Jay Vazquez, President & CEO

Jay brings his passion, drive, and expertise to Philadelphia Academies, Inc. every day with the expectation of achieving positive results for the young men and woman we serve. As President and CEO, he draws on his experience and knowledge from previous work in education, healthcare, comprehensive community initiatives and child welfare. Jay’s background and skill in capacity building, information technology, and systems reforms have made him an ardent believer that education, industry involvement, and civic engagement are the catalyst for improving the lives of young people.

Before being named President and CEO, Jay served at PAI for seven years, most as the Director of School Operations, in which he led the operational planning and implementation of the organization’s strategy to expand the career academy model in Philadelphia in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia. Prior to joining PAI, he worked on several national initiatives to assist in large-scale system reform efforts across the country which included program development, self-evaluation, and capacity building to help communities improve outcomes for children and families. He also led efforts to integrate a workforce development and education strategy used as a method to bring employers, educators, and service providers together to help youth aging out of foster care.

Jay is actively engaged locally and nationally in issues related to education and youth development, and he is a member of both the National Career Academy Coalition and the Ford Motor Company’s Next Generation of Learning.

Connie Majka, Director of Special Projects

Connie has been with PAI for over 25 years. She is an advocate of the career academy model and its dual objective of career and college preparation, and co-founded the National Career Academy Coalition (NCAC), a membership organization that supports career academies across the US. Majka was on the team that developed the National Standards of Practice for Career Academies and is a certified NCAC Reviewer. She is currently Vice-Chair of the NCAC Board of Directors. She has an M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology and holds a Pennsylvania Certificate in Secondary School Counseling. She is a certified Ford NGL Professional Development Provider. Her areas of expertise include: Implementing the Career Academy Model, Team Building, Facilitation, and Consensus Building for Groups. She is considered an authority on the History of the Career Academy Model.

Corvette Kittrell, Associate Director - Business of Hospitality Academies

Corvette educates students about the lucrative career opportunities in the Hospitality Industry. She believes that every aspect of Hospitality is related to business and provides students with a road map of the industry, so that they can make informed career choices that allows them to advance in their chosen hospitality occupations. Kittrell has over 40 years in economic development, employment and training, hospitality, aviation, and broadcasting experience and has received advanced training and awards for her work in these fields.  She holds an MBA in Marketing and Finance from Penn State University, an M.Ed. in Education from Holy Family University, and a B.A. in Communications from Temple University.

Ilene Merlino, Director of Finance & Administration

Ilene is responsible for the smooth functioning of PAI’s day-to-day internal operations by managing finances, vendor relations, records management and technology needs. Having been with PAI for over 29 years, Ilene has participated in the evolution of the organization from several career academies in a few partner schools to a nationally recognized leader in career connected education that it is today. She is a graduate of Northeast High School in Philadelphia and attended Community College of Philadelphia.

Grace Cannon, Director of Programs

Grace manages and develops PAI’s school and district partnerships and programs. As the former Executive Director of the School District of Philadelphia’s Office of New School Models, she raised $3 million to design and open three new innovative high schools and launched the District’s Innovation Network. Grace also served as Director of Proficiency Based Pathways in the District’s Office of Educational Technology where she supported mastery-based and anywhere/anytime approaches to learning. Additionally, she has served in Director roles at YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School, Public/Private Ventures and the Philadelphia Youth Network. She holds an M.Ed. in Education from Temple University and has a B.A. from Bryn Mawr College.  Her areas of expertise include career connected learning, opportunity youth programming, arts education, youth systems design, educational technology and personalized learning.

Stephanie Smith, Director of Business Partner Development

Stephanie recruits and convenes business and community partners to serve on Academy Occupational Advisory Councils, which provide an invaluable resource for schools and students by providing relevant opportunities for engagement with industry and curriculum advisement for each career pathway.  Stephanie believes that developing strong sustaining relationships between industry partners and school staff plays a substantive role in transforming schools. She is a certified Academy Reviewer for the National Career Academy Coalition, a Ford NGL Professional Development Provider and a member on FORD NGL’s Leadership Council. She holds B.A in Business from the State University of New York at Farmingdale.

Cheryl Lafferty, Fund Development Support Specialist & Executive Coordinator

Cheryl assists in PAI’s fundraising activities with partners, grantors, and individual donors, as well as coordinating PAI’s annual fundraising gala and supporting PAI’s President and CEO in his day to day activities.  Cheryl is passionate about PAI’s work, believing that all youth deserve equal access to an inspiring education and the support and guidance of caring adults.   Cheryl holds a M.Div. from Palmer Theological Seminary, and a BA in Ancient Studies from The University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Iesha Coates, Program Specialist

Iesha manages “Customer First,”, a work-based learning program for 10th – 11th grade youth that focuses on the hospitality industry and incorporates a series of career exposure and preparation experiences that focuses on soft skill development including problem solving, collaboration, and confidence. She believes the work she does, helps students cultivate the competencies and work habits that employers are looking for, thereby increasing opportunities for success. Iesha is pursuing her B.A. in Behavioral Health and Human Services at Community College of Philadelphia.

