Roblin Webb (Board Chair)
Founder & CEO, Freedom Prep Academy
Roblin Webb, Founder & CEO of Freedom Prep Charter Schools, has dedicated her life’s work to striving for equality for all people. She realizes that the modern day civil/equal rights struggle lies in providing a quality public education for all children. As a practicing education lawyer for a city school district, she began her work in pursuit of educational equality and opportunity. Through her legal work she became determined to find a way to make a deeper impact and see real progress towards her vision for the children of Memphis.
Her passion for making more immediate change took her to a Deputy Director post with New Leaders for New Schools. At New Leaders, she recruited educators to become school leaders and created community partnerships. She believes that education is our modern day civil rights struggle and to that end Roblin’s goal is to measurably and dramatically close the achievement gap in Memphis between black and white and rich and poor.
Ms. Webb founded Freedom Prep in 2009 with a class of approximately 100 6th graders. Freedom Prep has now grown to five schools serving over 1,800 students in Southwest Memphis. From 2011-2018, Freedom Prep produced some of the highest academic growth scores in the State.
Ms. Webb graduated from Rhodes College with a bachelor’s in Urban Studies and holds a Law degree and Masters in Politics and Public Affairs from Rutgers University.
Executive Director – KIPP Nashville
Randy Dowell is the Founder of KIPP Academy Nashville and Executive Director of KIPP Nashville, which operates a network of high-performing college-preparatory public charter schools in North and East Nashville. KIPP Nashville’s mission is to prepare students with the character and academic skills needed for success if college and life beyond, and through its growth plan, KIPP Nashville will grow to educate 3,000 Nashville students annually in grades K-12.
Prior to founding KIPP Nashville, Randy was selected to the KIPP Fisher Fellowship, which included leadership training at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Before joining KIPP, Randy taught middle school Math and coached football and baseball Charlotte, NC and Weymouth, MA. Prior to a career in education, Randy worked as a consultant in Charlotte, NC. He began considering the field of public education upon the recommendation of a mentor after Randy’s work with a Young Life camp one summer.
Originally from Fairfax, VA, Randy received his B.A. in Biology from the University of Virginia. Randy is married to Shani Dowell, the Executive Director of Undergraduate Pathways with Relay Graduate School of Education. Shani and Randy live in East Nashville and in addition to their love of education reform, the Dowells enjoy live music, hiking, college football, reading, and tinkering around the house.
Founder and Managing Partner, Solidus
Townes Duncan, Founder, has been Managing Partner since Solidus began in 1997. His experience with venture capital began when he was a partner in the securities law practice at Bass Berry and Sims during 1978-1985. In 1985, his growing interest in early stage investing led him to join Massey Burch after having guided them through several venture capital transactions as an attorney. Over eight years as a partner at Massey Burch, Townes invested more than $46 million in 15 companies and returned a total of $145 million—more than 3 times invested capital.
Townes has been a board member of successful, publicly-traded and private companies including: Bright Horizons, Continental Circuits, Inforum, Information America, PMT Services, Cryolife, and Sirrom Capital. Currently he is a director of J. Alexander's Corporation, American Learning Systems, New Constructs, Giant Photos, American Hometown Publishing, Change:Healthcare, Southcomm, Nashville Wire, Covenant Capital, Breathe America and The Documentary Channel. In 2003, Townes was the founding chairman of Nashville Capital Network where he continues to serve as a director.
He earned a B.A. degree in political science from Vanderbilt University and a J.D. summa cum laude from Washington and Lee University.
Born in Memphis, Pitt Hyde received a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of North Carolina in 1965. Later that year, he joined Malone & Hyde, Inc., the wholesale food company founded by his grandfather in 1907, and initiated and developed Malone & Hyde's specialty retailing division.
Hyde was the first president of Super D Drugs, and in 1968, was elected President of Malone & Hyde. In 1972, he assumed the additional role of chairman, the position he held until 1988 when Malone & Hyde was sold to Fleming Companies. Under Hyde, the company became the nation's third-largest wholesale food distributor with annual sales of over $3 billion.
In 1979, he founded Memphis-based retail auto parts chain AutoZone as a division of Malone & Hyde. In 1987, AutoZone was spun off as a freestanding company. He served as chairman and CEO until 1996, when he passed on his CEO title.
