Meet the Team

Elizabeth Arons, Chief Executive Officer

FINAL-Apr-Bio-Arons-150x150Elizabeth “Betsy” Arons is in her 34th year in public education and her 31st year in human resources leadership in public school systems. She is Chief Executive Officer and founder of the Urban Schools Human Capital Academy–an initiative that focuses on human resources reform and the development of human capital leaders. She has served as Chief Executive Officer of Human Resources, New York City Department of Education; as Associate Superintendent, Human Resources, Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools; and as Director of Human Resources in Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools.

Throughout her leadership roles, Betsy has instituted a number of human capital and human resources reforms to elevate the strategic role of HR in meeting the district’s student achievement goals. From 2007-2011, she worked as a Human Resources/Human Capital Consultant for The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, supporting human resources reform in urban districts such as Atlanta, Denver, Hillsborough County, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Prince George’s County, Oakland, and Tulsa.

Prior to her work with New York City schools, Montgomery, and Fairfax Counties, Betsy served as an assistant principal intern and a high school English teacher. Her Bachelor’s Degree in English and her teaching credentials were earned at the University of California, Berkeley; her Master’s Degree in English at the University of Illinois (Chicago); and her Doctorate in Educational Administration and Organizational Development from American University (Washington, D.C.). She has served as the President of the American Association of School Personnel Administrators and has been a well-recognized leader in the field of Human Resources and Human Capital for public school systems.

Darlene Merry, Chief Academic Officer

Dr. Darlene MerryDarlene Merry serves as the Chief Academic Officer for the Urban Schools Human Capital Academy and is also a consultant to numerous school districts, educational organizations, and nonprofits in the area of human capital management and organizational development.

In her most recent role as a Senior Advisor to New Leaders for New Schools, Darlene was responsible for serving as a thought leader and a critical consultant in the work of turnaround school leadership, human capital management, and district leadership. Darlene also served as the Chief Academic Officer and head of the Aspiring Principals Program for New Leaders for New Schools. Along with serving as a member of the organization’s executive team to set the vision and direction of the organization, Darlene focused on ensuring that the New Leaders’ recruitment, selection, training, and development model prepared urban school principals to lead schools that promote high levels of academic achievement and success for every child.

Before joining New Leaders, Darlene served as a teacher, principal, and Associate Superintendent for Organizational Development in Montgomery County, Maryland, a large urban/suburban school district that has had significant success in closing the achievement gap. There she served as a leader to develop professional growth systems for principals and other administrators, teachers, and support staff. Darlene received her Bachelor’s Degree in English at Bowling Green University, her Master’s Degree in Counseling at The George Washington University, and her Doctorate in Leadership and Policy Studies at The University of Maryland. In addition, Darlene has participated in the three-year-long Harvard Public Education Leadership Project (PELP).

Danielle Pickens, Chief Program Officer
Danielle2Danielle Pickens, the Academy’s Chief Program Officer, has more than fifteen years of experience working in urban education. Most recently, as a Human Resources Director for the New York City Department of Education, she led a team of 50+ employees to assist more than 5,000 teachers annually in gaining certification quickly and easily so they could focus on the more important work of improving their instructional practice. As part of her role in Human Resources, Danielle also conceptualized and launched technology systems like a Human Resources Exchange, an online communications platform, to better share HR updates, news, and data with schools, central, and field-based offices. With each project, she focused on improving HR processes, customer service, data management, and services for schools. For her leadership and contributions, Danielle was selected as an inaugural member of the Chancellor’s Fellowship, an eight month leadership development program. Prior to her work in Human Resources, she raised more than $70 million in private funding to support the New York City Department of Education’s key leadership priorities, including a Leadership Academy for principals, parent involvement, and a budget reallocation process. Before joining the New York City Department of Education, Danielle served as a project coordinator for the Chicago Public Schools and worked at Accenture, a management consulting firm. Danielle earned a Master’s in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Bachelor’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Chicago.
Craig Chin, Human Capital Partner
CraigCraig Chin has recently completed six years at the Boston Public Schools, where he first started as a Broad Resident following several years as a management consultant. His work as an independent consultant focused on supporting district- and state-level reform efforts through improved human capital strategy development, implementation, and system transformation. In his most recent position as the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources in Boston, Craig served on the Superintendent’s leadership team and led the district’s human capital initiatives with particular emphasis on school turnaround efforts as well as the implementation of a new performance management system. He also played a key leadership role in a human resources reinvention initiative, as well as implementing Race to the Top, Teacher Incentive Fund, and Teacher Quality Partnership funded initiatives. Previously, Craig served as the Assistant Chief Operating Officer, supervising multiple departments where he utilized his extensive experience in operational improvement/redesign, budget control, school closings, school choice, organizational alignment, and strategic planning. Prior to joining the Boston Public Schools, Craig worked in management consulting with Ernst & Young, Grant Thornton, and Benchmarking Partners. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Tufts University and a MBA from the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.
Avni Gupta-Kagan, Human Capital Partner

