Our Staff

Raymond C. Pierce

President and CEO

Raymond C. Pierce serves as the president and CEO of the Southern Education Foundation, where he leads the organization’s historic mission of advancing educational opportunities for African American and low-income students in the southern states. Since joining SEF in January 2018, Mr. Pierce has focused the organization on policy research, education legislation, and leadership development.

Prior to joining SEF, Mr. Pierce was dean of the School of Law at North Carolina Central University. Earlier, Mr. Pierce served as deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights as a political appointee in the administration of President Bill Clinton. During that time, Mr. Pierce also served on the White House Domestic Policy Council working group in the development of the Empowerment Zone and related economic and workforce development policies.

Mr. Pierce has also been a partner in the business practices at the law firms of Baker Hostetler and Nelson Mullins, where he represented clients in the steel, energy, transportation, and defense contracting industries. He also represented clients in higher education.

Mr. Pierce is a visiting professor of Public Policy and Political Theology at the Duke University Divinity School. He is also a member of the National Math and Science Initiative board of directors. He has served on the Council of Legal Education of the American Bar Association and is a past vice president of the North Carolina Bar Association. He is a permanent member of the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference and has served as an appointed member of the North Carolina State Banking Commission.

Mr. Pierce earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Syracuse University, where he also received an officer’s commission in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. He earned a Juris Doctor degree from the Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, and a master’s from the Duke University Divinity School.

Kenita T. Williams

Chief Operating Officer

Dr. Kenita T. Williams joined the Southern Education Foundation in 2017 and serves as the chief operating officer. Kenita is responsible for the day-to-day administrative and operational functions of the organization, as well as the implementation of SEF’s programmatic priorities. Additionally, Kenita represents SEF’s values and efforts to key external stakeholders and serves as a thought partner to the president and CEO—helping to create the organizational systems, processes, and culture that ensure that SEF is as catalytic and impactful as possible.

Kenita brings a wide range of knowledge and critical experience to SEF, having held positions in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. She has served as the partnerships manager for Atlanta Public Schools and as senior program manager for Public Policy at the Southeastern Council of Foundations. She spent several years as a consultant for JFM Consulting Group and worked on Capitol Hill as a Legislative Correspondent for then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama. Kenita is also a Teach for America alumna and spent three years teaching third grade in Atlanta.

Kenita earned her bachelor’s in political science and history from Yale University, her Master of Public Policy degree from the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, a teaching certificate from Georgia State University, and her doctorate of education degree from Johns Hopkins University.

Leighton O’Sullivan

Chief Financial Officer

Leighton O’Sullivan, CPA, joined the Southern Education Foundation as chief financial officer in April 2020. He has more than 25 years of experience in accounting operations in non-profit organizations and for-profit companies. His leadership style promotes a culture of accountability and a commitment to high-quality work, customer service and increased internal controls.

Leighton previously served as the chief financial officer at IFS Group, a securities firm. Prior to that, he held positions at Clark Atlanta University as the associate vice president and controller, the controller, and the director of profit clients. His experience includes oversight and responsibility for the direct management of accounting operations, financial reporting, financial audits including A-133, entity compliance, treasury, acquisitions, project management, risk management, business valuations, Sarbanes Oxley, and system implementations.

Leighton received his Bachelor of Business Administration degree, cum laude, in Accounting from Baruch College in New York. He moved to Atlanta more than 20 years ago and maintains an active Georgia-issued CPA license.

Fred A. Jones, Jr.

Senior Director of Public Policy & Advocacy

Fred A. Jones Jr. serves as the senior director of public policy and advocacy for the Southern Education Foundation. His core responsibilities include creating and advancing equitable public policy solutions aligned to the mission and values of SEF at the federal, state, and local levels.

