James Peyser, Secretary of Education
As Secretary of Education, Jim Peyser directs the Executive Office of Education which is responsible for early education, K-12, and higher education in Massachusetts. Secretary Peyser sits on each of the boards governing the Commonwealth’s education agencies – Department of Early Education and Care, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and Department of Higher Education as well as the University of Massachusetts system. He is Governor Baker’s top advisor on education and helps shape the Commonwealth’s education reform agenda.
Prior to his appointment as Secretary, he served as the Managing Director at NewSchools Venture Fund, a non-profit grant-making firm that seeks to transform public education in high-need urban communities by supporting innovative education entrepreneurs. From 1999 through 2006, Jim served as Chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education. Prior to joining NewSchools, Secretary Peyser was Education Advisor to Governors Bill Weld, Jane Swift and Mitt Romney, where he helped shape state policy regarding standards and assessments, school accountability, and charter schools. In 1995, he served as Under Secretary of Education and Special Assistant to the Governor Weld for Charter Schools.
He previously spent seven years as Executive Director of the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research, where he helped to launch the Massachusetts Charter School Resource Center, which supported the development of the state’s first charter schools. Before joining Pioneer Secretary Peyser held various positions at Teradyne, Inc. in Boston, an electronic test equipment manufacturer.
Secretary Peyser holds a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School (Tufts University) and a Bachelor of Arts from Colgate University.
Nonie K. Lesaux, Chair
Nonie Lesaux, Ph.D. is the Juliana W. and William Foss Thompson Professor of Education and Society, Harvard Graduate School of Education. She leads a research program that focuses on promoting the language and literacy skills of today’s children and youth from diverse linguistic, cultural and economic backgrounds. In addition to numerous articles and books for scholars and practitioners, she is the author of a widely circulated report, “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” that forms the basis for a Third Grade Reading Proficiency bill passed in Massachusetts. Dr. Lesaux has served on a number of federal committees, including the National Literacy Panel on Language Minority Children and Youth, and the National Research Council’s Committee on the Science of Children Birth to Age 8. She is a 2007 recipient of the William T. Grant Scholars Award and a 2008 winner of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor given by the United States government to young professionals beginning their independent research careers. A native of Canada, Dr. Lesaux earned her doctorate in educational psychology and special education from the University of British Columbia. She resides in Cambridge, MA, with her husband and two young children.
Mary E. Walachy, Vice Chair
Mary Walachy is the Executive Director of the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation. Hired in 1997 to manage the affairs of the Davis Foundation, Walachy’s responsibilities include development of the organization’s strategic direction, general oversight of its administration, developing proactive and new funding initiatives, developing the Foundation’s funding and application guidelines and reviewing grant proposals.
Under Walachy’s direction, the Cherish Every Child Initiative, a city-wide initiative focused on improving the lives of children from birth through age five and their families in Springfield by helping to ensure that they enter kindergarten ready to succeed, has been a critical ally in the successful passage of universal Pre-K legislation in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The initiative has also successfully engaged the workforce development and family literacy establishment in recognizing the long-term return on investments in early education.
Named the 2005 “Woman of Distinction” by the Pioneer Valley Girl Scout Council, Walachy is active and engaged in community work beyond her role at the Davis Foundation. She is the Co-Chair of Homes Within Reach – City of Springfield Plan to End Homelessness, a Member of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, a Trustee and Member of the Coordinating Council of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission Plan for Progress, and a Member of the Steering Committee of the Massachusetts Early Education for All Campaign.
Sheila Balboni is Executive Director of The Community Group, a private non-profit management agency located in Lawrence, MA that develops and manages programs in early education, professional development for teachers, elementary school management (both charter and district) and child care resource and referral. She has served on a number of state task forces and planning committees such as the Governor’s Commission on School Readiness and is a past trustee of Northern Essex community College and the Mass Cultural Council. She is a past president and founder of the Mass Charter School Association and past president of the Massachusetts Association of Child Care Agencies. Sheila is the recipient of the Merrimack Valley Athena Award from the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce for her work in helping women reaches their leadership potential and the Lawrence History Center and Immigrant Archives’ award for her work in preserving the physical and human assets of Lawrence. She has a Master’s degree from the Harvard School of Education.
Joni Block is a Grants Specialist with the Brockton Public Schools where she oversees state and federal grants for young children and their families. Joni has had experience in educational policy issues at the local, state, national, and international levels involving curriculum, instruction, and assessment issues. Joni previously served as a consultant to several Departments of Education and to the Massachusetts legislature’s past Early Education and Care Advisory Committee. Her teaching experience has encompassed preschool through graduate programs where she focused on inclusive practices and providing access to quality education for ALL. Her work involves collaboration with families, educators, and community organizations. Joni was a member of the Wheelock faculty, teaching and coordinating early childhood and leadership courses and programs. Joni has a Master’s degree in Education, Early Childhood/Special Needs from Rhode Island College, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Special Education and Elementary Education from Southern Connecticut State College.
