Valerie Bell, Chair of the Board (former interim CEO) of St. Louis Public Schools Foundation, St. Louis, MO
Valerie D. Bell is an attorney and civic volunteer specializing in not-for-profit administration and management. She is actively involved in efforts to strengthen the St. Louis region, particularly those that enhance educational opportunity, improve race relations, and foster economic parity. She has chosen to devote all of her professional time to these and other public policy issues on a pro bono basis.
Ms. Bell is Chair of the Board (and former Interim CEO) of the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation. She is an elected member of the St. Louis Black Leadership Roundtable and the International Women’s Forum (Missouri). In addition to serving as a Commissioner of the Missouri History Museum Sub-district, she also serves on a number of other boards, including the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ-STL), the Equal Housing Opportunity Council, and the National Council of the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement of Washington University.
Throughout her tenure in St. Louis, Ms. Bell has served the community in various capacities. She was legal counsel to Washington University Chancellor Emeritus William Danforth in his role as Settlement Coordinator for the St. Louis school desegregation case and remains on the task force overseeing implementation of the settlement agreement. Ms. Bell is Past President of the board of trustees of John Burroughs School and the board of FOCUS St. Louis, and Past Secretary of the board of Parents as Teachers international organization. She has also been a trustee (or board member) of Fontbonne University, the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, the Independent Schools Association of the Central States, St. Louis Science Center, the Deaconess Foundation, the YWCA of Metropolitan St. Louis, Christian Brothers College High School, Grace Hill Settlement House, and St. Louis Community College Foundation, among others.
Ms. Bell is a recipient of several awards for her efforts in the community including the R. Jerome Williams, Sr. Award for Leadership and Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion; the Levy Human Relations Award from AJC; the Woman of Achievement award for her work in building diversity in the St. Louis region; the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Foundation of Greater St. Louis; the Racial Justice Leader Award from the YWCA of Metropolitan St. Louis; the Woman of Distinction Award from the Professional Organization of Women; the Brotherhood-Sisterhood Award from NCCJ; the African American Citizen of the Year Award from the St. Louis Gateway Classic Foundation; the Most Valuable Volunteer Award from the St. Louis Business Journal and MasterCard International; and the Distinguished Community Service Award from the Princeton Club of St. Louis.
Ms. Bell is a graduate of Princeton University where she majored in the Woodrow Wilson School and was named a David Lawrence Scholar by U.S. News & World Report Magazine. She was the first female and the first person of color to be elected President of the Senior Class and to lead the graduating class at Commencement. She received her J.D. from Harvard Law School and her M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. She was formerly an attorney in the New York office of Chadbourne & Parke and Senior Counsel at the New York State Urban Development Corporation.
Kathleen Devaney, Executive Director, Horizons at Westminster, Simsbury, CT
Kathleen joined the faculty at Westminster in 1998 as a dean of students, history teacher, coach, corridor supervisor, and advisor. She served as a dean for the Classes of 2002, 2006, 2011, and 2015. She also chaired the school's 2005 NEASC Decennial Evaluation, worked as the director of student life for five years and served as assistant head of school for seven years In 2002, she won the O'Brien Award and also became an honorary member of the Class of 2002. She currently serves as the executive director of Horizons at Westminster.
Prior to Westminster, Kathleen served on the faculty at Deerfield Academy as a German teacher and admissions officer. Before that, she worked in corporate banking for two years in New York City and was awarded a Fulbright grant to teach English and history on former East Germany. She holds a B.A. from Bowdoin College and a M.A.L.S. from Dartmouth College.
Nicole Hood, Upper School Director, Bryn Mawr School, Baltimore, MD
Dr. Nicole Gilpin Hood is currently the Upper School Director of Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, MD.
Prior to this appointment, Dr. Hood served as the director of All-School Programs & Partnerships at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, a private, coeducational day school affiliated with the University of Chicago. In this role, she oversaw faculty professional development, all-school curriculum coordination, and school diversity, equity and inclusion. Previously, Dr. Hood spent eight years at St. Catherine’s School, a JK-12 Episcopal girls school in Richmond, VA, where she served as an English and history teacher, English department chair, and the director of X-term, an Upper School academic enrichment program. She has also taught at Georgia State University, Howard University and Spelman College.
A graduate of National Cathedral School in Washington D.C., Dr. Hood holds a B.A. in city planning from the University of Virginia, an M.A. and PhD in the history of art from the University of Michigan, and a graduate certificate in educational leadership and policy studies from the University of Richmond.
