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Research for Action

Meet Our Board

Our distinguished board of directors are committed to RFA’s mission to leverage research to advance racial and social justice in education and provide the organization with strategic guidance and fiscal oversight.

James Earl Davis, Ph.D.

Chair of the Board

Professor, College of Education
Temple University

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.

Lori Shorr, Ph.D.

Vice Chair

Associate Professor, Policy, Organizational & Leadership Studies
Temple University

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.

Danielle Cooper-Williams

Director of Equity and Cultural Proficiency
KIPP Philadelphia Public Schools Regional Office

Danielle Cooper-Williams serves as the Director of Equity & Cultural Proficiency for KIPP Philadelphia Public Schools. She works with leaders, teachers and staff to understand the intersections of systemic oppression, education and racial equity & inclusion.

With this work, she hopes to ensure that students develop positive self-identify and obtain interpersonal cultural awareness and knowledge about the world that awaits them. Danielle was an assistant principal for 4 years and previously taught art, physical education, and grades kindergarten through 2nd. A Philadelphia native, Danielle has been teaching, tutoring and working with students since she was 14. She is a product of the Philadelphia public school system and she began her formal teaching experiences while attending Howard University in Washington, DC.  As a Human Development major with a Master’s in Early Childhood Education, she embraces a belief that children’s lives should be enriched with experiences that foster their social, emotional, physical and cognitive growth. She is a trained SEED leader with the National Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) Project,  part of the Keepers & Connectors Leadership Philadelphia, Class of 2017, an EdLoC member, a fellow with the National Equity Project, 2017-2018 Cohort, and a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Public Service Sorority, Inc.

Rachel Darwin

Chair, Marketing Committee

Public Relations Manager
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN)

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.

Michael A. Davis. Esq.

Adjunct Professor
University of Pennsylvania Law School

Mr. Davis actively practiced law for 40 years in a variety of legal settings. From 2010 to 2016, he served as General Counsel of the School District of Philadelphia and School Reform Commission (SRC), where he was responsible for providing legal advice and representation to the School Reform Commission (SRC), School District, Superintendent, and officers and other employees of the School District. From 1980 to 1983, he served as Chief Counsel of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Education. He was General Counsel and Vice President for Legal, Human Resources and Compliance for Wordsworth Academy from 2002 through 2009. With facilities in Philadelphia, Fort Washington and Harrisburg, Wordsworth provided behavioral health, child welfare programs, and special education services for children and adolescents.

Mr. Davis also was an associate and later a partner at the Philadelphia law firm Blank Rome from 1976 to 1980 and from 1983, when he returned from the Department of Education, to 1988, specializing in management labor relations, employment law and litigation, and education law supporting educational and medical institutions. From 1988 through 2002, Mr. Davis served as in-house counsel for CIGNA Corporation, where he held positions as Senior Counsel, Employment Litigation, litigating and trying cases in state and federal courts across the country, and later, as Chief Counsel and Vice President for Legal, Government Affairs and Compliance for Intracorp, a CIGNA subsidiary. In that position, Mr. Davis advised a 50-state specialty health care company in all aspects of its legal affairs, including managed care, utilization review, case management, demand management, medical fee review, transplant management, disease state management, 24-Hour Nurseline, and other healthcare services. From 2009 to 2010, Mr. Davis served as a consultant to a non-profit organization offering programs to support the education of youth in underserved areas of Philadelphia.

Mr. Davis holds a B.A. from Haverford College and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He enjoys writing and reading poetry, and he is a self-published novelist of Tyme To Throw Stones.

Senior Associate Director of Communications, Graduate School of Education
University of Pennsylvania

Jesse Gottschalk

Member, Marketing Committee

Classroom Teacher
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.

Kenneth D. Kleinman, Esq.

Member, HR/Development Committee

Shareholder
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.

Michelle Martin

Executive Administrator
Greater Exodus Baptist Church

Michelle Martin is an experienced non-profit professional specializing in administration, communications, and event planning. Throughout her career, she has been a part of organizations whose missions all focused on transformation through various vehicles, including: faith-based, community development, youth engagement, social services, education, workforce development, and the arts. Ms. Martin currently serves as the Executive Administrator at Greater Exodus Baptist Church where she collaborates with leadership, members, volunteers, partners, and consultants to develop efficient, engaging, and innovative ways to serve families and increase awareness of the church’s work and its affiliated ministries. Prior to Greater Exodus, Michelle has had roles at Philadelphia Youth Network, Point Breeze Performing Arts Center, and Arena Stage in Washington, DC. Michelle holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Goucher College in Maryland and is currently completing coursework in Digital Media at Moore College of Art and Design.

Janelle McDonald

Member, Finance Committee

Corporate Strategy – Senior Engagement Manager
Vanguard

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.

Dr. Judith Rényi

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.

Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
The Philadelphia Inquirer.

In this role he helps to lead DEI initiatives impacting the organization’s culture, coverage, and community efforts. He has over 15 years of global talent management and human resources experience having worked in leadership development, organizational development, HR Business Partner, and talent management roles across several public and private organizations. He 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’s in business administration focusing on Human Resource Management and Management Information Systems. Jameel has a passion for strengthening the community and serves on the board for several non-profits including the Philadelphia Society for Human Resource Management, People for People Inc., Leadership Philadelphia, The Workshop School, and Research for Action. 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 by the Delaware Valley HR Person of the Year Awards, receiving the HR Rising Star Award from Temple University, being named as one of Philadelphia’s Top 55 Connectors and Keepers by Leadership Philadelphia, and being placed on Philadelphia’s Top Professionals under 40 list by the Philadelphia Business Journal. Jameel also serves as an adjunct professor at Temple University and Villanova University and participates in Temple’s HR Roundtable which uses local professionals to help guide the curriculum of their Human Resources Program.

Head of Culturally Inclusive and Relevant Marketing
The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson

Isha Williams is the Head of Culturally Inclusive & Relevant Marketing at The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, where she is responsible for developing and embedding Janssen’s Culturally Inclusive & Relevant (CIR) Marketing capability and connecting with the Johnson & Johnson Race to Health Equity efforts.

Prior to Janssen, Isha spent over 17 years with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Consumer Healthcare, where she touched countless consumer lives through her leadership in local, regional, and global roles in general management, integrated brand and customer marketing. From 2017 to 2021, Isha expanded her experience in a four-year expatriate assignment with GSK in Latin America. While there, she leveraged her fluency in Spanish in roles such as the Country Manager of Ecuador, based in Ecuador, and as Head of Marketing for Latin America, based in Brazil, which helped reinforce Isha’s passion in the areas of cultural relevance and equity.

With a heart for global travel, languages, and culture, Isha’s career and family adventures have taken her around the world, together with her family. Isha is a native of Pittsburgh, PA, and holds a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and a Bachelor’s in Economics of Latin America from Franklin & Marshall College. Additionally, she earned her Master of Business Administration degree from the Katz Graduate School of Business of the University of Pittsburgh.

In her free time, Isha co-founded the GirlExec professional coaching series on YouTube as she is passionate about developing others and inspiring teams. She is thrilled to serve on the board of Research for Action to expand education, opportunity and hope to students across the United States and the world.