RFA has a distinguished board of directors who provide the organization with strategic guidance and fiscal oversight.
James Earl Davis, Ph.D.
Chair, Executive Committee
Professor, College of Education
James Earl Davis is a professor in the College of Education at Temple University with primary appointments in higher education and urban education. Professor Davis holds secondary faculty appointments in the Department of African American Studies and the Women Studies Program. He also serves as a senior research associate at the National Center on Fathers and Families, an interdisciplinary policy research center in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests focus on urban education policy, sociology of education, equity and access to higher education, and gender studies. Specifically, Dr. Davis has investigated the influence of social contexts of learning—including school, family, and community settings—with a concern for how gender and race inform students’ achievement and engagement outcomes, particularly among young Black men. His work has appeared in numerous academic journals, including Gender & Society, Urban Education, Educational Researcher, Youth & Society, American Journal of Evaluation, Review of Research in Education, and Race Ethnicity and Education. Dr. Davis earned his B.A. in sociology from Morehouse College in Athens, GA, and his Ph.D. in social policy and evaluation from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. A former National Academy of Education postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Davis has been a faculty member at the University of Delaware and Cornell University. He has also served as visiting scholar in the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan. His research and evaluation studies have been funded by the National Science Foundation, Spencer Foundation, William Penn Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Education. He recently served three years as the interim dean of Temple’s College of Education, and is currently the principal investigator on a National Science Foundation (Research on Gender in Science and Engineering Program) project, STEMing the Tide: Exploring Factors Related to Males of Color Interest, Engagement and Achievement in Mathematics and Science. In 2003, he received the American Evaluation Association (Ethnic Participation in Evaluation) Distinguished Service Award, and in 2010 he received the award for American Educational Research Association Distinguished Editorial Service.
Member, Marketing Committee
Public Relations Manager
National Comprehensive Cancer Network
- Rachel currently works as a Public Relations Manager for the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Prior to that position, she was a communications manager with the Lawrenceville-based strategic communications firm Taft and Partners. Rachel has been working in the communications business most of her life, starting with the school newspaper in Middle School. She progressed to working as a morning news producer for Fox 29 in Philadelphia, with stops along the way at Fox News Channel, 20/20 (ABC News), and MTV News. While working at Fox 29, Rachel filled many roles including writing, guest-booking, and updating the website. She produced a portion of the Emmy-Award-Winning newscast “Good Day Philadelphia” for six years, helping to launch a new early morning show, and improving the ratings in key demographics. Outside of work, Rachel volunteers with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Philadelphia Affiliate, serving as the chapter’s Social Media Administrator since October 2013. She also volunteers as a social media consultant for Pancreatic Cancer Research America Enterprise (Pancrea.org). Rachel was named to the board of Research for Action in September of 2015, where she serves on the Marketing and Development Committee. She received her passion for education issues from her mother, Linda Katz, founder of Children’s Literacy Initiative.
Member, Marketing Committee
Lea Elementary School, School District of Philadelphia
- Jesse Gottschalk teaches theater at Lea Elementary Schools in Philadelphia, and was previously a 4th grade teacher at William Cramp Elementary School. He is a member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the Caucus of Working Educators, and he serves on the Community Schools Task Force organized through the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS). Prior to becoming an educator, Jesse served as the Communications Director for the Philadelphia Cross City Campaign for School Reform, a coalition of local community organizing groups working with support from research and advocacy organizations; he also has experience working with students in out-of-school-time settings including afterschool and summer programs. Jesse previously worked at Research for Action as Communications Director through the Philly Fellows program. Jesse received his M.S.Ed in early elementary education from the University of Pennsylvania, and has a bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College.
