Jay Vazquez, President & CEO

Jay Vazquez was named President and CEO of The Philadelphia Academies, Inc. (PAI), in 2017.   In his current capacity, he supervises leadership staff, collaborates with the Board of Directors on the organization’s strategic direction, oversees fund development efforts and works to develop strategic partners in the community.  In his tenure to date, Jay has led an organizational reassessment, streamlined the organizational budget and fostered development of new programmatic initiatives.   Before being named President and CEO, Jay served for seven years as PAI’s Director of School Operations.  In that capacity, he led, in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia, the operational planning for and implementation of the Career Academy Model within the District.  “My philosophy as a leader is quite simple,” Jay states. “It is never about me, but the young people, the schools, and the communities we serve.  My mission is to be their voice and champion.”

Prior to joining PAI, Jay worked with several national foundations, nonprofits and school districts in the areas of education, healthcare, comprehensive community initiatives, and child welfare – developing expertise in capacity building, program development, information technology, and systems reforms.  He worked on several national large-scale system reform efforts designed to improve outcomes for children and families. He also led efforts to integrate workforce development and education strategies to bring employers, educators, and service providers together to help youth aging out of foster care.

At Jim Casey Opportunity Initiative, he interfaced with various national and senior state-level officials from child welfare, education and labor to expand the awareness on the plight of youth aging out of foster care. At Metis Associates, Inc., Jay provided technical assistance to foundations, nonprofit organizations and government agencies.

As a transformative leader, strategic planner and change agent, Jay believes that education, industry involvement, and civic engagement are the catalysts for improving the lives of young people.  He holds a B.A. in Economics and Labor Studies from Queens College, City University of New York. He is actively engaged locally and nationally in issues related to education and youth development; he serves on the Board of Directors of Working Families Partnership.

Cheryl Lafferty, Senior Program Director

Cheryl is responsible for overseeing all of Philadelphia Academies’ programs and services.  As such, she works closely with Program Directors to create short and long-term strategies, identify best practices to improve systems, and support direct service staff in implementing, sustaining and enhancing PAI’s programming. Cheryl has been at PAI for close to 5 years, serving in a variety of roles including, most recently, Chief of Staff. She is passionate about PAI’s mission, believing that all young people deserve equal access to education and the support and guidance of caring adults. Prior to joining PAI, Cheryl served as co-founder and Director (7.5 years) of Rhawnhurst Turning Point.  Cheryl holds a M.Div. from Palmer Theological Seminary, and a BA in Ancient Studies from The University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Porsha Colter, Director - Fund Development

Porsha is a dedicated development professional with over 15 years of experience in fundraising for some of Philadelphia’s most successful organizations, including the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia (PAL). In Porsha’s previous development roles, she fostered key relationships with community members, corporate partners as well as foundations – skills and experience she is excited to bring to PAI and those we serve. Porsha thrives when developing strategies and approaches to diversify the base of support and garner increased levels of giving from her relationships. A Philadelphia native, Porsha is devoted to creating a prosperous future for the city of Philadelphia and the lives of individuals who call this great city home. She graduated from Thomas Jefferson University (formerly Philadelphia University), where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership.

Ilene Merlino, Director - Finance

Ilene is responsible for the smooth functioning of PAI’s finances, vendor relations, records management and technology needs. Having been with PAI for over 32 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.

Stephanie Smith, Director - Programs and Partnerships

Stephanie, who has been at PAI for over three decades following a career in corporate HR, oversees PAI’s career pathway programs and recruits and convenes business and community partners to serve on Academy Occupational Advisory Councils, which provide invaluable industry expertise and curricular support for career pathways. Stephanie believes that developing strong, sustained relationships between industry partners and school staff plays a substantive role in strengthening public education and preparing young people for the workforce of tomorrow.  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. Stephanie holds B.A in Business from the State University of New York at Farmingdale.

Mariska Bogle, Associate Director - Hospitality

Mariska leads PAI’s Hospitality programming.  She is an experienced marketing/communications professional, who uses her human capital, emotional intelligence and political currency to positively impact the organizations with which she is involved. Prior to joining PAI, she was Executive Director of Philadelphia Hospitality, where she solidified the organization’s brand, developed new revenue streams and increased funding. Mariska is a member of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Links, Inc., serves as a Board Member of PHLDiversity – a division of The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB), and is a past Vice President of Skal Philadelphia. Bogle holds a B.A. in Communications/Theatre from Kutztown University, an MBA in Digital Marketing from Rutgers Business School and was a Maynard Institute for Journalism Education at Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism fellow.

