John Ayers, Executive Director
John Ayers was named executive director of the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives at Tulane University in May, 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. 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. John launched Chicago Talent Development High School in 2009, a charter on the West side of Chicago and has provided consulting for National-Louis University, a graduate school of education in Illinois. 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, and policy-makers, including then State Senator Barack Obama. John was instrumental in launching and supporting both the city’s small school and charter school movements in the mid-1990s. He created a successful charter school resources center that assisted in start-up and financing Chicago’s first 23 charters, twelve of which are now replicating their models.
John previously 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, the Emergency Fund for Needy People, Facing History and Ourselves, and WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, where he helped the station achieve independence. John holds an MBA with distinction from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Email John | Phone: (504) 274-3688
Debra Vaughan, Assistant Director, Research
Debra Vaughan joined the Cowen Institute to lead the research team in 2010. The research team is tasked with chronicling, evaluating, and researching the transformation of public education in New Orleans. The Cowen Institute is recognized locally and nationally as a resource for unbiased, meaningful reports depicting the impact of education reforms in New Orleans. Prior to her position at the Cowen Institute, Debra spent eight years as the Director of Research and Evaluation at the Public Education Foundation (PEF), a local education fund with a history of success developing innovative programs that improve student achievement in public schools in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 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.
Email Debra | Phone: (504) 274-3659
Jill Zimmerman, Research Manager
Part of the Cowen Institute since 2009, Jill joined the team as policy fellow before transitioning into her role with the research team. She is responsible for the publication of our regular reports, including NOLA by the Numbers and the annual State of Public Education in New Orleans. Previously, Jill worked as a legislative assistant at the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C., and, more recently, as operations associate at The New Teacher Project – Louisiana Practitioner Teacher Program. She currently serves as a vice president of the National Council of Jewish Women, Greater New Orleans Section, a volunteer organization that promotes the well-being of women, children, and families. Jill holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and political philosophy from Tulane University and is pursuing a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of New Orleans.
Email Jill | Phone: (504) 274-3692
Matt Segraves, Policy Manager
Matt joined the Cowen Institute in August 2011. He holds Bachelor of Arts Degrees from Tulane University in environmental policy and philosophy and a Master of Science from the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment with a focus on energy and environmental policy. Before attending graduate school Matt worked with a number of non-profits in the fields of low-income urban education and transportation and food sustainability. While a graduate student he interned at the Congressional Research Service focusing on forestry policy. Between completing graduate studies in April 2011, he interned at a clean-tech consulting company.
Email Matt | Phone: (504) 274-3616
Amy Barad, Manager of Operations and Special Projects
Amy joined the Cowen Institute in June 2011. Prior to her position at the Cowen Institute, she worked for the Urban Conservancy, a New Orleans non-profit organization, where she wrote a redevelopment strategy for Canal Street, emphasizing local economic development and the built environment. She is also a fellow with Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans (SENO), where she does management consulting for a New Orleans start-up designed to increase female employment and empowerment. Amy moved to New Orleans in March 2011 from Los Angeles, where she worked in the for-profit sector for four years at McMaster-Carr, a supplier to industrial and commercial facilities worldwide. There, Amy held roles in systems design and project and operations management in finance, sales, and logistics. Prior to that, she consulted on development projects in Johannesburg, South Africa with Urban, Inc, a strategic advisory firm to urban planning and policy organizations. Amy graduated with an A.B. in Urban Studies from Brown University in 2007.
Email Amy | Phone: (504) 274-3682
Alex Hand, Programming Coordinator
Alex grew up in Lake Tahoe, CA and graduated from California State University San Marcos with a Bachelor’s degree in Criminology and Justice Studies in May 2010. During his undergraduate tenure, he was involved in various campus organizations, advisory boards, and committees at the university and community levels. He has worked with a variety of educational outreach programs such as Upward Bound, Educational Talent Search, and Gear Up. Before joining the Cowen Institute, he served his fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon on staff as a Coordinator of Extension, helping them to expand to various colleges and universities across the country. Alex moved to New Orleans in July 2011 from San Diego, CA.
Email Alex | Phone: (504) 274-3680
Walter Stern, Research Graduate Assistant
A New Orleans native and public school parent, Walter Stern is a Ph.D. student in history at Tulane University, where he focuses on race, public education, and urban change in the twentieth-century South. Prior to beginning his graduate studies, Walter taught high school English in Greenville, Mississippi, as a member of Teach For America. He later covered public education for the daily newspaper in Savannah, Georgia, and from 2006 to 2008, he led teachNOLA, a post-Katrina teacher recruitment initiative. Walter has received multiple awards for his journalistic and scholarly writing, including the Louisiana Historical Association’s top graduate student prize. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in American Studies from Yale University and a Master’s Degree in History from Tulane.