Joni and her husband, Cliff Shatz, are the founders of Rosie’s Rafikis, Inc., a non-profit organization providing education, health, and community support in rural Kenya. Rosie’s Rafikis Inc. was established to honor the memory and good deeds of their daughter Rose.
David Cruise is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, Inc. (REB). Mr. Cruise was most recently the Director of Business and Employer Services for the REB and was responsible for directing the design and implementation of the Precision Manufacturing Regional Alliance Project. Previously Mr. Cruise was the Executive Director of Human Resources for the Public Schools of Springfield, Massachusetts. Mr. Cruise is also a member of the Springfield Business Leaders for Education.
Nicki Ruiz de Luzuriaga
Nicki Ruiz de Luzuriaga is the Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath), an organization that transforms people’s lives by helping them move out of poverty, and provides other institutions with the tools to systematically do the same. Nicki has worked at EMPath since 2009, focusing on children’s and family issues, with a particular interest in the interdependence of family members in moving out of poverty. She led the development of EMPath’s intergenerational model, The Intergen Project, and co-authored a brief on the theory and practice of intergenerational antipoverty efforts. She also has a strong interest in coaching, both as a vehicle for economic mobility and as a way to develop staff who are serving families. Before joining EMPath, she developed children’s programming at various for-profit and nonprofit organizations, and became very interested in how poverty affects children and youth. Nicki completed a Master in Public Administration at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where she was awarded a Gleitsman Fellowship through the Center for Public Leadership. She was born and raised in Massachusetts, and currently lives in East Boston with her partner and their young daughter.
Alison Schonwald, MD
Dr. Alison Schonwald is a Pediatrician in the Department of Pediatrics at the Cambridge Health Alliance, and Associate Professor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Schonwald received her medical degree from Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and completed her Residency and Fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital. Dr. Schonwald is active in the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the Society for Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics (SDBP). Her clinical expertise includes autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and psychopharmacology for children with disabilities, about which she lectures nationally.
Marylou Sudders, Secretary of Health and Human Services
Appointed as Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) by Governor Charlie Baker in January 2015, Marylou Sudders leads the largest executive agency in state government, a $19.4 billion state budget with 22-thousand dedicated public servants, and oversees critical services that touch almost one in six residents of the Commonwealth. Professionally trained as a social worker, Sudders has dedicated her life to public service and to some of our most vulnerable citizens. She has been a public official, provider executive, advocate and college professor.
With a long record of public service, she was the Massachusetts Commissioner of Mental Health from 1996 to 2003, helping to create the state’s first children’s mental health commission and championing the rights and wellbeing of children, adults and elders with mental illness and their loved ones.
For almost ten years, she headed the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, promoting the rights and well-being of some 24,000 children and families.
In 2012, Sudders was appointed to the state’s Health Policy Commission (HPC) for her behavioral health expertise; she remains on this important Commission in her capacity as Secretary. The HPC is charged with improving health care quality while curbing costs. She also spent time as an associate professor and Chair of Health and Mental Health at Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work. Sudders has served on many charitable boards throughout her career, including the Pine Street Inn, Massachusetts Association for Mental Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Secretary Sudders’ talent and dedication has been recognized multiple times. She received an Honorary Doctorate from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology and was named Social Worker of the Year from the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. She was also nationally recognized with the Knee-Whitman Outstanding Achievement for Health & Mental Health Policy from the National Association of Social Workers Foundation.
Eleonora Villegas-Reimers, Ph.D.
Dr. Villegas-Reimers is currently Chair of Elementary Education Department and Associate Professor at Wheelock College. She has worked as a high school teacher, an assistant principal and served as an international student advisor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her extensive academic resume includes expertise in child cognitive development and published research on improving teacher professional development, particularly in developing countries, and in values education, particularly democratic values and skills. She also serves on the Subcommittee on English Language Learners of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's Committee on the Proficiency Gap. Dr. Villegas-Reimers is the representative on the Board filling the role of Early Education Evaluator.
Joan Wasser Gish, J.D., M.A.
Joan Wasser Gish is Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Boston College Lynch School of Education’s center focused on student support science and innovation. Drawing on her extensive policy background in education and human services, Joan has focused on early childhood education for over ten years. She has served as Director of Research and Policy at Strategies for Children, on numerous advisory boards, and twice testified before a United States Senate committee on behalf of the field. In addition, Joan founded a public policy consulting firm, worked in the U.S. Senate as a Senior Policy Advisor to then-Senator John Kerry, and as an attorney at a large Boston law firm. She holds a B.A. from Brown University, a J.D. from Columbia University School of Law, and an M.A. from Teachers’ College at Columbia University. Joan lives in Newton with her husband and two children.