Nadia Schafer, Associate Director - Data Supports and Evaluation

Nadia leads PAI’s internal data strategy and collection work as well as the 9th-Grade Success Network, which provides professional development and coaching to school leaders and 9th grade teams on data utilization practices, effective teaming, and student intervention support. Nadia, who has been with PAI for over 10 years, understand the value data offers in continuous improvement efforts and systems enhancement.  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.

Kevin Brandon, Special Projects Coordinator

Kevin is charged with keeping PAI’s initiatives and projects organized and on track, leading the organization’s marketing and communication strategy, and serving as an administrative aide to the organization’s Board of Directors. Kevin is passionate about the power of community engagement and education. He brings prior non-profit experience, most recently with Susan G. Komen Philadelphia, as well as professional experience in the Insurance Industry.  He has also long been active as a volunteer leader within Philadelphia’s Running Community. Kevin is a graduate of the University of Hartford where he earned his B.A. in Politics & Government. 

Devin Coney, Pre-Apprentice Specialist

Devin works to support and expand the Early Childhood Education (ECE) Registered Pre-Apprenticeship Program at Parkway West High School. She teams with PAI and school staff as well as Industry partners to support the daily operations of the ECE Pathway and Pre-Apprenticeship Program, including coordinating: work-based learning and industry partner support, Dual Enrollment Pathways, case management of Pre-Apprentices, employment placement, faculty exchanges, teacher supports, and capacity building with the Parkway West team. Devin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Howard University.

Liz Forest, School Support Specialist

Liz works with the 9th Grade Success Network with student-facing projects. She coordinates college and career panels by conducting outreach to colleges and businesses, and provides lessons teachers can relay to their students to stay on track in high school and prepare for post-secondary success. Liz believes in equity in the School District of Philadelphia, and is working hard to make that happen. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from Goucher College.

Kathryn May, 9th Grade Success and Data Coach

Kathryn supports school leaders and teams in the 9th Grade Success Network through data coaching, professional development, and supporting effective teaming and targeted student interventions. She brings twelve years of experience to PAI as an educator working for the School District of Philadelphia, first as a high school teacher and then as a consulting teacher. In the consultative role, she coached a caseload of 25-30 teachers each year while developing and maintaining relationships with Principals and school-based leaders. Kathryn has a PA Instructional II English 7-12 certification and a PA Administrative I Principal PK-12 certification.  May holds a BA from Arcadia University, an M.S. Ed. in Secondary Education from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.S. in Educational Leadership from Arcadia.


Rene Melendez, Hospitality Business Specialist

Rene leverages his 10 years of experience in the hospitality and entertainment industries as one of PAI’s Hospitality Business Specialists. In this role, Rene helps connect industry partners with PAI’s schools to bring eye-opening career experiences to students. Having served as both a mentor and teacher, he believes in the transformative power of working with youth and the importance of empowering them to tell their own stories. He holds a B.A. in Film and Media Arts from Temple University.

Renny Osuna, 9th Grade Success & Data Coach

Renny works with partner schools within the 9th Grade Success Network by providing coaching and technical assistance in data utilization and student intervention planning strategies. Renny is a graduate of Temple University where she earned her B.S. in Secondary Education with a PA teaching certification in Social Studies (7th-12th), and a Masters of Arts in Education and Human Development with a concentration in International Education at the George Washington University. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Education at the University of Arizona.




Maggie Pedone, Academic Project Coordinator

Maggie develops and supports implementation of a wide variety of academic projects in PAI’s partner schools, including project-based and work-based learning opportunities.  Utilizing her experience working as a teacher in Philadelphia, she provides training and technical assistance to teaching teams, works with business partners to connect them to the classroom, and focuses on best practices surrounding project-based and work-based learning, with a specific focus on PAI’s partner Middle Schools.  Maggie earned her Ph.D. in Urban Education with a concentration in Science Education from Temple University.

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.

Sharleen van Ams-Barrington, Hospitality Business Specialist

Sharleen assists students and school 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.