Meet Our Leadership Team

Doug Tuthill

President

Doug Tuthill

President

Doug Tuthill has been president of Step Up For Students 2008. He is a former high school teacher, college professor, software executive, management consultant, newspaper executive, and teacher union president. Doug has degrees from the University of Florida.

Jill LaRose

Chief Culture Officer

Jill LaRose

Chief Culture Officer

Jill LaRose is the Chief Culture Officer. She is responsible for helping SUFS leaders operationalize our two core cultural values–everyone is an asset, and every event is an improvement opportunity–by promoting stronger cognitive and emotional management skills across the organization.

Jill is a certified Life Coach and for ten years was the founder and president of the Angel Society, a nonprofit, child welfare organization that provided shelter and support for girls who were wards of the state. Jill has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in education.

Joe Pfountz

Chief Financial Officer

Joe Pfountz

Chief Financial Officer

Joe Pfountz leads Step Up For Students’ financial and scholarship operations and its fundraising, human resource, purchasing, compliance and risk management functions and ensures the highest level of fiscal accountability and transparency at Step Up For Students and the programs it administers.

Prior to joining Step Up For Students, Joe spent 29 years in various leadership roles including Chairman of the Board, Managing Director, Chief Financial Officer and Director of Finance for not-for-profit and for-profit enterprises in the healthcare and manufacturing sectors. Joe began his career in the assurance group of KPMG as an auditor of manufacturing, healthcare, construction and banking companies. Joe received his bachelor’s degree from Christian Brothers College in Memphis, TN.

Lesley Searcy

Chief Operating Officer

Lesley Searcy

Chief Operating Officer

For over 20 years, Lesley has provided transformational, executive leadership to large scale nonprofits. At Step Up for Students, Lesley leads the teams that oversee programs, policy, marketing, communications, and customer service. Her experience in aligning boards, donors, employees, and communities to a mission has helped to build strong, outcome-based nonprofits. Additionally, her entrepreneurial vision has helped create social enterprises and diverse funding streams for multiple organizations. Lesley is a veteran in public affairs developing critical relationships with media and elected officials leading to successful policy results. Lesley earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from the University of Alabama and a Master of Arts in Public and Private Management from Birmingham Southern College. She is also a John Maxwell certified speaker, trainer, and coach.

Shafayet Imam

Chief Information Officer

Shafayet Imam

Chief Information Officer

As our Chief Information Officer, Shafayet leads Information Technology, Data Strategies, Information Security, as well as digitally-transformative technologies across various platforms and solutions offered by Step Up For Students.

Shafayet brings multi-industry experience successfully implementing technologies for the past 25 years across Banking, Healthcare, and Insurance industries.

Shafayet’s expertise includes SaaS and Cloud-native product innovations, technology rationalization, data and systems architecture, secure digital and cloud transformations, as well as managing/leading global in-house, contracted, and third-party partner teams.

Alexis Laroe

Assistant Director, Legislative Affairs

Alexis Laroe

Assistant Director, Legislative Affairs

Amanda Lopez

Director, Operation Communications

Amanda Lopez

Director, Operation Communications

Amy Graham

Vice President, Policy, Innovation & Empowerment

Amy Graham

Vice President, Policy, Innovation & Empowerment

Amy Graham serves as the Vice President of Policy and Public Affairs and manages SUFS’ policy, legislative affairs, advocacy, and strategic communications teams.  She has over 17 years of experience with education policy, school choice options, and the scholarship programs in Florida. A graduate of the Florida State University College of Law, Amy began her career working as a legislative analyst for the Florida Senate and then as an education policy analyst focused on school choice programs for the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice at the Florida Department of Education before joining Step Up For Students in 2010. She also is an alumnus of Illinois Wesleyan University.

Andrea Thoermer

Senior Director, People Strategy & Organizational Development

Andrea Thoermer

Senior Director, People Strategy & Organizational Development

Anne Francis

Vice President, Development

Anne Francis

Vice President, Development

As Vice President of Development, Anne Francis is responsible for the vision, strategy, and execution of scholarship and programmatic support fundraising. Anne’s experience in nonprofit development spans more than twenty years and includes efforts in collegiate athletics, higher education, and health and human services. Since joining Step Up in 2010, her experience has grown to include education choice and tax-credited contributions.

Anne first developed a passion for nonprofit fundraising as a student attending Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., where she later graduated with degrees in Psychology and Visual Arts. She lives in the Tampa Bay area.

Anne White

Chief Administrative Officer

Anne White

Chief Administrative Officer

Craig Gonsalves

Vice President, IT Solutions

Craig Gonsalves

Vice President, IT Solutions

Craig Gonsalves joined Step Up For Students in 2014 and now oversees the Technology Solutions group, who are responsible for implementing IT projects and technology solutions. Craig has worked at Step Up For Students as a Senior Project Manager, Project Portfolio Manager, and Senior Director of Project Management.

Craig has over 28 years of experience in the Information Technology industry, and prior to joining Step Up For Students in 2014, he worked in the Digital Marketing, Insurance, and Lottery industries within the areas of Software Quality Assurance, Software Test Automation, Business Analysis and Project Management.

Dava Hankerson

Director, Enterprise Data and Research

Dava Hankerson

Director, Enterprise Data and Research

Dava Hankerson oversees SUFS’ research team and manages the business priorities and delivery of enterprise-level data solutions that meet the demands of both internal and external customers. She is responsible for driving SUFS’ data and research strategy of making key data accessible and accurate for data-informed decision making and student success.