Doug Lyons, Executive Director, Connecticut Association of Independent Schools, Mystic, CT
Doug has been the Executive Director of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools since July 2004. A graduate of Villanova University, Doug has Masters and Doctoral degrees from The University of Pennsylvania. He began his career in public education, serving for twenty years in the New Jersey public schools as a teacher, coach, school principal and Superintendent of Schools. In 1992 he left the Superintendency in Mt. Lakes N.J. to accept the position of Headmaster of the Greenwich Country Day School, Connecticut’s largest independent school.
Dr. Lyons’ publications on education and on parenting have appeared in local, state and national journals and in the popular media, including The New York Times. Doug has served on many non-profit boards and committees, among them the boards of the St. Angela’s School in the South Bronx, N.Y., the Freedoms Foundation in Valley Forge, PA, the United Way, YMCA and The Community Answers Service Organization in Greenwich CT. Doug is currently serving on the Stonington CT Planning and Zoning board and on the vestry of the Calvary Church in Stonington, where he also serves as the President of the Nursery School Board of Trustees.
Doug is a frequent presenter at NAIS Annual Conferences and at regional conferences. He recently served as a featured speaker at the ECIS Leadership Conference in Brussels, Belgium.
Nishant Mehta, Partner, Managing Director and Independent Schools Practice Leader, Storbeck Search, Atlanta, GA
Over a career spanning two decades, Nishant Mehta has worked in or consulted for K-12 schools of all types on issues of leadership, culture, strategy and change management, and equity and justice.
At Storbeck Search, he heads the firm’s Independent Schools practice, recruiting transformational leadership for private, charter, and mission-driven schools across the country. In addition to his active role in executive-level searches, he offers consulting on strategy and DE&I, as well as leadership and governance coaching and training for education and nonprofit organizations.
Prior to joining Storbeck, Nishant served as Head of The Children’s School (TCS), an independent JK-8 school in Atlanta that was lauded in 2017 as a “model to follow” for innovation by NAIS’s "Independent School" magazine. In addition to his leadership of TCS, Nishant has twice co-chaired the National Association of Independent School’s (NAIS) People of Color Conference; served on the faculty of the Student Diversity Leadership Conference and the Diversity Leadership Institute, authored articles for NAIS publications; served on the NAIS and the National Business Officers Association (NBOA) Boards; led workshops on equity and inclusion, and governance and school leadership at national and regional conferences; and was the founder of The Children’s School’s Master Class in Inclusive Leadership, a summer leadership opportunity designed specifically for women and people of color. For three summers now, Nishant has served as a faculty mentor of the NAIS Institute for New Heads, where he coaches new heads of school.
Nishant grew up in Mumbai, India, and came to the United States as a junior in boarding school. He has lived in four countries and is fluent in several languages. Based in Atlanta, he serves on the advisory boards of the Woodruff Arts Center's Alliance Theatre and the Children’s Museum of Atlanta, and on the boards of NBOA and Asheville School. He is a former board chair of the Center for Spiritual and Ethical Education (CSEE). Nishant also serves as a script advisor to the show “Sesame Street,” and he is the founder of The Inclusive Leader Book Club which meets monthly to discuss issues of equity and inclusion in school cultures and communities.
Jim Reese, Director of the Professional Development Collaborative, Washington International School, Washington, DC
Jim Reese is Director of the Professional Development Collaborative at Washington International School. In this role, he coordinates a network of over 2000 educators in the DC area who are interested in pedagogical frameworks and tools that have been developed at Project Zero, a research group at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. Jim has worked with Project Zero as a consultant for nearly 20 years, serving on the faculty of two summer institutes at Harvard, teaching, and coaching in online courses, and directing the off-site Project Zero Perspectives conferences.
Jim started his career in education as a high school English teacher in a northern Virginia public school. He entered the world of international education after moving to Brussels, Belgium, where during a ten-year stint he worked in both British and international schools. Jim holds a B.A. degree from Davidson College, and M.Ed. and Ed.D. degrees from George Washington University.
Guybe Slangen, Director of Community Engagement, San Francisco Friends School, San Francisco, CA
Guybe Slangen is the Director of Community Engagement at San Francisco Friends School, a K-8 Quaker school the Mission District. Guybe comes from an international family of educators—his dad (from Belgium) was a professor for nearly three decades and his mom (from the Philippines) taught in public schools for many years. He joined SFFS in 2009 from the Head-Royce School where he was the Dean of Students. Prior to that, he worked at independent schools in both Colorado and New York. At Friends, his work centers around building and sustaining strong relationships between the school and the greater community, be it in the Mission or around the globe. He manages all grade-level service partnerships, outdoor trips, and co-clerks the school’s Quaker Life Committee. He also helped launch and currently serves on the board of Horizons at SF Friends School, a public-private partnership that supports low-income students in the neighborhood. He has served on the boards of the Northern California POCIS (People of Color in Independent Schools), the Asian Educators Alliance, and has presented workshops nationally on the topics of leadership, diversity, and community engagement. Guybe is a graduate of Dickinson College and completed his Master’s in Educational Leadership at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Guybe lives in Oakland, CA with his partner Susan and their daughter Livi.