Avni Gupta-Kagan serves as a human capital partner with USHCA and also as an independent consultant, working to improve education outcomes for children in South Carolina and nationally on a range of issues from human capital management to leadership development to K-12 curriculum. Previously, Avni worked at New Leaders, a national organization focused on developing and supporting strong school leaders, as a program Executive Director leading the design, development and implementation of several programs. In these roles, Avni was responsible for working both across a number of functions of the organization to design the program and working through all the local program offices to implement the program. Avni currently lives in Columbia, South Carolina and is involved with the local public schools on a volunteer basis, working intensively to change life outcomes for a group of middle school students through Achieve Columbia. She is also on the board of Washington, DC-based Critical Exposure.
Avni completed the New Leaders program and served as an Assistant Principal in the DC Public Schools, including a turnaround PreK-8 th grade school. Avni taught middle school science at the Academy of the Pacific Rim in Boston and helped found Amistad Academy, the first Achievement First charter school.  Avni has a Masters in Ed. Admin. from Trinity University, a J.D. from Yale Law School, and a B.A. from Yale College.
Susan Marks, Human Capital Partner
SusanMSusan Marks has been privileged to be in public education for over 40 years. Entering into education as a speech pathologist and special education teacher in Connecticut and Maryland, Susan has held a variety of positions on both the instructional and operational sides of public school districts. She has been an assistant principal and principal at the elementary school level.   Susan moved into the central office of Montgomery County Public Schools heading up their Global Access Technology division as their Chief Information Officer.  In 2000, Susan expanded her leadership capacity by joining the Office of School Performance in Montgomery County, a nationwide leader in the supervision and support of school principals. Susan was instrumental in collaboratively with the unions and other leaders in designing and implementing the three Professional Growth Systems (PGS) for each employee group in the Montgomery County Public Schools. Susan’s role as a Community Superintendent, supervising the academic growth of 30 schools for six years, led her to her next position as an Associate Superintendent for Human Resources, in Montgomery County Public Schools, for four years where she led all human resource processes for over 22,000 employees.  She also led the Office of Shared Accountability for the Montgomery County Public Schools for one year.  Susan has also been a superintendent of schools in Norwalk, CT.  As Superintendent, she provided visionary leadership to the 11,000 students and 1,500 employees of the Norwalk Public Schools (NPS).   Susan has consulted with several school districts in the areas of instructional leadership, principal development and central office reorganization as well as human resources. Susan holds an undergraduate degree in Speech and Language Pathology from Kent State University, a Master’s Degree in Language Development from the University of Connecticut and a Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Maryland.
Michael Moore, Human Capital Partner

MichaelMichael Moore has more than 35 years of experience as a K-12 public school educator and has served as a teacher, a high school principal, and a superintendent of schools. His areas of expertise include leadership development, organizational development, and executive coaching.

Recently, Michael led the core program at New Leaders, Inc. as Chief Academic Officer. New Leaders, a national nonprofit, recruits, selects, trains, and supports principals for the most underserved schools in 12 urban areas. While at New Leaders, he led work that developed and implemented a leadership trajectory and assessment, a school diagnostic tool, and a coaching framework. While serving as the Executive Director of New Leaders’ California program, Michael supported 36 urban principals, 13 of whom saw double-digit annual gains in their student achievement results. As a superintendent, he co-founded two multi-district collaboratives to streamline human capital development, improve the quality of governance, and reduce costs. Michael also worked with the Brookings Institution to improve K-12 governance throughout the state of Maine.

Michael has extensive experience with collective bargaining, interest-based negotiation, and performance management systems. His current consulting portfolio includes projects on teacher effectiveness, principal standards and evaluation, the role of the principal-manager, and the creation of talent pipelines in urban school districts. He holds degrees from The Boston Conservatory and University of Southern Maine.

Katie Nesmith Singh, Human Capital Partner

KatiePrior to joining the Urban Schools Human Capital Academy, Katie Nesmith worked at the New York City Department of Education for more than four years in a variety of roles. Most recently, she was a Senior Director in the Office of School Leader Effectiveness, leading the design and implementation of the Department’s principal performance review pilot in 30 schools. In addition to working in the Department’s Office of Product Development, where she managed the launch of a professional learning management system for teachers and school leaders, Katie was also Director of Strategic Analysis in the Division of Human Resources.

Before joining the NYC Department of Education, Katie worked at the World Bank in Washington, DC, where she researched education systems across East Asia and the Pacific Region and supported the Bank’s education program in Mongolia. Katie began her career as an elementary school teacher in East Oakland and East Palo Alto, California.

Katie holds a Master’s Degree in International Management from the University of California, San Diego and a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Alfred Dunn, Human Capital Fellow
Alfred DunnAlfred Dunn is a seasoned education policy researcher with a strong quantitative background and extensive experience in developing analytics to monitor, quantify and improve various human capital initiatives. Alfred’s research interests focus on the socialization, satisfaction and strategic retention of teachers and school leaders. He has co-authored manuscripts aimed at identifying strengths and weaknesses of recruitment, selection, induction and professional development practices within an educational setting. Alfred began his career in education as a middle school mathematics teacher in Orlando, Florida. He has over 8 years of experience working with non-profits, charter school authorizers, school districts and state agencies. Currently, Alfred is an Institute of Education Sciences pre-doctoral fellow and a Leadership, Policy and Organizations Ph.D. candidate at Peabody College, Vanderbilt. Alfred earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics from Morehouse College and a Master of Science in Education Policy from the University of Pennsylvania.
Jody Buchheit Spolar, State Technical Assistance Manager
jody-spolar-head-shotWith both private and public sector experience, Jody’s practice has ranged from practicing traditional employee relations to leading progressive, collaborative processes. In the steel industry, Jody supervised the labor relations department in a major flat-rolled facility. Desiring a transition to the public sector, Jody joined the Pittsburgh School District and steadily expanded her scope of responsibility, encompassing performance management and talent management. She was chief spokesperson in teacher collective bargaining and in the administrator meet and discuss process. Jody served as the District’s lead for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Empowering Effective Teachers competitive proposal process. Pittsburgh was selected as one of four school districts in the nation to be an intensive partnership site with the Gates Foundation. As Chief Human Resources Officer, Jody led transformative human capital initiatives encompassing compensation, evaluation and strategic staffing. She now consults in the areas of strategic leadership, labor relations and human capital transformation within the education sector, and also continues to do teacher contract negotiations. Jody holds a Masters of Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University.