5 Women Making An Impact In The Public Charter School Space You Should Know

Women have long been at the forefront of advocating for public charter schools. They have been integral in pushing for education reform, working to create equitable educational opportunities for all students, and standing up for the rights of underserved communities. This month, we are thrilled to spotlight 5 women making an impact in the public charter school space.  

These women are fighting to ensure that all students have access to quality education, regardless of their socioeconomic background or zip code. They are fierce and passionate advocates, speaking out in public forums, lobbying their state and local government, and working with educators and families to make sure that public charter schools are not only available but also more accessible and affordable education options for all. Their passion and dedication to this cause has been instrumental in creating a better future for all children. Learn more about their work below.  

Sarah Carpenter, Executive Director – The Memphis Lift  

Sarah Carpenter

Sarah Carpenter is a nationally recognized advocate who leads a team of 20 parents who work to support the mission of The Memphis Lift, making the powerless parent powerful. In 2015, after over a decade of leading parent engagement work, Sarah helped establish The Memphis Lift, becoming its founding executive director. Prior to founding The Memphis Lift, Sarah  served on the Northside Family Resource Center Board and the board of KIPP Public Charter Schools. Her advocacy also led to the establishment of the first KIPP school in Memphis.  

Sarah leads The Memphis Lift with a parent focus and dedication to authentic community engagement by bringing parents to the table to know the truth about school performance to demand high-quality education through choice and healthy competition. 

Valeria Gurr, Senior Fellow – American Federation For Children (Federación Americana Para Los Niños)

Valeria Gurr is a passionate advocate for educational choice and underserved families. Devoted to helping families access high-quality education, she leads all the Spanish-language communications for the American Federation for Children (AFC) which seeks to bring information about school choice to Latinx communities. 

Before working for AFC, she joined the Nevada Institute for Children’s Research & Policy team as a program manager. While there she successfully provided child maltreatment prevention training to help empower both parents and the general community. Valeria is currently completing her Ph.D. in Public Affairs at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. 

Sonia Park, Executive DirectorDiverse Charter Schools Coalition  

Sonia Park shapes the Diverse Charter Schools Coalition’s strategic vision, leads fundraising work, operationalizes the organization’s ambitious agenda, and engages with a wide array of stakeholders to advance the Diverse Charter Schools Coalition’s vision and ensure financial viability. She is the daughter of Korean immigrants and has been working in education reform for over 20 years

Prior to DCSC, she served under Secretary John King at the U.S. Department of Education as a senior policy advisor and also was the executive director of Charter Schools Accountability and Support in the NYC Department of Education under Chancellor Denis Walcott. In addition to leading Manhattan Charter Schools, a two-school charter network located in lower Manhattan, her work experiences include the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, NY Charter Schools Resource Center, NY Charter Schools Association, and Edison Schools.   

Nina Rees, President & CEONational Alliance For Public Charter Schools 

Nina Rees is the president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the leading national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the charter school movement. A native of Iran who immigrated to America at the age of 14, Nina spent 20 years shaping education policy in the public and private sectors. Prior to joining the National Alliance, she served as the first Deputy Under Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education. Before moving to the Education Department, Nina worked in the White House as Deputy Assistant for Domestic Policy to the Vice President of the United States. 

Nina currently serves on the board of directors of the PIE Network and the advisory committee of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She is a Pahara-Aspen Fellow and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network. 


Naomi Shelton, CEONational Charter Collaborative  

Naomi Shelton

With more than 15 years of management, advocacy, and communications experience, Naomi N. Shelton is the chief executive officer of the National Charter Collaborative (NCC), a nonprofit organization focused on increasing the diversity and performance of the nation’s charter school sector by supporting the success of single-site schools led by leaders of color. NCC’s network includes more than 450 charter school leaders of color representing 25 states and the District of Columbia. Prior to joining NCC, Naomi served as the inaugural director of Community Engagement at the KIPP Foundation where she defined and executed strategic partnerships in support of KIPP schools and communities across the country.

Before KIPP, Naomi served as the inaugural director of K-12 Advocacy for UNCF (United Negro College Fund), the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization. At UNCF, she led national and local engagement efforts focused on messaging and research to ensure more African-American stakeholders are involved and informed to best advocate for Black student college and career readiness.