Sam Greenblatt, Chairman
Samuel Greenblatt has been involved in various facets of commercial real estate for more than 42 years as a lender, broker, and sponsor. He is currently a Principal with Washington Square Realty Capital, where he is involved in developing a national origination platform, establishing capital markets relationships, and working in conjunction with the entire Washington Square team on financing assignments. Prior to his work with Washington Square, Mr. Greenblatt was Chief Investment Officer at Urban Retail Properties, an owner and manager of enclosed shopping malls throughout the United States. The founder of Pinnacle Capital Group, a commercial real estate lending platform, Mr. Greenblatt served as Pinnacle’s President and CEO until RAIT Financial Trust acquired them, after which he became Executive Vice President and Director of Originations for RAIT’s national platform. He also served as Meridian Mortgage Corporation’s Chief Operating Officer of residential, commercial, and multifamily loans totaling approximately $3 billion annually, in addition to being a Principal with Glenville Associates, a real estate development and investment firm with assets nationwide.
Mr. Greenblatt brings to Grayson’s Board a deep personal connection to serving the needs of extraordinary learners. His support and expertise were critical to the founding and success of AIM Academy, a college preparatory school near Philadelphia for bright children with language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia. After creating a strong financial foundation for AIM’s opening, he served as Chairman of its Board of Trustees until 2012; he now serves as the Board’s Immediate Past Chair. Mr. Greenblatt has held many other philanthropic positions, including having served as Philadelphia Chairman of the State of Israel Bonds; Chairman of the campaign for the Philadelphia Jewish Federation; and Chairman of the Board of the Philadelphia chapter of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Mr. Greenblatt holds a bachelor’s degree in business from Temple University and an MBA in economics and finance from Drexel University. He currently resides in Center City Philadelphia with his wife, Jodi.
Melissa Bilash, Founder and Executive Director
Ms. Bilash is a state-wide and nationally-recognized expert on education. As one of only 78 individuals in the nation to have completed the intensive Special Education Advocates Training (SEAT) program from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), she is seasoned in educational practice and policy. For over a decade, Advocacy & Consulting for Education (ACFE), her suburban Philadelphia practice, has served more than 600 students and their families by securing millions of dollars worth of desperately-needed educational services, tuition, accommodations, and settlement funds. Her advocacy work has received special Congressional recognition, and most recently, as a “thought leader in the field,” she was invited by the White House Office of Early Learning and the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education to participate in a strategy roundtable for planning the way forward in supporting educators and families of young children and the use of technology to support early learning.
Ms. Bilash works regularly with prestigious national organizations and institutions serving gifted children. Most recently, the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) asked her to rewrite a chapter in its newest State Policy Guide, a document presenting detailed and research-based recommendations of best practices in gifted education across the country (forthcoming in November 2015). She meets regularly with senior staff at the U.S. Department of Education to discuss priority initiatives, and she is continuously a voice for gifted learners at these meetings.
Additionally, she serves on the Legislative Committees of both the NAGC and Pennsylvania’s NAGC chapter, the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education (PAGE), which named her Parent of the Year for her work with gifted children. A much sought-after speaker, she has presented to a wide array of audiences, including the Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) annual conference, the Special Educational Advocacy annual conference, and events at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Villanova University, as well as at a variety of local parent support groups, education-related expos, and local schools, libraries, and gifted education association meetings.
H. Elizabeth Braun, Ph.D.
Liz Braun, has spent her career serving in leadership roles at multiple colleges and universities, with a focus on student life outside the classroom, including issues of diversity and inclusion, academic advising, career services, residential life, religious and spiritual life, disability services, health services, and counseling and psychological services.
Most recently, Liz was the Dean of Students of Swarthmore College, where she was responsible for the vision, implementation, and effectiveness of student services and residential life while integrating those functions with the overall educational mission of the college. While at Swarthmore, she raised some $20 million for building an intercultural center, student commons, residential college and dining facilities, and a wellness center. It was during her time as Dean of Swarthmore that she earned her Ph.D. in Anthropology, writing a dissertation titled, “A Question of Comfort: Race, Whiteness, and the Creation of Diverse, Inclusive, and Engaged Learning Environments.”
