We achieve so much more when we work together toward a common goal

Pat Ryan, Jr.

Founder

Prior to his entrepreneurial business initiatives, civic leadership and founding of the Accelerate Institute, Pat started his career as a teacher and gang narcotics police officer on Chicago’s West Side. At the Chicago Police Academy, his classmates elected him “Outstanding Recruit” and his work in law enforcement included time as a narcotics investigator focused on major gang narcotics activity in the inner-city of Chicago; in this role, he received a commendation for leading a $1.1 million cocaine seizure.

Pat’s urban experience as an officer and a teacher helped sharpen his vision as a social entrepreneur in education. That’s what led him to found the Alain Locke Charter School, located on Chicago's West Side, which achieved the #1 test score gains in the history of Illinois ISAT standard test—and was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as “one of seven charter schools in the United States best at closing the achievement gap.” Education reform is something he has been passionate about for over twenty years—and ultimately it led to the Accelerate Institute which focuses on developing the school leaders of today and tomorrow to close the achievement gap.

Pat is a three-time social and two-time technology entrepreneur who has created two companies that were recognized by Inc. Magazine as among the fastest growing software companies in the United States in its annual Inc. 500 rankings.

Pat holds a Master of Business Administration from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, and a Juris Doctor cum laude from the Northwestern University School of Law. He is a member of the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO), the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and the Commercial Club of Chicago. Pat is a Trustee of Northwestern University and a member of its Executive Committee as well as past Chairman of the Advisory Board of Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy. In 1999, Pat was named a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute, as well as one of the 100 Global Leaders for Tomorrow at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In 2006, Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management named Pat Social Entrepreneur of the Year for his innovative work in urban education. Pat and his wife, Lydia, live on Chicago's North Side with their three children.


Jamar Beyonu

Director of Talent

As a member of the talent team, Jamar is responsible for developing and executing regional recruitment campaigns and selection processes for Accelerate Institute’s Ryan Fellowship and Accelerator programs. As Accelerate Institute broadens its footprint, Jamar also oversees recruitment strategy design for new regional placements. Before arriving to Accelerate Institute, Jamar served for 11 years with the national service and education-based non-for-profit, City Year Inc., and held multiple roles as a member of the Chicago location’s senior leadership team. In his most recent role as Senior Impact Director, Jamar oversaw goal achievement for the site’s “whole school, whole child” model, in addition to partnership cultivation, and contract renewal for 26 district and charter locations within the CPS network. Jamar also served as Director of College Partnerships with Chicago-based nonprofit, One Million Degrees, overseeing seven partnerships within the City College network, and assisted with scaling and design efforts for the organization's embedded model. Jamar is a proud alumnus of the AmeriCorps national network and was awarded alumni of the year in 2015! He holds a Bachelors in Sociology from DePaul University. Jamar and his wife Tracy live on Chicago’s south side with their two boys


 

Erin Brooks

Senior Director of Talent and Partnership

Erin is responsible for facilitating mission-aligned expansion efforts for Accelerate Institute by exploring and developing new partnerships in various regions across the country that serve to create a movement around closing the achievement gap in urban schools and to promote and seed The Ryan Fellowship, Ryan Award, and Accelerator programs. Erin also manages The Ryan Fellowship talent team responsible for executing a nationwide recruitment campaign to identify and select high-impact aspiring school leaders for the Fellowship. Erin has also previously worked with Accelerate Institute as its Director of Talent for The Ryan Fellowship and Director of Teacher Identification and Placement for Inner-City Teaching Corps. Prior to joining Accelerate Institute in 2010, Erin worked for Teach For America’s New York regional development team and was a TFA New York corps member teaching kindergarten in the South Bronx. Erin holds a B.A. in American Studies and Spanish from the University of Notre Dame and a M.S. in Teaching from Pace University. She is originally from Thousand Oaks, CA.


