John Ayers was named executive director of the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives at Tulane University in July, 2012. Previously he served as the vice president and treasurer of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in Stanford, CA. Before that engagement, he devoted his career to improving the Chicago Public Schools. John has provided consulting for National-Louis University, a graduate school of education in Illinois, and for foundations working in the education arena. Previously John served as director of external affairs for the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, a law and policy group.
For 10 years, John was executive director of Leadership for Quality Education (LQE), a school reform group created by business leaders involved in the reform of the Chicago Public Schools. LQE’s board included the area’s top CEOs, civic and institutional leaders along with policy-makers, including then State Senator Barack Obama. John was instrumental in launching and supporting both the city’s small schools and charter schools movements in the mid-1990s. He created a successful charter school resource center within LQE that assisted in start-up and financing Chicago’s first 23 charters, twelve of which are now replicating their models. He was also a senior associate for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), a membership organization that promotes chartering of high quality new schools.
Early in his career John had worked for U.S. Representative Lane Evans of Illinois in Washington, DC and at the Chicago Tribune. He has held leadership positions on the boards of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, Facing History and Ourselves, and WBEZ Chicago Public Radio. John holds an MBA with distinction from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Email John | Phone: (504) 274-3688
Director of Strategic Initiatives
Since joining the Cowen Institute in 2011, Amy has launched and now directs the Reconnecting Opportunity Youth initiative, which aims to create systemic solutions to New Orleans’ disconnected youth crisis. Over the past six years she has worked in the for- and non-profit sectors in business development, policy analysis, and systems and operational management. Most recently, she was an analyst for Urban Conservancy, a New Orleans non-profit organization, dedicated to research, education, and advocacy that promote the wise stewardship of the urban built environment and local economies. She has also held managerial positions in systems design, finance, and operations at McMaster-Carr and consulted on development projects in Johannesburg, South Africa with Urban, Inc. Currently, she serves on the advisory board for Bard Early College in New Orleans and the design team for the Youth Master Plan for New Orleans. Amy graduated with an A.B. in Urban Studies from Brown University in 2007.
Email Amy | Phone: (504) 274-3682
Director of Policy
Jonah is responsible for the overall leadership and management of our education policy, legislative, and advocacy efforts. He has a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Harvard University where he had a fellowship at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and served in the Mayor’s Office of Pittsburg. Jonah has also held leadership positions with Obama For America, Teach For America, and the NAACP.
Email Jonah| Phone: (504) 274-3657
Director of Programming
Tanya M. Jones, Ph.D., is director of college and career readiness programs. She is responsible for strategic planning, research, and the conceptualization of new programs and provides oversight to AdvanceNOLA and the federally-funded Upward Bound program. Tanya has over 17 years experience in research, policy, and practice in institutions of higher education. As an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of African and African Diaspora studies, Tanya teaches courses on public school reform and public education initiatives for vulnerable populations. She is a member of the Louisiana Association of Student Assistance Programs and the American Education Research Association. Tanya received her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Research from Louisiana State University.
Email Tanya | Phone: (504) 247-1883
Mary Lee Murphy,
Director of Development and Communications
Mary Lee Murphy serves the Cowen Institute as the Director of Development and Communications. Since moving to New Orleans in 1999, a primary interest has been the New Orleans public education system. With the decentralization of the public school system and the introduction of many public charter schools, each with its own board of directors, Mary Lee had the privilege to directly support the New Orleans public education transformation as a board member for Akili Academy and Crescent City Schools collectively for six years. In that capacity her passion to see quality public schools available to all New Orleans children deepened and her knowledge of the complicated public education landscape in New Orleans grew. Prior to joining the Cowen Institute, Mary Lee was the Director of Development for a public education non-profit, City Year New Orleans. Mary Lee grew up in Jackson, Mississippi and received her B.A. and M.A. in English from the University of Mississippi.
Email Mary Lee | Phone: (504) 274-3671
Director of Policy and Advocacy, Reconnecting Opportunity Youth
Vincent’s work focuses on the areas of post-secondary education, workforce development, and economic development. Vincent most recently worked as chief of staff to District “C” Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer of the New Orleans City Council. Prior to his work with the city, Vincent worked for the Bureau of Government Research and Partnership for Youth Development. He holds a Master’s Degree in Journalism from New York University and has worked both at the New Yorker and Salon.com.
Email Vincent | Phone: (504) 274-3624
Director of Research
Debra Vaughan joined the Cowen Institute in 2010 to lead the research team’s efforts to analyze the impact of education reforms in New Orleans. Prior to her position at the Cowen Institute, Debra served as Director of Research and Evaluation at the Public Education Foundation, a local education fund with a history of success developing innovative programs that improve student outcomes in public schools in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In addition to authoring and co-authoring several articles, Debra has presented her work to local, state-level, and national stakeholders to impact policies and practices that lead to increased outcomes for public school students.
In addition to authoring and co-authoring several articles, Debra has presented her work to local and state-level stakeholders and at many national conferences, including the Public Education Network, the National College Access Network, and the American Educational Research Association. Prior to her career in education research, Debra was an economic analyst at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency and an economics professor at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. She is the parent of two children who graduated from public schools.
Email Debra | Phone: (504) 274-3659
Matt joined the Cowen Institute in August 2011. As policy manager, he works with the policy and research teams to chronicle, assess, analyze, and support the New Orleans’ public education system. His passion for improving outcomes for New Orleans’ youth stems from his experiences teaching and tutoring at public schools in New Orleans and working as a literacy coach in Boston. Before joining the Cowen team, his policy work experiences focused on sustainability issues. He has undergraduate degrees in environmental policy and philosophy from Tulane University, an M.S. in sustainable systems from the University of Michigan, and is working towards an MBA at Tulane University.