Prior to her time at Swarthmore, Dr. Braun was in leadership at Mount Holyoke College, where she served as Dean of Students and Associate Dean of the College; in this role, she directed all residential life, student programs, and disability services work across the institution. At Holyoke, she also taught students while serving as Director of Residential Life, where her dedication to improving the culture of the college led her to revamp orientation activities, act as an academic advisor, and direct the Honor Council; she was also instrumental in strengthening the connections between curricular and non-curricular life on campus. Before her work at Holyoke, she served as Assistant Director of Residential Life at Bowdoin College in Maine.
Liz has recently founded Kaleidoscope Higher Education Consulting, focused on sharing the insights on change management, strategic planning, and team development she has gleaned from her years in in leadership on college campuses with others working in those environments. She lives in Media with her husband and son, who is a Middle School student at Grayson.
Suzanne Ciongoli is a Grayson parent. She was a lawyer in New York City before relocating to the Philadelphia area. She was the COO and General Counsel of an investment advisory firm; counsel at Time Warner, Inc.; an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell and a law clerk on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (Hon. John D. Butzner). She graduated magna cum laude from Cornell Law School and from Columbia College (BA English). She enjoys reading and gardening and is a member of the Garden Workers, a GCA club.
Jill Dougherty, M.Ed.
Jill Dougherty is Head of School at Stratford Friends School in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. Stratford Friends is a co-educational Quaker independent school for students in grades K-8 with language-based learning differences; the school focuses on the unique gifts and needs of each student to foster strong, independent learners. Grayson’s Executive Board especially values her experience with many facets of private school leadership and students who learn differently as well as her student-focused teaching philosophy. Previously, Ms. Dougherty was Head of Upper School at The Woodlynde School, a college preparatory K-12 school which specializes in teaching students with learning differences. Prior to that, Ms. Dougherty was a Reading Specialist at Springfield High School in Springfield, PA, and taught Reading in the Southeast Delaware County School District in Sharon Hill, PA. A graduate of The Principal Certification Program at Cabrini College, Ms. Dougherty earned a B.S. in Communication Disorders from Pennsylvania State University and also holds a Master’s degree in Reading with a Reading Specialist Certification from Bloomsburg University. She is also a recipient of a Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award, referred to as “the Oscars of learning.” Not an accolade for “lifetime achievement” or the proverbial gold watch at the exit door, these unrestricted awards recognize early- to mid-career education professionals for their already impressive achievements and, more significantly, for the promise of what they will accomplish in the future. As a school leader, as a reading specialist, and as a parent of a gifted learner, Ms. Doughtery has always advocated for unique learners and has championed their success in the classroom.
Barbara Hafner is both a Grayson parent and current President of the Grayson Parent Association (GPA). She has over 25 years of community service and non profit experience beginning with Special Olympics, organizing the Feed the Homeless initiative, and over many years as an ESL tutor via the Learning English through Intergenerational Friendship Program. Her volunteer work has stayed a priority as a member of the Junior League of Philadelphia for over fifteen years, where she remains a Sustainer Member. Barbara has served on the Temple University Alumni Association (TUAA) Strategic Planning Committee as well as Director at Large of the TUAA Board. She also served several years on the Community Education Alliance of West Philadelphia (CEAWP) Executive Board and was Chair of the Fundraising Committee for two years.
Barbara holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood/Elementary Education from Temple University. She has worked in a variety of educational and private sector settings throughout her career including Lead Graphic Designer of the School of Continuing Education at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Global Project Coordinator for the Executive Team at Right Management. She currently resides in Villanova with her husband and son, and continues her volunteer efforts with the GPA and Grayson GROW Gala Committee.
Jill Jacobs Cohen, Ed.D.
