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

Pat Ryan, Jr.


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


Jamar is responsible for developing and executing regional recruitment campaigns for Accelerate Institute’s School Accelerator and Leadership Academy programs. As Accelerate Institute broadens its footprint, Jamar also supports strategy design for new programs and regions. Before arriving at Accelerate Institute, Jamar served for 11 years with the national service and education-based nonprofit, 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

vice president, Partnerships

Erin is a member of Accelerate Institute’s leadership team and is responsible for facilitating mission-aligned expansion efforts and partnerships with schools, districts, and other organizations in various regions across the country. These partnerships serve to create a movement around closing the opportunity gap in urban schools and to promote and seed Accelerate Institute’s Fellowship, School Accelerator, and Leadership Academy programs. Erin also manages the Partnerships Team which is responsible for identifying and cultivating participants for Accelerate Institute programs. 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


A Midwesterner at heart, Catherine grew up in Chicago’s south suburbs and stayed in the region to earn her undergrad and graduate degrees. She started her 20-year career as a high school history teacher and coach, but over the years grew to know and love the middle school and elementary school teachers and students, even her kindergarteners’ milk mustaches at breakfast. Catherine founded a successful charter school in Pilsen, a near southside neighborhood, forging its foundation in the culture of the community where she fostered a school climate where students and teachers loved to be and could learn and grow.  Under her leadership, she accelerated student achievement +43% in 4 years in reading and math as measured by NWEA. In the 4th year of operation, the 4th and 5th grade students were 90/90/90 classrooms, demonstrating that after 3 years of instruction at BDLC the achievement gap would be closed. 

Catherine leads our Curriculum and Assessment Team and helps set the vision for our organization as CAO.  Catherine is a thought leader on leadership development, executive coaching, and team management.  In addition to her tireless work on behalf of students, Catherine is dedicated to her family, friends, and beloved Boxer, Bosco. Catherine, her husband, Ken, and son Logan love travel, baseball, superheroes and if you have questions about dinosaurs or sinkholes, she might have the answer.

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.

Keelin Philippe

Senior Director of Professional Learning

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.

Anna Rowan


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.

Dr. Angel Turner


Angel has been working as an educator and leader since beginning her teaching career in Chicago in 2001. Before joining the Curriculum and Assessment team at Accelerate Institute, she spent three years as principal of Morton School of Excellence in the city’s East Garfield Park neighborhood. There, she led the school with the rally cry, “It’s not playtime, it is crunch time.” She also previously served as the Director of School Leadership for AUSL, where she coached and supported school leaders at two turnaround high schools and five elementary schools by fostering an intense focus on instructional delivery and leadership development.

Angel has a wealth of experience delivering professional development to principals and school leadership teams that is aligned with their goals, needs, and individual growth plans; facilitating school-level goal setting; and supporting school leaders in creating a data-craving culture that drives continuous improvement. In her spare time, she provides consulting and coaching support to many people who aspire to embark on their journeys as leaders in the field of teaching.

Originally from Clarksdale, Mississippi, Angel grew up on the South Side of Chicago and attended public elementary and high schools in the city. She then earned a B.S. in Elementary Education from Loyola University, an M.A. in Educational Administration from St. Xavier University and a Doctorate in Urban Educational Leadership at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She enjoys spending time with her husband and children, being active in her church and helping others.