The Texas Public Charter Schools Association (TPCSA) is committed to making sure every child in Texas has access to a high-quality public school that will set them on the path to future success. Working as complements to ISDs, public charter schools in Texas are preparing the workforce of the future - more students to and through colleges, universities, and technical training programs. Public charter schools are accountable to taxpayers and are doing their part to help the state meet its academic goals so that all Texas children can thrive.
TPCSA's mission is to support and advocate for public charter schools to ensure every family has the ability to choose a high-quality public school. We are committed to informing the public and policymakers about the value of charter schools and advancing policies that will enable public charter schools to serve students well.
Kara Belew is the Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs for the Texas Public Charter School Association. She is a nationally recognized education policy expert and Texas Education Agency certified school board trainer that coaches hundreds of school board members, system leaders, and teachers each year. Belew is also a founding member of the Doral Academy of Texas Charter School Board.
Previously, Belew worked at the Texas Public Policy Foundation as the senior education policy advisor. She has also held positions with the Texas Education Agency and worked under Governors Greg Abott and Rick Perry.
A graduate with honors from Southern Methodist University with degrees in Accounting and Political Science, Belew became a C.P.A. in 2000, and then attended the University of Texas School of Law where she graduated with honors. Following law school, she completed a two-year law clerkship with the Supreme Court of Texas.
In her commitment to community service, Belew is a founding member and currently serves on of the Doral Academy of Texas School Board, was former Chairwoman of Literacy First. Belew is also a state certified School Board Trainer with expertise in helping school boards and schools focus on improving student results.
Starlee Coleman has 20 years of experience turning public policy ideas into laws. Through strategic public affairs and PR campaigns, grassroots engagement, and coalition development, Starlee has contributed to the passage of dozens of bills in state legislatures, Congress, and at the ballot box.
As CEO, Starlee’s role is to oversee the daily operations of the organization and help ensure that TPCSA’s policy recommendations cross the finish line, whether the finish line ends at a Governor’s desk, city hall, on an election ballot, or in the courtroom.
Prior to coming to TPCSA, Coleman founded SchoolForward LLC, a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C. that advances education reform policies. The firm advises a number of high-profile clients, including the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Starlee’s work has earned a Templeton Freedom Award for Best Initiative in Public Relations in 2008 and the Spark Freedom Award for Best PR Campaign.
Starlee has done hundreds of media interviews, including formerly having a weekly appearance on the NBC affiliate in Phoenix, Ariz., where she debated current affairs with a leading elected official. She has appeared on nationally-syndicated radio and TV programs, including CNN, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, FoxNews and Fox Business, Wall Street Journal Live, NPR’s 1A, and the Lars Larson Show. Starlee has delivered dozens of speeches on current affairs to civic groups and presented at several conferences on effective communications and marketing strategies and on crisis communications.
Coleman earned her Bachelor of Arts in English at Arizona State University. She lives in Austin with her husband, daughter, and rescue pup.
Meredith is passionate about combating educational inequity by identifying innovative solutions, cultivating community, and optimizing equitable access for all. She joined TPCSA/CSN after serving as the 7th grade reading-language arts and English 1 teacher at an in-district charter academy in San Antonio ISD with Teach for America. She holds a 7-12 ELAR and ESL teaching certification in Texas.
Originally from a small town in Maine, Meredith graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, majoring in classics and political science and serving as student body president. Meredith previously worked for U.S. Senator Susan Collins and in the Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C.
Outside of advocating for educational equity, Meredith’s passions include long-distance running, grabbing brunch with friends, and taking Orangetheory Fitness classes. She believes that education is the greatest equalizer; all kids can succeed when given the opportunity.
Katrina Corte is responsible for coordinating the annual Texas Charter Schools Conference, as well as plan all other meetings and events with the Association.
Prior to joining TPCSA, she was the Development and Travel Coordinator for International Leadership of Texas, a tri-lingual charter school with campuses throughout the state of Texas. During her time at ILTexas, she planned and executed student travel for the 7th and 8th-grade students, providing students with an interactive experience that coincided with their Texas and US History curriculum. She was also able to raise over $1.5 million from grants, individual giving, and fundraising events.
She received her degree in University Studies Leadership from Texas A&M University.
Lauren is a native east Texan with more than 15 years of experience in nonprofit and political fundraising, public policy, and communications. She has spent the past 5 years consulting nonprofits and political clients, helping them find - and connect with - investors and partners for positive community impact.
