School Improvement Partnership includes subject matter experts in the fields of charter school finance, academics, operations and leadership. They are collaborative, looking to build upon each charter school’s or CMO’s unique mission and strengths.
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.Email
Tressa Pankovits, Director of Comm.
Tressa Pankovits serves as Director of Communications for School Improvement Partnership and authors the organization’s critically acclaimed newsletter “Charter School Investor,” which is published approximately every two weeks. (You can subscribe here). A non-practicing attorney, Tressa is also an award-winning former broadcast journalist with CBS and CLTV in Chicago, Illinois, WRIC in Richmond, Virginia and WPRI in Providence, Rhode Island. She served as Director of Communications for the Lieutenant Governor of Illinois and Chief of Staff for a nationwide education nonprofit. Tressa has consulted on education projects in Haiti, Chile and New Orleans, and is a respected, self-motivated senior leadership team professional with more than 15 years’ experience setting direction and executing organizational vision, goals and business strategies.
Alexis Turner, Director of Business Operations
Alexis Turner manages the business operations for School Improvement Partnership, adding innovation and streamlining to workflow processes. Since joining SIP, she has worked with the team overseeing workflow on the evaluation of a five-school charter management organization in Philadelphia, completely restructured the company data organization platforms, and made changes for efficiency to the invoicing process. She also oversees financial tasks including managing budgets, payroll, and reporting on financial metrics. Alexis has previously gained experience working with charter schools during her time in the Juvenile Division of the District Attorney’s Office managing Communication and Outreach.
Additionally, Alexis has experience planning events, including fundraisers, campus-wide productions, and college visits on behalf of charter schools. She has also received honors for her past research experience. Most recently, she presented original research at the invitational Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity.
Alexis graduated with honors from the university’s Honors Program with a degree in Global Affairs, focusing both on global economy and security. She also has minors in Psychology and Italian.
Liz Sweeney, Chief Data Consultant
Liz Sweeney is the founder of Nutshell Associates which helps public finance debt issuers interact confidently with the capital markets to maximize ratings and investor confidence. Nutshell also provides credit training, scorecards, methodologies, and portfolio risk assessments to banks, investors and lenders.
Liz is also a member of the faculty of Georgetown University as Executive in Residence for Government, Healthcare, and Non-profit Finance with the Master of Science in Finance program at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business.
In 2019, Liz joined the Board of Directors of the University of Maryland Medical System, which delivers world class care while serving many of Maryland’s neediest patients through its 13 hospitals, 2 million annual patient visits, 28,000 employees, and greater than 150 locations.
Liz is a member of the Standard Government Reporting work group, a collaborative effort to improve the efficiency and quality of federal, state, and local government financial reporting by promoting the adoption of reporting standards and user-friendly technology.
Liz was a managing director at S&P Global Ratings, the world’s largest credit rating agency, where she conducted objective, in-depth credit evaluations of borrowers across the public finance spectrum, providing insightful opinions about the strategic, financial and operational risks of public finance borrowers. She also served in a senior credit policy and risk management role as S&P’s criteria officer for US Public Finance, responsible for a portfolio of credit rating methodologies utilized to assign ratings to over 22,000 public finance obligors.
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.
Melanie S. Grant, J.D., Board Member
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.
Steve Halpern, Board Member
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).
Dean Lewallen, Board Member
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.
Arthur Mitchell, Board Member
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.
Barnet Sherman, Board Member
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
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.
Alphonso Evans, Sr., Ed.D.
Alphonso Evans Sr. is an educational leader and author whose purpose in life is to create pathways to success for youth through ingenuity and innovation by investing back into this region’s communities, as he is the product of the communities of Philadelphia that generously invested in him. Mentorship is the essential tenant of his philosophy and practice, viewing the quest for education as a key means to a successful life.
After graduating from Temple University in 1999 with a BS Degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education, Evans immediately entered the classroom as a fourth-grade teacher. He quickly rose through the administrative ranks in the School District of Philadelphia and at twenty-six was granted a leadership role in the district. Evans earned his Masters Degree in Educational Leadership in addition to a Principal Certification from Gwynedd Mercy University in 2004 and earned a Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership from Gwynedd Mercy University in May of 2019. Evans has a vast experience in educational leadership, working as a classroom teacher, an academic coach, a dean of students, a director of support services, a principal, and a chief academic officer. He spent five years working as the CEO of a Philadelphia charter school, where he successfully led the school to an increase in academic performance, school culture and accreditation. He currently serves as the Assistant Superintendent of the Middle Schools for a charter in Chester, Pa.
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.
James (Rocky) Query
James (Rocky) Query is the Principal of Query & Associates, a financial management consulting and advisory firm focused on strategic issues faced by education, non-profit and municipal organizations. His experience combines more than thirty years in the industry as a senior public finance investment banker, an independent registered municipal financial advisor, and as a senior administrator for municipal and educational institutions. His work focuses on development and execution of successful business plans and financing strategies for both new ventures and organizations requiring restructuring and new direction. School clients have included large systems such as New York City, the Philadelphia School District, and the Virginia Public School Authority, as well as individual institutions. He is a graduate of the Yale School of Management and the University of Chicago.
With an Engineering – Teaching – Administration career trajectory in roughly equal arcs, Cheryl brings laboratory, engineering, teaching and administrative and team leadership experience to solving complex education problems. Her professional experience spanning urban schools, major corporate grants and leading professional learning in organizations such as the Smithsonian Science Education Center fuels her desire to exercise leadership, expand her scope of partners and improve instructions for all students. Cheryl Rush Dix is a Fulbright Research alumna who investigated instructional practices and school reform in Finland and a Mid-Atlantic Alliance for Performance Excellence Examiner. Cheryl is a graduate of Gannon University and Mercyhurst University having completed degrees and graduate certifications in Chemistry, Organizational Leadership, teaching, administration, superintendency and program evaluation at the University of Pittsburgh.
ShaVon Savage has been a principal in Philadelphia since 2016, and previously served as an administrator for special education and student supports at the district and charter management level. Prior to returning to educational leadership in 2013, Savage served as a public finance and education attorney, teacher, and school improvement coordinator. Savage is familiar with public, charter, university partnership and community school models and has developed expertise in grant writing, curriculum, professional development, school improvement, and leadership training.
Savage earned her JD at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She also has an MSEd from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, a Politics Certificate from the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania, and a BS in Business from the Pennsylvania State University. She obtained her administrative certification and is currently pursuing her superintendency certification, both from Saint Joseph’s University.
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.
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.