Mayor's Office For Adult Literacy
MOAL Advisory Board
Julie Baker Finck, Ph.D. has served as the President of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation since its inception in 2013. She has more than 20 years of experience in nonprofit and K-12 education, including four years on the executive leadership team of the Houston Independent School District. Prior to her move to Houston in 2009, she worked for Battelle for Kids, providing strategic consulting to urban school districts towards advancing large-scale improvement efforts. In addition, she served as Assistant Superintendent for the Franklin County Educational Service Center and Executive Director for Ohio SchoolNet Commission, a state agency dedicated to implementing $1 billion in educational technology initiatives across Ohio during her tenure. Dr. Finck began her career as a classroom teacher in Kentucky and earned her Doctorate of Philosophy in education administration from The Ohio State University in 2001.
“If you help a person to read, then their opportunities in life will be endless.” Barbara Bush
Patra Brannon-Isaac serves as the Director of Education for the Kinder Foundation where she is responsible for leading the foundation’s philanthropic investments in education. Her previous roles in education include Regional Director for Leadership ISD and General Manager of Talent Acquisition for HISD. Prior to her career in education, she worked for corporations including ExxonMobil, BMC Software, Wells Fargo, Merck & Co and Coca-Cola holding diverse roles in finance, corporate audit and human capital. Patra holds a B.S. degree in finance from Iowa State University and an MBA from Rice University’s Jones Business School. She has volunteered her time through service and leadership with community organizations including the Houston chapter of National Black MBA Association, Greater Houston Black Chamber Foundation Board, EMERGE, RARE Pearls, and currently serves on the Rice Business Task Force on Racial Equity and Social Justice, the Rice Business Alumni Board, and as a philanthropic advisor for The Collaborative Circle.
“The ability to read and write is key to economic opportunity and the ability to flourish in our society; thus the issue of adult literacy deserves significant awareness and attention in hopes that the lives of Houston’s adults and their families will be positively impacted.”
Thomas Coleman, Government Affairs Specialist, CITGO Petroleum Corporation
Rick Cruz is the Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer for Houston ISD and the founder of EMERGE Fellowship. In his district role, he leads one of the HISD’s largest divisions comprised of over 20 departments, manages a $60+ million budget, and oversees a broad portfolio of major programs and initiatives aimed at increasing student achievement and opportunity.
Rick began his career in education after leaving Baker Botts to join Teach for America. He served as a bilingual 5th grade teacher, being recognized as Teacher of the Year two consecutive years. While teaching, he founded EMERGE Fellowship, a program currently serving nearly 3,000 students across multiple school districts that helps low-income students attend and graduate from the nation’s top colleges. He left the classroom to become an assistant superintendent for the school district. Since then, he has held numerous senior leadership roles within the district and has helped students make record-breaking progress in areas such as college and career readiness and postsecondary coursework.
For his commitment to helping students from underserved communities succeed, Rick has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the City of Houston’s Hispanic Heritage Award, Houston Press’ Master Mind Award, and Teach for America’s Champion for Change Award. Rick graduated with honors from Yale University and holds a doctorate in educational policy and leadership from the University of Texas at Austin.
Melanie Fisk, joined BakerRipley in February 2019 as the Senior Director of Adult Education, bringing with her 20+ years of social service and leadership experience. As a resident of Houston, she has served as the CEO of Literacy Advance of Houston and the Vice President of Client Services at SEARCH Homeless Services. Melanie serves on the Board of Directors for Literacy Texas, the state’s adult literacy coalition, and on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work. She is a senior fellow of American Leadership Forum’s Class XLIX and anyone who knows Melanie, knows that she is a builder. A builder of people, teams, organizations, and communities. Melanie passionately believes that education is the foundation to a more equitable society and she does everything possible to integrate this into her daily work.
“A literate city is a city that is reaching its fullest economic and social potential. If we don’t support our adult citizens in gaining the skills they need to be the best parents and strongest workforce possible, then we are failing our future generations.”
