Suzanne Ciongoli, Co-Chair
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.
Nita Seelinger, Co-Chair
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.
Melissa Bilash, Head of School
Melissa Bilash is the Founder of The Grayson School and a state-wide and nationally-recognized expert on educational practice and policy. For nearly two decades, she successfully gained access for countless families to meet the needs of their gifted children through her private advocacy practice, Advocacy & Consulting for Education (ACFE). A federally-trained educational advocate, Ms. Bilash has received special Congressional recognition for her work, and has co-authored chapters in both the University of Denver’s Perspectives in Gifted Education: Legal Issues (Vol. 7), and in the Guide to State Policies in Gifted Education (2nd ed.), published by the National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC).
Ms. Bilash serves as an Advisory Board Member for Gifted Research and Outreach (GRO), and has been honored twice by the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education (PAGE) for her work in the field. She is proud to be invited regularly to speak at national and international forums for gifted children, including the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children, NAGC, Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG), and the SPLASH and SPARK programs at MIT. Ms. Bilash has been honored twice by the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education (PAGE) for her work in the field.
Ms. Bilash is guided by her view that any gifted child with dreams and visions for their future deserves to be taught something new everyday, to have their questions answered, and to let their academic needs drive the scope of what they are being taught. She strongly believes, and has made it her life’s work, that there should be no upper limit to what these extraordinary children can learn.
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 Board of Trustees 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 The Pennsylvania State University and also holds a master’s degree in Reading with a Reading Specialist Certification from Bloomsburg University. She is 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, reading specialist, and parent of a gifted learner, Ms. Dougherty has always advocated for unique learners and has championed their successes in the classroom.
Sam Greenblatt, Emeritus Chair
Samuel Greenblatt has been involved in various facets of commercial real estate for more than 42 years as a lender, broker, and sponsor. He currently serves as President and CEO of Electra Capital, LLC, and is a Principal at Washington Square Realty Capital. Prior to 2014, 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.
Barbara Hafner is a Grayson parent and a past president of the Grayson Parent Association (GPA). She has over 25 years of community service and non-profit experience including Special Olympics, organizing the Feed the Homeless initiative, and many years as an ESL tutor via the Learning English through Intergenerational Friendship Program (LEIF). Her volunteer work has also included membership and Board roles in the Junior League of Philadelphia, of which she remains a Sustaining Member after more than 15 years. 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, where she 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 as Lead Graphic Designer of the School of Continuing Education at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and working as the Global Project Coordinator for the executive team at Right Management. She currently resides on the Main Line with her husband and son, continues her volunteer efforts with the GPA, and serves on both the Diversity Committee and Strategic Planning Committee of Grayson’s Board of Trustees.
Tiffani Hurst, J.D.
Tiffani Hurst is the parent of a former Grayson student. She has been a lawyer for 27 years and specializes in capital habeas, special education, and discrimination law. Although Ms. Hurst began as a corporate attorney for the large firm of Schatz, Schatz, Ribicoff and Kotkin focusing on corporate formations, shareholder agreements, and securities, she ultimately left corporate life to dedicate her legal career to the public sector, primarily litigating capital habeas cases as a Federal Defender in the United States Courts. She taught Diversity and the Law, Family Law, Employment Law, and Civil Litigation as an Adjunct Professor at Elms College. She also taught African American History; Racial Perspectives in Literature; Race, Religion, and Culture; and Sexual Harassment workshops as an Adjunct Professor at Springfield College. Finally, Ms. Hurst has provided presentations on effective writing for various organizations, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Ms. Hurst is admitted to practice law in the state courts of Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Illinois, as well as in federal courts across the country, including the United States Supreme Court.
Ms. Hurst is a graduate of Wellesley College, where she double majored in Political Science and Black Studies with an English concentration. She earned an M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology from Springfield College, which awarded her degree summa cum laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago Law School, where she had the honor of being a student in President Obama’s Racism & the Law class and was appointed to the Dean’s Task Force to Monitor Community Policing. Ms. Hurst began her legal career as a Research Assistant for the Honorable Judge Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, and also clerked at the prestigious civil firm of Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen.
Jeff Levinson, M.B.A.
