We are pleased to introduce the members of the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition Steering Committee. They represent a diverse set of communities from across the entire state of Tennessee, and bring exceptional expertise and talents. Together, they cast a vision for the Coalition and how it can best serve students and families of color across the state. The Steering Committee plays an important role in the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), provides a local context for education policy and brings a diverse set of voices and priorities to conversations centered on education equity.
Meet the members of the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition Steering Committee:
Alexza Barajas Clark, Ph.D.
Associate director of Policy & Advocacy
A storyteller at heart, Alexza cultivates meaningful stories about underrepresented groups with emphasis in the Latinx community. She is a first-generation Mexican-American raised in Anaheim, California. In her role at Conexión Américas, Alexza currently oversees all aspects of the day to day operations of the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition—an influential leader in the K-12 policy arena in Tennessee—managing communications, research and policy development, staffing and project management. In addition, she serves on the board of St. Luke’s Community House, Nashville Public Television, and is the founding board chair of the Nashville Urban Debate League, a non-profit organization that creates and supports policy debate programs in Metro Nashville Public Schools. She has also served as a steering committee member of Complete Tennessee, an advocacy organization working to increase postsecondary access and completion.
Prior to her work in the education equity movement and inspired by the stories of her community, Alexza has worked with some of the nation’s most high-profile television news programs including, Telemundo-Los Angeles, CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, The Nightly News with Brian Williams, MSNBC, The Today Show, and Dateline NBC. As a native Spanish speaker, Alexza has also managed cultural adaptation, translation and interpretation projects for diverse clientele including Fortune 500 Companies, non-profits and local to federal governments. She earned a doctoral degree in communications from the University of Utah, a master’s degree in mediated communication from Pepperdine University, and an undergraduate degree in rhetoric and broadcast journalism from California State University, Long Beach.
Centro hispano de east tennessee
Claudia Caballero is the Executive Director at Centro Hispano de East Tennessee. She was born in the western mountains of Honduras and earned her Bachelors in Business Administration from the Catholic University of Honduras. She spent most of her early childhood and teen life moving between Honduras and the United States. Now that she has made Tennessee her home she has dedicated her time to finding and opening opportunities for immigrants in her community to become thriving, healthy, prosperous individuals.
Since taking the position at Centro Hispano, Claudia has steered the organization’s priorities to working with school-aged children. It is her belief that to create sustainable health and prosperity in our emerging Latino community in East Tennessee, we must work tirelessly to strengthen the opportunities available to our youth.
Claudia has also helped Centro Hispano to make great progress in its effort to provide education, resources and community support to the adult immigrant population of Knoxville. Claudia and the staff at Centro Hispano have succeeded in turning Centro into a place that is a true community center; not only a place to learn but a place to connect.
DIRECTOR OF ADVOCACY
MEMPHIS EDUCATION FUND
Tosha Downey is director of advocacy for the Memphis Education Fund, a partner organization in the city’s effort to transform chronically underperforming schools. Prior to joining the Memphis Education Fund, Tosha served as director of government affairs a the Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago, Illinois. Tosha has spent more than 15 years leading and supporting non-profit teams in charter school management, college access, student recruitment, community engagement and talent acquisition.
A native of Memphis, Tosha completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in education at Clark Atlanta University. She holds a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Michigan and a juris doctorate from the University of North Carolina School of Law. She is the only child of William and Geraldine Downey, who still reside in the Soulsville community in Memphis. Tosha has one stepdaughter, Dana, a college senior at Cornell College, and one goddaughter, Ebony, a recent graduate of Kalamazoo College and current biology teacher.
NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM
Terri Freeman was appointed president of the National Civil Rights Museum in November 2014. As president, Freeman is responsible for providing strategic leadership in furthering the museum’s mission as an educational and cultural institution. For 18 years, Ms. Freeman served as president of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, the largest funder of nonprofit organizations in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Prior to the Community Foundation, Ms. Freeman was founding executive director of the Freddie Mac Foundation. A graduate of the 2016 class of Leadership Memphis, Ms. Freeman has served on several boards. Freeman received her bachelor’s degree in journalism/communication arts from the University of Dayton and her master’s degree from Howard University. She is married to Dr. Bowyer G. Freeman and is the proud mother of three daughters.