Sonja Gee, serves as the President & CEO of MAM (Memorial Assistance Ministries) one of Houston’s largest community-based, multi-service non-profits that focuses on building a strong workforce, financially stable families, and healthy, supportive communities. As a native Houstonian and daughter of immigrants, Ms. Gee knows first-hand the importance of access to quality education and support networks for building stronger families and a more equitable society. She has worked for the past two decades to expand literacy and educational opportunities in marginalized communities. In addition to her work in non-profit, Ms. Gee is the founder and co-owner of Librería Mundo, a small business in Mexico focused on literacy and education. Ms. Gee holds a B.A. in Sociology from Rice University and a Master’s in Education from Stanford University.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” -- Alvin Toffler
Maritza Guerrero, President & CEO of Community Family Centers, has over 33 years of experience in government and non-profit agencies as a practicing psychologist, counselor and administrator. She has been with Community Family Centers, a non-profit organization, since 1993 in the roles of counselor, Program Director, and Vice President of Operations before becoming President and CEO in 2006. She has grown the agency into a thriving nonprofit organization, serving more than 40,000 people in the Magnolia, East End area of Houston. CFC offers programs which create short and long-term solutions for individuals in poverty by offering emergency services combined with educational opportunities. Programs include Adult Education, Family Support Services, Early Childhood Education, and Youth Services including school-based Prevention Education/Intervention components to reduce risk factors. Ms. Guerrero is married and has three children.
“The more that you READ, the more THINGS you will Know . The MORE you LEARN, the more PLACES YOU’LL go.” -- Dr. Seuss
Dr. Margaret Hale is a Clinical Professor and Chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education at the University Houston. She is co-founder of the annual Tweens Read Book Festival, co-director of Abydos Learning International, and the Executive Secretary of the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts. Her work focuses on preparing teacher candidates in the area of secondary literacy, coaching in-service teachers in teaching reading and writing, and connecting kids with authors of the books they enjoy reading.
Literacy, for adults or for children, can change everything. Literacy will open the doors to many things for adults - it provides access to not only health information, employment opportunities and sustainability, but also improve the adult's ability to make informed decisions in a variety of daily contexts."
Dr. Melanie Johnson serves as President/CEO of Collaborative for Children, an agency that provides the quality ratings for child care centers in the gulf coast region. She previously served as President/CEO of The Health Museum, where she led the museum’s achievement of Smithsonian affiliate. She has also served as NASA’s Space Center Houston’s Director of Education. She holds a B.A. from Auburn University, a Masters from University of Houston and a doctorate in Education from Texas Southern University.
"Adult Literacy promotes a legacy of access to knowledge for generations to come." Melanie J. Johnson, Ed.D.
Native Houstonian Jennifer M. Leighton-Guzman lived in Washington, DC and San Antonio, TX before returning home to Houston. Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from George Washington University and a Master of Public Administration degree from University of Texas at San Antonio where she completed research in human capital trends in women-business ownership. During her undergraduate study, Jennifer worked for DC Reads, an organization with a mission to alleviate the illiteracy rate in Washington, DC among elementary school children. Jennifer is committed to serving in this advisory role and helping to achieve our collaborative mission of enhancing adult literacy advocacy and awareness and its impact on our economy, communities, families and individuals. She currently works for Texas Capital Bank in Houston as the Community Development Officer. She has served on many boards and community-led initiatives.
“Literacy is the foundation of every decision in life, work, understanding your rights, teaching your children, participating in our community…. When people can read, they can lead at any age.”
Gloria Luna Bounds is a program manager in Community Relations for CenterPoint Energy, a domestic energy delivery company headquartered in Houston, Texas. In her role at CenterPoint Energy, she focuses on strategic partnerships, employee engagement and corporate philanthropy. Gloria is a graduate of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Master of Business Administration in Finance. Gloria is a proud native Houstonian who is passionate about the community and actively serves in leadership roles for various nonprofit organizations, including Latin Women’s Initiative and Hermann Park Conservancy. Gloria is a graduate of United Way’s Project Blueprint and Leadership Houston Class XXXIII.
“Literacy is the foundation to all learning, and opens the doors to endless opportunities."
