Implementation Working Group
The Implementation Working Group includes several Steering Committee members and additional community leaders committed to making A New Vision of Arkansas Education a reality. Members are collaborating with students, parents, educators, business leaders, and policymakers to make Arkansas a leading state in education and close the achievement gap within a generation.
Dr. Richard Abernathy is the Executive Director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators (AAEA), a position he has held since July 2010. Prior to that he served as the Superintendent of the Bryant School District in Bryant, Arkansas for seven years. At that time Bryant had a student population of over 7,600 students and continues to be one of the fastest growing districts in Arkansas.
Dr. Abernathy began his career in education as a math teacher and coach at Alma. He then moved into administration serving as principal at Lavaca and Clarksville and assistant superintendent and athletic director at Ozark before becoming superintendent at Paris.
Dr. Abernathy serves on several state committees including the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Arkansas Teacher Retirements System.
Dr. Charisse Childers
Dr. Charisse Childers served from 2006–2014 as the executive director of Accelerate Arkansas, an 80-member statewide group of business and education leaders dedicated to knowledge-based economic development in the state of Arkansas. She was appointed director of the Arkansas Department of Career Education in January 2015. She will continue working with leaders around the state on education and economic development policy and career and educational services that prepare our youth and adults for jobs while meeting the needs of our businesses in Arkansas.
Dr. Doss has increased the funding for STEM-trained teachers and has steadily increased the graduation numbers of STEM-trained educators. In the last three years, UAM School of Education graduates have included an Arkansas’s Teacher of the Year, Arkansas Administrator of the Year and Arkansas Superintendent of the Year, while the the School of Education has been consistently ranked in the top 25 for elementary and middle childhood education by the National Council on Teacher Quality.
She has served as the Chair for the Arkansas Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, member of the Act 222 Leadership Coordinating Council, and member of the Arkansas Department of Education’s Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation Partnership Committee.
Senator Joyce Elliott
Joyce Elliott is a member of the Arkansas State Senate. Elected in November 2008, she represents District 31 in Little Rock. A former state representative, Elliott was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives in November 2000, finishing her final term in December 2006 due to term limits.
A native Arkansan, Elliott was born in Willisville, where she graduated from high school. She earned an undergraduate degree in English and speech from Southern Arkansas University and a graduate degree in English from Ouachita Baptist University. For 30 years, Elliott taught high school juniors and seniors in both Advanced Placement and standard courses.
Elliott has a son.
Lavina Grandon is the founder and president of Rural Community Alliance, a statewide nonprofit organization whose purpose is “helping rural schools and communities survive and thrive.” A retired teacher with 32 years of experience in rural schools, she led the opposition in 2003 to the efforts to consolidate all schools in Arkansas with under 1,500 enrollment. She lives in north central Arkansas, where she coordinates a food pantry and helped form a school foundation. Grandon is a past board member of the Valley Springs School District and The Rural School and Community Trust, and she currently serves on the boards of Southern Echo, the Valley Springs Foundation and the Rural Schools Collaborative.
Jared Henderson is the project manager for the ForwARd Arkansas initiative and co-chair of the Implementation Working Group. As a fourth generation Arkansan and a product of Arkansas’ public schools, Jared has fierce pride for his home state and fully believes that it can ultimately be one of the first in the nation to provide all its children with the opportunity to attain an excellent education.
Jared started his career as an operations manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He later joined McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, where he served as an advisor to two mayors, a governor, a state superintendent of education and numerous Fortune 100 executives. For the last three years, he has worked for Teach For America as a senior vice president and executive director of the Arkansas Region. Since 2014, he has served on the Board of AR Kids Read.
Jared holds undergraduate degrees in computer science and physics from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and was a Dean’s Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he earned a Master’s Degree in public administration.
Cathy Koehler is President of the Arkansas Education Association.
