Paymon Rouhanifard
Co-founder & CEO

Paymon Rouhanifard previously served as the superintendent of Camden, New Jersey from 2013 to 2018 where he helped lead improvements in student outcomes, reductions in out-of-school suspensions, stronger family engagement, and critical capital investments in school facilities.

John White
Co-founder & Board Chair

John White was named Louisiana State Superintendent of Education in January of 2012. That year he launched Louisiana Believes, the state’s plan to ensure every child is on track to a college degree or a professional career.

Kristen Smith
Program Director, Louisiana

Kristen Smith started her career as an Early Head Start educator, an instructor within a model college-in-prison program, and taught English IV, English III Honors, Technical Writing, and Social Studies. She has also published a narrative on black girls in education in the hip-hop-informed social justice anthology, Wish to Live: The Hip-Hop Feminism Pedagogy Reader.

Debra Kurshan

Debra Kurshan previously served as a Vice President in EY-Parthenon’s Education Practice where she consulted with school districts and foundations related to strategy, district finance and organizational redesign. Prior to joining EY-Parthenon, Kurshan served as the Chief Turnaround Officer at the Connecticut State Department of Education.​

Laura Jakimowicz
Program Director, New Jersey

Jakimowicz previously served as the Program and Policy Analyst for the Rowan University/Rutgers-Camden Board of Governors where she supported the development and coordination of academic programs focused in the health sciences. Prior to that she worked as a Program Manager for Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers supporting regional and national education and training programs in healthcare. Laura Jakimowicz started her career as a Program Assistant for the Rutgers Future Scholars program. She holds a BA in Urban Studies from Rutgers University.

Erin Bendily
Executive Director, Louisiana

Erin Bendily has devoted her entire career to public service in her home state of Louisiana, supporting university research programs at the state’s higher education agency, managing a congressional district office, and serving as the governor’s education advisor. After those roles, for nearly a decade she served as the state department of education’s assistant superintendent for policy and governmental affairs, developing and implementing the state’s nationally recognized plan for school improvement and educational advancement.

Executive Director, New Jersey



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