We achieve so much more when we work together toward a common goal
Meet the Accelerate Institute Team
Pat Ryan, Jr.
Pat is a three-time social and two-time technology entrepreneur who has founded two companies that were recognized by Inc. Magazine as being among the fastest growing software companies in the United States in its annual Inc. 500 rankings.
Pat’s experience directly led to his vision as a social entrepreneur in education and inspired him to found the Alain Locke Charter School, in the East Garfield Park neighborhood on Chicago's West Side. The school achieved the #1 test score gains in the history of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT)—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.” Recently, U.S. News & World Report named Alain Locke one of the best schools in Illinois.
Education reform is something Pat has been passionate about for thirty years. That passion led him to start Accelerate Institute where the focus continues to be on developing transformational school leaders who will work tirelessly to close the achievement gap.
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, 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 the Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy. Pat has been 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.
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
PRESIDENT/CHIEF ACADEMIC OFFICER
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.
MANAGING DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS
Raised on the South Side of Chicago, Jillian is committed to ensuring that all young people have access to a quality education. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where she developed a passion for working with youth. After graduating, she joined Teach for America as a corps member where she taught 3rd grade and earned a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from UNLV. She then returned to Chicago and helped open what became the #1 non-selective enrollment high school in the city, a Noble School. While at Noble, she became an award-winning teacher; spent five years across two campuses teaching 9th and 11th grade math; and served as a dean. She later went on to serve as an Assistant Principal and Principal across the pre-K to 12 spectrums at University of Chicago-Donoghue, CICS Wrightwood, and Foundations College Prep.
During her tenure as a school leader, she secured more than a half million dollars in grant money on her quest to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. While leading her team at Wrightwood as a Growth Accelerator participant, she exceeded expectations to increase the school’s overall School Quality Rating Program score from a 2.2 to a 3.5. Since then, she’s become an educational consultant and most recently led instructional improvement work around turning research into anti-racist practice for the University of Chicago’s Network for College Success.
Jillian is primarily responsible for overseeing and improving outcomes for Accelerate’s core programs: The Chicago Growth Accelerator and Leadership Academy. When she’s not working to create a pathway to college for youth, she enjoys being near water, completing puzzles, collecting sneakers, and traveling! She also builds and donates beds for kids in need as the Chapter President of Sleep in Heavenly Peace - Chicago South. She is a thought leader on organizational health with a focus on equitable practices and high functioning teams.
DIRECTOR OF CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT
A fourth-generation educator and native Detroiter, Erica began her teaching career in 1995 at the Frances Xavier Warde School (FXW) in Chicago, teaching grades four through eight. During that time, Erica conducted various action-research projects around student self-assessment and collaborative conferences which she presented for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). 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 Principal Fellowship team in 2013. During her nearly 15 years with Accelerate Institute, Erica has trained and mentored more than 60 rising educational leaders across public, charter, and Catholic schools. She has extensive training and expertise with various coaching models including New Teacher Center’s Teacher Induction and CT3’s Real-Time Teacher Coaching. Erica also leverages her experience implementing a range of instructional practices including Responsive Classroom, Project-Based Learning, Kagan Structures, and Multi-Sensory Learning to support leaders in developing their instructional vision. Erica earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Oakland University and a master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from Loyola University.
Director of Partnerships
Alexis has more than 15 years of experience improving the lives of young people and adults in underserved communities through her leadership of both local and national nonprofit organizations. The Chicago native has been instrumental in the design, refinement, recruitment, and implementation of programs and services that empower individuals to reach their greatest potential educationally, socially, and emotionally. She is deeply passionate about people and their advancement, and strongly values building authentic relationships and partnerships.
Alexis is a proud product of the Chicago educational system, and earned her master’s degree in public administration from Roosevelt University. An entrepreneur and creative in her own right, she is also founder and CEO of A Part of the Party, which curates experiences for couples and their wedding entourages that will ensure their big day is stress-free, memorable, and FUN! Alexis strives to use her gifts to inspire dreams, ignite change, and impact lives by serving others and meeting their needs. Whether she’s fostering partnerships, generating resources, or managing events, her purpose aligns perfectly with the personal and professional lives of every individual she encounters in order to drive meaningful transformation together.
