Education PartnershipsOur Education Partnerships team is dedicated to building long-lasting, supportive, and engaged partnerships with educators and those who work with us to make our mission a reality. With 40 years of expertise in the fields of education and child advocacy, we’ve developed a team of passionate professionals who truly understand the challenges faced by schools and districts. We’re committed to working with our clients by providing high-quality, research-based programs and ongoing support that promote our vision of safe children thriving in a peaceful world. Join our growing team! Visit our Careers page to learn about our current openings. Kelly Merkling Director of Education Partnerships × Kelly Merkling Director of Education Partnerships Several years ago Kelly Merkling discovered just how important social-emotional learning (SEL) really is while working as a director of industry strategy focused on workforce development. “Through that process, I realized people need those skills early on, from a young age, to be successful,” she says. “Social-emotional skills really tie in throughout your journey as an individual.” That realization made Committee for Children a natural fit. Here, as the director of Education Partnerships, Kelly provides strategic leadership and development to her staff, who work with school districts to find the right Committee for Children programs for their needs. And although they set ambitious sales goals, the underlying motivation is to change lives. “The team is really dedicated to ensuring that we’re always doing the right thing,” Kelly says. “We’re not here to just make a sale; we’re here to help decision makers find the program that’s going to work for them and the kids in their district.” When Kelly started at Committee for Children in May 2017, there was a team of five salespeople. Today, there are 18—and her team is only growing. She considers it a top priority to be properly staffed so the team can provide a high-touch, consultative relationship with all their clients. Evaluating is Kelly’s SEL superpower, because she has a strong ability to analyze each step of a process. “There were many times in this journey that I could have gone for the quick solution—there were easy solutions along the way, but they were not the right solutions,” she says. “I work to be thoughtful in evaluating and understanding the ramifications; I’m always looking to play the long game in my decision-making process.” Kelly graduated from the University of Maryland with a dual degree in business management and human resources management. She has always enjoyed camping, hiking, and gardening in her free time. She loves the strong culture of Committee for Children and the role her team plays in spreading those all-important social-emotional skills. “It’s wonderful when you hear from teachers and principals about how our programs are affecting their students in a positive way and creating better communities,” she says. “It truly feels amazing when you walk away at the end of the day to know you’re making a difference in the work you do.” Lisa Wright Education Partnerships Manager, West Coast × Lisa Wright Education Partnerships Manager, West Coast Before joining Committee for Children in November 2017 to manage our West Coast accounts, Lisa Wright was a teacher trainer with Peace Corps Indonesia, where she designed and coordinated youth development programs focused on diversity, health, secondary education, and leadership skills for elementary through high school students. Lisa also worked with Sofia Blake, wife of US Ambassador Robert O. Blake Jr., on cultural training for her university program in Indonesia. She has volunteered as a tutor for elementary students and brings more than seven years of marketing, client relations, and consulting experience to Committee for Children. Lisa has intimate knowledge of international development and experience working with and leading youth empowerment programs. Lisa received a bachelor of arts in communications with a specialization in public relations from Michigan State University. She speaks four languages: Mandarin Chinese, Bahasa Indonesia, Malaysian, and English. Jennifer Sanderlin Senior Education Partnerships Manager, South × Jennifer Sanderlin Senior Education Partnerships Manager, South Since 2013, Jennifer Sanderlin has served as CFC’s senior education partnerships manager for the southern US states. Working with leaders at state, district, and school levels, she provides program guidance, strategies, and coordination with funding opportunities. As part of her work at CFC, she helped develop a grant in Georgia focused on social-emotional learning (SEL) as a foundation to long-term primary prevention of violence and maltreatment of children. So far, the grant has awarded nearly $2 million over the past five years. Jennifer’s own SEL superpower is perspective-taking. “Traveling over 50,000 miles every year has given me a unique perspective to see a wide variety of ways that our clients bring in and sustain SEL in their schools,” she says. “I get to help connect people to resources and each other, making their journey more efficient and usually more enjoyable in knowing they’re not alone.” With bachelor’s degrees in both sociology and elementary education, Jennifer has more than two decades of experience as a teacher and senior administrator in both school-based and out-of-school time settings. She hones her SEL skills daily with the help of her husband and two teenage children. Forrest Walter Education Partnerships Manager, South × Forrest Walter Education Partnerships Manager, South As a second-grade teacher who used Second Step social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum in his classroom, Forrest Walter saw firsthand how powerful it can be. That made the decision to join Committee for Children in 2019 an easy one. Forrest now helps districts implement SEL programming, providing support throughout the life of the partnership. He also works with community organizations, state departments, and nonprofit organizations to expand the SEL footprint nationwide. “Education equity has always been at the heart of my career mission,” he says. “I was attracted to the vision and reach of CFC, which is worldwide and focused on not only developing amazing curricula, but also on furthering the SEL frontier through policy and legislation, innovation, and many other methods.” Forrest earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Colgate University. He considers his SEL