Dr. Michele Ballentine-Linch
Dr. Michele Ballentine-Linch has served in education for more than 20 years and now is executive director for the Arkansas State Teachers Association, a state chapter of AAE. After serving as a science teacher, Linch pursued a doctorate at the University of Arkansas, where she became director of the Arkansas Leadership Academy’s Teacher Leadership Institute, a post she held for more than 10 years. She has performed faculty and administrative assignments at Arkansas Tech University, University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Arkansas Baptist College. Linch’s work with educators has taken her throughout Arkansas and the United States and to underserved schools in rural China. She serves as a Governor’s appointee to the Arkansas Legislative Desegregation Litigation Oversight Committee and Taskforce and serves on the board of the Arkansas Dressage Society. She and her husband, Perry, have two children.
Dr. Maria Markham
Markham is director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.
Dr. Brett Powell
Dr. Brett Powell is the director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE). As director, he is responsible for overseeing the policy directives of the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board and developing funding recommendations for the state’s 11 public universities, 22 public two-year colleges and other post-secondary entities.
Before coming to ADHE, Powell served as vice president for administrative services at Ouachita Baptist University from 2006 to 2015. He also served as associate vice chancellor for finance at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and director of financial services at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
Powell holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Louisiana, Monroe, as well as a master’s of business administration and a doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He also holds an Arkansas license as a certified public accountant.
Powell is a member of the Governor’s Cabinet, vice chair of the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet and a board member for the Arkansas 529 College Savings Plan and the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault. He and his wife, Stacey, are the parents of one daughter, Chandler.
John Riggs IV
John Riggs IV is chairman of J. A. Riggs Tractor Company, an industrial and construction equipment distribution company serving customers in and around Arkansas. He is the fourth generation of the Riggs family to be a leader in this business. Prior to being named president in 1995, Riggs held various positions within the company in sales, rental, marketing and used equipment. He is active in civic and community affairs in Arkansas and the greater Little Rock area.
Riggs previously served in the Arkansas State Senate, representing District 16. He served on the education committee, as well as several other committees. In addition to his elected post, he has served on the boards of Volunteers in Public Schools, the Pulaski County United Way, Arkansas Business and Education Alliance, and Philander Smith College. Riggs was elected to and served on the Little Rock School District Board of Education from 1992-1999. He is a member of the Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and is currently the vice chairman of the State Board of Career Education.
As a senior program officer for the Walton Family Foundation, Kathy Smith is responsible for education initiatives that promote the principles of accountability, transparency, choice and incentives. She has spent more than 30 years in public education in Oklahoma and Arkansas, first as a high school English teacher and eventually moving to district secondary curriculum director. Smith holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Southwestern Oklahoma State University and a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Arkansas.
Joy Springer has been an advocate for Arkansas students for over 20 years. She has served on the Magnet Review Committee, Community Advocates for Public Education (CAPE) and the Little Rock School Board. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a master’s degree in Educational Leadership.
Springer is active in many community organizations, including Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated; the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church; Ward Chapel AME Church; Clementine Mathis Rouse Scholarship Fund; Henderson State University Black Alumni; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Wright Avenue Neighborhood Association. She lives in Little Rock with her husband, Horace L. Springer, III.
Raised in a family of educators, Kenya Williams had the support of a grandmother – a retired schoolteacher – who encouraged her to enter the field of education as a way of reaching and improving the community and as a career.
Williams volunteers at Union Parish Domestic Abuse Unit and creates lesson plans for the women of Union Parish Detention Center. She also has served as an intern for the Social Security Administration and has conducted studies of the South Arkansas Community College Remediation Program.
Williams attended South Arkansas Community College and Grambling State University. She has a bachelor of science degree in social science education and a master’s degree in public administration and developmental education concentrating in guidance and counseling and curriculum and instruction.
Williams currently co-chairs the Strong-Community leadership alliance and works closely with the Arkansas Public Policy Panel and the Opportunity to Learn Campaign. She is a member of the Batts-Lapile Water Association Board of Trustees and the South Arkansas Adult Education Advisory Council.
Williams is married and has five children.