 

Dr. Catherine Burns

CHIEF ACADEMIC OFFICER

Recently, Catherine was appointed as a Commissioner for the Illinois State Charter School Commission (ISCSC). Established in 2011 by the Illinois Board of Education, the Commission is an independent body with statewide chartering jurisdiction and authority. Members of the Commission have extensive experience in education, particularly with school development and management—and that’s exactly why Catherine is perfect for this new responsibility. 

As a Commissioner, Catherine reviews charter applications and provides guidance to candidates to help increase the quality of applications and raise the level of professional practice in the Illinois charter sector. She is very excited about this opportunity because she can make an impact on students and families throughout Illinois and help influence professional practice in the charter sector, proving more quality options for students.

Catherine has dedicated her life to helping others realize their full potential. Because of that, she is a thought leader on leadership development, executive coaching, and team management. She plays a critical role in developing leaders to hold the mindset and skill set to be transformational school leaders in the toughest environments in the nation. During her highly-successful 15-year career, Catherine has worked with over 50 leaders across the country from high-needs cities such as Chicago, New York, Newark, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Jose. It is through this work that she and these leaders have founded and turned around schools to provide opportunities for the highest-needs students in this country, dramatically changing the trajectory of their lives. Catherine lives in Chicago with her son and enjoys every minute of living in such a diverse and lively city.


Erica Eichleay

Director of Curriculum and Assessment

Erica began her teaching career in 1995 at the Frances Xavier Warde School (FXW) in Chicago, teaching grades four through eight. Beginning in 2006, she worked as an Instructional Coach with the Inner-City Teaching Corps—Accelerate Institute’s teacher training program—before she made the transition to The Ryan Fellowship team in 2013. Erica is a strong proponent of social emotional learning and student engagement, so much so that she conducted a number of school-based action research projects and presented her work at the Whole Language Umbrella, a national conference sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Erica earned her B.S. in Psychology from Oakland University and a Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction from Loyola University. 


 

Nora Ligurotis

Chief Executive Officer

Nora Ligurotis was named Chief Executive Officer in September 2014 and continues the mission to expand Accelerate Institute on a national level; to increase the product offerings made available to transformational principals; and encourage the entrepreneurial spirit that has made Accelerate Institute a success. Before joining Accelerate Institute, Nora was the president of an integrated marketing company which she co-founded in 1988. In that role, she was responsible for business development, strategic planning, and operational excellence. Before that, Nora worked in account services roles for several Chicago-based advertising agencies. Nora has a B.A. from the University of Illinois, has two grown children, and lives in Chicago.


Himali Patel

Director of Finance and Operations

Himali oversees technology, financial management, and programmatic support for Accelerate Institute as well as overseeing the Ryan Award. Prior to joining the team here, Himali provided accounting and HR services for not-for-profit organizations, such as Alain Locke Charter School. She has a proven track record of improving operational systems, processes, and policies to enhance information flow and management of business process and organizational planning. In her prior roles, she increased the effectiveness of services through improvements between support and programmatic functions. Himali currently serves as the Secretary for the Board of Directors of the Alain Locke Charter School Board. She has a Bachelors in Accountancy from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.


Keelin Philippe

Director of Curriculum and Assessment

After graduating from Villanova University, Keelin joined Inner-City Teaching Corps in Chicago, spending the next two years as a volunteer teacher on Chicago’s south side. Keelin remained in the classroom for seven years, working at Catholic schools and Chicago Public Schools. And in 2006, she won the Presidential Award for Math and Science for the state of Illinois, where she was invited to meet with the President of the United States. Although her passion was teaching early elementary students, she spent time working with middle school writers. It was her love of reading and teaching young readers that led her to pursue a second Master's degree in Literacy, Language and Culture with a Reading Specialist certification from the University of Illinois at Chicago (she also holds a Master's degree in Education from Northwestern University).  Keelin has been with Accelerate Institute since 2007, starting as the Director of Teacher Coaching.


