About Us

Board of Directors
  • Betsy Brand

    Executive Director
    American Youth Policy Forum

    Betsy Brand has served as the Executive Director of AYPF since 2004, and she served as Co-Director of the organization since 1998. Brand has spent her career working on education, workforce, and youth policy and specializes in comprehensive approaches to helping young people be prepared for today’s careers, lifelong learning, and civic engagement.

    Brand's education policy career started when she served as a Legislative Associate for the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor from 1977 to 1983. She subsequently served with Senator Dan Quayle as a Professional Staff Member on the U.S. Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee from 1983 to 1989, where she handled all federal education and training legislation. In 1989, Brand was appointed Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education, under President George H.W. Bush, where she worked for four years. From 1993 to 1998, Brand operated her own consulting firm, Workforce Futures, Inc., which focused on policy and best practices affecting education and workforce preparation. Brand has a B.A. from Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA and serves on various boards, including the Center for Occupational Research and Development, Latin American Youth Center, and Diploma Plus.

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  • Dakarai Aarons

    Vice President, Strategic Communications
    Data Quality Campaign

    Dakarai I. Aarons is Vice President of Strategic Communications for the Data Quality Campaign, where he leads the development and implementation of evidence-based, multi-platform strategic communications, internal knowledge management, and public engagement strategies designed to support DQC’s mission to advance the effective use of education data to improve student achievement.

    He oversees a team of professionals responsible for digital strategy, media outreach, editorial strategy, opinion research, crisis communications, publications, and partner engagement. Dakarai has directed award-winning media and publicity campaigns for national and international organizations and written award-winning journalism on education policy and practice issues.

    Before joining DQC in 2013, Dakarai was director of education outreach and policy for CommunicationWorks, a leading national education public affairs firm. He has also been a reporter for Education Week and The (Memphis, TN) Commercial Appeal. His work has also appeared in The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, The Des Moines Register, and The Dallas Morning News, among other publications.

    Dakarai is an active member and officer of Washington DC’s historic Metropolitan AME Church and is a vice president of the Education Writers Association’s board, a member of the National Press Club and a former committee chairman of the National Association of Black Journalists. He also serves on the City of Hyattsville’s Education Advisory Committee. A Washington, DC native, Dakarai earned a degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he serves on the College of Journalism and Mass Communications’ professional advisory board.

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  • Saba Bireda

    Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP

    Saba Bireda is an attorney at Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP, a national civil rights law firm. She also serves as a member of the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board.

    From 2013-2016, Ms. Bireda served as a member of the senior political staff at the U.S Department of Education. She worked as a senior counsel in both the Office for Civil Rights and the Office of the General Counsel. Ms. Bireda has also served as policy and legal advisor for EducationCounsel LLC providing strategic advice and legal analysis to clients at state education agencies, state-level entities, and nationally- and federally-focused organizations. Ms. Bireda also served as deputy director of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council where she provided management and strategic planning with a focus on education policy, analyzed and provided commentary on proposed legislation and regulations, and provided technical assistance to education advocates working on issues of educational equity. Ms. Bireda also worked for the Center for American Progress as an Education Policy Analyst where she researched and wrote issues briefs and reports on education policy topics including school improvement strategies, fiscal equity, and federal education law. Following law school, Ms. Bireda participated in a public service fellowship, in Philadelphia, where she worked as a staff attorney for the Education Law Center and as a litigation associate for an international law firm. Ms. Bireda began her career in education as a teacher at Sousa Middle School in Washington, DC. Ms. Bireda earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School. During law school, she served as an executive articles editor for the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, teaching assistant to Professor Lani Guinier, and as a student attorney for the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative. Ms. Bireda earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Political Science from Stanford University.

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  • Cynthia Brown

    Senior Fellow
    Center for American Progress

    Cynthia Brown is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP) and served as Director, Renewing Our Schools, Securing Our Future National Task Force on Public Education, a joint initiative of the Center and the Institute for America’s Future. Prior to joining CAP, Brown was an independent education consultant who advised and wrote for local and state school systems, education associations, foundations, nonprofit organizations, and a corporation.