C. Johnson Consulting
Candy is currently employed by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce where she leads education policy initiatives such as the Academies of Nashville stakeholder groups, the Chamber Education Report Card and the report card sub-committee. Prior to her position with the Nashville Chamber, she was employed for the majority of her career by the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, where she served as the foundation and community engagement director. Candy Johnson is a Tennessee native and she is married to Dr. Bryan Johnson who is chief academic officer for the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System. They have two children. Mrs. Johnson received a bachelor of science degree in public management with a minor in leadership studies from Austin Peay State University and a master’s degree in public administration from Murray State University. She is also a graduate of both Leadership Clarksville and Leadership Middle Tennessee.
vice-president, College & Career Success
Chattanooga Public Education Foundation
In her role at PEF, Ms. Lightfoot is the coordinator for PEF’s Camp College and the Passport Scholars programs. Before coming to PEF, she was the director of Outreach at the College Access Center, a college counselor at Brainerd High, Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts and Howard High, and the director of Career Development at Girls, Inc. She is a Hamilton County public school alumnus, graduating from Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences. She has a B.A. from DePauw University and an M.A. from University of Roehampton, in London, England.
Ms. Lightfoot has been named a Chattanooga Woman of Distinction, received the Girls, Inc. Chattanooga “Unbought & Unbossed” Award, and the national “Counselors That Change Lives” award. She is a member of a number of networks and associations including the Tennessee College Access and Success Network, the Southern Association for College Admission Counseling, and the National College Access Network.
stand for children
Cardell Orrin currently serves as the Memphis City Director for Stand for Children. Prior to this, Cardell was the founder and principal of Linx Consulting. For over 10 years, Cardell was involved in projects that stretched across a wide breadth of areas that included strategic planning, community development, communications, community engagement, political campaigns, and technology services. Before founding Linx Consulting, Cardell worked as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis. Cardell co-founded New Path, a local political action committee focused on engaging young people in the political process and electing solutions-oriented candidates to local office. He currently serves on the boards of Freedom Preparatory Academy, Hattiloo Theatre, and Whole Child Strategies. He is a graduate of Leadership Memphis and the New Memphis Institute Fellows Program, has received a Top 40 Under 40 Award from the Memphis Business Journal, and was recognized by The April 4th Foundation with their Trailblazer Award. Cardell graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Science and Engineering in Computer Science and Engineering with additional studies in African American Studies and Entrepreneurial Management.
Mary Cypress Metz
Vice President of programs
State collaborative on reforming education
Mary Cypress Metz serves as the Chief of Staff for the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), where she coordinates the work across SCORE’s programs and leads special projects for the organization. In her previous role as SCORE’s Director of Outreach, she led the organization’s efforts in outreach and engagement, coalition building, and advocacy. Before joining SCORE, Mary Cypress taught seventh-grade math as a Teach For America corps member in Nashville. Originally from Mississippi, she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and history from the University of Alabama and her master’s in education from Lipscomb University.
PRESIDENT AND CEO
KNOXVILLE AREA URBAN LEAGUE
Phyllis Young Nichols is president and chief executive office of the Knoxville Area Urban League. As chief executive since 2000, she has expanded the Urban League to be recognized as one of Knoxville’s premier organizations. The Knoxville Area Urban League serves over 9,000 individuals and families each year through its 24 programs to provide a skilled diverse workforce, to increase and retain home ownership, to support economic and small business development, and to advocate and enhance education efforts for students of color. Phyllis is a graduate of ETSU and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Mrs. Nichols has completed education and leadership courses at the University of Tennessee, Whitney M. Young, Jr. Center for Urban Leadership, the Texaco Management Institute for Leadership Training, and the Duke University Center for Executive Leadership. She is a 2003 graduate of the Leadership Knoxville and the FBI’s Citizens Academy.
PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR
Gloria Jean Sweet-Love is president and director of the Tennessee State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Gloria is a lifelong advocate of education. She served for two decades as a member of the Hayward County Board of Education, serving as vice-chair. She also served as district director of Southwest School Board, a member of the Tennessee School Board Association (TSBA) and was the first African American woman to be elected as president of the TSBA. She currently serves as a member of the NAACP National Board of Directors and also serves as a member of the NAACP National Education Committee. Gloria is a graduate of Tennessee State University and has done post graduate studies in business management.
Tennessee 2017 teacher of the year
hamblen county schools
Derek Voiles is a seventh grade language arts teacher at Lincoln Heights Middle School in Morristown, Tennessee. He is passionate about literacy, student advocacy, and ongoing professional development. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in English-Literature and a Master’s Degree in Teaching English as a Second Language from Carson-Newman University, an Education Specialist Degree in Instructional Leadership from Lincoln Memorial University, and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from East Tennessee State University. In addition to classroom teaching, Derek has served as a member of Commissioner McQueen’s Teacher Advisory Council, a Regional Content Coach for the Tennessee Department of Education, a State Collaborative on Reforming Education Fellow, as well as a No Kid Hungry School Breakfast Fellow with NNSTOY. Derek has been recognized as Tennessee’s 2017 Teacher of the Year.