Lauren previously oversaw change management initiatives under former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner at the Department of Commerce and as Chief of Staff at the Department on Aging. She has worked with numerous state and federal officials and nonprofits throughout the Midwest on policy initiatives and fundraising goals.
Lauren holds a B.S. in Public Relations from the University of Texas at Tyler and a graduate certificate in Professional Fundraising from Boston University. She enjoys playing golf, hiking and biking, and fetching the ball for her black Labrador Retriever, Madison.
Brandon Garcia brings years of experience as an educator, community organizer, and legislative professional to the Texas Public Charter Schools Association. Beginning his career as a social studies teacher in 2007 at Austin Can! Academy, a charter high school in East Austin, Brandon taught at-risk youth for four years in a job that he calls “one of the best in [his] life.” In 2011, Brandon returned to his home town of Dallas, Texas to attend the University of Dallas where he received his Master’s Degree in Political Theory, all while working part-time on educational outreach to local low-income students and their parents. Planning to pursue a career in academia, Brandon became a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Dallas in 2016. But in January of 2017, Brandon put his doctoral journey on hold for a chance to work for the Texas Senate as a research associate during the 85th Legislative Session. Having been bitten by the bug of Texas politics and wanting to put his studies into actual practice, he remained at the Legislature and in 2018 became a policy analyst for his very own state senator, Kirk Watson. During the 86th Legislative Session, Brandon aided Senator Watson in various policy areas and helped to shepherd four of his bills through the legislative process and into law.
Brandon lives in Austin, Texas with his beautiful wife, Laurel (who he actually met working at a charter school), and his happy, energetic little son, Noah.
Laurel Garcia brings years of experience as an educator, licensed specialist in school psychology (LSSP), and disability advocate to the Texas Public Charter Schools Association. During her 14 years in education, Laurel has worked at charter schools with missions focused on lifting up at-risk youth. Beginning her career as a LSSP in 2006 at Texans Can! Academy, Laurel was quickly recognized as a leader and began managing the special education department at the Austin campus. As the special education department chair, Laurel led an initiative to reform the operating procedures and academic practices for students receiving special education services there. In 2013, Laurel joined the special education department at KIPP Austin, where she was able to work as a district lead for compliance as the IEP Manager. This role gave her the flexibility to train special educators at the campus level, as well as manage the various related service provider teams at the district level. After seven years at KIPP, Laurel was able to help support all ten Austin campuses maintain high levels of compliance within their special education and 504 programs.
Laurel lives in Austin with her husband, Brandon (she met him working at a charter school), and her happy, energetic little son, Noah.
Rebecca Gieskes is the Senior Director of Coalitions and Community Engagement. She oversees the development and implementation of community engagement plans in key regions across Texas in order to build support for high-quality public charter schools among elected officials, community leaders, and the public.
Rebecca grew up in San Antonio and joined Teach for America in 2009 where she taught English at Alief Independent School District in Houston. After two years in the corps, she went to YES Prep Public Schools to become a founding instructional leader at a new campus. She worked for ten years at YES Prep as a Dean of Instruction coaching educators. Rebecca has been a part of two year-long leadership programs, Leading Excellence and FuelEd. In addition, she was accepted to a fellowship program with Leadership for Educational Equity as a Policy Advisor to an organization based out of Washington D.C.
She graduated with honors from The University of Texas at San Antonio with a B.A. in Political Science and is currently earning her master’s degree in political science with a focus on public policy. Rebecca lives in Houston with her husband and two children- her son, Atticus, and her daughter, Octavia.
Elizabeth joins the Texas PublicCharter Schools Association as a Development Project Manager. Prior to joining the TPCSA she gained 11 years of experience in Corporate and Public Sales with Dell. The most recent 4 years she managed her own niche practice supporting the business functions of lobbyists and advocates in the education reform sector. Her passion for quality education and her experience in the workplace have provided her an interest in public advocacy work.
Elizabeth grew up in Houston, Texas and graduated from Baylor University with a Bachelor of Arts in Corporate Communications. She lives in Austin with her husband, son and daughter.
Prior to joining TPCSA, Ariana gained experience as a small business owner, ESL Teacher, and home manager. What started out as a teen helping her father in his Detective Agency, in an administrative capacity, turned into a love of helping executives and businesses grow and succeed. As an extremely resourceful and resilient person, Ariana is considered a “Jane of all Trades,” and offers a unique perspective into problem solving, as well as a deep passion for inspiring others.