    From 1986 through September 2001, Brown served as Director of the Resource Center on Educational Equity of the Council of Chief State School Officers. She was appointed by President Carter as the first Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education (1980). Prior to that position, she served as Principal Deputy of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s Office for Civil Rights. Brown received her M.A in public administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and B.A. from Oberlin College. She serves on the Board of Directors of the American Youth Policy Forum and Perry Street Preparatory Public Charter School.

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  • Dr. Lorelle L. Espinosa (Secretary)

    Assistant Vice President
    American Council on Education’s (ACE) Center for Policy Research and Strategy

    Dr. Lorelle L. Espinosa is assistant vice president for the American Council on Education’s (ACE) Center for Policy Research and Strategy where she manages the center’s research agenda, with a focus on higher education diversity and equity, public finance, and transformational leadership. Dr. Espinosa has served the higher education profession for over 15 years, beginning in student affairs and undergraduate education at the University of California, Davis; Stanford University; and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    Prior to ACE, Dr. Espinosa served as a senior analyst with Abt Associates, Inc. in Bethesda, Maryland, and as director of policy and strategic initiatives for the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) in Washington, DC. At IHEP, Dr. Espinosa directed the Pathways to College Network of which AYPF was a long-standing member. Dr. Espinosa has contributed opinion and scholarly works to peer-reviewed journals, academic volumes and industry magazines on a variety of topics. She is perhaps most known for her work on diverse students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In 2012, Dr. Espinosa was the recipient of an Australian Endeavour Executive Award sponsored by the Australian government, collaborating on the dual ambitions of the U.S. and Australia to widen their respective STEM pipelines. Dr. Espinosa holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in education from the University of California, Los Angeles; a B.A. from the University of California, Davis; and an A.A. from Santa Barbara City College.

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  • Michelle D. Gillard, Ph.D.

    Michelle Gilliard is a Partner with Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP). Venture Philanthropy Partners is a high engagement philanthropic investment firm which provides significant multi-year growth capital and strategic management support to nonprofits serving children and youth of low-income families in the National Capital Region.

    VPP has adapted the relevant principles of private investment firms and applied them for investing in the nonprofit sector. In her role as Partner, Gilliard manages a multi-million dollar portfolio of nonprofit organizations and initiatives including, Ready for Work: Champions for Career and College Ready Graduates in Prince George’s County, and VPP’s Social Innovation Fund initiative youthCONNECT; conducts due diligence and analysis of investment criteria to select high performing philanthropic investments; assists in the creation of growth-oriented business plans; structures investment parameters; and provides strategic advice designed to assist nonprofit organizations in achieving their proposed social outcomes.. Previously, Gilliard was senior director at the Walmart Foundation, one of the world’s largest corporate foundations. In that role, she provided leadership to the Foundation’s national giving programs including education, economic opportunity, environmental sustainability, women’s economic empowerment, and international giving. While at Walmart she designed large-scale collaborative initiatives to address complex social problems, including the creation of www.MyFreeTaxes.com. For more than 20 years, Gilliard has worked on a broad range of social issues affecting low-income populations including a focus on postsecondary education outcomes, workforce readiness and labor market outcomes, and related social support services. Nonprofit capacity building and expanding educational and occupational opportunity characterize the twin focal points of her work. Previous positions include vice president for programs at the Foundation for Independent Higher Education, vice president for planning and evaluation and executive director of the Consortium for the Advancement of Private Higher Education at the Council of Independent Colleges, and executive advisor at MG Associates. Gilliard received a Ph.D. in higher education from the University of Michigan, a master’s degree in sociology from Brown University, an executive master’s degrees in international service from American University, and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Dayton. She is on the inaugural board of the Excel Center Adult Public Charter School in Washington, DC.

