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 a policy and regulatory climate that ensures every student in Texas has access to ever-improving public school options. 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.
Jennifer is passionate about using research and data storytelling to promote education equity for all students. Prior to joining Texas Public Charter Schools Association (TPCSA), she served as a founding Kindergarten Bilingual Teacher, Grade Level Chair, and Advocacy Captain at a Yes Prep Charter School in Houston, TX through Teach for America. During her time as an educator, she also founded KiNDL, a teacher-designed reading program focused on improving psychosocial health literacy in low-SES and immigrant kindergartners through a virtual 1:1 mentoring platform with college students, and was awarded a resolution by Senator Carol Alvarado for her students' high academic growth. Additionally, she served as a 2021-2022 Texas Teach Plus Policy Fellow, where she published an OpEd and policy recommendations to better support teachers’ and students’ mental health.
Originally from southern California, Jennifer graduated from Pomona College with a Bachelors in psychology and Senior Thesis with Distinction. During her time at Pomona, she also worked as a founding research assistant for the Cultural Contexts, Adolescent Health Behaviors, and Development (CENTRO) Research Lab, completing various projects and presenting in conferences.
Outside of advocating for educational equity, Jennifer enjoys any type of exercise (especially running), reading, watching wholesome movies, and spending quality time with family and friends.
Renelle is a native Michigander with more than 10 years of nonprofit leadership experience. She has spent the majority of her career supporting arts based nonprofits. Prior to joining TPCSA, Renelle was the Associate Managing Director at ZACH Theatre where she oversaw human resources, IT, campus operations, and facilities. At TPCSA, Renelle works closely with the Chief Operating Officer to advance the Association’s mission by ensuring that all internal systems operate seamlessly and continue to improve. Renelle holds a M.S. in Arts Administration from the University of Oregon and a B.S in Music from Central Michigan University. She lives in Austin with her husband Adam, son Elijah, and their two cats. In her free time, Renelle enjoys spending time outdoors, going to concerts and museums, and being a foster parent.
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.
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.
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.
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
London Lawrence has built his professional career on establishing relationships and educating the community. His diverse professional background includes working with nonprofits, employment agencies, educational institutes, underserved communities, and government municipalities. As a graduate of the University of Houston - Clearlake with a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology, London has dedicated his life to making a positive impact on those around him. As the Community Engagement Director for Central Texas, London is responsible for developing and implementing community engagement initiatives to promote public charter schools and also working to showcase the importance of advocacy. On a personal note, London enjoys traveling and photography in his downtime and is excited to bring public and political awareness to Texas Public Charter Schools.
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.
Coming from a family full of educators, Ila (pronounced eye-luh) grew up valuing the importance of quality education and firmly believes that it is not always provided through a one-size-fits-all approach.
Ila earned both her Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in Mass Communication from Texas State University. She has spent the last ten years conveying complex and intricate narratives to her community through a variety of digital methods. Her experience ranges from on-air reporting as a local TV news reporter, digital marketing for Education Abroad at Texas State University, cracking codes as a Technical Marketing Specialist, all the way to applying her skills in her own venture as an entrepreneur.
Born and raised on the Gulf Coast in Corpus Christi, TX, Ila is a native Texan. In her free time, she is a proud dog mom, loves exploring new countries and cultures, and most of all, she enjoys quality time with family and friends.
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.
Tara is from a family full of educators and understands the importance of a quality education. She attended Abilene Christian University and majored in political science and history. Throughout her 15 years in education, she has held many different positions including teacher, school counselor, Dean of Students, and District Director of AVID. No matter her role she is first and foremost an advocate of students and has a passion for giving them the best opportunity to be productive, successful citizens. Tara has three children. Two sons, Tristan and Liam, and a daughter Madeleine. She loves traveling, hiking, and reading in her free time.
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.