Who we Are


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Carolinas Region

Dale Stewart -- Carolinas Board 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.

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Bert Lynn -- Vice 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.

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Wayne Fisher

Wayne Fisher is the Elementary Science Specialist for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools where he leads programs and initiatives to enrich and enhance student learning in STEM.

A former Coast Guard officer and project engineer/manager in industry, Wayne launched his career in education in 1996 as a high school physics teacher in Natick, MA. From 1997-2007 he taught physics at Myers Park HS in Charlotte, NC before being asked to leave the classroom to nurture and grow the elementary science program in a large urban/suburban school district with 100 elementary schools. Since 2007, Wayne has helped build capacity and excitement for elementary science by focusing on partnerships and programs that impact teacher practice and resulting in significant growth in student achievement in science. Wayne was recognized for his efforts by being selected for the 2016 North Carolina Outstanding Administrator Award in Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education.

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Melia Gordon

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.

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Jake House  

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.

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Philip Lloyd

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.

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Roger Sarow

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.

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Heidi Team

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.

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Belinda Walters

Belinda Walters is retired from 30 years of serving K-12 and post –secondary educators with innovative products and services.

As a sales manager and product manager, Belinda oversaw the successful implementation of instructional, administrative and professional development technologies across the eastern half of the United States. With a deep understanding of education and better business practices, Belinda worked with a team of start-up specialists to introduce new technologies to public and private educators, leading to acquisitions of the start-ups by leading educational enterprises. Belinda graduated magna cum laud from University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a B.A. in business administration. Her focus was on finance and economics.

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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.

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Jeff Carter  

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.

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Giles Davidson

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.

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Josie DeFrank

An Oak Cliff native, Josie began her professional career as a Registered Nurse and then moved on to receive her Masters of Science in Health Care Administration from University of Texas at Arlington.

She now works with University HealthSystem Consortium® a national organization comprising most of the nation's leading academic medical centers, where she negotiates with hospital supply chains across the country to reduce healthcare costs. Josie lives in the Kessler Park area along with husband John Paul and daughter, Anne Marie. Josie is an active member of the Junior Group of the Marianne Scruggs Garden Club, Girls Scouts of Northeast Texas, Dallas Ice Theater, and American College of Cardiology and the American College of Healthcare Executives.

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Jerri Hammer

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.

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Margie Hernandez

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.

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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.

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Ruth Kinler

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.

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Sonja McGill

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.

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Paul Polanco

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.

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Michelle Riddell

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.

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Brian D. Banks

Brian D. Banks is the current Director of Government Affairs for MGM National Harbor.

In this role, Brian works with local and state officials on policy issues relating to Prince George’s County, Maryland. Brian is also a Professor of Communications at Anne Arundel Community College, where he mainly teaches public speaking by bringing his real-life experience as a spokesperson into the classroom. Brian has been featured on many networks including the Food Network, BET, and others, discussing Federal legislation relating to food-security including access to healthy and affordable food choices for families. Brian has spent his career focused on Government Affairs where he has lobbied for health, education, and safety-net programs for several prestigious organizations including The American Lung Association. Brian believes in compassion for others and working to serve all people in need.

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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.

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Ervin Johnson

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.

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Matt Monjan

Matt Monjan has blended technology and education for more than 15 years in the worlds of both business and K-12 education.

Prior to joining the Discovery Education team in 2004, Matt designed, developed, and implemented adult education and certification programs for two of the largest trade associations in the country. At Discovery, Matt has worked with classroom teachers on the nuts and bolts of implementing technology and with administrators on using data management to develop effective strategies for technology integration. He has pioneered innovative educational uses of technologies such as closed captioning. He is based in Discovery Education's World Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland and is currently the Vice President of Educational Partnerships. Matt speaks across the United States and Canada. He has been featured and keynote speaker at local, state, and regional conferences including CUE, eTech Ohio, FETC, MASSCUE, MSET, PETE&C, and VSTE.

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Dana T. Weekes

Dana is an attorney with the law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP, and advises corporations, universities, and nonprofit organizations.

Her agriculture portfolio includes a focus on food policy and nutrition programs, while her education portfolio includes learning and teaching standards, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, and digital learning. She advocates for client interests in major reauthorizations, including the farm bill, the Child Nutrition Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Higher Education Act and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

Dana has married her passion for agriculture and education through her public service work by serving on the regional advisory board for REAL School Gardens.

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