Ami Patel Hopkins
Chair, HR/Board Development Committee
Drexel School of Education and School District of Philadelphia
Asha Advisors, LLC
- Ami Patel Hopkins is currently a Teacher Resident in the School District of Philadelphia Teacher Resident through the Drexel University’s School of Education. During the teacher residency year, she will earn a certification to teach middle level science while working in a Philadelphia classroom with a mentor teacher. Prior to this position, Ami served as the Kindergarten Transition Fellow for the School District of Philadelphia (SDP). In this role, Ami works closely with the early learning team at the SDP as well as a variety of SDP partner agencies to investigate and create solutions to the infrastructure and operational challenges that hinder successful kindergarten transition. Ami is also the Founder of Asha Advisors, LLC. Prior to this, she was the Vice President of Teaching, Learning and Innovation at the Philadelphia Education Fund (Ed Fund), where she spearheaded the Ed Fund’s efforts to ensure excellent teachers in every classroom–driving to enhance the preparation, support, and networking of teachers across the city. Ami also served as Deputy Education Officer to former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter in the Mayor’s Office of Education. She has worked on education reform issues at the national level through the Alliance for Excellent Education, served as an AmeriCorps member in Maryland, has done college access work in a Baltimore high school, and taught first grade in inner-city Miami. Ami currently serves as the Chair of the Board Development Committee for Research for Action, is a board member of YESPhilly, is on the Executive Committees of PhillyCORE Leaders and the John Hopkins University MPP Alumni Association and is on the Advisory Board of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association. She earned her Master’s degree in Public Policy with a concentration in Education Policy from Johns Hopkins University and a Bachelor’s degree from the Pennsylvania State University.
Member, Finance Committee
Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs
- Dr. Erin McNamara Horvat is the Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs for Drexel University and a professor in the School of Education. An ethnographer and sociologist of education, Dr. Horvat’s research agenda has explored how race and class shape access throughout the educational pipeline, focusing especially on the role of social and cultural capital in shaping families’ interactions with schools, students’ college experiences, college access, and high school dropout and reentry. She has been deeply committed to work with out-of-school youth through her support of YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School as a longtime board member and 4-year board chair. Since joining Drexel in 2015 her research has focused on the groundbreaking and visionary civic engagement efforts being undertaken by Drexel University in the West Philadelphia neighborhood in which it resides. She has Co-Chaired the Education Committee for the Federally designated Promise Zone and served as the education lead on the 30 million dollar Promise Neighborhood grant submission. Her publications include Beyond Acting White: Reframing the Debate on Black Student Achievement (coedited with Carla O’Connor), and Doing Qualitative Research, published by Teachers College Press as well as peer reviewed articles in Sociology of Education, Anthropology and Education Quarterly, Youth and Society and American Educational Research Journal. Her work has been funded by the Spencer Foundation and The Ford Foundation. A native Californian, proud Philadelphian and mother to Katherine, age 20 and Margaret, age 16, Dr. Horvat currently serves at Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs at Drexel University. She is an avid oarswoman continuing to row competitively as a Masters rower in local and regional regattas and enjoys all aspects of food, especially cooking and eating.
Member, HR/Development Committee
Stevens & Lee
- Ken Kleinman is a labor and employment partner at the law firm of Stevens & Lee in Philadelphia, representing management. He has been advising clients, litigating cases and negotiating union contracts for 40 years and has been rated highly by his peers, both in legal publications such as Martindale-Hubble and as a PA Super Lawyer since that program’s inception. Ken graduated at the top of his class at Cornell University School of Industrial & Labor Relations before getting his law degree from Harvard Law School and clerking for the Honorable Walter Jay Skinner. He has devoted many volunteer hours as a Board Member and former President of the Board of Action AIDS, as well as for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Ken joined the Research for Action Board in 2015 because of his commitment to education in Philadelphia, inculcated in him by his wife, Debra, a longtime School District of Philadelphia elementary school teacher. Ken and Debra have five children and three grandchildren and live in Center City Philadelphia.