Jill Jacobs Cohen is currently an adjunct professor at Rosemont College, where she teaches graduate courses for aspiring school counselors on working with English Language Learners and Exceptional Learners. She also works as an educational consultant, providing anti-bias and diversity training and resources to promote inclusive and respectful K-12 school environments. Ms. Cohen holds a B.A. in English from Penn State University, an elementary teaching credential, and an Ed.D. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where her research examined inter-district school desegregation efforts. Prior to her academic work, Ms. Cohen taught 2nd and 4th grade as a Teach For America Corps Member in Compton, California, where she established an urban-suburban school partnership project and advocated politically for the maintenance of bilingual education. Thereafter, she managed AmeriCorps programs in Philadelphia schools and served as a facilitator for Cultural Leadership, a youth program in St. Louis that seeks to break down racial, religious, and cultural barriers among high school students. She is the mother of two gifted children in the Lower Merion School District and is passionate about expanding access to gifted services to traditionally underrepresented students.
Jeff Levinson, M.B.A.
Mr. Levinson currently serves as Managing Principal of Spring House Advisors, a boutique consultancy that advises small- and medium-sized firms on strategic growth initiatives and capital raising. Before Spring House, he led the Clean Energy corporate finance and Project Finance practices at Janney Montgomery Scott. Prior to Janney, Mr. Levinson led marketing efforts for Jaguar Car’s $1.2 billion North American market and served in the Marketing Leadership Program at Ford Motor Company. Mr. Levinson began his career as a Site Geologist at Roy F. Weston, now Weston Solutions. Mr. Levinson holds a B.A. from Wesleyan University, an M.M.P. from the College of Marine Studies at the University of Delaware, and an M.B.A. from the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. He is a parent of three gifted children in Philadelphia-area public schools, where he and his wife have worked closely with school administrators to secure additional programming for their children.
Karl A. Morris, Ph.D.
Dr. Karl Morris is an academic and technologist with over 20 years experience in the fields of computer science and information systems. He spent many years in the public and private sector where he undertook roles such as analyst, mobile and web application developer, project manager, and consultant. As a consultant and product lead, he has worked with organizations with local and multinational teams.
Karl holds a PhD in computer science with a focus on software engineering and autonomous systems. His research interested include mobile computing and application development, home automation and smart grids, large scale data management, and cryptographic currencies. He is currently an assistant professor of computer science at Temple University and the founder and principal consultant of Morris and Company Consulting LLC.
Jennifer Nance, J.D.
Ms. Nance serves as the Director of Admissions and Development for the Grayson School in its development phase. She has called upon her legal training to write legislative communication and position papers for advocacy efforts regarding educational issues, including advice on writing and reviewing meaningful gifted IEPs and presentations on gifted education and issues. Her recent work includes co-authorship of a chapter in NAGC’s State Policy Guide for gifted education, now in press and scheduled for publication in 2015. She has also participated in and attended Congressional hearings, meetings, and summits regarding the educational rights of students with gifted and special education needs. She worked intensively on ACFE’s testimony in support of the TALENT Act, as well as testimony in support of specific changes to Congress’s reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). She has also presented nationally on the topic of gifted education, most recently at the Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) annual conference. She also brings to bear significant experience in other advocacy environments, including working with AmeriCorps as a corps member and, later, on their staff, where she was responsible for supervising and training members delivering after-school services and civics-based curriculum to more than 600 students across 16 different schools in the Philadelphia area. She has also worked on behalf of the homeless by mediating legal issues and other matters with state and local agencies. Ms. Nance earned her law degree from Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, where she received the David Adamany Award, given annually in honor of the university’s past President to an outstanding student in constitutional law.
Karen Noonan is a manager in the accounting and assurance practice area at Morris J. Cohen & Co. with over 25 years of experience in the accounting field. She provides accounting, audit ,and tax services for small to mid-size clients. Ms. Noonan works with the Key Contact Program at the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA), a program at the non-profit organization with the mission of building and maintaining strong relationships with members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and communicating the PICPA’s position on issues of importance to the accounting profession. An active volunteer in her community, Ms. Noonan has worked as a team captain for Relay for Life, the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraising event, in addition to volunteering with the Girl Scouts of America. She is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and PICPA Ms. Noonan holds a B. S. in Accounting from Villanova University.
