The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success Board of Directors


Dr. Ruth White spent 23 years as a Language Arts teacher at Washington High School, beginning as a 10th grade English teacher,  

and ending as an instructor of Advanced Placement Literature. 

Dr. White also served as Academic Advisor to Minority Students, a  position through which she learned much about the many minority  and international students at Washington, and through which she  developed and implemented the Diversity Workshop and Ethnic  Week–including the Ethnic Food Fair and the Ethnic Fashion Show.  She currently heads The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success; this program also emanated  from her work as Academic Advisor to Minority students. Dr. White  may be remembered by her former students as well as by current Academy students, for her many “Mantras”, which include: 

“Attitude is Everything” 

“There Is Always More to Know” 

“Tempus Fugit” 

“Nothing Worth Doing Is Easy; Everything Worth Doing Is  Worth Doing Well” 

She is married to George Pope, and is the parent of Travell Wright, WHS twelfth-grader.

Eric McKinley Thompson serves as Director for The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success whose mission is to instill pride in and understanding of African American culture as a tool to encourage academic achievement and positive behaviors, toward post-secondary matriculation and productive citizenship in all Black, Brown and Biracial students.  He also serves as the Percussion Director and Community Program Coordinator for the Jane Boyd Community House where youth, family and community are championed in order to cement academic achievement, enhance and support all families and promote inclusive growth and opportunities for families & neighborhoods to be successful, both in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Holding a Master Educators license, Thompson also possesses an Undergraduate Diploma with Distinction in Jazz Studies from the New England Conservatory of Music, Bachelor of Science in African-American History with a minor in Political Science from Northeastern University, and a Master of Arts in Arts & Humanities with a Specialization in the teaching of Social Studies from Teachers College, Columbia University. He is also a Marching Percussion Specialist with Vic Firth Sticks as a member of their Education Team.

Thompson is currently a Ph.D. student at The University of Iowa in Educational Policy and Leadership Studies: Schools, Culture and Society and is unconditionally honored join the AERA Graduate Student Council and to begin serving as Junior Representative in Division F.


Shirley ‘Charisse’ Cox

Amara Andrews currently leads business development for the transportation division of TrueNorth Companies. Prior to joining TrueNorth, Amara held several positions at the University of Illinois including developing an incubator program for startup companies, Illinois Launch, as well as teaching entrepreneurship and advising MBA students. Amara is passionate about civil rights and equality. She is on the board of the Girls and Boys Club of Cedar Rapids and The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success. She is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and UCLA School of Law.

Stacey Walker is a native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He grew up on the southeast side of town and attended Washington High School. He went on to study Political Science at the University of Iowa. After college, he helped launch the LBA Foundation, an education-based nonprofit that works to help disadvantaged students stay on course to graduation. Walker later relocated to Washington, D.C. to work for the Case Foundation, a family organization dedicated to empowering people and ideas that can change the world for the better. Walker was also able to work directly with AOL founder and Venture Capitalist, Steve Case who served on the President’s Council for Jobs and Economic Competitiveness. Walker was also an integral member of Steve Case’s effort to revitalize America’s entrepreneurial ecosystem through the Startup America Partnership and President Obama’s signature economic legislation, the JOBS Act. While in Washington, D.C., Stacey served as a teaching assistant under Ambassador J. Douglas Holladay who taught a leadership seminar to executive MBA students at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. Stacey currently serves as the Chief of Staff for Patel Endeavors and Hawkeye Hotels. In this role, he helps execute on growth and development strategy while also managing communications for the company and its subsidiaries. Through his involvement with Patel Endeavors, he has worked alongside the principals of Built By Iowa, a private equity firm that focuses on mentoring and growing Iowa-based startups. Throughout his career, Walker has worked for several political campaigns at the congressional, gubernatorial, and presidential level. He continues to serve as a political activist and writer, with a portfolio of work published in Little Village Magazine, Quartz Magazine, and Washington Post’s The Root, among many others. Walker serves as a trustee to the Cedar Rapids Community Schools Foundation and as a board member to the Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success. He received his bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Iowa in 2010.

Joycelyn Tavaziva“I appreciate the fact that The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success specializes in personalized academic and individual approach to harness and nurture each student unique potential and greatness, so that each student may achieve academic and social excellence in crucial aspects of their being.”

Jocelyn Tavaziva, EA has been a Financial Accountant since 2005 and Tax Accountant since 2007. Jocelyn graduated from the University of Maryland University College, at Adelphi in Maryland, with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting and Computer Studies secondary in 2005. She has a Diploma in Business Studies from Harare Polytechnic. She is an Enrolled Agent, federally-licensed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a tax practitioner. Jocelyn is the International Ladies Fellowship Coordinator since 2007 and is a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association since 2011. She is a former team administrator of an American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) club team.