Kate Pillai

Director of Curriculum and Assessment

Kate supports a national cohort of Ryan Fellows to accelerate student achievement in their first year of principalship. She develops the planning and execution of Accelerate Institute and the Field Study experience for Ryan Fellows. Additionally, she leads assessments three times a year and a strategic planning process to support Ryan Fellowship alumni in their first year of school start-up. Previously, Kate served as a member of the Principal's Instructional Cabinet, Social Studies Department Chair, and Tenth Grade PLC Facilitator at the Bushwick School for Social Justice (BSSJ), a Brooklyn-based New York City Department of Education small school. There, she combined a strong passion for social justice and history background to motivate and inspire her students, creating a reflective, engaging learning environment that drove student achievement. Before that, Kate was a Reading Coordinator at Teamwork for Tomorrow, a literacy and enrichment after school program affiliated with the University of Notre Dame. Kate graduated from Saint Mary's College where she received her Bachelor in History and Humanistic Studies and was a Presidential Scholar for Academic Excellence. Kate is also a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania where she received a Master of Science in Education specializing in secondary social studies education and was the recipient of the Dean's Urban Teaching Scholarship.


Jennifer Riskind

Director of Development

Jennifer joined Accelerate Institute in January 2016. She is responsible for planning, managing and implementing the development strategy, driving all contributed income for Accelerate Institute in support of its current and long-term strategic objectives. Jennifer brings over 15 years of experience in the Chicago philanthropic and nonprofit management sectors. Prior to joining Accelerate Institute, Jennifer served as the lead development professional for a number of Chicago area nonprofit agencies, including Gads Hill Center, the Infant Welfare Society of Evanston, Project Exploration, The American Committee for KEEP and Circle Family Care. Jennifer holds a B.A., Cum Laude, from the University of Minnesota and is a longtime member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. As a volunteer lay leader, Jennifer has served on several nonprofit boards, including Mt. Sinai Medical Institute Council and the Anti-Cruelty Society.


Anna Rowan

DATA ANALYST

Anna is an education policy expert with extensive experience in closing the achievement gap in urban education. Prior to joining Accelerate Institute, she fought for the well-being of Illinois children through data-driven advocacy as manager of Voices for Illinois Children’s Kids Count program. Anna worked as a policy analyst in Washington, D.C. for The Education Trust from 2006-2011, where she focused on improving educational opportunities for low-income students and students of color nationwide. Anna holds a bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University, with a major in Spanish and a minor in neuroscience, and a master’s degree of public policy from Vanderbilt with a concentration in education policy.


Juanita Shelby

Office Manager

Juanita brings over 20 years of administrative assistance and Office management experience with her to Accelerate Institute. Prior to joining us in 2014, Juanita managed the office, supervised part-time and summer workers for I AM ABLE Center for Family Development. Juanita created curriculums for workers, planned conferences and assisted with various events. Juanita received her BS in Computer Information Systems from DeVry University and a Master of Divinity from McCormick Theological Seminary. Her social service focus has been to empower young people in underserved communities to help them grow into productive adults.


Velia Soto

Senior Director of Curriculum and Assessment

Velia began her career in education as a bilingual/dual immersion kindergarten teacher in Chicago Public Schools. She acted as founding kindergarten teacher at Erie Elementary Charter School on Chicago’s West Side before becoming assistant principal in 2008. In 2010, she became the principal of Erie and led the creation of the middle school grades as well as the construction and development of a new, state-of-the-art facility through the managing of a $12 million State of Illinois capital grant. In 2016, Velia moved on to develop and coach emerging school leaders in California and Texas through the nonprofit school leadership organization New Leaders. Velia serves on numerous nonprofit boards that service disadvantaged populations in the areas of immigration services, health, and after school programming. She was a part of The Latino Policy Forum’s Latino Leadership Academy and has attended high quality leadership trainings from various institutions such as Harvard Graduate School of Education and Deloitte University. Velia holds a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; a master’s degree in Bilingual/Bicultural Education from DePaul University; and a master’s degree in Educational and Organizational Leadership from Roosevelt University in Chicago.