Our National Board
Julie Neimat, Board Chair
Senior Vice President, Global Talent and Human Resource Management, Discovery Communications LLC
Julie is an innovative human resources leader with expertise supporting business growth in a variety of fast paced domestic and international environments. As SVP Global Talent and HR Management at Discovery Communications, she serves dual functions, leading the organization’s talent acquisition initiatives and delivering HR solutions to Discovery’s global corporate operations – partnering with the business to shape strategic initiatives for commercial growth, workforce evolution, and ROI.
Before her work at Discovery, Julie led HR and Operations at Wind-Up Entertainment, a New York-based record label and music publishing company. She also served as an HR Business Partner for DoubleClick, a global Internet Advertising Solutions company, in their New York, Dublin and London offices where she oversaw HR for the Pan-European businesses. Here, she supported significant business growth including opening new offices and driving several major acquisitions and joint venture conversions. Julie holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in Journalism and English Literature from Michigan State University.
Vice Chair and Governance Committee Chair
Managing Director, Global Services, Acumen Solutions
Shally is Managing Director of Acumen Solutions’ Global Services and is responsible for developing and delivering the company’s enterprise cloud transformation solutions to its customers. She has 20 years of experience as a management consultant focusing on achieving better business outcomes using innovative information technologies and practices.
Prior to her current role, Shally served as Chief Technology Officer of Greenwich Technology Partners. Before that, Shally cofounded NetGain LLC ‐ a highly successful network consulting business which grew to over $5 million in revenue within three years. Shally began her career at McKinsey & Company. She has been regularly quoted as a subject matter expert in leading publications and has been a speaker at leading industry conferences. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
President, Human Capital Enterprises
Hank is the Founder and President of Human Capital Enterprises, providing consulting services and HR thought-leadership to school district Superintendents and Boards across the United States. Formerly a teacher, principal, and school district leader, Hank is a well-respected speaker and thought-leader in the area of school district human capital. He currently also serves as the Executive Director of the Virginia Association of School Personnel Administrators.
Prior to relocating to Washington, DC, Hank served at the helm of three school district HR offices in the Pacific Northwest including Portland Public in Oregon and Bellingham in Washington State. He also served as Interim Executive Director of the American Association of School Personnel Administrators.
Armando de Castro
Armando is currently an independent financial consultant for media focused companies and exploring new opportunities. He spent 11 years with Discovery Communications in a variety of senior finance roles, most recently serving as Senior Vice President, Revenue Strategy & Insights for the Chief Commercial Officer’s group to drive the execution of strategies, increased revenue and deliver on financial results.
Prior to this role Armando was Senior Vice President of Corporate Financial Planning and Analysis responsible for leading the review and analysis of operating performance, budgets and long-range plans and working closely with CFOs to achieve financial targets. He also served as Vice President of Finance for Discovery Networks International, leading worldwide financial planning and analysis activities.
Before joining Discovery, Armando was Director, Business Development at Belo Corp., where he led corporate development projects and investments for television, newspaper and interactive businesses. Armando joined Belo Corp from Viacom Inc., serving in a number of management roles in Dallas and New York including Director, Strategic Planning at Blockbuster Inc. and Finance Manager at Nickelodeon and MTV in New York. He began his career working for JPMorgan Chase in Internal Audit.
Armando holds a Masters of Business Administration from Texas A&M University-Commerce and a Bachelor of Science with a concentration in Finance from Providence College.
Karen Dielman is an independent consultant and past Portfolio Manager for The Jenesis Group family foundation, which assists non-profit clients with meeting their strategic goals and building a sustainable organization. Over the course of her career, Karen has become highly specialized in building relationships between philanthropists who desire to improve the world and social entrepreneurs doing the good work. She is best known for blending her business experience and public sector background in order to partner with social entrepreneurs to improve their businesses.
With 15+ years of for-profit business experience and 7+ years as coach for leaders in strategy development, Karen partners with social entrepreneurs to build a sustainable organization through a well-developed business plan and strong financial model.