Jocelyn and Tapuwa (also a board member), her husband are blessed with 3 children. She enjoys taking walks, graphic arts, poetry, studying Bible literature, family trips.

Jessica Altfillisch is an accomplished performer, passionate educator, and active leader in arts education for social change. After twenty years of Suzuki violin and viola teaching, she founded the Harmony School of Music to bring high-quality music education to families with the greatest need. In addition to her work teaching and developing intensive music programs for under-served youth in Cedar Rapids, she maintains an active private lesson studio, teaching violin and viola students ages 4 through adult.

A strong advocate for creative community partnerships, Jessica has led collaboration efforts between Harmony School and other community organizations, including the National Czech/Slovak Museum and Library, Johnson STEAM Academy, The Academy for Academic and Personal Success, and other area music organizations. She is a facilitator for the El Sistema USA Small and Emerging Program Network and was a featured speaker in the National Guild for Community Arts Education Small Schools Network webinar series. She is an avid performer, and has appeared as a soloist, chamber, and orchestral musician in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia and across the United States. In addition to solo recitals and chamber recitals, she has performed regularly with the Des Moines Symphony, Orchestra Iowa, and Waterloo/Cedar Falls Symphony Orchestras, as well as appearing with many other regional performing organizations.

Rachel Collins works at Kennedy High School as a school counselor and has been connected with The Academy SPS for eleven years. She is returning to the board after a two-year break. She previously served on the board for nine years and is excited to renew her commitment to this fantastic organization. Though she took a break from the board, she has continued her commitment as the chief recruiter at KHS. She makes sure students know all about The Academy SPS and have access to the resources they need to apply.

Dan DeVore graduated from Jefferson High School in 2000. He graduated from University of Northern Iowa and began his career in education in 2005. He started this work as an at-risk coordinator at Alburnett JR/Sr High School. In 2009 he moved to College Community Schools. As a ninth grade social studies teacher and volleyball coach, Dan appreciated working with students from all backgrounds to help them begin thinking about the future and working through issues that arose in their lives. In 2014 Dan was excited to join a fantastic administrative group at Prairie High School. There he worked more with the at-risk and minority populations to help forge a path of success for individuals and groups alike. In 2015, after a brainstorming session with a group of talented educators, Dan joined with Dan Pledge-Johnson to create a group called “Beyond the Bell”. The purpose of this group was to help African American males become more connected to the high school environment in an authentic way. The work with this group was focused on building leadership capacity and developing future goals with young, primarily, African American males. The relationships fostered through this group with students and community members have had a profound impact on him and his own personal goals. Dan accepted the Principal position at Metro High School in Cedar Rapids in 2017. He looks forward to continuing to push youth to explore their possibilities and create concrete plans that can help them reach those goals.

Oather Taylor, III is a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Consultant and Adviser based in Cedar Rapids, IA.  In September 2018, Oather retired from Alliant Energy as their Director of Recruitment & Diversity.  He was with Alliant Energy for 17 years previously holding the roles of Director of Security, Facilities & Continuity of Operations, and Director of Gas Engineering and Operations Support.  Before joining Alliant Energy, Oather spent 14 years in the Oil, Petrochemical & Chemical industries in various engineering and management positions living most of that time in New Orleans, Louisiana, but leading large projects throughout Louisiana, Texas and in Trinidad & Tobago. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from The Ohio State University. Oather serves on the board of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation and is a member of their Executive Committee. Oather recently stepped down as co-chair of the Iowa Energy Workforce Consortium, and from the Madison (WI) Regional Economic Partnership’s Labor & Diversity Committee.  Oather also served on the Sector Partnership Leadership Council in Iowa.  Oather was the first male to serve as a board member of Corridor Women Connect Organization. Oather has served as President of the Board of Directors for the African American Museum of Iowa, and also served on The Board of Trustees for the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art as a member of their Executive Committee and chair of the Buildings Committee. Oather was a Loaned Executive to the United Way of East Central Iowa in 2005, and is the co-founder and former Chair of the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Employee Resource Group Consortium(ERGC). Oather was born and raised in Freeport, IL.  He and his wife have a daughter at home and a son attending the University of Iowa.

Chanelle Thomas

Allahna Brathwaite

Sofia Mehaffey is an advocate, activist, and community servant.  Originally from Queens, New York, Sofia spent her formative years in several Eastern Iowa cities and attended Kirkwood Community College, the University of Iowa, and Mount Mercy University.  After completing her studies with a B.A. in Political Science and an M.B.A., she launched her career in community health, social justice, equity, and nutrition at Horizons, A Family Service Alliance.  Sofia and her husband co-own Bulwark Consulting, LLC, a firm dedicated to progressive candidate and issue based campaigns and projects.  Sofia resides in Cedar Rapids with her husband, three children, several fish, and a Russian tortoise named Ivan.

