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 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.
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.
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 Gladwyne with her husband and son, and continues her volunteer efforts with the GPA and Grayson GROW Gala Committee.
Jeff Levinson, M.B.A.
Mr. 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.
Paul “Mac” McDermott
Paul “Mac” McDermott brings 20 years of teaching gifted students to both the faculty and executive board at The Grayson School. His highly experiential and interdisciplinary teaching style and belief that students learn best when they are working and experimenting together is evident in his classroom, and provides a guiding perspective in the development of innovative, research-based programming at our school as a member of our board.
As a lifelong artist and craftsman, he believes that humans evolved to make everything for themselves, and most modern humans miss out on so much because they no longer design and build things to solve problems and improve their lives. His students are used to thinking abstractly and creatively, so it is often surprising to them when they attempt using tools to fabricate their designs and reality refuses to comply with their ideas.
Mac holds a Master’s degree in education from Temple University, where he also earned his B. A. in English with concentrations in literary and dramatic criticism. He has continued to pursue his own education through graduate coursework about teaching the gifted, acting and improvisation classes, and work in the DC-Arlington MakerSpace TechShop. In addition to his Elementary Education teaching certification, he also holds a state Advanced Academics Endorsement, an accreditation requiring graduate work focused on gifted education.
Al P. Murphy
Forming long-lasting relationships with his clients has been the most rewarding aspect of Al’s more than 35-year career in the financial services industry.
Al brings his extensive background in banking and financial services to the Private Bank at Bryn Mawr Trust. Before joining BMTC, Al was a Principal and Partner at PMG Advisors, LLC, a privately owned, independent, institutional registered investment advisor based in suburban Philadelphia. Al participated in the MBO of PMG Advisors, LLC, and 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 also worked for Philadelphia National Bank for ten years.
As a native of Suburban Philadelphia, Al believes in contributing to his community. He is the Chair of the Investment Committee of the Community College of Philadelphia Foundation and supports the Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Al serves on Radnor Township Boards and on 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 four grandchildren.
A graduate of The Pennsylvania State University with a B.S. in Architectural Engineering, Al also holds an MBA from University of Colorado.
Jennifer Nance, J.D.
Ms. Nance currently serves as one of a founding Executive Board Member for the Grayson School. She has been privileged to serve in a variety of roles with the Grayson School since its earliest days, operating at various stages as In-house counsel, Director of Admissions, and Founding Co-Director. She has spent most of her professional career advocating for the rights of special education and gifted education students and their families, 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. Ms. Nance has also presented nationally on the topic of 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 shared writing credit for a chapter in NAGC’s State Policy Guide for gifted education and an article for University of Denver’s Perspectives in Gifted Education: Legal Issues, Volume 7. Ms. Nance earned her law degree from Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, and currently lives in Baltimore, where she works as a staff attorney for Maryland Legal Aid.
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.
Joseph S. Sun
Joseph (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 (President’s Office) at Arcadia University. Previously, Joe was Vice Rector (Provost) of Forman Christian College (A Chartered University) in Lahore, Pakistan, where he remains as 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 work at Penn also included serving as Academic Director of the Undergraduate Division at the Wharton (Business) School, Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Residence Life dean, as well as 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.