Our dedicated staff of professionals work hard to advance equity and excellence in the public school system. Click here for a staff directory.
"Kids need to know people care and believe in them."
A former corporate and securities attorney turned community organizer, activist and advocate, James joined the A+ Schools staff in September 2012 as communications director. Raised by a single mom in San Francisco, James attributes his success in life to excellent, caring teachers with high expectations. “She did her best, but it took more than my mom to help raise me. Kids need to know people care and believe in them,” he says. James, who has extensive experience working on political and advocacy campaigns, first began working with A+ Schools as a Board Watch volunteer when the program launched in January 2009. Before joining the A+ Schools staff, he worked in Pittsburgh as community engagement manager for Communities for Teaching Excellence. Prior to that, he worked as a consultant with the Power of 32 regional project and served as coordinator of the United Way of Allegheny County's "Govern for Kids" initiative, helping child advocates and parents discuss issues with gubernatorial candidates. He also served as field organizer for the Obama-Biden 2008 campaign in Pittsburgh's Southside neighborhoods. For three years, James worked at Gunderson Dettmer, a leading Silicon Valley law firm. He also mentored with First Graduate, a San Francisco program for children who are the first in their families to attend college. In addition, he taught middle school students in San Francisco, Sacramento and Washington, D.C. as a teacher with the Breakthrough Collaborative (formerly known as Summerbridge) — a program that inspired him as a teenager. James earned his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and a law degree from UC Hastings College of the Law. He completed the Coro Fellows Program in San Francisco in 2000 and the Coro Leaders in Learning Program in Pittsburgh in 2010. He and his wife, Mara, live in Friendship.
Brandi Taylor is a certified Restorative Practices trainer, long-time parent advocate, and parent of two. She returns to A+ Schools to help support our team through internal and external community trainings and workshops, and operational support.
"I believe that the inclusion of the family unit is a strong component of supporting and nurturing a child's academic success."
Amie Matson is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, where she obtained her Masters in Social Work and a certificate in Human Services Management. She has been actively involved in the nonprofit arena for over ten years in multiple cities including San Jose, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh. Her work has primarily focused on school readiness and school-aged activities and engagement for the entire family. The central component of Amie's recent work has included conducting outreach in numerous neighborhoods to promote Kindergarten Registration, as well as to enroll families in various programs and services. "I believe that the inclusion of the family unit is a strong component of supporting and nurturing a child's academic success. I am a strong believer in the concept that it takes a village, so I'm always looking for ways to work together with the schools, community, and family to ensure each child excels in their own way." As Community Organizer at A+ Schools, Amie plans to continue working towards strengthening the relationships between the schools, community, and families, while also engaging in policy work to facilitate efforts to create a larger change.
Nichole Sims serves as A+ Schools Parent Lead, assisting parents in navigating the schools system, and supporting families in advocating for change to improve outcomes for children.
Christa provides creative support and youth leadership development to A+ Schools as the Creative Lead and Youth Developer for TeenBloc. Christa is a native Pennsylvanian and has worked in the nonprofit community of San Francisco, and, now Pittsburgh. Prior to her return to Pennsylvania, Christa worked as an art instructor and youth mentor in San Francisco and received her BFA in Photography and Illustration from the San Francisco Art Institute.Christa is excited to expand her practice in her home region of Pittsburgh. Christa has always been empathetic to others and while happy to provide her professional services in the arts, she believed there was more to contribute, which led her to teaching and mentoring youth in the arts. Christa is eager to provide the opportunities that she didn’t get growing up, and to assist youth in developing and discovering their talents.
My goal is to help parents understand policy.
Graham was born and raised here in Western Pennsylvania. Growing up in and around Pittsburgh, Graham saw the wide difference between school districts and saw these inequities as a major hindrance to giving everyone a fair shot. Graham graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2012, and went on to work on a variety of political campaigns. It was there that Graham saw just how important education policy is in addressing inequities that exist in society. Graham came to A+ Schools in 2014 to help with the voter education and parent organizing efforts. His goal is to help parents and families better understand education policy so as to become better advocates for not just their children, but all of the children in Pittsburgh.
Gita leads communication efforts and organizational outreach for all A+ Schools programs.