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.

Executive Director

Ben joined ForwARd Arkansas in July 2020 to lead the organization’s work to develop and support the broad implementation of innovative solutions to improve learning and career outcomes for all Arkansas students.

Throughout his career in education, Ben has focused on deeply engaging leaders, educators and communities in developing innovative approaches to address challenges at the system, school and classroom levels.

Prior to joining ForwARd, Ben served as co-founder and executive director of Fremont Street, a national nonprofit philanthropy focused on catalyzing locally-led innovation in schools and communities across the country.

Previously, Ben served as Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at eSpark Learning, a digital learning software company. He also spent more than five years as Director of Program Investments at The Chicago Public Education Fund, a venture philanthropy dedicated to improving Chicago’s public schools.

Before transitioning into education, Ben spent almost 10 years in customer-focused roles at various technology companies, including Sun Microsystems.

Ben earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Notre Dame and a Masters in Education Policy and Management from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.

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.