Fred began his career working for the U.S. House of Representatives’ Education and Labor Committee, playing a supporting role in reauthorizing the Higher Education Act and the National and Community Service Act, and in passing the Affordable Care Act. He served as the director of government affairs for the United Negro College Fund, advocating for more equitable student aid and appropriations policies. Most recently, Fred served as the director of policy for the Aurora Institute, providing technical assistance and policy-implementation strategies for federal and state policymakers interested in adopting student-centered learning policies. He has a range of policy and advocacy experience, from early childhood development through postsecondary education.

Fred completed the Riley Institute Diversity Leaders Initiative at Furman University. He is a Pahara-NextGen Fellow, an Institute for Responsible Citizenship Scholar, a National Collegiate Scholar, a Coro Fellow, and a 10-time All-American track and field athlete. He also serves on the board of the Linked Learning Alliance.

Fred holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Tufts University and an MBA from the University of Maryland.

Max Altman

Director of Research and Policy

As the director of research and policy for the Southern Education Foundation, Max designs and implements SEF’s research agenda and manages the development of its research-informed policy positions and advocacy initiatives.

He previously served as a managing researcher and Task 5 (Training, Coaching, and Technical Support) lead for the Pacific Regional Educational Laboratory at McREL International in Honolulu. In this role, he designed and facilitated ongoing technical support projects to meet the needs of educational leaders and key stakeholders in Pacific jurisdictions, including Hawaiʻi, the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, and the independent nations of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau. His work emphasized the implementation of culturally responsive policies that support local student success through alignment among college, K-12, and workforce systems.

Max has also worked as a professional developer and curriculum writer. His research interests lie in the creation of K-12 educational policy that reflects and supports social justice initiatives, and in how the contexts in which teachers and students operate shape their own conceptions of equity and social justice. A former high school math teacher, Max also taught teacher education and mathematics courses at the University of Michigan.

Max earned bachelor’s in Mathematics and Secondary Education from Vanderbilt University and a doctorate in administration and policy from the University of Michigan.

Alan Richard

Director of Communications

Alan Richard is the director of communications for the Southern Education Foundation. A veteran education writer, he contributes to SEF’s mission by fostering public discourse on important education issues and highlighting SEF’s influential research, policy, and leadership programs.

As a journalist, he covered the South and rural America for Education Week. His work also has been published by The Washington Post, PBS NewsHour, The Nation and many others. He was awarded national first prizes by the Education Writers Association for his coverage of school inequality in the South and rural communities.

Alan joined SEF after serving as the Southern Regional Education Board’s (SREB) media relations officer. Earlier in his career, he had served as SREB’s director of communications.

He also has worked with many education organizations as an independent consultant and at Hager Sharp, a public relations firm in Washington, DC.

A national board member for Parents for Public Schools and the Rural School and Community Trust, he began his career as a reporter for newspapers in his native South Carolina. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina.

Tonya Gentry

Director, Equity Assistance Center-South

Tonya Gentry, J.D., serves as director of the Equity Assistance Center-South at SEF. Her background in civil rights enforcement has prepared her to assist educational institutions, organizations, and professional groups as they coordinate successful compliance efforts, creating both educational and workplace environments free from unlawful discrimination and retaliation.

With a career in civil rights and EEO enforcement spanning almost two decades, Tonya previously worked as a senior attorney for the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Subsequent to OCR, she established a boutique civil rights consulting practice and served as a contract attorney advisor for Windsor Group, LLC, counseling on various diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) initiatives.

Tonya received a bachelor’s in biology and chemistry from Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia, and a Juris Doctor from the University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She is licensed to practice in Georgia.

Brittany Miller

Director, Outcomes Based Contracting

Brittany Miller serves as the director for Southern Education Foundation’s strategic initiative on Outcomes Based Contracting. In this role, she oversees the learning and coaching with school district leaders to develop an RFP and subsequent contract where a minimum of 40% of the payment to the vendor is contingent on agreed-upon student outcomes.