Born on Edward’s Airforce Base in California, growing up partly in Michigan, and the other part in Binghamton, NY, the birthplace of IBM, Ariana found her place in Austin in 1999. She graduated with honors from Binghamton University, receiving her Bachelor’s in English-Writing, and her Master’s from Texas State University in Public Administration.
In her spare time, she enjoys hiking with her 2 rescue dogs, practicing yoga, and learning new things.
Ryan Hecker serves as Political Director of Charter Schools Now. Ryanjoined CSN after a five-year stint with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), the nation’s largest state agency. Ryan served as senior counselor and adviser to four HHSC executive commissioners, where he shaped agency policy and advised on the implementation of its $38 billion annual budget.
Ryan previously served as the top policy adviser to the state’s Lieutenant Governor, and has worked on presidential and Texas statewide campaigns. Ryan was the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Legal Adviser of FreedomWorks, and spearheaded the organization’s independent expenditure campaigns across the country during the 2012 campaign cycle. In this effort, he oversaw budgeting, strategy, and implementation of a $22 million grassroots, micro-targeting, and online GOTV campaign in support of 88 endorsed Senate and House candidates. He developed and spearheaded communications strategy for the national effort, including media materials, large public rallies in several states, TV and print advertisements, and direct mail advertising.
Ryan also developed the Contract From America (CFA), a grassroots effort to restructure the American economic agenda. He built a coalition of over 300 national, state, and local groups in support of the project, which culminated in 500,000-plus Americans participating in creating the crowdsourced contract, and over 70 elected Senators and members of Congress endorsing the agenda. The CFA was unveiled at a rally at the Washington Monument, and garnered international media attention.
Before Ryan embarked on his career in public affairs and public service, he was an attorney for Sullivan & Cromwell and later Vinson & Elkins. Ryan is a member of the State Bar of Texas, and graduated from New York University and Harvard Law School. He lives in southwest Austin with his wife and their four children.
Natalie Kaharick is the Chief Operating Officer for the Texas Public Charter Schools Association.
Prior to joining TPCSA, she worked in New Orleans public charter schools for a decade where she served in a number of roles, including Chief Operating Officer and Acting CEO of a charter management organization. In addition to her administrative experience, Natalie has a background in social-emotional learning and is a certified meditation instructor with fifteen years of teaching experience.
Natalie has a B.A. in Art History from Duquesne University and a M.B.A. from Louisiana State University. She lives in Austin with her husband and rescue dog. In her spare time, she loves to travel abroad, teach meditation workshops, and take Pure Barre classes.
Taylor Kerr is an experienced political and community engagement
Born in Tomball, outside of Houston Texas, Taylor moved to Austin in 2018 after graduating with a degree in Political Science from Texas A&M University. In her free time she loves to see live music, hike, and read. She is passionate about social justice and indigenous issues.
Ariele Kinney is an expert in the classroom and understands the importance of an equitable and quality education. Ariele taught for Great Hearts, a charter school, at the elementary level for 4 years. During this time, she was a K-2 math instructional coach, grade-level lead, and moved from San Antonio to Fort Worth to assist with opening a charter campus. Ariele attended the University of Texas at San Antonio and graduated with her Bachelors in Communications with a concentration in Public Relations. Ariele is a phenomenal community organizer. Ariele is responsible for developing and implementing community outreach and engagement plans to build support for charter schools among local and state-level officials in the DFW area. Ariele lives in Dallas and loves to travel, read, cook, and spend time with her loved ones. Ariele is a huge advocate for mental health and believes in social reform and equality for all
Nadia Luna is responsible for coordinating memberships for schools and sponsorships for solution providers. She develops earned revenue opportunities and maintains corporate supporter relationships to increase interest, understanding and support of TPCSA’s mission and events. She manages the customer service and events team to increase member satisfaction, event attendance including at the annual Texas Charter Schools Conference, and oversees member portal enhancements and upkeep.
Prior to joining TPCSA, she was the executive assistant and compliance paralegal at a workers’ compensation law firm, but was drawn back into education, having previously served as a School Success Intern for Breakthrough Austin during her undergraduate career at the University of Texas. There she helped create first-generation college students like herself.
Dr. Timothy Mattison completed his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He earned two masters degrees in Global Policy Studies and Russian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, where he specialized in international trade and finance. He completed his B.S. in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Dr. Mattison has published scholarly work on the factors influencing teacher labor supply in Texas, and on extending Medicare to Mexico. His dissertation focused on the factors influencing teacher happiness and psychological wellness. He has also completed research studies for the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Department of Agriculture, the Texas Historical Commission and the United States Foreign Agricultural Service. Before joining TPCSA, Timothy worked for six years as a High School Math Teacher, Instructional Coach and as an Assistant Principal in San Antonio. Timothy is a proud animal-lover and devotes his free time to his four dogs. He also volunteers in community projects that promote non-violence.
