Our Leadership Team

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.
Joe Pfoundz
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 External Relations 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.
Anne White
Anne White, Chief Administrative Officer
Anne White provides leadership support for our teams responsible for Step Up’s people strategy and organizational development, customer and stakeholder integration, risk management, strategic vendor engagement and scholarship operations. She has been with Step Up since 2010. 

Prior to joining the staff, Anne spent more than 15 years in the global business process, hospitality and higher education industries, most recently as Director of Global Client Services and Operations at Convergys Corporation.  Anne received her bachelor’s degree from The American University in Washington, D.C.  She holds a coaching certification from the Institute of Social and Emotional Intelligence, diversity and inclusion certifications from Cornell University and The University of South Florida, and is a certified John Maxwell speaker and coach.
Amy Graham, Vice President, Policy and Public Affairs
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.
Jill LaRose, Vice President for Leadership Development and Coaching
Jill LaRose is the Vice President for Leadership Development and Coaching. 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.
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. 
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.
Susan Dugan, Vice President, Finance
Susan Dugan is the Vice President of Finance and has been with Step Up For Students since 2013. She leads all financial functions of the organization and its affiliates. She is responsible for the organization’s assets and the programs Step Up For Students administers.

Prior to joining Step Up For Students, Susan’s career has predominantly been in the non-profit arena as well as working in the public accounting sector auditing non-profits, manufacturing, construction, and banking companies. Susan received her bachelor’s degree from Jacksonville University.
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.
Lauren Barlis, Senior Director, Student Learning & Partner Success
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. 
Paula Headshot
Paula Nelson, Senior Director, Student Learning & Partner Success

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.

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.
Joshua Whitley, Senior Director, Software and Quality Engineering

Joshua Whitley is responsible for the organization’s enterprise architecture, software development, quality assurance, business intelligence & enterprise data warehouse, and production application support teams. He is responsible for aligning the company’s software and data technology strategy to the organization’s mission and goals, through strategic third party integrations, as well as platform & software modernization, that allow for greater flexibility and scalability. Joshua has been with Step Up For Students since December of 2020.

Prior to joining Step Up For Students, Joshua spent over 20 years in various technology and leadership roles in the banking and financial services sectors. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Columbus State University in Columbus, GA. He also holds multiple cloud and software platform certifications.

Amanda Lopez, Director, Operational Communications
Amanda Lopez is the Director of Operational Communications at Step Up For Students. She is responsible for overseeing communications sent from all departments to our families and schools including strategies to increase efficiencies among the various communication channels.

Amanda joined Step Up For Students in June of 2004 as the receptionist which, at the time, served as our Customer Service center. Over the years she has held many positions at Step Up including Application Processor, Parent Advocate, Senior School Advocate, Director of Community Outreach and Director of Advancement. Amanda earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of South Florida.
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.
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.