Prior to joining Jenesis in early 2010, Karen worked for Sabre, a global fortune 500 company, where she led high-profile initiatives at the growing company, such as developing and implementing a global call center business, creating and managing Sabre’s consulting organization’s marketing strategy department, executing the company’s HR business process re-engineering effort, and managing the development, launch and growth strategy for several technology products and services.
Beyond providing guidance and leadership to businesses and nonprofits, Karen has also used her talents to provide counseling in private practice, children’s hospitals, and social service agencies. In addition to serving on REAL School Gardens’ National Board, Karen also serves on the board of Juma Ventures, which works to break the cycle of poverty for at-risk youth.
Karen holds an MBA from Texas Christian University, a Masters in Individual and Family Therapy from Texas Woman’s University, and a B.S. from The Pennsylvania State University.
Jeanne McCarty, Board Secretary
CEO, REAL School Gardens
Prior to leading REAL School Gardens in its national expansion, Jeanne spent eight years as vice president and director of the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots & Shoots, a global youth service program focused on conservation. With more than 17 years experience in education and program management, she has also served as the director of Undergraduate Programs for the Department of African American Studies and the assistant director of the Upward Bound program, both at the University of Maryland.
Jeanne is active in national and international initiatives to connect children and families to nature and to promote youth leadership in conservation. She serves on the Global Leadership Committee for the Nature Action Collaborative for Children and is on the National Advisory Board Member for The Gloria Barron Prize for Youth Heroes and the Advisory Council of the Environmental Leadership Center at Warren Wilson College. She holds a Master of Arts in American Studies from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Arts in American Studies, Summa Cum Laude, from the University of Southern Mississippi.
Director of PropelNext, The Edna McConnell Clark Founation
Danielle oversees the management and strategic direction of PropelNext, developing and executing the business plan for the future of the program while ensuring the success of current grantees’ and co-investors’ engagement with the initiative.
Before being named Director of PropelNext in 2016, Danielle helped craft the initiative as Director of Program Operations, identifying cohort candidates, managing the selection process, developing systems to measure cohort performance, managing a set of grantee relationships, and working with co-investors. In her previous position as Senior Portfolio Associate, Scaturro created the Foundation’s performance management process to better understand the grantee portfolio’s results, managed relationships with several grantees, and helped identify and assess new candidates for investment. She initially served as the Foundation’s accountant. Before joining EMCF in 2002, Danielle held several positions in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector in direct services and finance and administration.
Danielle earned her bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and an MBA from Baruch College, CUNY.
Dr. Ernie J. Smith, Finance Chair
Principal/Owner, Locus Advisors, LLC
Ernie is a Principal with the boutique consulting group Locus Advisors. Locus focuses on consulting and advisory services in the grocery, convenience, and drug retail and distribution markets, as well as foodservice, food production and food manufacturing. Smith in his career has completed numerous merger and acquisition transactions with total acquired volume in excess of $20 billion.Ernie has spent his career in the food industry, holding a number of executive positions and serving as an advisor to a number of large public and private companies.
He is currently a director of Alex Lee, Inc., the holding company for Merchants Distributors and Lowes Foods. In addition, Ernie most notably served as the former Executive President, Chief Financial and Administrative Officer for Ahold USA, one of the nation’s largest food retailers. During Ernie’s tenure, Ahold flourished and obtained sales in excess of $34 billion in the US.Ernie has a Doctorate from The George Washington University, Masters of Business Administration from Virginia Commonwealth University and Bachelors from Old Dominion University. He is a certified public accountant. He has been a member of multiple boards for profit and not for profit. He has been an adjunct professor for Old Dominion University.
Dale Stewart is a Partner, Civil Engineer, and immediate past president at LandDesign. He understands not only the opportunities and challenges of today’s engineering projects, but the important role and impact these projects play in the development of a larger region.