Email Matt | Phone: (504) 274-3616
Senior Research Analyst
Patrick conducts applied research on public education while continuing the Institute’s work of chronicling the K-12 reform in New Orleans, primarily through the annual State of Public Education in New Orleans and NOLA by the Numbers reports. Patrick received his Master’s Degree of Public Policy at Georgetown University and was recently an analyst for the National Council on Teacher Quality in Washington, D.C. He has also worked for the U.S. Department of Education, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Wake County Public Schools in North Carolina. Additionally, Patrick taught for two years in Poland and has written extensively on PISA, the international student achievement benchmark.
Email Patrick | Phone: (504) 274-3634
Manager of Operations and Youth Programs
Alex has worked with a variety of educational outreach programs such as Upward Bound, Educational Talent Search, and Gear Up. He joined the Cowen Institute in 2011 shortly after moving to New Orleans with his wife, Ashley, who teaches at John Dibert Community School. Alex volunteers in the community by coaching youth soccer, and serves as a Project Leader of YLC Kicks, a project of the Young Leadership Council. Alex grew up in South Lake Tahoe, CA and graduated from California State University San Marcos with a B.A. in Criminology and Justice Studies. He is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration at the University of New Orleans.
Email Alex | Phone: (504) 274-3680
Program Services Coordinator
April Rice has spent the past 10 years in education as a teacher, curriculum specialist, and coach. Her experience and passion lies with teaching disadvantaged students in extenuating circumstances. With a background in curriculum and instruction, April has implemented and developed programs and courses to help students transition between high school and college at the high school level. She has developed dropout prevention and credit recovery courses for her district. She has also trained new teachers for the Department of Education at the state level and presented at regional and national conferences on 21st century learning, Career Pathways, and STEM Initiatives. Although she enjoys training teachers, April’s passion is inside the classroom with her students. April received the Teacher of the Year Award in 2008 and 2009 from Rankin County, Mississippi. She received her bachelor’s degree in Health Science from Brigham Young University-Idaho and her Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration at Mississippi College.
Email April | Phone: (504) 865-5870 office, (813) 454-6140 cell
Latisha has been with Upward Bound since February 2006 as it began to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. Latisha is very instrumental in developing administrative procedures, maintaining student records, and supporting staff and faculty in programming initiatives. Additionally, Latisha handles finances, budgets, reports, communications, field trips/college tours, and recruitment for Upward Bound. Latisha and her husband are proud parents of 5 children. In her spare time she enjoys coordinating weddings and events. Latisha looks forward to finishing her business degree in the near future.
Reconnecting Opportunity Youth Earn & Learn Manager
Brandy Williams is a Native New Orleanian, who joins the Cowen Institute by way of Texas. She has spent the last 10 years working in the field of Education as an Educator and Advocate for High Risk and Impoverished youth. Brandy also writes for the Huffington Post, The Good Men Project and many smaller media outlets. She has two Master’s degrees in Psychology and Education. Brandy is also excited to begin her Doctorate. As a life- long learner, Brandy believes that in order to achieve progress, one must begin with a strong educational foundation. It is that unwavering belief that propels her work with the Cowen Institute.
Email Brandy | Phone: (504) 875-0354
Reconnecting Opportunity Youth Earn & Learn Manager
M.A. in Organizational Leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University. B.S. in Finance from Tulane University. Matthew Feigenbaum found his passion for education when he joined City Year, via Americorps, and dedicated one year to serving in underperforming schools across Louisiana. Matthew then went on to be a high school mathematics teacher at an alternative charter high school (Renew Accelerated High School or RAHS) serving over-age and under-credited students. For the 2013-2014 academic year, Matthew held the Dean of Culture and Community Partnerships position, where his responsibilities included creating, evaluating and implementing all school-wide systems, providing classroom management support and professional development opportunities for all staff, and working with outside organizations and partners to provide college and career options for students. Outside of the classroom, Matthew has worked with TeachNOLA as a Recruiter and Selector, where he interviewed a multitude of candidates in order to identify the most promising teachers for the students of New Orleans. Matthew was also selected to be a Stand for Children Educator All-Star, which includes him in a statewide network of educators that consult on education policy. Matthew just earned his degree in Organizational Leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University as a member of the 2013 Summer Principals Academy NOLA Cohort. Recently, Matthew has joined the Cowen Institute as a program manager on the Reconnecting Opportunity Youth initiative, which aims to create systemic solutions to New Orleans’ disconnected youth crisis.
Email Matthew | Phone: (504) 281-0480
Outreach Coordinator & Tulane AmeriCorps VISTA
Griff is a Tulane AmeriCorps Service Leader VISTA. He is working with the Cowen Institute and hopes to make the organization’s work more accessible to the people of New Orleans. He handles communications and social media as well as expanding organizational effectiveness. Griff will serve as a contact for Tulane partners by planning events, recruiting interns, and coordinating volunteers. His enthusiasm and passion for helping others drives him in working to better the educational opportunities for the students of New Orleans. During his time at Tulane, Griffith worked with the Crescent City Debate League, Divest Tulane, and many other clubs and music ensembles. He graduated from Tulane University in 2014 with a B.A. in Music.
Email Griff | Phone: (630) 729-4584