Richard Landers, Chair
Richard Landers has spent his professional life in the analysis of public and business policy and strategy issues, first as a U.S. State Department Foreign Service Officer, and subsequently for various business organizations. In the mid-1980s he co-founded a Los Angeles-based management consulting firm focused on energy services and technologies, and in 1995 he and his partners sold that business and created GFI Energy Ventures, a private equity investment firm. In his role as investor, he served on the boards of directors of several public and private companies. He retired from GFI in 2009 and now consults and pursues personal and philanthropic interests, primarily focused on environmental sustainability and the reform of public education. He was a founding partner and past volunteer director of Social Venture Partners Los Angeles and is currently a director of San Francisco-based Sustainable Conservation.
Russ Altenburg is CEO of Reframe Labs, a nonprofit that supports diverse leaders to design and launch innovative public schools in Los Angeles. Previously, he managed a portfolio of grants in the areas of personalized learning, new school models, and state policy as a program officer at the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. Prior to joining the foundation, he was an Education Pioneers Fellow at NewSchools Venture Fund. In 2005, he co-founded Global Playground and helped build schools in Uganda, Cambodia, Thailand, and Honduras. He previously worked at JPMorgan advising corporate clients on currency risk management. Russ holds a BSc in Economics from Duke University and an MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management, where he was awarded the John Wooden Leadership Fellowship. He was also part of the KIPP Leadership Design Fellowship and the inaugural cohort of the Pahara Next Gen Network.
Austin Dragon has worked as a Fortune 100 corporate recruiter and manager in such diverse industries as healthcare, banking and finance, IT, manufacturing, sales and marketing, and HR for nearly 25 years. He ran for office to serve on the Los Angeles Board of Education in 1999 and served as the Chief Deputy to the President of the Los Angeles Unified School District from 1999 to 2000. For the last 15 years, he has served on the board of Strive, a mini campus offering after-school academic programs, tutoring, computer workshops and arts to children in Watts. A native New Yorker, Mr. Dragon also served in the U.S. Army and received a degree from the L’universite Sorbonne in Paris, France.
In 2004, Heidi Landers became a founding partner of Social Venture Partners Los Angeles where she became deeply involved in efforts to address the deep inequities and challenges of public education. Her experiences led her to the conclusion that problems at the local school level can’t be solved unless politicians and government leaders prioritize the interests of children over the adults in the school “business” and she has become very active in supporting candidates for school boards and the state legislature who share that perspective. When she has “spare” time, Heidi is writing a novel for teens. She grew up in Europe and speaks Spanish and French.
Mary Najera is a passionate education reform advocate whose work on behalf of Los Angeles children and families began when she was a parent in LAUSD. Najera is one of the founders of The Los Angeles Parents Union, today known as Parent Revolution. She, along with other Parent Revolution members, was instrumental in the passage of the Parent Trigger Law, which gives parents in California more power to improve low performing public schools. Today, Najera is Chief Community Officer at Extera Public Schools, a quartet of public elementary and K-8 schools in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles with a mission to “grow students into trailblazers who are conscientious change agents for their communities and beyond.”
Rene Rodman has spent over ten years working to inform, engage and advocate for parents in our public school system. She served four years on the Board of Trustees of Palisades Charter High School, two of those years as Board President. After that, she co-founded Parent Partnership for Public Education (PPPE), a group designed to help parents better understand the workings of public education at the local, state and federal levels. PPPE organized a network across LAUSD Board District 4 to provide parents with more input and a greater voice in decisions at every level. All the while, Rene has volunteered in her children’s LAUSD schools doing everything from helping in the classroom to running the annual giving campaign to heading up teacher appreciation week. Prior to becoming a mom, Rene worked in kids entertainment licensing. She holds a BA from the University of Michigan and an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
Aida Rodriguez is the Vice President of Advocacy and Government Relations at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, a charter school network dedicated to providing an exceptional education for all students, regardless of their background or zip code. Her entire professional career has been dedicated to ensuring that families and students help shape educational policies. Rodriguez’s commitment to educational equity is deeply connected to her own trajectory as a native Angelino and daughter of a Chinese Guatemalan immigrant family who went to great lengths to secure her a quality education. Her childhood was spent living with different relatives, including time in Guatemala City, which exposed her to different school districts and school systems.
Rodriguez spent five years working for Parent Revolution, rising from an organizer to California Organizing Director. Her first organizing campaign at 24th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles, where parents’ persistent efforts to demand more for their kids and their community resulted in an unprecedented district-charter collaboration. In addition to overseeing numerous school transformation campaigns, she led the launch of a Parent Power Institute that provided leadership, organizing, and advocacy training for families. She has also led state-level campaigns to ensure that the state prioritizes kids-first policies. Rodriguez participated in the preparation of a report co-written with Teach Plus and the Center for American Progress on the future of California's new school accountability system, spearheaded educational reform advocacy efforts in Sacramento and worked on a variety of education issues such as increased access to school choices and ensuring children are on track for college.
Rodriguez has a law degree from the UC Hastings College of the Law and a B.A. in Political Science from UC Berkeley. She served as a board member at an East Los Angeles non-profit community center dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for low-income families. In 2016, Rodriguez was selected to participate in Hispanics Organized for Political Equality (“HOPE”) which is a program designed to train and empower Latina women to serve in leadership roles.
Shirley Ford, Speak UP Board Member 2016-2018
"Fifteen years ago, I was blessed when a school flyer randomly landed at my door, but the educational destinies of children like mine shouldn’t depend on luck. To end that unjust status quo, we need two things. The first is a dramatic increase in quality options for families in low-income communities and communities of color. The second is to help all families have a greater awareness about their options and remove many of the barriers that currently prevent some families from accessing school choice." -- Shirley Ford