Jeff Levinson currently serves as CEO and Chief Creative Officer of Jeffrey Levinson, LLC., a fashion accessories business. Previously, Mr. Levinson served 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.
Albert B. Murphy III
Forming long-lasting relationships with his clients has been the most rewarding aspect of Al Murphy’s more than 35-year career in the financial services industry. In 2012, Al brought his extensive background in banking and financial services to the Private Bank at Bryn Mawr Trust. Before joining BMT, Al was a Principal and Partner at PMG Advisors, LLC, a privately owned Independent Institutional Registered Investment Advisor based in suburban Philadelphia. In 2002, Al participated in the management buyout of PMG Advisors, LLC, and in 2006 helped co-found its joint venture partner Emerald Fixed Income Advisors, LLC, a Lancaster, PA-based investment firm, of which he was a Principal. Prior to joining PMGA, Al was Managing Director and Member of the Management Committee of RTE Asset Management. Al was a Commercial Banker with Philadelphia National Bank, joining PNB after graduate school.
Al believes strongly in contributing to the suburban Philadelphia community of which is a native. He was a Trustee of both the Community College of Philadelphia and the Community College of Philadelphia Foundation, where he chaired the Investment Committee. Al supports the Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, serves on Radnor Township Boards, and serves on the Vestry as head of the Finance Committee of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Radnor, PA.
An experienced marathon runner, Al participates in several distance races each year. He and his wife share a passion for cooking and antiquing. When not spending time outdoors, Al enjoys visiting his four children and five grandchildren.
Al earned a B.S. in Architectural Engineering from The Pennsylvania State University and also holds an MBA from University of Colorado.
Jennifer Nance, Esq.
Jennifer Nance is the Chief Operating Officer and a founding Trustee at The Grayson School. Since its earliest days, she has been privileged to serve in various roles at Grayson, including In-House Counsel, Director of Admissions, and Founding Co-Director.
Ms. Nance has spent most of her professional career advocating for the rights of special education and gifted education students and their families. In her work at AmeriCorps, she supervised and trained members delivering after-school services and civics-based curriculum to more than 600 students across 16 different schools in the Philadelphia area. Ms. Nance has also presented nationally on gifted education, including at the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) Annual Convention and the Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) Annual Conference. Her recent work includes co-authoring a chapter about legal issues in gifted education in the University of Denver’s Perspectives in Gifted Education: Legal Issues (Vol. 7), as well as a chapter in NAGC’s Guide to State Policies in Gifted Education (2nd ed.). Ms. Nance earned her law degree from Temple University’s Beasley School of Law and currently lives in Baltimore.
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.
Liad Pernock is a Grayson parent. Her career experience most recently includes marketing and public relations work on antibiotics, diabetes medicines, and vaccines for GlaxoSmithKline. Additionally, she has served on the board of a nonprofit focused on financial grants to support families who want to adopt children, and has volunteer experience with multiple organizations focused on child welfare and literacy. She holds an MBA from the University of North Carolina, which is also where she earned her undergraduate degree in journalism. She enjoys travel, yoga, books, and watching her daughter play (a lot of) golf, tennis, and baseball.
Joseph S. Sun
Joe Sun is an executive-level leader in higher education who has worked in settings across the globe. He is currently the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Arcadia University. Previously, Joe was Vice Rector (Provost) of Forman Christian College in Lahore, Pakistan, where he remains an Adjunct Associate Professor of Sociology, and remotely co-directs the Poverty Action Lab, which he co-founded. Joe served as Global Director of Master’s Programs in Organizational Leadership for an international NGO, overseeing delivery of distance education degree programs in nearly 20 low-income countries.
Joe has held multiple leadership appointments at University of Pennsylvania, most recently as Vice Dean at Penn’s Engineering School, where he retired after 31 years of service. His career at Penn also included serving as Academic Director of the Undergraduate Division at the Wharton School, Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Dean of Residential Life, and Director of the Greenfield Intercultural Center. 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, establish links and collaborations with Philadelphia’s diverse communities, and enable global learning experiences. He has designed and/or taught classes on international development, technology policy and development, Asian-American studies, multiculturalism, modern China and Chinese development, and leadership studies. He is a champion of service learning/civic engagement pedagogy.