Travis Warren, President, K12 Private School Group, Blackbaud
Travis Warren is the president of the K–12 Private School Group for Blackbaud, Travis is responsible for the strategy and day-to-day operations of the company’s school vertical. Prior to Blackbaud, Travis served as the CEO for WhippleHill, a software company he founded in 1998. In just 16 years, Travis helped WhippleHill evolve from homepages to a robust web platform that drives all communication for more than 500 K–12 private schools worldwide before it was acquired by Blackbaud in the summer of 2014.
An expert on technology and the Internet, Travis speaks regularly to school boards and member organizations, including NAIS, CASE, ISANNE, and TABS. He also wrote a chapter in The NAIS Enrollment Management Handbook. Travis was one of four finalists for the New Hampshire High Technology Council’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2015 and a recipient of the CASE Crystal Apple Teaching Award in 2016.
Outside the office, Travis serves on the boards of Proctor Academy—where he attended high school (class of 1991), The Amherst Community Foundation—which he founded, and the National Network of Schools in Partnership (NNSP). He lives in Amherst, New Hampshire with his wife, four children, and a Corgi named Nelly.
Liz Whisnant, Principal, Horace Mann Elementary School, Washington, DC
Liz Whisnant has served as principal of the District of Columbia Public Schools’ Horace Mann ES since 2005. In 2008, she co-founded with several principal colleagues the District of Columbia Collaborative for Change (DC3), a reform structure for school improvement in DCPS whose mission is to craft schools that are inspiring places to teach and learn. She currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Principals’ Center at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and has served as a member of the Chancellor’s Cabinet.
In 2011, Ms. Whisnant was recognized with a Rubenstein Award for Excellence in Leadership and the Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Award. In the same year, Mann Elementary received its 4th Blue Ribbon School Award for Excellence. Prior to Mann, Liz served as the founding academic principal of Trinity Episcopal School, a K-8 school, and Hidden Valley Elementary School, a PreK-6 school, both in Charlotte NC. She also worked in Seattle as a principal coach for the University of Washington’s Center for Educational Leadership.
Liz launched her education career as a classroom teacher in Boston, MA. She holds degrees from Harvard University, Lesley University, the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and recently completed an Executive Masters in Leadership at Georgetown University. She is the proud mother of Max, a Mann graduate and now 10th grader at St. Albans School, and the lucky spouse of Steve Whisnant to whom she is perpetually indebted for his extraordinary example of what it means to lead a purposeful life.
Abigail Williams, Founder and Executive Director, United to Learn, Dallas, TX
Abigail Williams (“Abby”) has been dedicated to the non-profit community for over fifteen years, both as a professional and volunteer. Abby served as Vice President and Director of Charitable Services for Goldman, Sachs & Co. where she was responsible for the development and implementation of the firm’s annual giving efforts totaling $25 million worldwide. After leaving the firm in 2000, she worked as a community development consultant to bridge her for-profit experience with the needs in the non-profit sector. Abby currently serves as Executive Director of United to Learn, an action network of 24 public elementary schools and 18 private institutions coming together to address the inequities that exist in the educational system by uniting the North Dallas community to create meaningful opportunities for all students to learn and lead.
Among her community activities, Abby and her husband helped found the Uplift Williams Preparatory School, a K-12 free tuition public charter school operated by Uplift Education that educates 1,200 primarily low-income children in northwest Dallas. Abby remained actively involved with the school by serving on the Uplift Education Board of Trustees. She participated in the Fellows Program of Leadership ISD, and served on their Board of Directors.
Abby currently serves on the Board of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and the National Network of Schools in Partnership, as well as the Commit Partnership Leadership Council and SMU’s Cox School of Business Executive Council.
Along with her husband, Todd, she is a lead sponsor of the Commit! Partnership. Her past board leadership experience includes serving as co-chair of the Teach For America DFW Regional Board and President to the North Dallas High School Community Board in addition to serving on the board of Dallas CASA. She also served on the Advisory Council for the Austin College GO! Forum, which honors international servant leaders and brings these same leaders to the Dallas area as part of a public lecture series and was a volunteer supporting the Foundation for the Education of Young Women. In her role as an Executive Committee member and Trustee of the Dallas Women’s Foundation (“DWF”) she also chaired the DWF’s 25th Anniversary Celebration raising over $1.25 million for the local community. She has also been a member of the Junior League of Dallas, Dallas Social Venture Partners and The Real Estate Council of Dallas.
