National Staff

Shavar Jeffries, National President

Shavar Jeffries serves as President of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Jeffries began this role in September 2015, and brings a personal commitment to ensuring that a child’s zip code does not define their destiny. From his efforts fighting for fair funding practices to get schools the resources they deserved to his service leading the New Jersey Attorney General’s Juvenile Justice and Civil Rights Departments, he has been a vocal advocate for social justice.

Shavar’s commitment to improve education stems directly from his personal experience. Jeffries was raised by his grandmother in the South Ward of Newark, New Jersey. His grandmother, a public school teacher, instilled in him a deep respect for the value of education. After receiving scholarships to Seton Hall Preparatory School, Duke, and Columbia Law School, he moved back to Newark with the firm belief that his path to success—through high-quality education—should not be the outlier for students in Newark, but rather the rule.

Shavar also serves as a partner at Lowenstein Sandler, where he has been a fierce advocate for families seeking fair practices in funding education and ensuring that the laws governing education systems help students, rather than trapping them in failing schools. Prior to joining the law firm, he was an Associate Professor of Law at Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Social Justice in Newark, New Jersey, where he ran a litigation clinic focused on complex and class action litigation and advocacy. In this role, he helped numerous clients, in both individual and class actions, defend themselves against unlawful education policies, consumer fraud, and overly broad government actions in wide-ranging matters affecting individual rights and liberties.

Read more about Shavar here.


Charles Barone, Policy Director

Charles Barone is the director of policy at Democrats for Education Reform and Education Reform Now. He has led DFER/ERN’s efforts advising President Obama’s 2008 transition team, advocating for state reforms under Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, and setting DFER’s policy agenda at the state and federal level in areas including accountability and testing, teacher preparation and charter schools.

Barone’s work on education and children’s issues over the past three decades has emphasized equity and excellence and spanned direct service, research, policy and advocacy. He has authored numerous articles and book chapters on education policy and politics in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, trade publications, and mainstream media.

A Capitol Hill veteran, Barone was a top education advisor to the late Senator Paul Simon (D-IL) and to Congressman George Miller (D-CA), under whom he acted as lead negotiator for House Democrats on the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Before his entry into Washington politics, Charles was a postdoctoral fellow in the department of psychology at Yale University. He has a doctorate in clinical/community psychology from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Read more about Charles here.


Patrick van Keerbergen, National Political Director

Patrick van Keerbergen - National Political DirectorPatrick van Keerbergen is an experienced political organizer with close to a decade of experience in New York City and State government and politics. He joined DFER in 2010 as our National Field Director and in 2012 assumed the role of National Political Director.

In 2009, Patrick served as the Manhattan field director for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s successful reelection campaign. In this role he oversaw a robust field campaign, that resulted in close to 160,000 votes for the Mayor’s reelection.

Read more about Patrick here.


Kathleen Nugent Hughes, Chief of Staff and State Operations

Kathleen Nugent - State Director, NJPrior to joining DFER in February 2010, Kathleen Nugent Hughes supported the growth of TEAM Charter Schools, the region of KIPP schools in Newark, New Jersey, for almost two years in their development department. She led a capital campaign feasibility study and focused on communications and individual giving. TEAM is New Jersey’s largest public charter school. Last year, 90% of its first class of 8th graders entered college.

Before TEAM, Kathleen worked at The MCJ Amelior Foundation for five years, beginning as a program officer focused on education and economic development initiatives in the city of Newark, notably concentrating on one of Newark’s most challenged comprehensive high schools. She worked alongside the foundation’s chairman as he launched Malaria No More and became the first ever United Nations Special Envoy for Malaria. She led the development of strategic partnerships across sectors and industries and the execution of major events.

Kathleen started her career as an investment banking analyst at JPMorgan Securities.  She holds a Master in Public Administration degree from New York University and a Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, from Georgetown University.

Read more about Kathleen here.


Tanya Y. Mitchell, Chief Financial Officer

tanyaTanya is accountable for the administrative, financial, and risk management operations of the company, to include the development of a financial and operational strategy, metrics tied to that strategy, and the ongoing development and monitoring of internal control systems designed to preserve company assets and report accurate financial results. Tanya’s passion for education reform stems from her own personal experience as she knows firsthand how an exemplary education can contribute to an individual’s long-term wellbeing.

Read more about Tanya here.


Mike Larson, Development Director

mikeAs Development Director, Mike is responsible for devising and implementing a fundraising program for all of DFER’s vehicles, encompassing both traditional nonprofit fundraising as well as fundraising focused on advocacy and political efforts.

Mike brings a decade of experience in education fundraising, philanthropy, and nonprofit management to DFER. Prior to his current role, Mike worked in corporate philanthropy at UBS and spent 6 years leading Teach For America’s development and growth strategy team in New Jersey. He is also a 2005 Teach For America corps member, having taught high school math at Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden, NJ.

Read more about Mike here.