Mot recently, Brittany led as senior director of Expanded Academic Learning for Denver Public Schools (DPS) during the pilot for Outcomes Based Contracting. She has also taught in Denver and Arizona. She is deeply committed to promoting equity and considering community and school context in strategy development.

She is an avid SCUBA diver and snowboarder, though typically not at the same time.

Brittany holds a doctorate in curriculum studies and teaching from the University of Denver.

Sarah Glover

Program Lead, Outcomes Based Contracting

Sarah Glover is the program lead for Outcomes Based Contracting. In her role, she uses her expertise to coach cohort districts as they develop their contracts.

Sarah has led improvement efforts in K-12 public education for nearly 30 years. Previously as the vice president of client success at Panorama Education, she led a 45-person team to improve student outcomes through social-and-emotional research and analysis for more than 600 clients and nearly nine million students. Prior to her time at Panorama, Sarah served as executive director of strategic partnerships at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and was the founding executive director of SDP, a national effort to transform the use of data in education.

As a founding member of the Center for Reform of School Systems, Sarah partnered in the development of the Broad Institute for School Boards and led the development of the Texas Institute for School Boards. She also served as an elected member of the Bozeman Public Schools Board of Trustees in Montana.

Sarah holds a master’s degree in public affairs, an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and a bachelor’s in political science from Tufts University.

Hannah Curry

Program Manager, Outcomes Based Contracting

Hannah Curry is the program manager for the Outcomes Based Contracting strategic initiative, overseeing its strategy, execution and implementation.

Hannah has been involved in program management across a variety of industries for over a decade. Most recently, she worked as program manager for the Academics Division of Denver Public Schools, where she developed a passion for building and maintaining efficient and collaborative systems to help districts thrive.

She received her Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute, has completed the 5280 Fellowship with the Denver Institute for Faith & Work, and holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado in International Studies.

Danielle Harris

Manager of Development and Donor Relations

Danielle Harris is the manager of development and donor relations at the Southern Education Foundation, overseeing SEF’s donor-relations program and manages fundraising initiatives.

Prior to this role, Danielle was the operations and strategy program associate at SEF, assisting with key strategic initiatives and new pathways for impact, partner engagement, and the development and management of organizational strategy and operations.

With more than a decade of experience in education with Atlanta Public Schools, Danielle previously served as a site director, revamping an out-of-school enrichment curriculum to  align with the development needs of the students. Her work also led to three out-of-school programs becoming nationally accredited through the Council on Accreditation.

Danielle holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Georgia Southern University.

Gail Holloway

Senior Accounting Manager

As senior accounting manager for the Southern Education Foundation, Gail Holloway assists the chief financial officer with day-to-day finance work for SEF.

She brings over 20 years of non-profit experience to the position, as well as experience in the private school sector.

Prior to joining, SEF, Gail worked with YMCA of Metro Atlanta, providing support for tracking of grants with restricted funds and ensuring they were appropriately released to cover operations.

Gail earned her bachelor’s in accounting from Hampton University.

Asley Gulaid

Senior Leadership Development Program Associate

Asley Gulaid is the senior leadership development program associate at the Southern Education Foundation, supporting SEF’s comprehensive and proactive leadership-development strategy, including program design and implementation.

Prior to joining SEF, Asley served as a Policy and Advocacy Fellow at Education Forward DC, creating a landscape analysis and implementation report to strengthen equity and amplify teacher-voice in support of Washington, DC, students.

Asley is a Teach for America alumna and previously taught third-grade math in Memphis, Tennessee. In her time as an educator, she planned community events and organized efforts to expand access to quality educational opportunities for the greater Memphis community.

Asley received bachelor’s degrees in psychology and business administration from the University of Florida.

Lauren Mead

Operations Program Associate

Lauren Mead is the operations program associate for the Southern Education Foundation, supporting a range of important functions and assisting the COO with key projects.

