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Staff

We come from different backgrounds with different experiences, knowledge, and skills. What we share is a genuine and personal commitment to helping public school educators prepare students for college, work, and life.

  • Robert Adams Jr.

    Senior Vice President of Programs

    Robert’s favorite teacher growing up was Mrs. Cherry, his sixth-grade teacher in Goldsboro, North Carolina, because she loved her students and demanded excellence.

    Now, Robert leads the Foundation’s programs for individual educators, including professional development opportunities, educator collaboration, and small grants to fund new courses. He oversees the Global Learning Fellowship and Grants to Educators programs.

    He brings 17 years of philanthropic experience and 30 years of international experience to the Foundation. Robert’s unique perspective on education and leadership comes from conducting research in Brazil, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Mozambique, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, and the United States. At the Foundation, Robert leverages his experience to help educators become leaders in the classroom and beyond.

    Outside of work, he’s often found reading – he’s a fan of international mystery thrillers. Maybe they remind him of his own travels.

     

  • Juliana Avery

    Communications Manager

    Juliana was lucky to have a lot of great teachers, but her favorite was drama teacher Michael D’Anna. He sparked her interest in playwriting and pushed her to pursue all kinds of different opportunities in theater, including a major in dramatic writing.

    Now Juliana continues to tell stories at the NEA Foundation. She shares the stories of the amazing educators that we support and makes sure that everyone from the community to their local NEA affiliate to the media knows about the great work they’re doing. She spreads the word on our website, on our social media, and in our written materials.

    Juliana also comes to the Foundation with experience not only in storytelling but also in education nonprofits. Through her prior work, she’s seen the importance of treating education holistically, supporting students, educators, families, and communities.

    Juliana’s love for theater continues in her part-time work at a local theater. She’s dipped her toe in performance as well, having previously tried out her trapeze and aerial skills.

  • Meghan Berka

    Program Assistant

    Meghan doesn’t have a favorite teacher because it was too hard to choose between all of the wonderful teachers at Handley Elementary School. Each of them approached their work with creativity, energy, and kindness.

    Now, Meghan’s giving back to educators – she helps the Foundation’s program team ensure that schools, educators, and students get the support they need through the Foundation’s work.

    Before coming to the Foundation, Meghan worked to build opportunities for community engagement in public schools. She was inspired by resourceful, collaborative, and dedicated individuals who recognize the potential of all students. She believes that supporting and empowering teachers leads to student success, and her work at the Foundation gives her the opportunity to build that support and empowerment.

    Meghan enjoys a healthy serving of fruit in her diet. Though she has no desire to live in the Greek Underworld, she likes to relax by meticulously disassembling pomegranates.

  • Megan Berry

    Development Associate

    Megan’s favorite teacher was Mr. Mitchell, her middle school agriculture teacher. He didn’t teach out of a textbook–the most important thing to him was experiencing learning firsthand, whether it was in shop class, forestry, or dairy judging. What’s more, he taught his students how to act like mature adults in the real world.

    Megan Berry makes sure the Foundation has the funding and resources needed for its many programs. She communicates with funders on the Foundation’s programs and their impact on students and educators.

    Megan brings experience in nonprofit fundraising to the Foundation, but for her, the biggest draw was the opportunity to improve public education. As a product of the public school system herself and the daughter of a passionate and accomplished public school teacher of more than 30 years, she knows firsthand how important public education is.

    In her spare time, Megan enjoys piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. Her life goals include traveling the world and someday holding a sloth. Check back for an updated staff photo if Megan ever realizes her dream.

  • Annelise Cohon

    Program Manager

    Annelise still keeps in touch with her high school theater teacher, JC Svec. Under his mentorship, she managed more than 10 high school theater productions and a few off-Broadway plays in New York City. She credits her love of Wendy Wasserstein and local theater to those formative years behind the stage.

    Today, Annelise continues her work with educators to help students thrive. She collaborates with educators across the country to ensure that kids get the nutrition they need in order to learn. She also helps educators and districts better serve students’ health and basic needs so they can succeed in all aspects of their lives.

    Annelise is an aspiring photographer and poet. While living in Haifa, Israel she joined a poetry club and had one of her pieces published in the local newspaper. In her free time, Annelise can be found at the local farmer’s market with her husband or at Dupont Circle Yoga.

  • Liz Dunning

    Senior Vice President of Programs

    Liz’s third grade teacher, Mr. Hagar, challenged his students to do their best work while letting them know every day that he loved them.

    Now Liz has her own children, who would say that her job is asking good questions. Liz guides the design, implementation, and management of programs affecting the Foundation’s mission and activities to strengthen public education. She works with a talented team to support educators and school districts in STEM, social and emotional learning and breakfast in the classroom.

    At the Foundation, Liz uses her skills and expertise in nonprofit management and organizational development every day. With experience in business, nonprofits, and consulting, she helps ensure the Foundation’s programs are effective and efficient. For Liz, the Foundation is one of the best places in the country to connect with educators for knowledge and understanding of the big issues in public education today.

