Department of Education’s strategic planning and performance management initiatives, including the development of the federal agency’s five-year strategic plan. Her prior experiences include serving as a principal at the Education Advisory Board (EAB), where she led corporate strategy and new product development for the launch of the firm’s global higher education division and as vice president of strategic planning for Edison Learning, a K-12 education management company. She has served on the boards, advisory committees and appointed commissions of more than a dozen social sector organizations that work to expand opportunities for low-income students, women and underrepresented entrepreneurs. Ms. Lue graduated with honors from Harvard College and Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has been recognized as a Presidential Leadership Scholar, a Silicon Valley Woman of Influence and a Senior Fellow with the American Leadership Forum Silicon Valley.
Alex Spurrier is an education leader working to improve outcomes and opportunities for underserved children. He believes that the best way to help every student develop their full potential is through policy change that empowers families from all backgrounds to choose among a range of high-quality options to meet the needs of their children.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in economics from Bethel University, Mr. Spurrier started his career in the classroom as a Teach For America corps member in Hartford, CT. That experience drove him to focus the rest of his career on policy change, first at the district level in Hartford, then at the state level through his work at ConnCAN. While working to improve education policy in the land of steady habits, he also earned his master’s degree in public policy from Trinity College.
Mr. Spurrier moved to Kentucky in 2015 through a fellowship with the Harvard Strategic Data Project. During his fellowship, he worked in the Office of the Commissioner at the Kentucky Department of Education leading and executing the agency’s research agenda. He later served as a senior data scientist at the Kentucky Center for Statistics, the state’s longitudinal data system. He is currently a senior analyst with Bellwether Education Partners.
These experiences with many facets of education policy — from advocacy to legislation to administration — help Mr. Spurrier to not only understand the current policy landscape, but to also see opportunities for policymakers to provide a better and wider range of educational opportunities for children and families.
In his spare time, Mr. Spurrier enjoys watching and coaching lacrosse, rucking with friends, and working on projects in the 110-year-old Louisville home he shares with his wife Samantha and dog Bailey.
Cassandra Herring, PhD, founded Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity (BranchED) and serves as President and Chief Executive Officer. She established BranchED as a national nonprofit organization aimed at maximizing programming and driving innovation in preparing highly effective diverse educators for all learners. Dr. Herring’s passion about equity-driven education reform fuels her work. Her career spans all levels of education, with professional experiences in Head Start through higher education and leading state education policy.
BranchED is the first and only nonprofit organization in the nation dedicated to strengthening and growing educator preparation at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), with the larger goals of both diversifying the teaching profession and intentionally addressing critical issues of educational equity for all students. The organization has been recognized as a national Teacher Preparation Transformation Center and as one of the Top 10 Game-Changing Ideas in Education.
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.
Dr. Herring has served on numerous national and international boards, including the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) Equity and Diversity Committee, the Board of Directors of Data Quality Campaign, the Board of Directors of the international Online Learning Consortium, the External Advisory Committee for the North Carolina Educator Quality Data Dashboard and the advisory board for the Jandris Center for Innovative Higher Education.
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.
Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds is Vice President of Policy for the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) where she guides a team of policy experts in the areas of Quality, Opportunity and Innovation to effectively provide customized support for state policymakers, reformers, educators, parents and communities to cultivate policy conditions that advance student-centered education systems.
Prior to joining ExcelinEd, Ms. Reynolds served as chief deputy commissioner for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) where she oversaw the day-to-day operations of the agency and engaged and collaborated with education stakeholders in the development, implementation and delivery of education programs and initiatives throughout the state of Texas.
Under President George W. Bush’s Administration, Ms. Reynolds served as special assistant in the Office of Legislative and Congressional Affairs under Secretary Rod Paige and as the Region VI representative for Secretary Margaret Spellings. Her career reflects deep experience in education policy development and implementation as well as the “how-to” of legislative work needed to advance education reforms. Ms. Reynolds currently sits on the national boards of KnowledgeWorks, Generation Citizen and UTeach. She also serves on the IDEA Public Schools Austin Regional Board as well as the Florida IDEA board and is on the school board of the Central Texas Goodwill Excel Center. She is a Pahara-Aspen Fellow and a member of Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC). She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Southwestern University where she sits on its Board of Visitors. She is married to David Reynolds and has three teenagers, Luke, Lillianna and Joaquin.
