The ForwARd Team

Our Leadership Team

ForwARd Arkansas works tirelessly each day to make Arkansas a leading state in education and close the achievement gap within a generation.

Interim Executive Director

Rev. Anderson is serving as interim executive director of ForwARd Arkansas as an executive-on-loan from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, where he is the chief innovation officer. He is one of the founders of ForwARd Arkansas and previously served as the organization’s co-managing director from 2015-17.

Rev. Anderson is a relentless collaborator, building and maintaining local and national partnerships and launching bold initiatives and strategizes to ensure equity for all Arkansans.

He has extensive experience working in nonprofits, including grant writing, budget development, program development and implementation, and media and communications.

Rev. Anderson is currently a BMe Public Voices Fellow and serves on the boards of Arkansas Baptist College, the Urban League of Arkansas, the Association of Black Foundation Executives and Neighborhood Funders Group.

Rev. Anderson understands collaboration because it has been his career. For seven years at The Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, Maryland, he supported state-level child advocacy organizations and helped lead the KIDSCOUNT Initiative.

Rev. Anderson is married to Dr. Phillis Nichols-Anderson, CEO of a national educational management organization. The Andersons have four children—two in college, one making movies in Hollywood and a corporate attorney. They also have two grandchildren.

Associate Director

Cory is associate director of ForwARd Arkansas, helping lead development and implementation of ForwARd’s strategic plan.

Cory is also instrumental in the organization’s partnership with the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE), helping align the agency’s work to the recommendations found within ForwARd’s “New Vision for Arkansas Education.”

Cory previously served as attorney specialist and coordinator of special projects for ADE. Here he oversaw the drafting of rules on a variety of topics, including distance and digital learning, educational options, innovations in curriculum, school finance, school nutrition and special education.

He also helped guide a multi-agency push to upgrade the Arkansas Public School Computer Network, resulting in Arkansas becoming one of only six states to deliver secure, high-speed broadband to all public schools.

Before joining ADE, he was executive director of The First Tee of Central Arkansas, a youth development program focused on introducing young people to positive values through the game of golf, where he led development of the organization and grew the number of children served by 200 percent.

Cory holds a master’s degree from the Clinton School of Public Service, a doctorate in law from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s William H. Bowen School of Law and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

Chief of Staff

Courtney joined ForwARd in 2017 as Chief of Staff, serving as a liaison to ForwARd Community ambassadors and its Implementation Working Group.

Prior to joining ForwARd, Courtney spent 14 years working on Capitol Hill. From 2012 to 2017, she served as Deputy Chief of Staff to a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and managed all operations in his Washington, D.C. office.

While working in Congress, she worked on numerous legislative issues, but focused primarily on legislation associated with banking policy.

Courtney has a bachelor’s degree in letters from the University of Oklahoma.

Policy and Community Engagement Associate

Thurman is from Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He holds a BA in Political Science from Philander Smith College, an M.P.A. from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and a M.P.S. from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

Thurman currently works with ForwARd Arkansas as a Policy and Community Engagement Associate in Lee County (Marianna) and Crossett.

His professional background consists of higher education focusing on academic retention strategies for first generation, low-income college students at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, University of Central Oklahoma and Philander Smith College.

Thurman currently serves on the following boards: Urban League Young Professionals-Central Arkansas (Advocacy Chair), University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service Alumni Advisory Board (Chair-Elect), EyeStrong Board (Vice President) and Arkansas Local Food Network (At-Large Member).

Director of Research and Innovation

Jerri joined ForwARd in 2017 as Director of Research and Innovation, supporting ForwARd initiatives by providing research on education funding, policy, and innovative programs.

Jerri formed Community Resource Innovations in 2015, working with individual communities and their local leaders in underserved areas of the state. Her work with ForwARd allows her to continue that work in small rural towns and school districts.

Jerri also facilitates the work of the Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools, which was formed in 2016.

Her work in education began with serving as legislative fiscal staff. When the Legislature formed a new research unit, she was selected to lead it. In that role, she directed the biennial adequacy studies.

The study is a comprehensive review of the entire state education system which served as the basis of legislative decisions on education funding and policy needs.

Jerri also served as Director of Education Policy for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF), where she focused on policies needed to provide equitable education opportunities for low-income children and families.

Jerri has bachelor’s degrees in social work and computer science, in addition to a master’s degree in education.

Director of Evaluation and Data Quality

Malachi holds a Ph.D. in Education Policy, a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, and a minor in African and African-American Studies from the University of Arkansas.

During his tenure as a student, he served in various positions, including a Robotics Teacher, Director’s Assistant to an AmeriCorps Service Member at Prism Education Center in Fayetteville, AR. His research interests include K-20 education, values-based education, and non-cognitive skills.

He has published in various academic journals including Politics and Policy and the Journal of School Choice. Malachi’s program evaluations include a university level need-based grant program, a university level peer-mentoring program, and pull-out services for students with academic disabilities in K-12.

Senior Consultant, Board and Partner Relations

Celia Swanson is the senior consultant of Board and partner relations for ForwARd Arkansas.

She is a senior executive who spent 25+ years at Walmart Inc. championing its culture and its people. She is notably recognized as the first female executive vice president at Walmart breaking the glass ceiling for women.

Her deep expertise in retail, large-scale transformation, company culture and multi-generational workforce engagement serves as the cornerstone of her career legacy. Swanson is alos known for her community leadership in Northwest Arkansas.

She was recently selected by the Northwest Arkansas business community as the 2016 Athena Woman of the Year for her excellence in community service, board leadership and regional impact in Northwest Arkansas.

She was also the only leader to receive the top two operations awards from Sam’s Club and Walmart U.S. Originally from Nebraska, Swanson is based in Bentonville, Ark. She enjoys traveling, the outdoors and spending time with close friends and family.

Partners

Our partners have collaborated with students, parents, educators, business leaders, and policymakers in an effort to make Arkansas a leading state in education and close the achievement gap within a generation. We are especially grateful to the original members of our Implementation Working Group (listed below) who partnered with ForwARd for the first three years of our existence to help bring our vision into fruition.

Amanda Linn

Arkansas Leadership Academy

Cathy Koehler

Arkansas Education Association

David Rainey

Former Legislator and Former Superintendent

Deborah Coffman

Arkansas Department of Education

Dr. Brett Powell

Henderson State University

Dr. Charisse Childers

Arkansas Department of Career Education

Dr. Ed Franklin

Former Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges

Dr. Jay Barth

Arkansas State Board of Education

Dr. Maria Markham

Arkansas Department of Higher Education

Dr. Michele Linch

Arkansas State Teachers Association

Dr. Mike Hernandez

Arkansas Department of Education

Dr. Peggy Doss

University of Arkansas at Monticello

Ginny Kurrus

US Green Building Council, AR Chapter

John Riggs IV

J.A. Riggs Tractor Company

Joy Springer

Student Advocate

Joyce Elliott

State Senator

Kathy Smith

Walton Family Foundation

Kenya Williams

Community Volunteer

LaDonna Spain

Arkansas Department of Education

Lavina Grandon

Rural Community Alliance

Matt Dozier

EAST Initiative

Randy Zook

Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce

Richard Abernathy

Arkansas Association of Education Administrators (AAEA)

Tonya Williams

Arkansas Department of Human Services