This expertise has made him a valuable member of a number of community organizations, appointed committees and task forces concerned with water quality protection and effective infrastructure. Dale earned a Master of Science and Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from North Carolina State University and is a registered professional engineer in North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia. Previously, Dale was the President of the Green Teacher Network where he worked to advance academics, health, and sustainability through school gardens and outdoor learning. He is also a member of several professional organizations, including the American Water Works Association, Water Environmental Federation, American Society of Civil Engineers, Water Environment Federation, and American Water Works Association.
Chief of Staff, Houston Independent School District
Dr. Cynthia Wilson currently serves as the Chief of Staff of the Houston Independent School District. She began this role in April of 2017. Dr. Wilson previously served as Chief of Staff of the Dallas Independent School District. From 2010 to 2015 she served as Superintendent of the Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5 in South Carolina. During her 29 years as an educator she spent 22 years in the Houston Independent School District, having served in various roles, including a regional and area superintendent, school principal, assistant principal, and teacher.
In her current HISD role, she is responsible for facilitating coordination and communication among the direct reports of the superintendent to ensure the superintendent is informed about current issues.
Dr. Wilson earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Houston. She later earned a doctoral degree in educational leadership from South Carolina State University.
Throughout her career as a public-school educator, Dr. Wilson has championed the right of every child to receive a quality education that prepares them to realize the vision they have for their future. During her tenure as a superintendent, she led the school district through many initiatives that led to increased graduation rates, additional school choice options, increasing public/private partnerships and initiating efforts that supported struggling male students of color. She is highly regarded for her support of a diverse and multilingual student enrollment and achieving high academic results for all students.
Dr. Wilson is married to Livy Wilson and they have a son Stephen Wilson.
Our Regional Boards
Bert Lynn — Board Chair
Bert is a landscape architect who focuses on the development of public spaces within Mecklenburg County, NC.
He currently serves as Project Manager for Mecklenburg County Asset and Facility Management where he oversees design and construction of parks, greenways, and nature preserves. He has served as a member of the Charlotte Chamber Greenworks Board for five years, Green Awards Chair for three years and Board Chair in 2015. With two children in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Montessori Magnet project, Bert has seen first-hand the benefits of extending the classroom outdoors and has a passion to help spread this concept across the Southeast.
Melia Gordon has spent almost two decades in public service in the areas of human resources, budgeting and program/performance evaluation.
She currently holds the role as a Budget and Financial Manager with the City of Charlotte, where she has worked since 2007. Her community focus is to partner with nonprofits that address domestic violence, literacy, hunger, and housing issues. Melia holds a degree in Business Administration from the University of South Carolina and has a Masters of Public Administration from University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Jake House is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Community 1st Advisors (C1A), a leading association management company.
Prior to C1A, House spent six years in urban public education reform, first with Pittsburgh Public Schools. House then became the ED of the nonprofit Citizen Schools’ North Carolina chapter. House holds a MBA from the University of Michigan (Ross), a Masters of Education in Educational Leadership from the Broad Center for Urban Education and a BS in marketing from the University of Maryland.
Philip Lloyd is a culinary instructor at the Art Institute of Charlotte, NC. He also is the owner of Certified Chef’s Cuisine.
He began working in food service as a teen, when his father encouraged him to try his hand at cooking because he “ate too much.” Starting as a dishwasher, he quickly worked his way up and was a managing the kitchen by the time he was 17. Philip has had the privilege of working with highly regarded clubs, restaurants, chefs and service staff throughout his career. Philip is a member of the American Culinary Federation and the World Association of Cooks. He was twice named the ACF Greater Charlotte Chapter Chef of the Year. He received a degree in Culinary Management from Ai Pittsburgh in 2015 and a degree in AOS Culinary Science from the Culinary Institute of America Hyde Park in 1988.
Alfred is a seasoned relationship development executive who builds, implements, and manages strategic sales plans for his clients.