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  • Lydia M. Logan (Vice Chair)

    Education and Foundation Consultant

    Lydia M. Logan is an education and foundation consultant. Logan was previously Managing Director at Chiefs for Change with the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Logan also served as the Senior Director of Policy at the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation where she focused on national policy, Governor Snyder’s education initiatives in Michigan, and investments improving management, human capital, quality, and transparency across District and charter public schools in Washington, DC. Prior to The Broad Foundation, she held the position of Vice President and Executive Director of the Institute for a Competitive Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce where she worked with the business community on national and state policies and programs to improve early childhood, pre-k through post-secondary public education and workforce training. Logan is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

  • James McKenney

    Senior Consultant
    Workforce Institute, Inc.

    Dr. James F. McKenney provides higher educational consulting services in the area of economic/workforce development and international system engagement. Previously, as the Vice President of Economic Development and International Programs, he served as the primary point of interface between AACC and other public/private organizations, agencies and trade associations that focus on economic and workforce development.

    In that capacity, he created the AACC Center for Economic and Workforce Development; a platform from which operated a number of foundation and federally funded contracts and grants, including the AACC/DOL Virtual Career Network. Additionally, in 1994, Dr. McKenney initiated the creation of an on-going national community college workforce-focused conference, the AACC Workforce Development Institute. Also, Dr. McKenney oversaw the development of partnerships and collaborative projects with international organizations/agencies as well as U.S.-based organizations.

    McKenney serves on the boards of the American Youth Policy Forum, the National Commission on Cooperative Education, Higher Education Development, and he has served on the board of Skills USA and CompTIA Workforce Commission.

    Dr. McKenney began his involvement with AACC (1983) in the Office of College Employer Relations, and soon after served as the Assistant Vice President for Federal Relations with responsibilities covering the reauthorization of the Carl Perkins Vocational Education Act and the Job Training Partnership Act. During this timeframe, both the Advanced Technological Education program of the National Science Foundation and the Tech-Prep Education Act were authorized and funded. Dr. McKenney received his Ph. D from the University of Maryland.

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  • Anthony R. Sarmiento (Chair)

    Executive Director
    Senior Service America

    Tony Sarmiento has served as Executive Director of Senior Service America, Inc. (SSAI) since 2000. He has brought a wide range of experience and expertise to advocate for national policy and programs that support low-income older adults.

    Prior to SSAI, Sarmiento worked for more than 20 years with the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) at its national headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he held several senior positions including Assistant Director of its Education Department and Director of Worker-Centered Learning for the Working for America Institute. Before the AFL-CIO, Sarmiento was director of a neighborhood youth organization and then held positions in several District of Columbia government agencies, including the Mayor’s Office of Youth Opportunity Services and the Department of Employment Services. Sarmiento holds a B.A. in American Studies from American University and has studied at Cornell University.

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  • Anthony Shop (Treasurer)

    Chief Strategy Officer & Co-Founder
    Social Driver

    As Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder of Social Driver, Anthony Shop is a pioneer in the field of digital media and online advocacy. A former journalist and press secretary, Anthony is the first new media professional to be elected to the prestigious National Press Club’s Board of Governors. He founded the Club’s popular “Get It Online” digital media series, which has hosted luminaries from USA Today, NASA and The White House to discuss media trends with the national opinion leaders and influencers.

    Starting from a deep belief that the future is bright and people come before technology, Anthony co-founded the digital innovation agency Social Driver in 2009. Social Driver has since been named the 7th fastest growing agency in the United States by The Agency 100, without taking on any outside investors or debt. As Chief Strategy Officer, Anthony has sparked innovative campaigns for a portfolio of clients including Honda, Salesforce and leading nonprofits and associations. Anthony began his career as American Youth Policy Forum’s Communications Associate/Congressional Liaison.

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Thank you for the opportunity to take this trip and to meet others who are concerned with these issues.  It is too easy to get stuck in one little corner of the school reform box and forget all the other components. 

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