State Chapter Staff


Arizona – Christina M. Martínez, DFER Arizona Board Chair

Christina Martinez - State Director, AZChristina has been working in politics and government relations for most of her adult career. A passionate education reformer, Christina has helped low income students in Arizona and across the nation receive the high-quality education they deserve. She has also been a champion in the AZ legislature fighting for families that have fallen victim to zip code discrimination.

Prior to returning to Arizona in 2006, Christina began her career in the Catholic education system. Christina caught the political bug and moved quickly through the ranks serving as the Legislative Liaison to the Illinois State Comptroller – at that time holding the highest-ranking position for a Latina in executive office. Her tenure at the IOC broke many barriers and included the passage of legislation benefiting tax-payers, consumers and Illinois families. Through these experiences Christina learned the importance of community engagement, philanthropy, and a willing legislative body in order to accomplish reform goals.

Christina’s passion for politics, community service, and education now takes her around Arizona and the country as an advocate for education reform. She is often sought after by local and national media outlets to serve as a political commentator and motivational speaker. She serves as the state director for the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, on the board of Emerge Arizona, and is the volunteer national media and communications coordinator for the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute.

Read more about Christina here.


Colorado – Jennifer Walmer, DFER Colorado State Director

Jennifer Walmer - State Director, COJennifer Walmer is the state director of DFER Colorado (DFER-CO). Prior to joining DFER-CO, Walmer was the Chief of Staff for the Superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, Tom Boasberg, where she helped pass a $500 million bond and mill initiative in November 2012. Walmer also was the Superintendent’s primary strategic liaison with a divided Board of Education; managed government affairs for the district; and led strategic partnership efforts with community organizations.

She has deep political ties in Colorado’s Democratic circles, having served as Chief of Staff for State House Speaker Terrance Carroll prior to joining Denver Public Schools. In this role, Walmer was instrumental in the passage of landmark reform legislation surrounding teacher effectiveness.

Walmer is a Colorado native and graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder. She is an avid skier and also enjoys reading, cooking, traveling and watching her two sons play sports.

Read more about Jennifer here.


Connecticut – Amy Dowell, DFER Connecticut State Director

Amy Dowell - State Director, CTIn over a decade working in Democratic politics, Amy Selib Dowell has served campaigns in New York City and State, in Connecticut, and on the National level, as well as non-profit organizations.

During 2012 and ‘13, Amy was the Development Director for StudentsFirst in New York and Connecticut, the national education reform advocacy organization.

Amy served as Finance Director for the successful Andrew Cuomo 2010 gubernatorial campaign from 2007 thru 2009, and remained an advisor to the campaign and the Governor. She was also the lead political and fundraising consultant to the New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli from 2009 until 2012 and worked with Congressman Jim Himes (CT-4) and the non-profit Alliance for Justice. In 2013, she led fundraising efforts for NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer’s competitive primary race.

Read more about Amy here.


District of Columbia – Catharine Bellinger, DFER District of Columbia Director

Catharine Bellinger - DFER DC DirectorCatharine serves as founding State Director of the Washington, D.C., branch of Democrats for Education Reform. Prior to joining DFER, Catharine co-founded and led Students for Education Reform, a grassroots movement of college students fighting for educational justice in their communities. Catharine graduated from high school in Washington, D.C., and received her undergraduate degree from Princeton University. Her commitment to pursuing a career in public service was shaped by her parents and grandparents, who have a long history of government and military service.

Read more about Catharine here.


Louisiana – Eva Kemp, DFER Louisiana State Director

DFER LouisianaEva Kemp joins the DFER team after working as an education policy advisor to former United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA). A native of Hammond, LA, Eva graduated from Louisiana State University in 2007 and began teaching fourth grade in Baton Rouge. She also worked as a literacy coach in East Feliciana Parish and ran for school board in Baton Rogue. Later, she served at the Louisiana Department of Education and the Recovery School District working on school turnaround policy, enrollment, desegregation policy and portfolio planning. After earning a Master’s degree in Public Administration in 2013, Eva moved to Washington, D.C. to work as a legislative assistant in Senator Landrieu’s office.

Read more about Eva here.


Massachusetts – Liam Kerr, DFER Massachusetts State Director

Liam Kerr - State Director, MALiam Kerr started his career as an AmeriCorps volunteer with California Library Literacy Services, where he helped expand a library-based adult literacy program. He has advised nonprofits in Massachusetts, an NGO consultancy in the Czech Republic, a charter school incubator, and a charter school network. He has worked on statewide political campaigns in Massachusetts and Vermont.