Flora Williams is a Marriage and Family clinical therapist that is dedicated to assisting clients reach their aspirations. Flora founded the Breaking Barriers Therapy Center, where she has the privilege of working with individuals, couples, and families to address concerns and make meaningful change.  Her specialties include trauma, anxiety, depression, PTSD, grief, romantic and family relationships. She provides a safe and comfortable atmosphere for every person to address concerns regardless of creed, color, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Flora is currently in hot pursuit of her Doctoral Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at Mount Mercy University.

Al O’Bannon Throughout my professional career, I have demonstrated the ability to consistently elevate by building on prior positions and assignments. I have been able to do this because of five key characteristics: 1. Selfless, personal commitment to the professional goals of the organization 2. Highly articulated ability to communicate effectively, despite cultural, language or other potential boundaries 3. Capacity to effectively translate activity in one field to another, disparate field 4. Understanding that true growth requires learning from every single situation, and never allowing an opportunity to grow to go to waste 5. Unmatched optimism, which flows from my personal life to everything around me. While I am pragmatic, I believe in melding the power of positive thinking with determined action I have been able to effectively build this outreach into a global perspective as Head Coach with Trans Web Global and Transitions Lab University Prep School. Trans Web Global is a consulting practice focused on experience-based university admission counseling, which introduces students to the opportunities, training and review needed for an exceptional post-secondary education, while advancing the dialogue of a global education. This business allows me to grow a network throughout India, Africa, Europe and North and Latin America. Locally, as Co-Founder and President of the LBA Foundation I have effectively helped African-American students across the state of Iowa cut into the achievement gap. The goal of the LBA Foundation is to provide the tools and resources to Iowa youth necessary for success in all aspects of life by focusing on three primary areas of growth: character and leadership development, academic excellence, and healthy lifestyles and nutrition.

Barbara ‘BJ’ Jean Miller

Pam Larson is an Executive Coach specializing in working with highly motivated leaders who are ready to make the changes necessary to achieve the goals that matter to them. She’s dedicated to helping people create meaning in their own lives and in their organizations. With over 25 years of boots on the ground experience developing, motivating, and equipping people to connect who they are with what they do her background encompasses a wide range of programs and initiatives for individual development, team building, and facilitation. She is currently enrolled at the University of Iowa pursuing a Masters Degree in Sociology.

Jane Hutchins after experiencing the life changing benefits of an established meditation practice, she is passionate about sharing the practice of meditation with others. She is a graduate of the Meditation Teacher Academy at the McLean Meditation Institute in Sedona, AZ. Jane is currently teaching mindfulness and meditation at Summit Schools in Cedar Rapids, IA and works with sports teams to add mindfulness, meditation, positivity and yoga to their routines. Prior to that, Jane trained with author and meditation teacher, Sarah Wood Vallely, to become a certified child meditation facilitator and mindfulness instructor.

As a conscientious observer of our educational system over the past years, Jane has seen that more and more of our kids (and their teachers) are under great stress. Pressures from school and learning, high expectations in competitive sports and family challenges have affected the learning process and the overall “happiness” level of our kids. Teachers are burdened with more responsibilities while given less money. Our kids and our teachers are burning out. Jane sees teaching meditation to both groups as a positive way to alleviate stress and transcend the classroom. Grounded teachers create a positive environment for our students to excel. Calm, centered kids are happier and learn at a higher level. Both affect the future of our world.

Stress is universal. Many parallels can be drawn between what our children and teachers are experiencing with what many of us are feeling. Meditation and mindfulness practices are transformative to our culture and the stresses societal norms have created within it. Jane is passionate about sharing her knowledge with children, athletes, teachers and anyone who is wanting to live a happier more fulfilling life.

Jane Hutchins has been a multimedia graphic designer for 31 years, a mom for 21 years, an organizer of spiritual enrichment classes for 14 years, a school volunteer for 16 years and a perpetual student all her life.

Jillian Knutson grew up in Cedar Rapids and returned to the area in 1998 after living elsewhere for twelve years.  She graduated from Cornell College in 1991 and was a bank examiner for the FDIC in Little Rock, Arkansas.  For the past twenty years, she has been a stay-at-home mom, a community volunteer and the financial manager for Dermatology Clinic of Iowa.  Her volunteer experience includes Junior League of Cedar Rapids, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, and the Cedar Rapids Community School District among other organizations.  Jillian and her husband, David, have two children in college and recently added two puppies their empty nest.


Sue Millar