Nita Seelinger retired in March 2016 after 21 years at DuPont and intends to apply her industry experiences to advancing high-potential youth. Since joining DuPont in 1995, she held various executive-level positions and successfully led teams in developing and implementing corporate programs and strategic initiatives, including DuPont’s acquisition of Pioneer, one of the world’s largest seed companies. Nita held positions in DuPont’s Agriculture & Nutrition and Electronics & Communications businesses as well as in Corporate Mergers & Acquisitions prior to becoming Chief of Staff to the CEO of DuPont. In this role, she directed activities in the office of the CEO and was responsible for planning and managing executive decision-making processes, in addition to acting as a proxy for the CEO for many initiatives and interactions with DuPont leaders.
Prior to joining DuPont, Nita was a leader in the computer industry and held Sales & Services Management and Executive Account Management positions within Digital Equipment Corporation (now part of Hewlett-Packard). She holds B.S. and Master’s degrees in Business Administration from the University of Maryland. She is also a graduate of the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School.
Nita aspires to leverage her experience, skills and insights to mentor and advocate for high-potential youth. She is committed to a holistic (academic, emotional, and social) approach to developing leadership behavior and skills among such students, particularly critical thinking and problem solving through collaboration with others.
Idris Stovall, Ph.D.
Idris Stovall Ph.D. is a civic-minded mathematician and proud Pittsburgh native who split time growing up between there and Harlem NYC. He graduated from Academic High School in Jersey City, earned his B.S. in mathematics from Hampton University, and earned his doctorate in computational methods for solving differential equations from the Department of Mathematics at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. Dr. Stovall is the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from that department.
Idris has dedicated his career to building innovative STEM partnerships and programs, teacher professional development, and training the next generation of mathematical scientists – particularly those that are underrepresented minorities. Dr. Stovall has served as Director of the Moelis Access Science Program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships. He has also served as Director of STEM Youth and School Programs and Mathematician at The Franklin Institute – a premier science center working with motivated youth from across the greater Philadelphia region. His work has included advising the curriculum and teacher professional development in the Educational Consortium for the Advancement of STEM in Egypt (ECASE) project, and extended him an invitation to the White House’s 1st Annual STEM Mentorship Symposium in 2015.
Dr. Stovall is Founder of the Mathematical Sciences Institute. MSI’s mission is to provide ‘plumbing for pipelines’ through MS Innovations, Educator Professional Development, and Dissemination, Research, and Evaluation. MSI houses the Dudley Weldon Woodard Program for Excellence in the Mathematical Sciences, which was piloted in 2014. The goal of the Woodard Program is to create a talent pipeline – grade school to graduate school and beyond – ultimately to careers, innovation, and leadership in the mathematical sciences and related fields. Dr. Stovall is also a member of the Department of Mathematics at The University of Pennsylvania. Idris is a dedicated husband and father of two wonderful daughters who enjoys sports and music of all sorts.
Joseph S. Sun
Joseph S. Sun is an educator with over three decades of professional experience. His work has spanned the full range of academic and student affairs in multiple settings in higher education. He is currently the Global Director of Master’s Programs for an educational non-governmental organization, leading their efforts to provide distance education in organizational leadership to mid-career professionals in nearly 20 low-income countries.
Joe’s career has included appointments as: Vice Dean for Academic Affairs at University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science; Director of Undergraduate Academic Affairs of the Wharton (Business) School; Assistant Dean in Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences; and various leadership positions in Penn’s University Life Division. His work has resulted in establishing many programs and initiatives that promote student learning and development, enhance campus life, support students of color, promote a multicultural campus climate, advance K-16 education, and establish links and collaborations with Philadelphia’s diverse communities. Joe has extensive overseas travel and international program development experience, resulting in lasting relationships with institutions in Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America. He has taught courses in Asian American Studies, Modern China and Chinese Development, and International Development. Joe lives in the Lower Merion School District (PA) with his wife and four children, and is active serving his local community through his church, his children’ schools, and civic organizations.