Dr. Jay Barth
Dr. Jay Barth is the M.E. and Ima Graves Peace professor and Bill and Connie Bowen Odyssey professor of politics and director of civic engagement projects at Hendrix College. He is currently serving on the Arkansas State Board of Education.
He is the co-author of the second edition of Arkansas Politics and Government: Do the People Rule? and produced a report studying the “cradle to prison pipeline” in Arkansas that highlights how quality education can reduce the chance of young people going to prison. He has served on the Task Force on Best Practices in After-School and Summer Programs, was named Arkansas Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and received the Steiger Congressional Fellowship from the American Political Science Association. He previously served on the staff of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn. Currently, Barth serves as Senior Southern Area Director for the National Association of State Boards of Education Board of Directors.
A native of Saline County, Barth is a graduate of Little Rock Catholic High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Hendrix and master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Coffman assumed the role as chief of staff in June of 2013. She serves as the liaison for the State Board of Education and organizes the Board’s monthly meetings. She also facilitates activities of the Office of the Commissioner and coordinates special projects in support of the department’s strategic initiatives. Before she accepted the position, Coffman served as the director of Professional Development for the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE). In that role, she collaborated with many stakeholders to provide quality professional learning opportunities to Arkansas educators. She has also served as literacy program manager for ADE, instructional facilitator for Pocahontas Public Schools, literacy specialist at the Northeast Education Service Cooperative and elementary teacher at Hoxie Public Schools. Coffman holds a bachelor of science in education and a master of science in education from Arkansas State University. In addition, she has previously served as an adjunct professor, GED instructor and private school educator. Coffman is a native of Black Rock.
Matt Dozier is president and CEO of the EAST Initiative (Environmental and Spatial Technology), an innovative educational reform effort that combines student developed community service projects with sophisticated technology. The EAST model has been recognized by the Federal Departments of Education and Labor, among other groups, as an innovative, relevant and successful approach to education.
Dozier first became affiliated with EAST in 1998 while teaching at North Pulaski High School in Jacksonville, becoming the first facilitator of that program. He soon became a member of the first EAST Professional Development training team, helping to develop curriculum and train hundreds of teachers as the EAST program spread to more than 200 schools in eight states. In 2001, Dozier joined the EAST staff full time, serving variously as the Initiative’s communication director, assistant program director and national program director. He was named EAST CEO in 2007.
Dozier is currently serving on the Arkansas Leaders Advisory Council for the Arkansas Discovery Network, is a member of the Arkansas State GIS Board Advisory Panel, and was inducted into the Arkansas Academy of Computing in 2011. In 2013, he was named a finalist in Arkansas Business’ Nonprofit Executive of the Year awards and led EAST to a Nonprofit Organization of the Year finalist recognition in 2014. He is the editor of Autism is Not a Life Sentence: How One Family Took on Autism and WON! by Lynley Summers.
Dr. Ed Franklin
Dr. Franklin is currently president of Franklin Educational Consulting providing work in strategic planning, student success, executive coaching, coaching for Achieving the Dream and is working as a Senior Fellow for the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. He is the former executive director of the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges (AATYC).
Franklin has over 37 years experience working at community and technical colleges in three states. He has served as chair of the National Council of State Directors of Community Colleges; on the board of the Arkansas Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Technology Coalition; as vice-chair of the Connect Arkansas Board; and as a member of the Accelerate Arkansas Board. Governor Mike Beebe also appointed him to serve on the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet.
Susan Bonesteel Harriman
Susan Bonesteel Harriman is the executive director of ForwARd Arkansas. She leads the collective, statewide action necessary to realize the vision of ForwARd that every Arkansan will graduate high school prepared for college and the workplace.
Starting in 2010, Harriman served as the policy and special projects director at the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE). She helped develop a statewide STEM initiative that includes New Tech Network, Project Lead the Way, EAST Core and UTeach teacher preparation programs such as UALRTeach, UAteach and UCA STEMteach that are preparing qualified STEM and computer science teachers throughout the state. She also helped managed the No Kid Hungry campaign, Act 1181 for improving state government efficiencies and other initiatives.