Member, Finance Committee
Corporate Strategy – Senior Engagement Manager
- Janelle McDonald is a seasoned financial professional. Currently, as a Senior Engagement Manager in the Corporate Strategy department of Vanguard, Inc., she leads strategic engagements that help answer a range of different business questions and shape the future of Vanguard’s businesses and operations. Prior to joining Vanguard, Janelle was a Case Team Leader at Bain & Company, where she supported several corporate strategy, merger integration, operating model, and commercial due diligence projects for clients across industries, such as financial services, hospitality, pharmaceutical, and aerospace, and spent several years working at Accenture where she focused on performance and growth strategies in the financial sector. Janelle holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Virgina, and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Chair/Secretary and Treasurer, Finance Committee
Former Executive Director
Philadelphia Mayor’s Commission on Literacy
Dr. Judith Rényi is widely known as a guest speaker and writer on education policy issues in Philadelphia and nationwide. She was appointed Executive Director of the reconstituted Mayor’s Commission on Literacy by then-Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter in January 2011, who charged her with focusing the work of the Commission on adult work-readiness for the City’s large, under-educated population. With support from the City of Philadelphia, private and corporate funders, Dr. Rényi has instituted systems to increase quality and access to adult literacy and ESL throughout the city. She established the Philadelphia Adult Literacy Alliance, bringing together all literacy and ESL providers, workforce development professionals, and other partners, for professional development, networking and advocacy. Dr. Rényi has also introduced the first-ever electronic registration and enrollment system for low literate adults in the U.S., and the first-ever cohort-based, interactive online courses are to pilot in early 2014. She was a trustee of the Community College of Philadelphia and a member of the Board of Directors of Philadelphia Works, Inc. Dr. Rényi has worked at the cutting edge of instructional technology for K-12 and higher education for more than 30 years, first as a Dean at New York University and later Rosemont College, founding Vice President of Academic Affairs and Partnerships for American College of Education, and President and CEO of The NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education. She also worked in K-12 school reform as the founding Executive Director of what is now called The Philadelphia Education Fund and, on behalf of The Rockefeller Foundation, a national network of urban education reform projects.
Director of Organizational Development
Day & Zimmerman
Jameel is the Director of Organizational Development at Day & Zimmermann (D&Z). In this role Jameel partner’s with D&Z’s Engineering, Construction, and Maintenance Group (ECM) and their Manufacturing Group (DZMG) in all aspects of Talent and Organizational Development. Prior to his role with Day & Zimmermann, Jameel spent over 8 ½ years with the Aramark Corporation in a multitude of Talent Management and Human Resource roles. Those roles included the Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion, Leadership Development, Organizational Effectiveness, Organizational Development, and being an HR generalist in Aramark’s Sports and International groups. Jameel has his Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership and Development from St. Joseph’s University and is a graduate from Temple University with a Bachelor in Business Administration focusing on Human Resource Management and Management Information Systems. He has obtained Human Resource certifications from Villanova University, his Professional in Human Resources Certification (PHR) from the Human Resource Certification Institute, and is a SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP). Jameel serves as the President-elect for the Philadelphia Society for Human Resource Management, the board of People for People Inc., the Graduate Advisory Board for Peirce College, and the Advisory board for Jane Hires. Jameel has been recognized numerous times for his work in the Philadelphia and HR community including being nominated as an HR Rising Star of the Year in 2012 by the Delaware Valley HR Person of the Year Awards, receiving the HR Rising Star Award from Temple University in 2015, being named as one of Philadelphia’s Top 55 Connectors and Keepers by Leadership Philadelphia, and most recently being placed on Philadelphia’s Top Young Professionals under 40 list by the Philadelphia Business Journal. Jameel also serves as an adjunct professor at Temple University and participates in their HR Roundtable which uses local professionals to help guide the curriculum of their Human Resources Program. He is a proud Philadelphia native and graduate from the Philadelphia Public School System.
Lori Shorr, Ph.D.
Member, HR/Development Committee
Associate Professor, Policy, Organizational & Leadership Studies
- Dr. Lori Shorr is currently an Associate Professor in Policy, Organizational & Leadership Studies at Temple University. Her interests in education stem from the two paths that brought her to Temple. First, she pursued her doctoral degree in critical and cultural studies with an emphasis on how social changes are connected to, and influenced by, narratives –be they political, historical, social or personal. Second, she has culminated a 20-year career in policy development and implementation from special assistant to three Pennsylvania Secretaries of Education to eight years as the chief education officer for the City of Philadelphia, which entailed setting the mayor’s policy agenda in K-12 and higher education. The courses she teaches and the work she continues to do in the community, as well as the mentoring she does with students, is therefore centered around the theories which help to explain how power, representation, constructions of social justice and community interact with the “lived experiences” and policy realities in specific historical junctions. She is currently working on building a collaboration of regional school leaders who are committed to working on communication across sectors of education (district, charter, private) to increase opportunities for success for all students through holistic and project-based instruction. She remains committed to increasing the capacity of the schools and the nonprofit sector in Philadelphia in order to bring about equity in educational opportunity in hopes of a more just city.