It did not take long for Alexis to fall in love with Chicago after moving to the city in 2016. A regular attendee at White Sox games and a lifetime fan, Alexis also volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Her passion for facilitating equity in education is visible in nearly everything she does. Alexis has done work with Women Employed, a nonprofit advocacy organization that pursues equity for women in the workforce by effecting policy change, expanding access to educational opportunities, and advocating for fair and inclusive workplaces. While completing her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Illinois Springfield’s online program, Alexis also interned in the education department of the Chicago History Museum and aided in creating engaging materials that spoke to all Chicagoans. In her free time, Alexis enjoys visiting Chicago’s various museums and exploring the food scene, especially in her neighborhood of Pilsen, where she lives with her partner and their two cats.
SENIOR DIRECTOR OF CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT
Growing up in Minnesota, Emily learned the value of education through her parents, who were teachers in their local school district. Upon graduating from DePauw University, she joined the Teach for America corps in St. Louis, where she taught seventh and eighth grade math.
In 2009, Emily moved to Chicago to become the founding algebra teacher at Muchin College Prep, a Noble School. Over eight years, she taught and led as math department chair and Dean of Instruction. While at Muchin, Emily earned her master’s degree in educational leadership from National Louis University, in partnership with the KIPP School Leadership Program. She transitioned to principal in 2016, and served as school leader of Muchin College Prep for seven years. Under her leadership, Muchin continued to be one of the highest-performing non-selective high schools in Chicago, earning a 1+ on the Chicago School Quality Rating Policy every year of her principalship. Emily’s heart will always be with the incredible Muchin community—Go Mountain Lions!
Emily joined Accelerate Institute as the Senior Director of Curriculum and Assessment in 2022. She is thrilled to be working alongside Chicago principals who are putting in the work in arguably one of the most challenging—and rewarding— careers out there. Principal leadership is one of the most important factors in determining scholar success, and Emily is honored to coach and develop principals in fine-tuning their leadership to better equip scholars with the knowledge and skills to challenge systems of inequity and live their best lives. Outside of her career, Emily loves spending time with her husband, daughter, dog, and extended family, who fill her cup every single day!
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.
Lauren is an educator and fundraiser who joined Accelerate Institute as Development Manager in July 2021. Lauren began her education career as an Orchestra Director for Fairfax County Public Schools in Northern Virginia. During her 8 years there, Lauren led music programs that engaged over 2,000 elementary and middle school students, served as a mentor to new teachers, and developed a three-year curriculum sequence for elementary school strings teachers.
Before joining Accelerate Institute, Lauren served as Director of Education at The Town Hall in New York City where she expanded education offerings, worked to implement a social justice curriculum for school partners, and strategized closely with the Development Department to secure funding for all education programs. Previously, Lauren worked at Midori & Friends where she provided thousands of students with the chance to learn music in over 70 NYC Public Schools through Midori & Friends programming.
Lauren holds a Master’s in Arts Management Degree from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Music Degree from James Madison University. New to Chicago, Lauren and her husband are excited to explore the city. Lauren enjoys playing the violin and piano and is looking forward to finding an orchestra to perform with in Chicago.
SENIOR DIRECTOR OF PROFESSIONAL LEARNING
In her role as Senior Director of Professional Development, Keelin develops and facilitates the Accelerate Institute Curriculum for all programs: School Accelerator, Principal Fellowship, Leadership Academy, and Accelerate Online. During her tenure at Accelerate Institute, Keelin has played a key role in program innovation by leading the creation of the Leadership Academy, a program for school leaders at all levels, as well as creating and leading the beta testing for Accelerate Online, a fully asynchronous online learning platform for current and aspiring school leaders. Prior to taking on her current role, Keelin was a Director of Curriculum and Assessment, where she was responsible for the planning and execution of the one-year Field Study experience for participants in the Principal Fellowship program and was an Advisor to Principal Fellows, supporting them through their Field Study and their first two years of principalship.