superpower communication, as he loves to connect with people and build authentic relationships. Kyra Rhoads Education Partnerships Manager, Gulf Coast × Kyra Rhoads Education Partnerships Manager, Gulf Coast Kyra Rhoads joined Committee for Children in 2017 with over 15 years of experience working with a diverse range of nonprofit agencies—including healthcare, education, and youth-outreach programs—in both management and volunteer capacities. As account manager for the southern US, she considers client relations, strategic planning, and sales and marketing to be her primary skills. Kyra graduated with a bachelor of science in business and economics from George Fox University and studied nonprofit management at the Institute for Organization Management, the professional development program of the US Chamber of Commerce. Miriam Merliss Education Account Manager, Gulf Coast × Miriam Merliss Education Account Manager, Gulf Coast When educators on the Gulf Coast are looking to implement social-emotional learning (SEL), bullying prevention, and child protection programs for their schools, they turn to Miriam Merliss. As an education account manager, she provides program guidance, resources, strategies, and support to educators in suburban and rural districts who are using Second Step, Committee for Children’s SEL curriculum. “Children can’t learn anything fully without being in a safe and supported environment,” she says. “I joined CFC because I wanted to help solidify that foundation of personal strength for children so they may build anything they want to with their lives.” With a degree in marketing from Elon University, Miriam excels in relationship-building, which she names as her SEL superpower. Not only has it helped her make friends as she moved several times and across the country, but it’s now central to her role as she introduces educators to the concepts behind SEL and helps them build programs that work for children. Zach Sherman Education Partnerships Manager, Central × Zach Sherman Education Partnerships Manager, Central Growing up overseas, Zach Sherman wanted to work in global development and foreign aid. But when the opportunity presented itself to join Committee for Children in 2013, he knew he had to jump at the chance to help children nationally and globally, even though it wasn’t in the original plan. Now, Zach works with schools and districts in the central US states to implement our social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum, Second Step. He connects with and supports the educators and administrators as they use Second Step to create empathetic, safe, and successful learning environments. Zach believes that his SEL superpower of empathy is key to this role. “I use this skill in life and at work by trying to make people laugh when I see they might be feeling down, and by lending a listening ear when someone might be struggling,” he says. Zach received his dual degree in economics and international political economy from the University of Puget Sound. Kate Tovias Education Partnerships Manager, Northeast × Kate Tovias Education Partnerships Manager, Northeast Kate Tovias brings a teacher’s perspective to her work with districts, schools, and organizations throughout the northeast US. Prior to joining Committee for Children in 2014, she was an academic intervention specialist and long-time elementary and middle school teacher. Kate has two bachelor’s degrees: one from Seattle University in psychology and one from Central Washington University in elementary education. She is also certified in leadership and management from Cornell University. Chad Parke Education Partnerships Manager, Northeast × Chad Parke Education Partnerships Manager, Northeast With more than 18 years of experience dealing with the IT needs of school districts during his time in the telecommunications and IT industry, in 2017 Chad Parke brought us a unique perspective on the challenges many school districts face using technology. Concerned for the difficulties that today’s youth face in both school and their daily lives, Chad finds satisfaction in introducing and talking about the Second Step curriculum with educators in the northeastern US. He’s proud to have a positive impact on students’ lives and fully believes that social-emotional learning is the key to their success. Noah Koritz Education Partnerships Manager, West Region × Noah Koritz Education Partnerships Manager, West Region Noah joined Committee for Children in 2019 after spending a decade in education services—starting as an after-school teacher and moving into teacher training, program management, territory management, and finally national sales and partnerships. In his role, he works with school districts and state agencies to adopt and implement social-emotional learning (SEL) programming in the Mountain Plains region. He also plans regional thought-leadership events, featuring experts who are innovating in the field of SEL. “I believe in the importance of social-emotional learning in our society,” he says. “This was not a subject that was explicitly—or often even implicitly—taught in school when I was growing up, and I feel that my classmates and I would have benefited enormously from this type of programming.” Noah, who has a bachelor’s degree in history from Beloit College, says his SEL superpower is social engagement—he’s always excited to meet and engage with others, both inside and outside of work. Joany Higgins Education Partnerships Manager, Mountain Plains × Joany Higgins Education Partnerships Manager, Mountain Plains Working with nonprofit organizations that serve youth and families deepened Joany Higgins’s passion for making a lasting difference in the lives of students. At Committee for Children, she supports school districts across 15 states in the Mountain Plains region as they implement Second Step, our social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum. “I believe deeply in the power of social-emotional learning to transform schools, communities, and students,” she says. “Each day, I am inspired by my colleagues and our clients who make our mission a reality and help us move closer to a vision of ‘safe children thriving in a peaceful world.’” Joany has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Saint Michael’s College and a master’s degree in public administration from Villanova University. Joany considers her SEL superpower to be teamwork, and she enjoys helping others feel empowered to combine their skills, talents, and passions toward a common purpose.