Prior to working at the ADE, she served as the director of state services at the National Center for Education Achievement, the Secretary’s Regional Representative at the U.S. Department of Education and founding executive director at the Texas Public Education Reform Foundation.
Susan holds a Master’s degree of Education and a lifetime teaching certificate. She previously taught academically challenged high school students at a public school in Texas, as well as graduate courses for a teacher certification program at a public university.
Dr. Mike Hernandez
Dr. Mike Hernandez has served as the Superintendent of the Hot Springs School District since July 1 of this year. He was the former Deputy Commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education. As deputy commissioner, Hernandez worked with ADE, legislators and school districts on finance, legislation and other education issues. Hernandez served as the assistant commissioner of Fiscal and Administrative Services for before being named deputy commissioner. Prior to working for ADE, Hernandez served as superintendent at Danville Public Schools, was the principal/athletic director for Western Yell County High School in Havana, and taught in Fountain Lake Schools in Hot Springs, Hot Springs Middle School, Danville High School and Marion Abramson High School in New Orleans. He has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Arts in Mathematics Education from the University of Central Arkansas at Conway. He received his teacher certification in math, science and physical education from the University of New Orleans. Hernandez also received a Master of Arts in Education Leadership and recently completed his doctoral degree in Education Leadership from Harding University at Searcy. He lives with his wife Susan and three daughters in Hot Springs.
Ginny Kurrus is the Education Director of the US Green Building Council – Arkansas Chapter. Her primary responsibilities are educational and community outreach. She is the coordinator of the Arkansas Green Schools Challenge, a free program for any K-12 school in Arkansas where school teams are paired with professional USGBC mentors to choose and implement a program to ‘green’ their school.
For the past 25 years she has served as a community volunteer, primarily in the area of education. Ginny served as state president for Arkansas PTA in 2007-2009, is a past president of the Little Rock PTA Council, and was awarded the Jane Mendel Award for outstanding volunteer in the Little Rock School District in 2004. Ginny also served on the Arkansas Department of Education’s Common Core Implementation Task Force.
A native of St. Louis, she graduated from the University of Missouri in 1979 with a BSBA in Finance and Economics, and worked as a commercial lending officer for banks in Dallas, TX, and Little Rock. She currently serves on the board of the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas and the local leadership board for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Ginny is married to Baker Kurrus and has three adult children: Madeline Kurrus Moore, Sarah Kurrus, and Andrew Kurrus.
Since 2008, Amanda Linn has been the curriculum coordinator, lead facilitator and lead learning designer for the Arkansas Leadership Academy. Before working for the Academy, Linn taught Art History and Advanced Art Studio courses for 17 years in the Benton Harmony Grove School District and Parkview Arts/Science Magnet High School in the Little Rock School District. In 2001, Linn achieved certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and was named a Milken Family Foundation Educator in 2005. She holds a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Central Arkansas, a master’s degree in Teaching, Learning and Leadership from Arkansas Tech University and is completing doctoral studies in Adult and Lifelong Learning at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. The daughter of public school educators, Linn was born in Conway, raised in Hughes and has lived in Little Rock since 1991.
Suzann McCommon currently serves as the superintendent and CEO of the Helena-West Helena Public School District and the director of the Great Rivers Educational Service Cooperative. She previously worked as a special education supervisor and coordinator of the gifted and talented program for Helena-West Helena School district. Throughout her career, she has developed extensive experience in crafting and implementing state and federal education grants.
Suzann received her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in early childhood education from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. She is a certified elementary school principal, special education supervisor, elementary supervisor and curriculum specialist. She also holds a superintendent’s licensure and is an active member of the West Helena Methodist Church.