    In her spare time, Liz warms up for her marathons by running after her two energetic young boys.

  • Jesse Graytock

    Program Manager

    Jesse says that choosing a favorite teacher is like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. But he has wonderful memories of kindergarten teacher Mrs. Longo, who was incredibly patient and comforting to a frightened five-year-old. She even brought him ice cream after he had his tonsils removed.

    Now Jesse gets a chance to support educators like Mrs. Longo every day. He manages the Foundation’s Student Achievement and Learning & Leadership grant programs, as well as the STEM initiative.

    After studying business administration and taking graduate courses in education at Bucknell University, Jesse found his niche in education grants over a decade ago. He loves the opportunity his job gives him to meet amazing educators all across this country. He came to the Foundation in the midst of a quarter-life crisis, and the mission, staff, and programs clicked immediately. He’s been here ever since.

    Jesse finished 67th in the Boston Marathon once, but his proudest achievement was creating and organizing a competitive eating contest in his hometown of Forest City, Penn. He treasures the memory of watching a person eat 50 pierogis in 10 minutes.

  • Eric James

    Chief Financial Officer

    Eric’s favorite teacher was Maureen Dincher, his high school British literature teacher. She inspired a love of the material and connected with her students beyond the classroom.

    Eric serves as the Foundation’s Chief Financial Officer. He is responsible for finances, administration, human relations, and IT needs. He keeps the lights on – literally – at the Foundation.

    He brings fifteen years of nonprofit experience and a CPA license to his role, as well as a lifelong appreciation for teachers. His mother taught elementary and middle school in Maryland for 41 years and is a lifetime NEA member. He believes there is no finer mission than working on behalf of our nation’s public school students and educators.

    Eric loves to spend time with his family, entertain, and regale his colleagues with fascinating tales from his time spent working at the National Zoo.

  • Meg Porta

    Chief Operating Officer

    Of the many great educators Meg remembers, one of her favorites was Miss Larsen, who frequently led her class of second graders in musical noise-making. While Miss Larsen played her orange upright piano, her students banged enthusiastically at a variety of percussion instruments. Miss Larsen also let students choose their own extra-credit spelling words – including supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

    As Chief Operating Officer, Meg oversees the Foundation’s communications, resource development and organizational planning efforts, ensuring that everyone is seamlessly working together to keep the promise of public education.

    Her 25 years of experience in nonprofit management and resource development and her education background in public policy give her the skills to build the Foundation’s partnerships and strategy. Meg sees public education as a cornerstone of democracy and believes that educators are key to building quality public schools.

    Possibly as a result of Miss Larsen’s musical encouragement, Meg loves to see live music and goes to numerous performances each year.

  • Harriet Sanford

    President & CEO

    Harriet Sanford is the President and CEO of the NEA Foundation, a position she has held since 2005. The Foundation is a public charity founded by educators for educators to improve public education for all students. Since its beginning in 1969, the Foundation has served as a laboratory of learning, offering funding and other resources to public school educators, their schools, and their districts to solve complex teaching and learning challenges. During her 12-year tenure with the Foundation, Sanford has transformed the depth and breadth of its programs and grantmaking by investing in educators to improve their instructional practice and unleash their own power, ideas and voices, so that communities, schools and students all benefit.

    Sanford began her professional journey as a public school classroom teacher, which led to a senior executive career spanning more than 30 years with nonprofit and public organizations, including the Arts and Science Council in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the Fulton County Arts Council, in Georgia. Immediately prior to joining the NEA Foundation, Sanford served as the conceptual lead and manager of “South by South Africa: Crafting Cultural Understanding,” a project that built economic links and cultural understanding between South Africa and U.S. partner cities. Her career is bound together by an unwavering commitment to strengthening community by building on the skills, talents and aspirations of each of its members. Sanford has managed annual budgets of more than $18 million and capital funds of $200 million. A recognized specialist in the field of charitable fundraising, Sanford has led several initiatives that have raised more than $72 million to support the mission of various nonprofit organizations. She also has served as a member of the Board of Directors of more than a dozen nonprofits, contributing her vision and leadership expertise to these institutions. For example, Sanford helped guide the merger of the National Association of Local Arts Agencies with the American Council for the Arts that resulted in the formation of Americans for the Arts, a major arts advocacy organization.

    Numerous groups, such as the North Carolina Arts Education Association, Americans for the Arts, National Black Arts Festival, the National Association of Counties, and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, have recognized Sanford’s contributions to the advancement of public and arts education, culture, and cultural understanding. Through the generous support of grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation, Sanford also served as a United States Information Agency (USIA) fellow to South Africa in the late 1990s. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Active Citizen Project, DC Jazz Festival, Caversham Centre (South Africa), Editorial Projects in Education, the Hispanic College Fund, and the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. She also is an advisor to First Book, a donor advisory group member of the Communities for Just Schools Fund and a member of the International Women’s Forum of Washington, D.C.

