Research & Policy Analayst
Mike is a former Wake County Public Schools teacher with a passion for integrating data inside and outside the classroom. After teaching AP Calculus and coaching the high school robotics team, Mike ventured into higher education, where he worked for the past 5 years serving as a consultant for implementing and generating data warehouse solutions. He now takes that same passion for education and data back to primary and secondary education, supporting the efforts of his North Carolina home in bettering education policy for all students and educators alike. He specializes in identifying and highlighting impact metrics for program analysis, and also brings national and international policy perspective on North Carolina education initiatives.
Mike earned his undergraduate degree in Mathematics with the Education, Science and Teaching program at UNC-Chapel Hill as a Burroughs Wellcome Fellow, and completed his student teaching at Beijing Royal School. Additionally, he earned his Masters in International Education Policy and Management from Vanderbilt University, alongside completing a practicum in survey analysis for e-Reader use in primary schools in Lwala, Kenya.
President & CEO
Brenda’s passion for education stems from her own experience as a first-generation college graduate. With two children who attended North Carolina public schools, she is driven by the belief that every child should have access to a great education.
Brenda is the President & CEO of BEST NC (Business for Educational Success and Transformation in North Carolina), a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition of over 100 business leaders with a focus on making education in North Carolina the best in the nation. Through policy and advocacy, BEST NC strives to ensure that every student in North Carolina will graduate with the knowledge, skills and behaviors to succeed in a competitive global economy.
With over twenty-five years of experience as a business owner, public policy professional and education advocate, Brenda leads the overall BEST NC vison, strategy, and operations while leveraging her expertise to be the business-to-education bridge in BEST NC’s work to transform education in North Carolina. In 2002, she founded Scandinavian Child, a baby products manufacturing and importing business. Prior to founding her business, she had almost ten years of public policy experience in both education and transportation policy and programs. She serves on various boards and education organizations, including the Principal Fellows Commission, NC Rural Center, Kenan Fellows Program, myFutureNC, and the NC Community College Foundation. Brenda has a B.A. in Economics and a Master’s degree in Public Policy, both from Georgetown University.
Kierra is a long-time believer of the phrase: “the glass is half full.” As a clerical professional, her primary goal is to improve efficiency and manage task. Her specialty is optimizing processes to improve data retrieval, storage procedures, reduce physical storage needs, and maintain security of information.
Kierra loves working behind the scenes doing what’s required to get things done – making sure important tasks don’t get overlooked or forgotten, while coordinating between BEST NC, stakeholders, and others.
During her previous seven years working as a clerical professional, Kierra collaborated with the various departments within her organization in order to centralize their database. In that capacity, she proudly worked with and helped maintain the records of over 500 clients.
A native of Fuquay-Varina and an alum of Appalachian State University, Zachary Hodges graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing and Film Studies before moving back to Raleigh. His ability to listen, understand, his affinity for collecting and sharing stories, and his commitment to elevating educators led Zachary to join the BEST NC team.
Zachary’s commitment to improving educational outcomes in North Carolina stems from his experience as a local public school student, and his mother’s 20+ years of work as a teacher in the Wake County Public School System. In his role as BEST NC’s Chief Storyteller, Zachary develops tools to help members and stakeholders better understand complex education topics, leads the organization’s video production and media team, and is intimately involved with the implementation of communications and marketing efforts focusing on graphic design, asset development, and digital management.
Joyce is a strategic development and communications consultant with 25+ years of executive level experience and carries a personal passion for bringing together communities to create lasting impacts. She has specialized expertise in the areas of fundraising, sales, marketing, and public relations, leadership development and special events. She holds a B.S. from East Carolina University and is a mother to two sons, Joshua and Zachary. Joyce is a proud North Carolinian and enjoys her work around the state, but will always hold a special affinity for the people, food, history and culture of Eastern North Carolina.
As an individual with an established footprint in the state, Joyce has a knack for understanding the needs of for-profit entities and the devotions of non-profits within North Carolina. This unique experience allows her to hone in on individualized issue advocacy work and help create the change North Carolinians want for their state.
Research & Policy Analyst
Chris Palmer’s passion for education is rooted in the belief that education is the most powerful agent for change for people and for communities. A North Carolina transplant, Chris spent the first 35 years of his life living in New England. In the past 12 years, he has worked as a middle school para-educator, middle school science teacher, elementary school administrator, and high school baseball coach in rural Vermont schools.
As a teacher, Chris prioritized student voice and choice in curriculum, technology integration, and authentic student work products that reached audiences outside of the classroom. As an administrator, he worked to bring project-based and Maker learning opportunities to his school and became an advocate for restorative educational approaches to improve learning environments and school-community connections.
Chris earned a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering Science from Tufts University, as well as Master’s degrees in Secondary Science Education and Educational Leadership from the University of Vermont.
Vice President of Policy & Engagement
Leah Sutton’s passion for improving school quality and educational access is grounded in her experiences working with disadvantaged students and from her own upbringing as a public school student in rural eastern North Carolina. As BEST NC’s Vice President of Policy & Engagement, Leah leads the development and execution our Educator Innovation policy agenda, helps guide the organization’s communication efforts, and provides support for key BEST NC programs and publications including the Education Innovation Lab and Facts & Figures.
Prior to joining BEST NC in 2018, Leah worked at The Hunt Institute where, in her role as a policy analyst, she planned and organized North Carolina policymaker convenings, cultivated relationships with state legislators, and authored policy primers and other publications. Leah also brings six years of classroom experience as a North Carolina public school teacher to her role. She taught high school Social Studies in Greenville before teaching middle school English Language Arts in Raleigh, where she was recognized as a 2015 Teacher of the Year. Leah also serves on the Board of Directors for Profound Ladies. She earned a bachelor’s degree in history education from North Carolina State University and a master’s degree in education policy and management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She also holds a certificate in education finance from Georgetown University.
Ashleigh joined the BEST NC team as the Administrative Assistant in February 2016. Prior to that, she graduated from Wake Technical Community College where she earned her Associate in Arts degree. After working various jobs to support herself through college, she is thrilled to be pursuing her professional goals at BEST NC. Ashleigh is enthusiastic and proud to be a part of an organization where she can contribute to improving education for all of North Carolina’s students.