Born in Pakistan and raised in California, Dr. Shaikh now calls Connecticut home. An expert in organizational theory and behavior, she completed her dissertation on the intersection of racial identity and relationships in developing culturally responsive classrooms. She holds two bachelor’s from the University of California, Berkeley in Political Science and Near Eastern Studies – Islamic Civilizations with a minor in Global Poverty and Practice. She has two masters, one in Urban Studies from Johns Hopkins and one in Social Policy and Management from Brandeis University. Her PhD is in Social Policy and Management from the Heller School of Social Policy and Management. She is passionate about anti-racism and equity and is completing her certification for Diversity and Inclusion through eCornell.
Dr. Shaikh has over ten years of experience working in education policy, research and program management and operations. She was a 2011 Teach for America corps member where she taught high school in east Baltimore for two years. Teach for America is an organization dear to her. She has served within staff as a Manager, Teacher Leadership Development and continued to provide contract support in various capacities to the admissions and operations team. At Brandeis University, she worked in higher education as an Assistant Area Coordinator, writing tutor and a teaching facilitator for the Leader Scholar Community, a course geared for high-achieving freshman students.
Dr. Shaikh has received numerous fellowships throughout her professional career. She was a fellow at the Aspen Institute, the Harvard Kennedy School Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, Achievement First, Leadership for Educational Equity and more recently, serves as an InSPIRE fellow through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
She is currently the Director of School Operations in Springfield Public Schools and is thrilled to be part of the 50CAN family.
Her life’s biggest accomplishment is being a wife and mother. She is mother to twin 2.5-year-olds, Amal & Amin, who are smart, articulate and empathetic beings. Her husband, Dr. Rayhan Shaikh, is a grounding force in her life and works for Pfizer.
Everett Banks, the son of a Stanford social psychologist and a law professor, is a senior high school student from California who will be attending Morehouse College as a prospective psychology major next fall. As a younger student, Mr. Banks wasn’t interested in education and was often bored at school, but as he saw his skills improve in other domains like sports, he recognized how the same mindset could be applied to his education. The primary change came about when he recognized that the pursuit of knowledge was a higher motivating factor than good grades. That realization honed a belief that the education system must change to fully instill a culture of intellectualism, curiosity and love of learning. Aside from psychology and education policy, Everett is also fascinated by economics, sociology and philosophy and looks forward to studying them all during college.
Kristen C. Smith
This passion first intersected with her interest in gender equity, which led to her narrative about Black girls in education being published in the hip-hop informed social justice anthology, Wish to Live: The Hip-Hop Feminism Pedagogy Reader. Then, Ms. Smith dove head first into education policy, co-founding the South Louisiana Coalition for Education (SLCE) with Leadership for Educational Equity.
She has served as a policy advisor fellow in the office of policy and governmental affairs at the Louisiana Department of Education, a congressional intern with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in Washington, DC, a national advisory board member with Advance Illinois and was appointed to Mayor President of the City of Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish Sharon Weston Broome’s transition team on education. Currently she serves on Teach for America – South Louisiana’s Government Relations Committee and CHANGE’s executive council, a nonprofit structured to empower disenfranchised youth and families.
Smith holds a BA in History, and an EdM in Education Policy Studies, Organization and Leadership from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Currently, she is a Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Scholar, earning a Doctor of Education in Diversity & Equity in Education (DE) at her alma mater. She lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where she is also the proud co-owner of Tre’s Street kitchen, a mobile food truck bringing Midwest Flair to Southern cuisine.
Arthur Samuels is the Co-founder and Executive Director of MESA Charter High School, which opened its doors in August 2013. Since then, the school has grown into one of the strongest, non-selective public high schools in Brooklyn; in fact, the New York Post said that MESA “just might be the best charter high school in New York State.”
Mr. Samuels believes fervently that a child’s future should not be determined by his or her zip code, and has spent his career working to create better educational options for students and parents. Prior to the founding of MESA, Arthur worked in college access at two other charter schools and at the TEAK Fellowship in New York City.
Mr. Samuels is a New York City Education Policy Fellow for the 2020-2021 school year. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, a JD from Harvard Law School and a Masters in Education Leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and his two young daughters. He is now retired from making educational rap videos.