    Sanford holds a BA in Education from New England College, a MPA from the University of Connecticut, and was awarded the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education in 2015.

  • Kristen Shannon

    Program Manager

    High school social studies teacher Mr. Pozniak, a.k.a. “Poz,” opened Kristen’s eyes to the politics, histories, and cultures of less well known regions and countries. He invited natives of those countries and Peace Corps volunteers who’d served there to share their lived experiences. With a student population that was 90 percent African American, he highlighted the diversity, achievements, and culture of the African continent. His teaching inspired Kristen to study international affairs and to study abroad in college.

    With that experience as a background, Kristen now works to strengthen students’ global citizenship through the Foundation’s global programs, including the Global Learning Fellowship. She considers her job the perfect blend of international and domestic, following in Poz’s footsteps of opening students’ and educators’ eyes to other cultures and histories.

    While traveling in Peru with the Global Learning Fellows, Kristen tried her most unusual dish: guinea pig! Luckily, they’d prepared it to look more like pulled pork than her grade school pet, but she declined to taste the tail and eye.

  • Melissa Slaughter

    Vice President of Development

    Melissa’s middle school history teacher helped spark her love of history, eventually leading to a degree in the subject.

    At the Foundation, Melissa plays a key role in expanding and diversifying the Foundation’s donor base and increasing external support for our programs. As the parent of three young children, the eldest two being in Arlington County public elementary schools, she’s passionate about the Foundation’s mission of advancing student achievement by investing in public education.

    Melissa has over ten years of fundraising experience, including work at Johns Hopkins Medicine, American University Washington College of Law, and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. With experience raising support from individuals, corporations, and foundations, she’s well-placed to ensure the Foundation has the resources to continue supporting public education.

    A global explorer, Melissa has hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. She’s traveled in Europe throughout Great Britain, Ireland, Spain, and Italy, as well as visited Paris and Prague. She’s also been to Morocco, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, and 36 U.S. states.

  • Anna Smith

    Database Coordinator

    Always the diplomat, Anna has two favorite teachers. Her fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Wyatt, always encouraged her to reach higher and imagine what she could be. And her 12th grade government teacher, Mr. Weber, taught not only civics but also wisdom and integrity.

    Anna manages the Foundation’s databases and answers teachers’ questions about membership, grants, and the NEA Foundation in general. After working on contracts in the corporate sector, she’s happy to have a job where she can help educators realize their innovative ideas.

    Anna is an intellectual — in her spare time, she enjoys researching Biblical history.

  • Edith Wooten

    Senior Vice President of Communications

    It’s hard for Edith to pick a favorite teacher beyond her mother, who jumped rope with her students in platform heels and made home visits to get to know their parents. But Edith’s had quite a few great teachers who inspired her to love learning. Mrs. Smith fed Edith’s love of reading and writing and running and the outdoors. Mrs. Thayer rocked U.S. History. Mr. Brady developed her curiosity about the beautiful intricacies of nature. Ms. Werman opened her mind to French, Baudelaire, and exploring another culture.

    Now Edith applies her love of learning as the architect of the NEA Foundation’s communications strategy. She works with Foundation staff and partners to tell stories that show the value and impact of the Foundation’s work.

    Edith has been a communicator for her whole career, and she uses that experience every day at the Foundation. She also uses the deep connection to education that comes from having teachers as mother, grandmother and grandfather, sister, two nieces, and a cousin.

    Edith’s communications experience includes a unique job – she spent a year doing communications for a USAID-funded project supporting Romania’s transition from communism to a free-market economy.

  • Jessica Wechter

    Special Assistant to the President & CEO

    Jessica’s favorite teachers include her high school visual art instructor, Susan Parker, who taught her hands-on darkroom photography skills and connected her to community projects and resources. Her middle school algebra teacher, Sean Dillon, mixed just the right blend of encouragement, humor, and tough love to push his students to enjoy and understand math.

    Jessica Wechter works closely with the president and CEO on the Foundation’s programming and operations, making sure everything runs smoothly across departments and with the board of directors.

    She built her multi-tasking skills through her work managing projects at a national philanthropic association, where she also began thinking about the “how” and “why” of an organization’s work. Jessica sees high-quality education as foundational to improving people’s lives. This shared value, along with an interest in working more closely with programs and nonprofit governance, drew her to the Foundation.

    A fan of the outdoors, Jessica loves to go hiking and recently trekked along Portugal’s southern coastline, from Lisbon to Sagres. Here in DC, she gets her hiking fix taking her two rescue Labrador retrievers for walks.

  • Zhen Xiao

    Finance Associate

    Zhen’s favorite teacher was his high school history teacher, who was passionate about her work and cared deeply about her students.

    Zhen assists with the Foundation’s financial operations. He works to reduce costs and streamline financial processes.

    Zhen came to the Foundation because of his interest in improving the educational environment of minority students.

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