School Improvement Partnership supports transparency and accountability in the charter school bond market, making it simpler for charter school bond investors to track the progress of their investments.
- Rational and prudent bond investors will insist upon strong periodic reporting of performance metrics to monitor deployed capital
- Unlike other municipal bonds, the value of charter school bonds can be affected by changes in school leadership, per pupil payment rates or academic performance
- Continuing disclosure from School Improvement Partnership helps to head off payment defaults and preserve the value of bond investments
- Our evaluation reports provide action plans that enhance financial and academic performance, positively affecting market value
Alan F. Wohlstetter, Esq.CEO
Alan serves as President of School Improvement Partnership, a consulting firm bringing national best practices to charter schools and traditional public schools. Alan is also a partner in the Philadelphia law firm of Zarwin Baum DeVito Kaplan Schaer Toddy P.C., where he heads the Public Finance and Education practice groups. Alan’s work with charter schools started in 2001 when then-Mayor Street of Philadelphia hired him to make recommendations on charter school funding to mitigate their effect on The School District of Philadelphia. In 2003, Alan then helped finance the first Philadelphia charter school expansion through the issuance of tax-exempt bonds. Since then, he has been involved in over thirty charter school financings in five states. Alan has trained over a dozen charter school boards on their legal and financial responsibilities and has assisted and has helped countless charter schools navigate charter renewal and leadership change.
Liz SweeneyChief Data Consultant
Liz Sweeney is a governance leader, municipal advisor, and public finance consultant with extensive expertise in credit and risk management, finance, capital access, and strategy. She is the founder of Nutshell Associates, a public finance consulting and municipal advisory firm certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) and registered with the SEC and MSRB. Previously, Liz was a managing director in credit policy and risk management at S&P Global Ratings, the world’s largest credit rating agency, where her work included the development of new rating methodology for charter schools.
Liz is a board member of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB- the primary regulator for the $4 trillion municipal securities market), and of the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS – a $4.5 billion regional nonprofit healthcare system in the mid-Atlantic).
She holds an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business, a BS from Georgetown University, and a Certificate in Healthcare Management from NYU’s School of Professional Studies.
Sandeep GupteChief Technology Officer
Mr. Gupte has over 27 years of Capital Markets and Alternative Investments technology and operations expertise. Throughout his career Sandeep has served as a financial institution leader. He has a strong background across the many financial investment domains and has advised senior management on and successfully implemented various technology initiatives and strategies. Throughout his experience, he has assisted large asset management firms with the roll out of their Investor Portals, formulated and implemented a complete strategy for data governance, architected data centralization utilizing master data management, and established a centralized reporting platform.
Sandeep has served as a number of senior roles in Technology including Chief Technology Officer at Angelo, Gordon & Co.. In this position, he guided Angelo Gordon through a number of key strategic technology initiatives such as the conversion of their legacy fund accounting system and development of systems for front to back transaction processing and investor-relations management.
Sandeep also has extensive knowledge and expertise in portfolio and fund accounting systems and has implemented complex solutions across many alternative asset management firms –including coverage of Credit Derivatives, Long / Short Equities, Private Equity, Real Estate, Hedge Funds as well as Advisory clients. His expertise areas include:
- Expertise with debt instruments, hedge fund processes, advisors and fund administrators
- Extensive experience with illiquid assets for Private Equity, Real Estate, and Fund of funds
- Active roles for enterprise systems selection, implementation and customization of complex portfolio accounting systems and integration of centralized reporting systems
Sandeep holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from SUNY at Stony Brook and has the NASD Series 6, 63 and 7. As a volunteer, he is the president of the Bethpage Soccer Club managing 600+ active players. He is also an active instrument-rated pilot and volunteer pilot for the North East chapter of the Angel Pilot NE Network.
Andrew ColelloChief Data Architect
Andrew was brought on as the Chief Data Architect in building out School Improvement Partnership’s first-in-industry comprehensive and interactive database for charter school bond valuation and analysis.
He started his career as a data intern at a software compliance / cybersecurity company called Black Duck Software, where he was working with large-scale data in a fast-paced startup environment He eventually grew into a full-time, then data team leadership role.
He left after Black Duck’s acquisition for the digital agency ADK Group, where he was the Lead Python Engineer. He designed dozens of data models and backend APIs for use in custom mobile and web applications that spanned health care, finance, manufacturing, and more.
He later joined a fintech startup called Neighborly where he worked as a Principal Data Engineer. There, he built large-scale pipelines and visualizations for financial and public municipal data.