Edward Melton is Harris County Public Library’s Executive Director with oversight of 26 branch libraries in unincorporated Harris County. He was recognized by the Urban Library Council (ULC) as an Operations Service Innovator and was awarded the ULC Joey Rogers Leadership Award in recognition of contributions as a public library leader. He currently serves as the Literacy Representative of the Executive Board for the Gulf Coast Workforce Solutions Board, a member of the TexShare Advisory Board for the Texas State Library and Archive Commission, and on the advisory board for The University of North Texas - Information School. He formerly served as a member of the Executive Board for the Houston Center for Literacy, the Early Matters Houston Coalition, and as the Treasurer for the Texas Library Association (TLA).
"Literacy is a fundamental skill that opens up endless possibilities for success. It is a superpower that anyone can possess. This is what drives my work and passion for supporting literacy."
Viola Munoz García has served as a school board trustee in the Aldine ISD since 1992. She was president of the Texas Association of School Boards in 2012-2013, president of the Mexican American School Board Members Association (MASBA) in 2003, and serves on the Board of Directors of the National School Boards Association as president-elect.
Dr. Garcia is an emeritus professor in the Department of Urban Education at the University of Houston-Downtown, where she served as chair of the department and as assistant chair for undergraduate programs. She retired after 30 years of service as a professional educator, including 10 years in public schools and 20 years in higher education. She holds a Doctor of Education degree in Higher Education Administration and Supervision and a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. Her undergraduate degree in Elementary Education with an emphasis in Reading Methods is from Texas Woman’s University.
“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.” – Kofi Annan
Gerald F. Napoles, Ph.D. serves as Vice Chancellor, Special Assistant to the Chancellor at Lone Star College. His responsibilities include oversight of admissions, registration, dual credit, disabilities, enrollment management, as well as the numerous student services activities and partnerships at Lone Star College. He works closely with all LSC colleges building strong relationships in the community and providing support at the various campus locations. His values bring a positive sense of commitment to equal opportunity and access for students. Prior to his appointment as Vice Chancellor, Dr. Napoles served as President of Lone Star College-North Harris for five years.
“Literacy is an essential skill and leads to practical and creative opportunities in our personal and work lives.”
Michelle Joseph Paul was born in Trinidad and Tobago and moved to Baytown, Texas in 1977. She resides in Houston, Texas and has thirty plus years of experience in the human service and nonprofit industry. Ms. Paul holds a Bachelor of Science in Human Service, a Master’s Degree in Nonprofit Management and an Evidence-Based Coaching Certificate, and is a Senior Fellow with the American Leadership Forum (ALF); a nonprofit organization whose mission is to join and strengthen diverse leaders to serve the common good. She currently serves as the Executive Director of Houston’s Capital Investing in the Employment of Adults, Inc. (Capital IDEA Houston).
Michelle co-founded The Ultimate Woman Project, a women’s empowerment group that was started in her living room when she saw the need for a few of her friends to become liberated from the mental prison of brokenness and uncertainty. Passionate about her life’s work, Michelle also founded En-2-Me-See, Inc., to support individuals in developing a mindset for transforming their lives. She utilizes her mindset coaching, facilitating, and speaking skills as a conduit to remind others of their inner power and their capacity to create the live they desire.
“Literacy is a birthright, and I am serving with MOAL to provide access to every citizen who desires to increase their literacy skills.” ~ Michelle J. Paul
Dr. Christina Robinson currently serves as the Executive Director of Adult Education and Literacy Programs for the Houston Community College System. In her role, she oversees one of the largest grant-funded adult education and integrated workforce programs in the state of Texas with over $5 million in grant funding. Robinson spearheaded the creation of the HCC Change Your Life for $20 campaign and Career4U Academy. Robinson, an accomplished leader, and champion of higher learning has been recognized for her leadership both locally and nationally. She was recognized by the Texas Higher Education Board for her work on Student Systems winning the STAR Award in 2015. She was honored as the top 30 Most Influential Women in Houston and Top Ten Most Influential Women by Houston Woman magazine. Most recently, her team was awarded the "Our Great Region Award "from Houston-Galveston Area Council’s 13-county region for advancing partnerships to exceed the goals and strategies outlined in the Our Great Region 2040 plan. Robinson earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Texas A&M University and a Master’s of Arts in Organizational Management from the University of Phoenix. She received her doctorate in Community College Leadership from The Roueche Graduate Center at National American University with a dissertation on, “What Can Higher Education Learn from Healthcare Innovation?”