Abby graduated Summa Cum Laude from Southern Methodist University, earning a BBA in Finance and BS in Economics. After graduation, Abby accepted a position with Goldman, Sachs & Co. working within the investment and merchant banking divisions for six years before moving into the corporate community involvement area of the firm.
Abby resides in Dallas with her husband Todd and their two youngest sons.
Debra Wilson, President, Southern Association of Independent Schools
Debra grew up in Connecticut, where she graduated from the Williams School, an independent school located on the campus of Connecticut College. Debra received her B.A. in English from Sewanee, The University of the South, and her J.D. from the University of South Carolina at Columbia. She previously served as general counsel for NAIS for 19 years. In addition to her role as chief legal officer, she has presented to school leaders around the country and abroad, including at many SAIS events. SAIS school leaders may also know her from phone calls and emails she’s fielded from member schools facing particular legal or governance issues. Before joining the NAIS staff, Debra was a tax litigator at the Department of Justice.
Mike Wirtz, Head of School, Hackley School, Tarrytown, NY
Michael Wirtz serves as Head of School at Hackley School, a role he has held since 2016. Since joining Hackley as the 12th head of school, he partnered with community members to develop the school's latest strategic plan, which emphasizes the value of a revitalized, broad-based liberal arts approach to K-12 education and includes institutional commitments to service-learning, civic engagement, integrated and sustained DEI work, elevation of the creative arts and technology, outdoor education, and wellness.
Prior to Hackley, Michael served as Assistant Head of School/Dean of Faculty at St. Mark's School (MA) for 6 years. In this role, he provided strategic advice to the Head of School and led the school's STEM education initiative, while overseeing faculty hiring, evaluation, and professional development. Michael came to St. Mark's from Concord Academy (MA), where he taught for 9 years. During this tenure, he served as a chemistry teacher, Science Department Chair, house parent, advisor, and coach. Mr. Wirtz began his teaching career at The Montgomery Academy (AL) after transitioning to education from a research position at Pfizer, Inc.
Michael earned his Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, Summa Cum Laude at Ohio University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, Lambda of Ohio. He earned his Ed. M. in Policy, Planning, and Administration at Boston University.
Susan Zelman, Executive Director, Superintendency, Ohio Department of Education, Columbus, OH
Dr. Susan Tave Zelman is currently the Executive Director, Superintendency at the Ohio Department of Education. She is also president of the Zelman Education Consulting Group. Dr. Zelman recently served as senior vice president for education and children’s programming at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting where she developed policies and programs to integrate public service media into a national reform education agenda. Prior to this position, she was the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Ohio for ten years. During her tenure the state of Ohio went from 29th among states to fifth in the 2009 Education Week Quality Counts Report. National and state results showed that under her leadership average student test scores on state tests increased and that high school students outperformed national SAT and ACT averages. The Goldman Sachs Foundation named Ohio a winner of its Prize for Excellence in International Education citing its innovative programs that prepared Ohio students for the 21st-century global marketplace. She began her career as a high school teacher and held executive posts at the Missouri and Massachusetts Departments of Education and chaired the Department of Education at Emmanuel College in Boston. She held research appointments at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Columbia Teachers College. She is the recipient of three honorary degrees and numerous awards and grants. Gannett Newspaper named Dr. Zelman as one of the most powerful and influential women in the Ohio state government. She holds a PhD in education from the University of Michigan and an A.B. degree in history from Hunter College.
Rod Chamberlain, Director of Consulting Services, Southern Teachers Agency – Board Emeritus
Dr. Chamberlain joined Southern Teachers in August 2020 and coordinates a variety of consulting and coaching services for schools in the South after retiring as Assoc. Head for Academic Affairs at Charlotte Latin School (NC). Prior to that he served as the Head of Schools for the Kamehameha Schools (HI). With more than 7,000 students in preschool through twelfth grade, KS is the largest independent school system in the country with three K-12 campuses and 30 preschools across five islands. Dr. Chamberlain previously was the founding Headmaster of the KS Maui Campus from 2001 to 2006 and has served on both independent and public school association boards. Before coming to KS, Dr. Chamberlain was the Head of School for University Lake School in WI. He also served for more than twenty years at the Milton Hershey School (PA) as a teacher, curriculum coordinator, Assistant to the President for Strategic Planning, and finally as the Dean of Scholastic Affairs, overseeing all components of the educational program.
Dr. Chamberlain completed his B.S. in elementary education at Elizabethtown College (PA) and holds an M.Ed. in teaching and curriculum and D.Ed. in curriculum and supervision from the Pennsylvania State University, where he was named an alumni fellow in 1992.