Andrew currently works full-time as a senior engineer at Boston Children’s Hospital, where he has been involved with cancer research, large-scale biomedical specimen data analysis, COVID research, and more. Additionally, he currently uses his expertise to continuously develop and improve SIP’s custom database applications.
Ning JiangDirector of Application Development
Ning Jiang received Ph.D. degree of computer science from University of Central Florida. During his graduate study he published 15 papers and journals in the area of wireless communication, machine learning and multimedia and received IEEE Orlando Section Outstanding Graduate Student of the Year Award.
After graduation he joined Microsoft Office Labs, where he collaborated with Microsoft Research and various Office teams to develop innovative prototypes such as enterprise social networks for Microsoft SharePoint, Outlook Collaboration Space, and Outlook forgotten recipient suggestion plugin. He was joint owner of 4 patents from these collaborations. Ning later joined the Office team and developed the Office Meeting Solution. The software integrates Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote and SharePoint. He obtained extensive research and large-scale software development experiences during his 6 years at Microsoft.
After that he joined AIM Consulting as a Senior Consultant and worked on various key components at companies such as Starbucks and Liberty Mutual Insurance. At Starbucks he implemented the user sign up/sign in and authentication pages and worked closely with both the iOS and Android app teams. At Liberty Mutual Ning’s team implemented Angular JS based customer portal. All these projects received high recognition from those companies.
Ning currently works as an independent consultant, involved in several large and medium scale software development and research projects. He is mainly in charge of architecting cloud-based solutions with both frontend and backend APIs implementations.
Alex ShinkarovskyDirector of Client Services
Alex Shinkarovsky has 7+ years experience in business development of alternative data sets to the investor community. Alex earned his B.S. in Finance from Binghamton University in 2013.
John SorceDirector of Data Management and Stewardship
John Sorce is the Director of Data Management and Stewardship for School Improvement Partnership. As Director, John is responsible for the SIP database of financial, operational and academic metrics for charter school data.
John was previously a Director for S&P Global Ratings where he held several different positions in the data organization. Through the years, John worked closely with analytical, compliance, operational and legal groups within S&P Global. He managed teams responsible for the ratings data for dissemination into ratings systems as well as S&P Market Intelligence products.
John also created and trained offshore teams to support the maintenance of reference and ratings data as well as the ability to do large data projects. He played key roles in the cleanup of data dissemination rules, creation of new workflows as well as system and process changes required to meet the Dodd Frank disclosure regulations.
Devante RobinsonDirector of Reporting Services
Devante Robinson is the Reporting Services Intern for School Improvement Partnership. Since joining, SIP, Devante has worked behind the scenes gathering pertinent data and joining micro teams to produce quality content with it. Devante works with department heads of the charter schools to ensure that all of their needs are met, that their required reporting is submitted on time, and that their continuing disclosure forms meet all the requirements in financial and bond documents.
In his recent experience, Devante has interned with a real estate service provider where he and his team created a pro-bit model that forecasts lease rates for Class A office spaces in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Denver. Prior, Devante worked in Law Enforcement with focus in community policing and cyber related crimes which included working with various Federal Agencies (FBI, DEA, ATF, DOACS, FWC).
Devante obtained his Bachelors in Business Management from Saint Leo University and received his Master of Science in Finance from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
Paula CostaFinancial Data Analyst
Paula Costa is a Financial Data Analyst with School Improvement Partnership. In her current role, Paula’s responsibilities include analyzing charter school financial, operating, and academic metrics to facilitate the creation and maintenance of SIP’s world-class database of US charter schools.
Paula has spent her entire career within the municipal bond industry, progressing from a research role initially at J.J. Kenny to an analytical role as an Associate Director at S&P Global Ratings within its US public finance group. During her 15-year tenure at S&P, Paula evaluated and provided commentary about public finance borrowers across various sectors specializing, with a specialty in the water & sewer utilities sector.
She holds an MBA from St. John’s University and a BS in economics with a minor in finance from State University of NY College at Oneonta.
John EnquistLead Automation Engineer
John joined SIP as Lead Automation Engineer to work with the engineering and reporting teams to streamline the Continuing Disclosure Reporting process.
John gained hands-on experience in his first role as as a Systems Programmer at Precision Valve & Automation. He was responsible for programming automation robots and troubleshooting both hardware and software on the floor.
John later joined James McGuinness & Associates as a Software Engineering Consultant where he worked in a group-oriented programming environment to develop features to accommodate his client’s specific needs.