Previously, Lauren served as program manager at MedShare International, an organization focused on alleviating global health disparities. She focused heavily on program evaluation, volunteer efficiency, and waste reduction. She also managed volunteer operations, corporate events, and distribution of much-needed medical supplies during COVID-19 across greater Atlanta. With more than a decade of work in the nonprofit finance and fundraising, she has previously hosted galas, written grants and impact reports, and managed donor relationships.

Lauren also stays involved in local politics, having served as campaign finance manager for a successful grassroots city council campaign.

Lauren holds a bachelor’s in English and creative writing from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in public administration from Georgia State University.

Chandra Halstead

Executive Assistant/Office Manager

Chandra Halstead is the executive assistant/office manager for the Office of the President of the Southern Education Foundation. Chandra currently provides executive and logistical support for the Office of the President & Corporate Development.

Prior to joining SEF, Chandra worked for the Ford Foundation’s Office of Management Services, where she provided support as a grants assistant/liaison for the overseas offices and the Office of Legal Services, financial services, IT, and other grant-related matters.  Chandra has over 17 years of experience working in the philanthropic sector and over 12 years of experience working with non-profit organizations.

Chandra earned an Associate’s Degree in Executive Secretarial Science from the New York City College of Technology, CUNY.

Darian Burns

Legislative and Public Policy Analyst

Darian Burns joined the Southern Education Foundation in August 2022 as a legislative and public policy analyst on the government affairs and advocacy team. She supports the senior director of public policy in monitoring and advancing equitable education policies across the South that align with the values and mission of SEF.

She holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, where she served as a Research Assistant at the Ford School’s Education Policy Initiative. She co-authored a brief on making higher education more equitable and accessible for students from low-income families. A Public Policy International Affairs (PPIA) program alumna, Darian was also a literacy tutor working with kindergarteners and first-graders for American Reads.

Darian holds a bachelor’s degree from Seattle Pacific University, where she was a two-time NCAA Division II National Champion gymnast, a 12-time All-American, and named the 2020 NCAA Division II Gymnast of the Year. In graduate school at the University of Michigan, she was also on the 2022 Intermediate Co-ed National-Championship cheerleading team. She is a coach and mentor for Brown Girls Do Gymnastics, which supported the nation’s first HBCU collegiate gymnastics program at Fisk University.

Harry Chiu

Lynn Walker Huntley Social Justice Fellow

Harry Chiu is the inaugural Lynn Walker Huntley Social Justice Fellow at the Southern Education Foundation and the Southern Poverty Law Center. He began his fellowship in September 2022. He is developing strategies to advance education equity through legislative advocacy and litigation on behalf of marginalized students across the South.

Harry is an alumna of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme and previously taught English to elementary and middle school students in Kagawa Prefecture. He coached students in national-level English speech tournaments and participated in numerous cultural exchange events.

As a law student, Harry was extensively involved with Lambda, the LGBTQ+ student society, founding the Public Interest Careers Chair by conducting extensive peer mentorship and planning dozens of networking and community events. He interned at GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, contributing research on the Establishment Clause for an amicus brief in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Fulton v. City of Philadelphia on anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination by government contractors. Harry was the student speaker at the 2022 Harvard Lavender Graduation for LGBTQ+ students.

Born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, Harry holds a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of British Columbia.

Jayke Watson

Communications Specialist

Jayke Watson is the communications specialist for the Southern Education Foundation. With a background in both marketing and operational project management, he supports the director of communications in achieving SEF’s mission of education justice.

Before joining SEF, Jayke served as development operations coordinator at the Woodruff Arts Center, one of the largest arts centers in the region, where he also provided communications and marketing support. Earlier in his career, he managed sales and operations for nonprofits and for-profit businesses, including the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and King of Pops.

Jayke is an alumnus of AmeriCorps, having worked with Hands On Atlanta providing literacy tutoring in Atlanta Public Schools.

Jayke earned bachelor’s degrees in English, philosophy, and comparative literature at the University of Georgia.