Hyde is chairman of GTx Inc., a publicly-held biopharmaceutical company dedicated to the discovery, development and commercialization of therapeutics primarily related to the treatment of serious men's health conditions. In addition, he is the owner and president of Pittco Holdings, Inc., a private, institutional investment company. He also serves on the board of directors for FedEx Corporation and Auto Zone.
He is married to the former Barbara Rosser, and the couple has five children. He supports numerous Memphis-based cultural, educational and charitable organizations including the National Civil Rights Museum and Memphis Tomorrow.
Founder & Head of School, Purpose Preparatory Academy
Lagra Newman has a proven track record of transformative academic outcomes for students in district and charter schools. A Teach For America corps member in Los Angeles, she also served as Recruitment Director for TFA’s Atlanta Region. As a charter leader in Washington, DC, Ms. Newman is the recipient of the Transformer Award as the highest performing teacher in her charter network of over 400 teachers, which marked student academic gains of over two years and the highest percentage of students meeting and exceeding grade level benchmarks. After Ms. Newman served as Director of Instruction, her school was recognized for achieving the highest percentage of student achievement results within her charter network of 13 schools and for being within the top five charter schools in Washington, DC for academic growth on state assessments. Presently, Ms. Newman is a Fellow with the highly selective Building Excellent Schools. Ms. Newman earned a BA at Vanderbilt University and MA in Teaching at Loyola Marymount University, and is completing an M.Ed in Public School Leadership from Teachers College of Columbia University.
Dr. Elaine Swafford
Executive Director, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy
In July 2012, Dr. Elaine Swafford took the helm as the Director of the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, the first all-girls public charter STEM school in the State of Tennessee. She and her team are in the seventh year of overseeing a school turnaround process and are meeting expectations of leading exceptional gains in student progress and academic achievement. After being on the brink of closure prior to her arrival, the school has now earned Reward School Status, among other awards. As the Executive Principal, she successfully led the Howard School of Academics and Technology in turnaround reform efforts from 2004 to 2007.
She left the Howard School to become Area II Superintendent for the Hamilton County Department of Education.
Prior accepting her purposeful impact calling seven years ago to lead CGLA, she returned in July 2008 to assume the position as the Vice President of Student Affairs at Chattanooga State, where she had previously served as Vice President of Economic and Community Development. Elaine is in her 37th year of serving in both public and higher education.
She is now serving as CEO of Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and Chattanooga Preparatory School. Both schools serve underserved girls and boys in the Chattanooga area.
Dr. Swafford’s community involvement during her career includes participation as a member on numerous local community boards and service organizations. She was a member of Class V of Leadership Tennessee. Dr. Swafford has experience in building and implementing pioneering educational programs, geared to promoting academic progress for at-risk students and those who can achieve, but are often underserved. While at Chattanooga State, she created innovative programs to include Project AHEAD, Diploma Completion Program, the Middle College Collegiate High School, and the Building of Outstanding Service Scholars (Boss). She uses her educational experience, leadership ability, energy and passion to inspire and motivate young people, while having a positive impact on the community.
Founder & Head of School, Memphis Rise Academy
Jack Vuylsteke is the founder and executive director of Memphis Rise Academy Charter School, located in northeast Memphis. Memphis Rise Academy serves 760 students in grades 6-12 and provides an excellent option to a neighborhood that, prior to the founding of the school, lacked a college preparatory school model, and now houses one of the state's most successful charter schools.
He began his career in education as a Teach For America corps member in St. Louis, MO, where he taught 10th and 12th grade English at Cleveland NJROTC High School. Here, he also served on the school's leadership team, as well as its head basketball coach and policy debate coach. He was selected for
the Building Excellent Schools Fellowship in 2012, designed to train entrepreneurial leaders in education to found and lead high-performing charter schools. Jack remains driven by his desire for all students to be able to attend a school that gives them an opportunity to reach their ambitions, and works to expand his impact by supporting the founding of new high quality charters throughout Memphis.
Jack holds a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Illinois and a master's degree in secondary curriculum and instruction from the University of Missouri- St. Louis.