He currently works at Care Design New York as a Software Developer. Here, John works on automating data flows between a large suite of both in-house and third-party applications and maintaining systems that the company uses daily.
He holds a B.A. in Computer Science from Union College, where he worked as an Undergraduate research assistant to study social robotics. John is a creative problem solver who enjoys learning new programming skills and pushing himself to the next challenge.
Board of Directors
Steve Halpern is President of Woodland Management (www.wmfio.com), a Pittsburgh, PA-based family investment office. Prior to joining Woodland Management in 2005, Steve was involved in the acquisition, board oversight and eventual sale of several private companies. He also spent 17 years as a franchise owner and operating executive at TeleCheck, a leading payments company. Steve received his BS and MBA degrees from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He is also a CPA by background.
Steve is active in community service, having served as board chair of the Jewish Association on Aging, a senior living continuum, and the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, and as a long-time board member of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Shady Side Academy. He and his wife Linda, a social worker by background, have two adult children Jonathan (27) and Allison (23).
Melanie S. Grant, J.D.
Melanie previously served as Chief Operating Officer of School Improvement Partnership, overseeing process and product development. As a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), Melanie participated on a panel about Non-Profit Board Best Practices and facilitated a group discussion about Diversity in the Boardroom: The Power of Perspective with women leaders from NJ Government, Campbell’s Soup, Silicon Valley and an organization dedicated to preparing women for the boardroom. Melanie held instrumental leadership roles for various private equity owned portfolio companies. As an operating executive, she led a global team to form Archroma, a $1.1 B chemical manufacturer operating in 47 countries and led the business transformation of Burlington Coat Factory, moving the organization from a $1.3 B family-owned business to a $4.3 B scalable retail organization. Additionally, she has served as Assistant General Counsel for ARAMARK and as a corporate attorney for Morgan Lewis. Melanie started her career with significant capital markets experience at Goldman Sachs in New York. She holds a JD from the University of Virginia and a BA from Rutgers College.
Arthur Mitchell is Executive Director for the STEM Equity Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to three goals: creating systems where STEM subjects are taught using culturally responsive pedagogical approaches; increasing the diversity of STEM educators; and creating a more durable STEM pipeline for groups which are underrepresented in STEM career fields. He also collaborates with educational institutions through his consulting group, Catalysis Education Solutions. Catalysis partners to develop systems and leaders that are culturally proficient and equity-focused. In addition to his work with the schools and districts, he is a member of the Pennsylvania State STEM Advisory Committee and serves on the advisory board for Washington State LASER.
He has served in K-12 education for over 25 years, working in the most impoverished urban and the most affluent suburban districts in the Mid-Atlantic region as a teacher and administrator. Outside of direct district experiences, he has also held positions at the county and state level dealing with curriculum, instruction, professional development, innovation, industry and higher education partnerships, and charter school support. Arthur gained his most valuable experiences in learning how to plan and deliver effective professional development as a fellow in the WestEd National Academy for Math and Science Leadership. He also became skilled in influencing policy through being a fellow in the Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program and as a member of the Council of State Science Supervisors.
After commencing his career as a mental health worker and professional fundraiser, and a second career, post-graduate school, in tax-exempt/public finance as a key member of the portfolio management teams at leading investment, financial guaranty and financial advisory companies, Dean Lewallen now focuses on serving non-profit boards in a well as representing creditors overseeing restructured non-profit organizations and companies.
Currently, as a creditor appointed representative, he is President/CEO of German Pellets Texas, a bankrupt shell company in Texas currently in ‘wind-down’ mode. He was also appointed to the board of Goodwill of Southern Nevada as an official observer, subsequent to its emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In a volunteer capacity, he is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Leopold Schepp Foundation in New York and was recently elected to the Board of Woodland Pond at New Paltz, a non-profit senior living community in the Hudson Valley. Up until his recent retirement, Mr. Lewallen was Senior Vice President and High-Yield Municipal Credit Analyst with AllianceBernstein, where he utilized his sophisticated analytical skills developed through the negotiation and structuring of new (as well as the restructuring of distressed) high-yield tax-exempt securities/private placements in a wide variety of credit sectors. Prior to AB, he did much the same at Dreyfus/BNY Mellon, Prudential Financial, and MBIA.
Mr. Lewallen was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. He earned his B.A. “With Distinction” in 1975 from the University of Colorado at Boulder, with a major in Psychology and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and Psi Chi national honorary societies. After moving to New York State, he received his M.B.A. in Finance from Cornell University in 1981. Over the years, he gave numerous presentations at industry conferences and received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017 from Smith’s Research & Ratings Review, an industry publication.