Most recently Al worked for TIAA, a financial services company that serves academic professionals, helping individuals plan for retirement and manage their investments. Prior to that, he spent the bulk of his career (25 years) working at Hewlett Packard managing their corporate client relationships. Al has earned several degrees from the College for Financial Planning, as well as Masters in Business Finance, and Bachelors in Financial Institutions and Commercial Banking.
Alfred is passionate about supporting educational institutions and professionals because they shape the next generation of leaders.
Roger Sarow is a journalist, content producer and non-profit media executive.
After 26 years of service, Sarow retired in 2015 as president and general manager of WFAE Public Radio, Charlotte, and its affiliated media operations. WFAE was founded by UNC-Charlotte. It is now operated by the non-profit University Radio Foundation. Roger is a native of Wisconsin. He served as a public radio news director and later as a producer, program host and program director at Wisconsin Public Radio, a statewide network. He served for six years on the Board of Directors of National Public Radio where he chaired NPR’s Corporate Finance Committee. Previously Sarow was chair of NPR’s Satellite Distribution Committee. Sarow received his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from the University of Wisconsin. He was a Rotary International Graduate Fellow in Germany. He has served as treasurer of the University Station Alliance, which represents public radio stations owned by higher education institutions. He also served as chairman of the Public Radio Program Directors’ Association.
Dale Stewart — Vice Chair
Dale Stewart is a Partner, Civil Engineer, and immediate past president at LandDesign. He understands not only the opportunities and challenges of today’s engineering projects, but the important role and impact these projects play in the development of a larger region.
This expertise has made him a valuable member of a number of community organizations, appointed committees and task forces concerned with water quality protection and effective infrastructure. Dale earned a Master of Science and Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from North Carolina State University and is a registered professional engineer in North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia. Previously, Dale was the President of the Green Teacher Network where he worked to advance academics, health, and sustainability through school gardens and outdoor learning. He is also a member of several professional organizations, including the American Water Works Association, Water Environmental Federation, American Society of Civil Engineers, Water Environment Federation, and American Water Works Association
Heidi Team is the Chief Business Development Officer at Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick’s Charlotte office.
She has extensive experience bringing structure and building business development and marketing programs within professional services organizations. Heidi works closely with attorneys and clients to enhance client relationships and growth strategies and supports the firm’s community contributions and partnerships. Prior to Shumaker, Heidi was a Client Relationship Executive with CohnReznick, a national accounting firm, where she led business development and marketing activities for the firm’s largest industry practice within the South Central region. Heidi is an active Charlotte Chamber Board of Advisors member, served on the Board of CREW Charlotte from 2011-2015, is an XTREME Hike participant (Cystic Fibrosis) and a fitness enthusiast.
Jennifer Leigh Chandler — Dallas Board Chair
Jennifer Chandler is the Market Executive for North Texas for the U.S. Trust Private Wealth Management division of Bank of America.
She is a Leadership Dallas 2011 alumni and a “40 under 40” honoree for community service. She is an Executive Board member of Big Thought and a past board member of Junior Achievement of Dallas. She is the Chair for Bank of America Community volunteers and has acted as the liaison for non-profit financial literacy training needs served by Bank of America. Jennifer was a member of the founding committee for Leadership, Education, Advocacy, and Development for Women (LEAD for Women). She received her B.A. in Government from the University of Texas and her M.B.A. from the University of Dallas with a focus on Finance.
Jeff Carter has spent more than 25 years in the real estate industry in the Dallas area.
Starting in 2006, he worked with Behringer, leading their Transaction Administration team, where he oversees contract negotiations, due diligence, and closing activities for different types of commercial real estate categories. Jeff connected with REAL School Gardens after establishing a mentoring program for at-risk students at Jerry Junkins Elementary School, where he connected more than 60 employees with students at school-related activities and functions. Before that, Jeff worked with the Trammell Crow Company, Lincoln Property Company, and Price Waterhouse. He previously served as a Trustee and Finance Committee Chair for Baylor Specialty Hospital and Baylor’s Our Children’s House, along with being a former Director with the Children’s Cancer Fund of Dallas. Jeff graduated from Indiana University at Bloomington in 1985 with a BS in Accounting.