Jonathan Jacobs, Project Based Learning Specialist

Jonathan assists teachers in bringing rigor and relevance to the classroom.  He remains confident that project-based and interdisciplinary learning helps close the achievement gap by emphasizing the application of knowledge rather than fact recall. Jonathan is a veteran high school science and math educator, focusing on alternative education practices. He is a graduate of Temple University College of Engineering, Drexel School of Education, and Naval Nuclear Power School.  He has received numerous awards, including the National Science Foundation, Philadelphia City Council, and Pennsylvania House of Representatives for his dedication to the community and the students he serves.

Laurese Harper, Sr. Hospitality Business Specialist

Laurese works with students by integrating career-connected education into the Accounting/Business, Culinary, Digital Media and Sports Marketing pathways. Laurese believes that when students are able to apply their classroom learning to real-world application, students are not only able to learn leadership skills but they are able to make educated decisions on future career plans. She has received many awards in education noting her dedication to uplifting others. She has a B.A. in Psychology from Penn State University and an M.Ed. in Counseling and Higher Education from Kutztown University.

Marquis Coates, Academy Specialist

Marquis works with partner schools to help align District practices and initiatives included in their school improvement plans, and align those with the career academy model. Marquis believes the academy model provides an experience-rich learning structure that prepares students for future success. Prior to joining PAI, he worked in the Center for Access, Success and Achievement at Villanova University where he counseled and supported students in career and academic success. He is certified in Mental Health First Aid and holds a B.A in Political Science and African American Studies from Temple University and an M.A in Public Administration from Villanova University.

Nadia Schafer, Data Specialist in Evaluation & Technology

Prior to her current role, Nadia worked for three years at Abraham Lincoln High School’s Student Success Center as a College and Career Specialist. She created Snapshot, PAI’s early warning indicator data visualization tool, and utilizes her skills in organization, data visualization, analysis, and communication by helping partner high schools implement Snapshot, as well as by organizing internal data for program improvement and reporting purposes. Nadia earned her B.A. in Politics, International Relations from Messiah College and her M.S. in Statistics, Measurement, Assessment, and Research Technology from University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.

Orneno Wright, College & Career Specialist

Orneno works with Philadelphia high school students to help them develop their career readiness skills through coordinating workshops and building work experience through internship placement. She believes that preparing students for careers that match their unique skills and talents has a profound impact not only in their lives and families, but in their communities as a whole.  Prior to joining PAI she was a Group Facilitator for the Out of School Time program at Congreso. She holds a B.A. in Mass Communications from Grambling State University and an M.A. in Publishing from Rosemont College.

Roosevelt Tucker, College & Career Specialist

Roosevelt works with high school youth to help them prepare for post-secondary success. His work includes mentoring, tutoring, and connecting students to industry through pipeline programs that help them explore various career paths. He believes that all youth should understand the importance of education and how it relates to furthering their career opportunities.  Roosevelt holds a B.A. in political science  from the University of Pittsburgh.

Ronmil Hoop, Human Resources & Finance Coordinator

Ronmil is responsible for PAI’s accounts receivable and payables along with the management of daily human resource needs. She is responsible for recruiting, interviewing, and hiring of new staff; and also serves as a link between the organization’s management and its employees. Ronmil is a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with a B.A. in Psychology and holds an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix.

Sarah Hill, Programs Manager

Sarah provides oversight and management for PAI’s school-based programs. Prior to her current position, Sarah was an Academy Specialist at PAI, working across several high schools to support the development of Freshman Academies and new career pathways, leading the development of the Early Childhood Education Pathway at Parkway West High School. Sarah believes that workforce development begins with education, and that all young people should be inspired and prepared to make informed decisions about their futures. Sarah holds a B.A. in Individualized Study with a Concentration in Community Development and Youth Empowerment from New York University, as well as an M.S.W. and an M.Ed. in Education Policy from the University of Pennsylvania.

Sharleen vanAms, Hospitality Business Specialist

Sharleen assists students and staff to bridge the gap between school and industry by aligning programs with employer and post-secondary institutions’ expectations. Sharleen believes in the importance of quality programs for students and community partners alike and is always looking for new approaches and opportunities to make the transition from school to industry a smooth one. She holds a B.A. from Gettysburg College and is currently pursuing a Master of Science.