Barnet Sherman is the Founder and Senior Managing Partner of The Tenbar Group, a firm dedicated to transformational impact through pursuing Environmental, Social, Governance, and Impact investment mandates. As an institutional investor with senior roles at mutual funds and pensions, Mr. Sherman has analyzed, negotiated and closed billions of dollars of bond financings across numerous sectors. He is a recognized expert in public finance and municipal credit analysis. An Adjunct Professor of Finance at Boston University, he is also published in his field both as a Senior Contributor to Forbes.com and The Handbook of Municipal Bonds. He is a member of the Screen Actors Guild, an Eagle Scout, currently serves on the Board of the non-profit Mary Ann Morse Healthcare Corporation, and is the Co-Trustee of the Meyer and Naomi Sherman Art Trust. His contributions both professionally and in the community have led him to be consistently recognized by Who’s Who in America. Mr. Sherman earned his undergraduate degree from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University and was awarded membership in Pi Sigma Alpha, the National Political Science Honor Societ
Barclay is School Improvement Partnerships’ Social Bond Data Intern. In this role, Barclay helps to develop a best-in-class methodology to determine whether loans or bonds for select American charter schools qualify as Social Impact Bonds (SIB). Since joining SIP, she has taken the first steps by identifying and assessing literature and reports in respect to possible frameworks. She and the other members of the School Improvement Partnership social impact team have collaborated on strategies and chose the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the working framework for the SIB index. Barclay’s key responsibility moving forward in the project is identifying how three chosen SDGs (4, 8, 10) will be applied to the public education K-12 sector. Through careful analysis and in-depth literature review, Barclay will identify key data metrics and support for their implementation.
Barclay began her professional career in research, as without data there is no change. Previous experience includes independent undergraduate research, co-conducting a now published meta-analysis, and most recently, a master’s thesis at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
Barclay graduated magna cum laude from Bucknell University (2019) with a degree in Psychology, and a minor in Philosophy. Additionally, she has now completed her MSc in Comparative Criminal Justice at Leiden University.
Michelle Thornton, Founder and Managing Member of Thornton Group Financial Services, LLC, has over 20 years of experience in tax, accounting, and business management services. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance and a Master of Science in Accounting from Drexel University. She also holds a certificate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education for Educational leadership.
Since 1998, the mission of the Thornton Group has been to educate, develop, and support organizations and individuals by meeting their financial objectives. The Thornton Group has serviced clients in various industries, including education, sports, and other profit and non-profit entities. Michelle is most known for her work in the area of fiscal turn-around for educational organizations.
Paul Augello, Jr., CPA
Paul Augello is the CEO and Co-Founder of boostED Finance. Prior to founding boostED Finance, Augello served as the Chief Financial Officer of Victory Education Partners, where he oversaw the day-to- day management of Victory’s finances, and worked with charter school partners on budgeting, financial reporting, financial projections and budget analysis. Prior to joining Victory, Augello worked for the Interpublic Group of Companies where he spent five years as the Internal Audit Manager, and then as the North American Controller of Initiative Media. Before that, Augello was the General Audit Supervisor for the New York Times Company, where he was an active project team member for all phases of the Company’s three printing plant construction projects and received a Chairman’s Recognition Award for his work on acquisitions and special projects. Earlier in his career, Augello was a Senior Accountant with the publishing company Random House and the Big Four Accounting firm Deloitte, where he earned his C.P.A. Augello graduated with a B.S. in Accounting from Villanova University in 1988.
Robert has over twenty years of founder and executive experience in public education services, specifically though founding, leading operations in start-up education ventures and through integration of school operations across multiple sites and states. Robert is the current board President of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools and is considered a thought leader in personnel development, school culture and climate. Robert also currently supports schools in Camden and Newark NJ, Wilmington, DE.
Robert started his career as a police officer for five years where he was a field-training officer, crimes against children investigator and gang officer. In 2013, he co-founded Executive Education Academy Charter School (EEACS) after founding Success Schools and serving as Chief Operations Officer from April 2010 to August 2013 (acquired by Specialized Education Services Inc “SESI” in 2012). Post-acquisition, Robert served as Chief Operations Officer for the Alternative Education Division of SESIS, responsible for company culture and oversight, business development, management and accountability for school operations across the country. As co-founder of Camelot Education from February 2004 to 2010, he had broad responsibilities including supervision of 3000 students, 250 employees, and twelve schools. He managed human resources, budget, facility management, academics, support services and supervising the twelve campus directors for the division.