Giles’ career in Information Systems and Project Management has spanned 30 years, working for companies such as Verizon, MCI/Worldcom, and Discovery Communications.
He is also a Managing Partner of GoWest, LLC, a residential development company. Giles got to know REAL School Gardens shortly after moving to Dallas in 2010 when he became a member of the inaugural class of Leadership DISD (Dallas Independent School District). He also serves on a number of other boards, including: Readers2Leaders; Dallas Social Venture Partners; Human Rights Campaign; and the Dallas Fort Worth Mountaineers Alumni Association. Giles holds a BS in Journalism, Minor in Chemistry from West Virginia University, and an MBA, from George Washington University.
Jerri Hammer is an individual tax advisor, an attorney and a Certified Public Accountant.
She is a partner at TravisWolff’s Individual Tax & Advisory department and specializes in high net worth individuals, hedge fund managers, foreign exchange and expats, and not-for-profits organizations (both private and public). Prior to obtaining her CPA license, she practiced law in estate planning and probate. She serves on boards at the Arthritis Foundation – Texas Chapter, the Association for Independent Living, and the Communities Foundation of Texas. Jerri has a B.A. in English, a J.D. (making her an attorney with a Juris Doctorate Degree) and a Master’s in Accounting from the University of Texas.
Margie has been a Dallas ISD Educator for 20 years, working as an elementary Math/Science Teacher, a middle school Academic Coordinator and Assistant Principal before becoming the Principal of John J. Pershing Elementary.
As a campus leader, her bottom line is to increase student achievement through the delivery of quality instructional practices. Since the installation of the Pershing Real School Garden three years ago, she has seen the positive impact the outdoor learning classroom has made on her students, and is always eager to share her experience.
Jo Marie Lilly
Jo Marie Lilly’s 45 year career in advertising and the graphic arts has given her the opportunity to work with numerous worthy charities.
As Senior Vice President of Creative Services for Neiman Marcus, she selected the company’s non-profit partners, and worked closely with UNICEF, Best Buddies and Starbright Foundation. Jo Marie became interested in REAL School Gardens as a member of the Founder’s Garden Club, an affiliate of The Garden Club of America. She also served on Dallas Contemporary and the USA Film Festival boards and was the President of Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS. She holds a BS in Education from The University of Texas, and is a graduate of the Executive Education, Management and Marketing Perspectives Program at Stanford University.
Ruth Kinler is the president of Redenta’s Garden, a company with two organic gardening stores and a landscape design, installation, and maintenance division.
Ruth founded Redenta’s in 1992 with the goal of establishing a successful environmentally conscious business. With REAL School Gardens Ruth felt she had finally found a cause she believed in enough to throw her support behind. Ruth supplies plant material for all of the Dallas/Fort Worth projects, and has supported REAL School Gardens in countless other ways for nearly ten years as a volunteer and advocate.
Sonja is Associate Chief Counsel for Labor & Employment at HMS Holdings, Inc., a healthcare company in Irving, Texas.
In addition to volunteering for programs such as Meals on Wheels, Junior League of Dallas, the African-American Museum, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s African-American Music Festival, She has also lead organizations such as the Princeton Alumni Association of Dallas/Fort Worth, the Lakewest/Oak Cliff YMCA, and Theatre Three. Sonja received her bachelor’s degree from Princeton University in 1993, and her law degree and Masters’ degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1998.
Paul began his career as a corporate banker, but took an unexpected turn and ended up spending more than nine years teaching in the Dallas Independent School District..