David Rainey is a former superintendent, state representative, and visiting professor at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. At the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, he managed a partnership between the university and five school districts to improve reading, math and English K-12. Prior to his work there, he served as a program manager with the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL). In this role, he managed the intensive site work in the five states served by SEDL – Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. This major research initiative was designed to assist districts and schools in working systemically to improve student achievement in reading and math. Researchers studied the transformation of low-performing schools into high-performing schools and developed procedural knowledge for practitioners and policy makers. Prior to moving into this position, Rainey was director of the Southeast Comprehensive Assistance Center, where he managed the delivery of technical assistance and professional development services at the state and district level in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. This work involved coordination and collaboration with the state departments of education and regional service centers in each state to assist local school districts in implementing the Improving America’s Schools Act.
Before joining SEDL in 1996, Rainey served three years as director of the Arkansas School for Mathematics and Sciences. Prior to that he enjoyed 13 years as a building administrator with the Dumas Public Schools – one year as assistant high school principal, six years as junior high school principal, and six years as high school principal.
Rainey holds a doctor of education degree in educational administration and supervision from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, a master of arts degree in secondary school administration from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, and a bachelor of science degree in history and government from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Sherece Y. West-Scantlebury
Sherece Y. West-Scantlebury is president and CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, a private, independent foundation whose mission is to improve the lives of all Arkansans in three interrelated areas: economic development; education; and economic, racial and social justice. Involved in philanthropy for more than 20 years, West-Scantlebury served as CEO at the Foundation for Louisiana and as a program associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Her professional career includes nearly 30 years of experience in community development, public policy and advocacy, and public service. In addition to running the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, West-Scantlebury is active in a number of nonprofits and philanthropy organizations.
Her educational background includes a Ph.D. in public policy from the University of Maryland and a master of arts degree in public policy from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. In addition, she has been a fellow at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Policy Institutes and a 2003-04 Emerging Leaders Fellow, a joint program of Duke University and the University of Cape Town in South Africa. She completed undergraduate studies at Bowie State University.
During her career, she has been involved with numerous associations and professional organizations including Association of Black Foundation Executives, Bank of the Ozarks, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, Center on Community Philanthropy, University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service Center Rural Policy Research Institute Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, and the Arkansas Women’s Leadership Forum.
She is a 2007 Telly Award winner for work as executive producer of the social documentary Power in the People and is a 2008 graduate of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Arkansas Class. In 2013, she was named a Woman of Influence by the Arkansas Business Journal and was included on its Top 180 Power List in 2008, 2009 and 2011.
LaDonna Spain is an Arkansas Comprehensive School Improvement Process (ACSIP) State Administrator for the Arkansas Department of Education. She served as gifted and talented and Advanced Placement coordinator in the McGehee School District and taught in the Tiller School District, Delta Special School District and McGehee School District.
She graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, earned a P-12 master’s degree in gifted and talented education from the University of Arkansas in Little Rock and a master’s degree in P-12 educational leadership from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia. In 2017, Spain is expected to complete an Educational Specialist degree from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia.
As school improvement specialist, Spain serves Arkansas all school districts and schools with school improvement needs by providing technical assistance services including academic distress districts and schools, priority schools, and focus schools. As an ACSIP State Administrator, she creates and provides professional development, technical assistance, and support for the overall general needs for school improvement across the state. She has lectured nationally and in Arkansas on a variety of topics including school improvement processes, federal programs, state categorical programs, Arkansas Comprehensive School Improvement Planning, budgeting, comprehensive needs assessment, and using school improvement web-based tools.
Spain lives in Monticello with her husband. She has three daughters.
Tonya Williams is director of the Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education at the Arkansas Department of Human Services
Randy Zook is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Arkansas. Prior to taking the helm of the State Chamber/AIA, Randy was the Deputy Director of Administration and Finance for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
For 34 years, he worked for Atlantic Envelope Company of Atlanta, Georgia, a $200-million manufacturer of custom-printed envelopes and business products, serving as President and CEO of the company from 1989 to 2004. He is currently serving on the boards of KIPP Schools in Helena-West Helena, Junior Achievement of Arkansas and McGehee Farm & Real Estate Co.
He and his wife, Diane, have three grown children and five above-average grandchildren.