Shreé partners with key stakeholders and partners to build out statewide grassroots political strategy, drive execution, report progress and assist with internal communications for high-intensity campaigns on behalf of public charter schools.
Shreé has worked in the advocacy arena for almost twenty years leading state-based advocacy teams and working with others to create, expand and implement school choice options including charter schools and vouchers. Additionally, Shreé has designed and delivered seminars and workshops to inform and empower parents to advocate for more educational opportunities for their children.
Shreé has two children, Brandon who resides in Dallas, TX and Jennifer, a 2nd-year teacher, who lives in Memphis, TN.
Chelbi Mims is an accomplished public policy, communications and engagement professional with extensive expertise in the areas of local and county government affairs, civic engagement, and community development. Having spent the past seven-plus years working in the public/private sectors, Chelbi understands the importance of maintaining political and public awareness, and is personally invested in helping enhance the quality of life for diverse communities throughout Texas. She is an innovative, resilient leader and an astute strategist, skilled at crafting persuasive tactics that unite stakeholders around cohesive messaging, address public concerns and produce positive results.
Jessica Shopoff is the Director of Policy for the Texas Public Charter Schools Association. She is responsible for championing the Association’s efforts to reform charter school policy in Texas as we pursue our mission to ensure every family has the ability to choose a high-quality public school.
Prior to joining TPCSA, Jessica was a Harvard Strategic Data Project Fellow and School and Market Analyst for the Learn4Life network of dropout recovery charter schools. She is an educator at heart and her professional career includes time spent as an elementary teacher, online charter high school lead advisor, regional data specialist and trainer, and academic policy analyst. She is a self-professed data nerd and policy wonk who believes that zip code should not determine a child’s future.
Jessica holds a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Texas at Dallas and a M.Ed in Educational Technology Leadership from Lamar University. She lives in San Antonio, and in her free time enjoys reading, watching football, and hiking and camping in the Texas Hill Country with her husband, four kids, and two dogs.
Focused on both driving results and building relationships, Erin leads the Association's cross-functional initiatives, as well as the communications and development teams. Together with her colleagues and stakeholders in the TX charter community, Erin builds and implements strategies that seek to ensure every student in Texas has the opportunity to attend the school that's right for them.
During her ten years with TPCSA, Erin has overseen all membership programs, managed earned revenue agreements, and development functions. Before moving to Texas, Erin worked for a community-based non-profit in the tiny community of Isla Vista, California. There, she coordinated families, schools, local government, and foundations to implement a ground-breaking results-based accountability structure for schools in Santa Barbara County.
Erin was born and raised in California, but is committed to raising two Texans (three- and five-years-old). She graduated with honors from The University of Arizona (Bear Down) and received her Master of Education from Arizona State University.
Lucinda Vigil is the financial controller at TPCSA with over two decades of experience in various facets of accounting and finance. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in accounting and Master’s degree in business administration from Texas State University. Her background in corporate and non-profit organizations provides a unique perspective regarding process improvement.
Prior to joining the organization Lucinda spent the last eight years working in education. As finance manager for Academica Southwest she supported two charter schools in San Antonio, TX by establishing streamlined month-end processes and procedures. In her most recent position she supported students and teachers as compliance and special programs coordinator for Education Service Center, Region 20. Her primary responsibilities included oversight of all federal programs, individual program budget review and approval, and management of the time accounting system.
Lucinda recently relocated to her hometown of Seguin, TX and looks forward to spending more time with family. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and spending time with friends.
Brian Whitley joins the association as vice president of communications and research after nearly a decade working on issue campaigns and strategic research at Success Academy Charter Schools in New York.
Brian helped guide high-profile campaigns that engaged families, lawmakers, and the public in order to protect and expand public charters — including successful efforts to broaden the sector’s access to facilities. His white papers, such as reports on the profound lack of educational options for low-income students and the quietly stalled progress of many English language learners, galvanized conversation in the capitol and in the media.
Previously, Brian was a journalist at The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Star-Ledger, where he covered higher education.
Brian is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and a new convert to breakfast tacos. He lives in Austin with his fiancée, Margaret, and their unreasonably opinionated chihuahua/terrier rescue, Oscar.