Lisa Weinberger is the founder and creative director of Masters Group Design, a Philadelphia-based design studio that develops creative assets for change-makers. Lisa’s 30 plus years of experience in the field enables her to thoughtfully solve problems using creative strategy paired with small teams of talent. In her capacity as creative director, she has developed hundreds of visual identities for socially-minded organizations both locally and nationally. She frequently lectures and conducts workshops on the power of branding. Lisa is also the co-creator of the 2017 national non-partisan campaign, American Values, Religious Voices: 100 Days, 100 Letters, and co-author of the book (University of Cincinnati Press) of the same name.
Mario Zacharjasz, AIA
Mario graduated from Temple University with a Bachelor of Architecture in 1985. Since founding PZS Architects in 1992, he has guided the firm’s growth, engaging in many exciting secondary education projects in Philadelphia, including Esperanza Middle School, Esperanza Charter High School, Pan America Academy Charter School, Luis Munoz Marin Elementary School, Frances E. Willard School, and Benjamin Franklin High School. Mario has also worked on several higher education projects including Villiger Hall, a new student residence at St. Joseph’s University; Morgan Hall, a new student residence and dining complex at Temple University; and an expansion at Esperanza Junior College, which included a renovation for classroom space, new laboratories, and a student services center and student lounge.
Mario is committed to serving the community, supporting many non-profit organizations and actively serving on several boards and committees throughout the city, including the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Salvation Army of Greater Philadelphia, and the Salvation Army of Kroc Corps Community Center in Philadelphia. In each of these capacities, Mario focuses his energy on community sustainability, encouraging his partners, staff, and colleagues to do the same.
Deborah Stern has been working in urban classrooms since 1988, first as an NCTE award-winning middle and high school English teacher in Chicago, and more recently as a teacher, coach, teacher educator, and school administrator in Philadelphia. She earned a B.A. at Swarthmore College, an M.A.T. at the University of Chicago and PhD. at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Stern has dedicated her professional life to teaching and learning in underserved communities. Her work and her writing have been featured in professional journals and numerous books about teaching for social justice, including An Invitation to Inquiry: Possibilities for Immersive Literacy Processes (2020), Teaching for Social Justice in the High School Classroom (2000), Teaching for Change (1998) and Teaching English So It Matters (1995).
Dr. Stern was a co-founder at Mastery Charter Schools and served there as the first Director of Education. After leaving Mastery in 2008, she began working in a variety of settings and roles to improve teaching and student learning in Philadelphia-area schools. She has supported early literacy learning with the Children’s Literacy Initiative in Philadelphia District and parochial schools, provides instructional coaching for new and experienced classroom teachers in all grades, and collaborates with schools and nonprofits to design responsive and effective academic programs. She also writes curriculum, facilitates professional learning for teachers and school leaders, and designs and manages assessment systems that deepen student learning and achievement.
Paul G. Vallas
As CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, Paul eliminated a $1.2 billion projected five-year structural deficit and left the district with almost $1 billion in cash balances and twelve bond rating upgrades. His tenure in Philadelphia saw dramatic improvements in the public schools, the balancing five of six budgets, and the development and implementation of the largest school construction and repair program in the district’s history. As head of the Louisiana Recovery School District, he played a principal role in rebuilding the public school system in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and negotiating the $1.8 billion FEMA settlement that helped place students in either new or completely renovated schools. In New Orleans Paul helped created the nation’s first 100% choice district.
Maria joined SIP in February of 2023. She has over 17 years experience in public education, administration, and curriculum development. Maria is based in the Raleigh area of NC, primarily focusing on supporting new charter schools in both their administrative development as well as their budget needs. Maria is the director of Carolina Charter Academy , opened in fall of 2019, and recently is the first Wells Fargo NC Charter Principal of the Year, 2022,
She led efforts to secure a 19.2MM bond deal in 2021 for the construction and expansion of CCA’s over 36,000 sq foot facility in Angier NC, which now houses a state of the art STEM lab, beautiful library and MS regulation size basketball/volleyball gymnasium. She has prioritized access for all students growing the English Learner population; as well as the free and reduced lunch, all under the umbrella of supporting and prioritizing equal opportunities for all students while removing as many barriers as possible.
Maria serves as an advisor to the Charter School Advisory Board. She is a graduate of the University of Florida, dual bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Classical Studies. She also holds her Masters Degree in Math Education and School Leadership. Her father was a first generation immigrant from Greece and she is fluent in Greek language, and even taught it at the collegiate level! .