Prior to DFER, Liam worked for the management consultancy The Parthenon Group and the national venture philanthropy fund New Profit Inc.

Liam graduated from a Massachusetts public high school and earned a BA in History from Providence College, where he served on the Board of Governors of the National Alumni Association, and an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

Read more about Liam here.


New Jersey – Paula White, DFER New Jersey State Director

IMG_5447Paula L. White is deeply committed to the notion that an excellent education has the capacity to improve people’s lives, including those living in the most disenfranchised communities in our nation. As a teacher, school founder, and senior education executive, her work has had a transformative impact on thousands of children and families.

Most recently she served as the Chief Turnaround Officer for the New Jersey Department of Education, framing and leading the state’s school improvement strategy for over 200 Priority and Focus schools. While she was at the helm, most of the state’s Priority schools made significant academic growth, achievement gaps narrowed in many Focus schools, and suspensions and chronic absenteeism rates measurably declined. Prior to this role, Paula founded a successful public charter school in Newark’s South Ward and served on the Education Commissioner’s charter school task force to assist the state in revising key aspects of its charter school policy, in order to accelerate the growth of high-quality public charter schools in New Jersey.

Read more about Paula here.


New York – Nicole Brisbane, DFER New York State Director

Nicole BrisbaneNicole Brisbane is originally from Miami, FL, born to immigrant parents. After graduating from Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Florida State University, she taught middle school intensive reading and language arts to students who were 4 or more years behind their peers.

Brisbane attended law school at Emory University, during which she had a fellowship with Education Pioneers at DC Public Schools, a Florida Bar Fellowship at the Florida Justice Institute (a civil rights law firm) and served as a public defender in the Juvenile Court of Dekalb County in Georgia.

Brisbane has worked for Teach for America (TFA) for the past four years, working in Miami-Dade on growth strategy and community partnerships and leading TFA’s national new site development efforts. She is a DFER because as a public school teacher, she saw firsthand how policies enacted far away from the point of impact affect kids and their ultimate educational opportunities.

Read more about Nicole here.


Tennessee – Natasha Kamrani, DFER Tennessee State Director

Natasha has been engaged in the pursuit of excellence in public education her entire professional career. Upon graduation from Miami University of Ohio, Natasha went on to work for Teach For America (TFA), teaching English as a second language to recent immigrants in Houston’s public school system. After teaching Natasha went on to become the executive director of Teach For America’s Houston office. In 2000, she received a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from the University of Houston Law Center and was later elected to the Houston Independent School District Board of Education. (Read more here.)

During her time on the school board Natasha helped enact several important policies concerning teacher effectiveness. Later, she served as the executive director of the Arnold Family Foundation, based in Houston, with a national focus on reform of the public school system.

Natasha and her family are happy to call Nashville home. She is the mother of two children, Tatiana and Ramiz, both of whom are students in Metro Nashville public schools.

Read more about Natasha here.


Texas – Jennifer Kohn Koppel, DFER Texas State Director

With more than 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, Jennifer Koppel has worked with elected officials, philanthropists, homeless mothers, boards of directors and students to achieve successful outcomes for organizations in growth phases.

Most recently, Jennifer served as Vice President of Growth to IDEA Public Schools, a network of public charter schools serving low-income K-12 students in the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio and Austin. As coach to the network’s Advancement Team, Jennifer was part of a team that successfully competed to make IDEA a Race to the Top District.

Jennifer previously served as the Senior Vice President of JFN, an international network of family foundations and independent funders seeking to maximize their philanthropic investments. Her early career experience was at AIPAC, culminating in overseeing operations in the Southwest region.

Born and raised in Baton Rouge, LA, Jennifer is a graduate of University of Texas at Austin.

Read more about Jennifer here.


Washington – Shirline Wilson, DFER Washington Interim State Director

Shirline Headshot_2016Shirline has lived in Seattle since 1999. After spending the first part of her career working for public, private and start up enterprises, Shirline joined the state leadership team at Democrats for Education Reform to chart the next chapter of the organization’s work that prioritizes improving education outcomes for underserved communities across Washington state. Shirline studied organizational leadership development and is a proud Alumni of Antioch University. Shirline is passionate about building the capacity of people and organizations and has been successful in bringing strategy, organizational discipline and mature thinking to those she has served. As an outspoken advocate on education, she hopes to bring fresh perspective and thought leadership through her work as a board member of a public charter school and as a spokesperson for statewide public school funding campaigns. Mother of three, she enjoys creating memories with her family, crafting and gardening.