Dava has spent her career in education teaching high school mathematics and serving as Department Chairperson and Academic Coach in Broward County Public School system for over 8 years. She then went on to teach several college education courses at Florida State University and work on numerous research projects for the Department of Education and the Center for Postsecondary Success on educational equity/access and education reform. Dava joined Step Up in 2015 and truly enjoys the fact that her work allows her the ability to continue to impact student lives by helping provide children and families access to additional educational opportunities through Florida’s choice programs.

Dava holds a bachelor’s degree from Palm Beach Atlantic University, a master’s degree in Education from Fort Hays State University, and is a doctoral candidate for a PhD in Education Policy and Evaluation.

Gina Caicedo

Senior Director, Leadership Development & Coaching

Gina Caicedo

Senior Director, Leadership Development & Coaching

Gina Medlock

Senior Director, Enterprise Systems & Reporting

Gina Medlock

Senior Director, Enterprise Systems & Reporting

Heidie Nesset

Director, Platform Service Operations

Heidie Nesset

Director, Platform Service Operations

Heidie Nesset currently serves as Director, Platform Service Operations for Step Up For Students. In this role, she provides strategic analysis and oversight for the platform supporting Education Savings Accounts (ESA). Heidie has been with Step Up since January 2012 serving in various roles.

Prior to joining Step Up, Heidie served in various government affairs roles. Heidie holds a bachelors and masters degree in American politics and policy from The Florida State University. She a Certified Product Owner, Scrum Master & Fundraising Executive, was a member of Cohort 11 of the University of Notre Dame’s Reform Leaders Summit and has a certificate in Diversity & Inclusion from Cornell University.

Jaclyn Kilpatrick

Assistant Director, External Relations

Jaclyn Kilpatrick

Assistant Director, External Relations

Jessie Carpenter

Chief of Staff to CFO

Jessie Carpenter

Chief of Staff to CFO

Jillian Metz

Vice President, External Relations

Jillian Metz

Vice President, External Relations

With combined passions for education and marketing, Jillian Metz leads the external relations team in its public relations, communications, branding, social media and philanthropic fundraising initatives that support the organization’s mission of empowering parents to pursue and engage in the most appropriate learning options for their children.

Jillian joined Step Up For Students in 2006 and has her bachelor’s degree in public relations with a minor in business from the University of Florida.

Kurt Hammond

Senior Director, Marketplace

Kurt Hammond

Senior Director, Marketplace

Kym Beelman

Senior Director, Scholarship Operations

Kym Beelman

Senior Director, Scholarship Operations

Kym Beelman is the Senior Director of Strategic and Scholarship Operations at Step Up For Students.  Prior to joining Step Up For Students, she spent more than 20 years in the customer care industry in various roles including underwriting, care center leadership, sales leadership, and quality assurance leadership. Kym is responsible for driving and executing strategies for operational efficiencies.  Kym’s focus is on customer satisfaction and working on processes that will improve the experience for our families, schools and providers.

LaNier Echols

Senior Director Customer Experience

LaNier Echols

Senior Director Customer Experience

Lauren Barlis

Vice President, Customer Experience

Lauren Barlis

Vice President, Customer Experience

Lauren Barlis has been with Step Up For Students since 2013 and serves as Senior Director of the Student Learning and Partner Success (SLPS) department.  Lauren and Paula Nelson co-lead SLPS, a team of educators who support school improvement by connecting schools and families to high quality educational resources and prioritizing relationships with families and schools.   She has a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Florida and has been working in the classroom since 2004. Her dissertation research focused on resilience and how schools can create nurturing environments to support the success of Black students from low-income families.

Lauren May

Director, Advocacy

Lauren May

Director, Advocacy

Megan Gulick

Director, Development

Megan Gulick

Director, Development

Michael Brooken Jr.

Director, Risk Management

Michael Brooken Jr.

Director, Risk Management

Mickey Strope

Director, Strategic Finance

Mickey Strope

Director, Strategic Finance

Nicole Wilson

Senior Director, Product & Implementation

Nicole Wilson

Senior Director, Product & Implementation

Paul Soost

Director, Marketing

Paul Soost

Director, Marketing

Paula Nelson

Vice President, Customer Experience

Paula Nelson

Vice President, Customer Experience

Paula Nelson has been with Step Up For Students since 2015 and serves as Senior Director of the Student Learning and Partner Success (SLPS) department.  Paula and Lauren Barlis co-lead SLPS, a team of educators who support school improvement by connecting schools and families to high quality educational resources and prioritizing relationships with families and schools.

Paula holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Specific Learning Disabilities K-12 from the University of South Florida, a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University, and an Educational Specialist Degree in Teaching, Learning and Assessment from the University of Florida.  She spent 32 years in Pinellas County Schools as an SLD Teacher, Varying Exceptionalities Specialist, Assistant Principal, High School Principal, and Supervisor for the Gulfcoast Florida Diagnostic & Learning Resources Systems (FDLRS) for the FLDOE. One highlight during her tenure in Pinellas County, was the opportunity to join a team of educators and leaders to open a middle school that would lead the district in Total Quality Management (TQM) based on the work of W. Edward Deming.  Paula served as a school-based writer for the Florida Governors Sterling Award for Quality, aligned to the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award. Paula also served as an Adjunct Professor at National Louis University in the Teaching, Learning and Assessment Graduate program.

Ronda Dry

Senior Director, Provider Customer Experience

Ronda Dry

Senior Director, Provider Customer Experience

Scott Kent

Director, Strategic Communications

Scott Kent

Director, Strategic Communications

Scott Smith

Director, Program Financial Operations

Scott Smith

Director, Program Financial Operations

Sterling Garcia

Director, Philanthropy

Sterling Garcia

Director, Philanthropy

Susan Dugan

Vice President, Finance

Susan Dugan

Vice President, Finance

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