Paul’s passion for the teaching profession has only grown in that time, and he is currently a doctoral student in Education and research assistant at Southern Methodist University. Combining his background in finance and teaching, as a doctoral student, Paul is researching the economic outcomes and general effects of programs serving bilingual students. In addition to studying the impact of education, Paul has served as a treasurer for the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Dallas and as a Vice-Chair for the United Way Dallas Distribution Committee. He received his Bachelor of Business Administration with a minor in International Business from the Pontificia Universidad Católica (PUCMM) in Dominican Republic and his M.B.A. with a focus on Corporate Finance from the University of Dallas.
Michelle Riddell serves as Vice President of Strategic Communications and Community Investment at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX).
In her role, she leads the public and media relations and executive communications for the Plan President’s Office. She is also responsible for developing the community investment strategy and providing oversight to the Caring for Children Foundation. Currently, Michelle serves as the Chair of Be Covered Texas, a nationally recognized, grassroots community initiative to engage and educate Texans about the new health care law. Michelle is a 2012 graduate of the Leading Women’s Executive Program, developed by the Corporate Leadership Center of Chicago and currently serves as a board member for the North Texas Commission. Michelle graduated with honors from Oral Roberts University with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and passed her certified public accountant exam shortly thereafter.
Dr. Maxine B. Freund
Dr. Maxine B. Freund (Max) is the Associate Dean for Research and External Relations at the George Washington University, the Graduate School of Education and Human Development (GSEHD).
A tenured professor in the Department of Special Education and Disabilities Studies, Max has been engaged in the graduate preparation of special and general educators for over 35 years. Prior to her current role, she served as the Director of the Office for Partnerships and External Relations at GSEHD. Max holds a B.A in Political Science from the University of Minnesota, a K-12 Teaching Certification from the State of California earned during a post-BA program at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Masters of Arts in Early Childhood Education degree and a Doctor of Education degree in Special Education from George Washington University. In her current role, Max supports the research endeavors of faculty and staff in the Education school and the related development of federal and foundation grants and contract relationships.
Ervin Johnson is the Director of Community Engagement for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), where he leads the AAMC’s outreach efforts to local communities.
Prior to joining the AAMC, Ervin served as the Confidential Policy Advisor to the Federal Co-Chairman at the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) where he developed policy initiatives to spur rural economic development, community development and human resource development for the Appalachian region. As a presidential appointee, Ervin worked to strategically to integrate the Obama Administration’s policies into the work of ARC by developing public-private partnerships to help improve the health and economic resiliency of rural communities. Ervin is a native of Salisbury, NC and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from North Carolina State University, as well as a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago.
Eric Johnston is the Director of Government Relations at Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated. Bio coming soon.
Nancy Brenowitz Katz, MS, RDN, is the Director of School Partnerships for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.
In this role she builds and maintain cross-sector relationships with key national and local government agencies and non-governmental organizations, and leads the organization’s work around the Every Student Succeeds Act. Nancy also serves as an Adjunct Lecturer at both Anne Arundel Community College and American University. Prior to working at the Alliance, Nancy was the Manager of Healthy Schools Act Initiatives in the Office of the State Superintendent in Washington, DC. There she oversaw the agencies’ implementation of the DC Healthy Schools Act of 2010 through managing seven staff members who supported schools and districts in building strong wellness polices, increasing physical activity and physical, health, and environmental education, and implementing strong farm-to-school and school garden programs. Prior to this, Nancy served as the Dietetics Program Director at the University of Maryland for 10 years. There she trained hundreds of students, many of whom went on to pursue careers in dietetics. She also has experience in both community and clinical dietetics, having worked for several hospitals, the George Washington University Weight Management Program, and the Prince George’s County Health Department. Nancy is an active member of the District of Columbia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and served as their President from 2013-2014. She has been the recipient of both the Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year Award in 2006 and the Dietitian of the Year Award in 2013 from that organization. Nancy is active in her community and is the co-founder and co-Chair of the Health and Wellness Committee at Ashburton Elementary School in Bethesda, MD and serves on the Nutrition Subcommittee of the Montgomery County Parent Teacher Association’s Health and Safety Committee.