Keelin has been trained in multiple coaching models including New Teacher Center’s Teacher Induction and CT3’s Real-Time Teacher Coaching. A life-long learner herself, Keelin holds a Master of Science in Education from Northwestern University, a Master of Education in Literacy, Language and Culture from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Certificate in E-Learning and Instructional Design from the University of Washington. Keelin loves thinking and learning about how adults and kids learn. Before joining Accelerate Institute in 2007, Keelin got her start teaching through Accelerate Institute’s founding program, ICTC, and during that time worked in both the Chicago Public Schools and the Archdiocese of Chicago schools. In 2006, she was honored with the Presidential Award for Math and Science Teaching for the state of Illinois. Keelin currently resides in Bristol, Rhode Island with her husband and two children. They love being out in nature whenever they can.
DIRECTOR OF FINANCE AND OPERATIONS
Kate spent eight years at Accelerate Institute as an advisor to aspiring and sitting school leaders through our Principal Fellowship and Accelerator programs. In that role, she was responsible for the planning and execution of the field study experience for Principal Fellows and the ongoing support of school leaders in their first year of school start-up and beyond. Prior to that, Kate spent seven years as a global history teacher 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 to create a reflective, engaging, and culturally responsive learning environment that drove student achievement. Kate brings her resourcefulness, “can-do” attitude, and deep program knowledge to her latest Finance and Operations role. She also serves on the organization’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee where she and her colleagues facilitate monthly whole staff professional development. Kate holds a bachelor’s degree in History and Humanistic Studies from Saint Mary's College and master’s degree in Secondary Education from the University of Pennsylvania. She reads over 40 books a year, but always blanks on the titles whenever someone asks for a recommendation. Kate lives in Chicago with her high school sweetheart and their two boys.
SENIOR DIRECTOR OF CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT
Erin started her teaching career in the West Englewood neighborhood as an ICTC corps member and 4th grade teacher in Chicago Public Schools. She then served the University of Chicago Charter School network for over 9 years, as a teacher and instructional coach, eventually becoming the principal of the Donoghue campus. While serving as principal at Donoghue, Erin led her team to Level 1 status, on the CPS School Quality Rating Program.
Erin is passionate about leadership development and building partnerships that will accelerate the improvement of student outcomes that positively impact the community at large. Erin has successfully completed the Chicago Public Schools' Principal Residency program and Accelerate Institute's School Accelerator program.
Through her leadership experiences, Erin has been able to focus on providing instructional coaching to teachers, leading professional development and data analysis sessions, developing teacher leaders, and facilitating parent engagement workshops.
As a career changer, Erin has a bachelor’s in marketing from DePaul University and started her professional career in pharmaceutical sales. She then attended Northwestern University, where she earned a master’s in Elementary Education. She also holds a master’s in Educational Leadership from Dominican University.
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.
Board of Directors
Pat Ryan, Jr., Founder, Accelerate Institute
Founder and CEO, INCISENT Labs Group
Larry W. Gies
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Madison Industries
Gregory K. Jones
Chief Operating Officer, The Edgewater Funds
Founding Chairman, Potbelly Corporation
Executive Chairman, Interactive Metronome
Founder and Chairman, Satter Investment Management
Principal of Scoby Investments LLC
Managing Member, Broken Dice Trading and Research
Catalyst Charter Schools
Chicago International Charter Schools
Great Public Schools Now
Latinos for Education
Perspectives Charter Schools
Rise Up Coalition
Silicon Schools Fund
Teach For America Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana
Teach For America Ohio
University of Chicago Charter School
And many others!
Alta Vista Fund
Bill Bartholomay Foundation
Bruce and Beth White Family Foundation
D & R Fund
Devers Group, Inc.
DLA Piper LLC
Grosvenor Capital Management
Henry E. Niles Foundation
Hoeflich Family Fund
Huizenga Capital Management
Illinois Tool Works Inc.
Kirkland & Ellis Foundation
Madigan Family Foundation
Make It Better Media
Mr. and Mrs. Michael Keiser Donor Advised Fund
Paragon Pharmaceutical Management Corporation
Polk Bros. Foundation
Segal Family Foundation
Shekhawat Family Charitable Fund
The Gies Foundation
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Foundation
Valor Equity Partners
Wallace Family Foundation
William Penn Foundation