Samantha Sherman serves as the Chief Program Officer at Wesley Community Center, a multi-service community center located in Houston’s Northside. In this role, she leads the operation of Wesley’s Early Childhood Education program, Early Head Start program, Emergency Assistance programs, Financial Opportunity Center, Out of School Time programs, and Senior Life program. Samantha has over 20 years of experience in community-based non-profit work including time in Minnesota, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College and a Master of Social Work from the University of Minnesota.
“Literacy is much more than an educational priority-it is the ultimate investment in the future.” -- Irina Bokova
Mike Temple is the Director for the Gulf Coast Workforce Board and its operating affiliate Workforce Solutions – here to keep the Houston-Gulf Coast region of southeast Texas the best place to do business, work and live.
With $300+ million in resources Workforce Solutions elevates our region’s economic and human potential by fulfilling the diverse needs of the 30,000 businesses and 400,000+ people we serve every year.
"Learning to read is the first step toward the skills needed for the good jobs of future."
Stephanie Tsuru spent 25 years in the health care industry before receiving her MLS at Rice, which redefined and changed the trajectory of her life. Empowered by the strength and potential of women and disappointed by their frequent circumstances, she founded SheSpace a female focused work, meeting and programming space to support and bring all women together while mentoring both women and the girls of Houston. Drawing on more than 35 years of experience, she brings her wisdom and passion to a space which advances women’s relationships, social and professional networks, and the power of the cohabitation effect.
She is passionate about philanthropic work, specifically literacy efforts, co-founding Houston’s state-of-the-art mobile library fleet for the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy’s Ladies of Literacy. Her most satisfying hours are spent leading book clubs for middle school and high school young women.
Among her recent accomplishments is being named a 2020 Woman to Watch by the Houston Business Journal’s Women Who Mean Business Awards, being admitted to the Greater Houston’s Women’s Chamber of Commerce Hall of Fame and an ABC/Channel 13 Women of Distinction and Best Dressed Honoree for March of Dimes in 2019. An avid runner and defender of public spaces, she is co-chairing the Hermann Park Commons Capital Campaign. She recently indulged in her fondness of life-long learning by completing the Rice Leadership Accelerator.
"Literacy is so much entwined in our lives that we often fail to realize that the act of reading is a miracle that is evolving under our fingertips." -- Maryanne Wolf
Dr. Tracy Weeden is a seasoned and passionate leader dedicated to advancing literacy and academic excellence. She has spent her career developing scalable and innovative programs, systems, and teams.
In her current role as President and CEO of Neuhaus Education Center, Dr. Weeden is expanding the reach and impact of the Neuhaus Education Center (NEC) within the State of Texas, and on a national level. The NEC mission provides evidence-based professional learning to educators, information and resources to families, and adult literacy services.
Prior to serving at NEC, Dr. Weeden was the Executive Director of Academic Planning for Scholastic Achievement Partners. Dr. Weeden spent 5 years as the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for the Houston ISD.
A graduate from the University of Detroit, with a B.A. in Speech Communications and English, Dr. Weeden also received her M.Ed. and Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from the University of Houston.
"Collectively, we can transform the family tree through literacy. It is the currency of the 21st century in a knowledge economy. When we empower adults to become fully literate, they and their offspring have a place at the table of opportunity for a lifetime.”
- Resources: https://neuhausacademy.org/students/
Reginald Young serves as the Chief Strategy Officer at Houston Food Bank. He has worked in hunger-relief for over 10 years and specializes in addressing the root causes of food insecurity through strategic partnerships with the education, health, and housing sectors. He began his career as a community organizer working to bring educational technology and economic resources to underserved communities, and later served as a member of Feeding America’s first cohort of the Child Hunger Corps. Regi received a BA in Political Science from Millsaps College and an MA in Cross-Cultural Studies from the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
“Literacy is a spaceship that guides you through an endless universe of our greatest hopes, fears, and possibilities.”