Ryan Banks Academy is an independent and coeducational college-preparatory, residential, tuition-free middle and high school that will prepare motivated students from Chicago neighborhoods to graduate from college, enter into meaningful careers, and be the catalyst to bring positive change into their communities.
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Join Our Team

Ryan Banks Academy is looking for leaders with a passion for youth education and social justice to serve on our Board of Directors! We’re actively looking to increase the range and diversity of skills, perspectives, and experiences on our board. Interested in joining our team as a Board member, volunteer, or intern? Please click the blue button below and use the online form - or email info(at)ryanbanksacademy(dot)com and we would love to speak to you further!

Board of Directors

Valerie Groth, MSW, MA, CV ACC
Founder and Executive Director

Valerie Groth received her Bachelors degree in Psychology from Indiana University, attended Dominican University where she received her Masters in Social Work, and most recently received her second Masters degree in Educational Leadership from Concordia University.

For many years, Val worked as a school social worker on the west and south sides of Chicago in CPS. She provided social/emotional support for individuals, groups, and families, and she also provided crisis and grief counseling.

Valerie is also an executive life coach, internationally acclaimed keynote speaker, and the author of The Power of the Possible:  The Dire State of Inner City Education and One Woman's Revolution to Fix It.


Jeff Bell, MA
Chair, Board of Directors

Jeff is Founding Head of School at Beacon Academy in Evanston, Illinois.  Prior to this role, he was the academic dean at St. Andrew’s-Swanee School in Tennessee and prior was the assistant academic dean at Lake Forest Academy, a boarding school in Lake Forest, Illinois.

Jeff Garlin

Jeff Garlin is a comedian, actor, producer, voice artist, director, writer, podcast host and author. He is known for his role as Jeff Greene on the HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm, for which he was nominated for seven Emmys in his role as Executive Producer and two wins for Producing from the Producers Guild of America. He currently stars in the ABC sitcom The Goldbergs.  

Sandee Kastrul, MA

Sandee Kastrul is the president and cofounder of i.c.stars;  founded in 1999 i.c.stars provides opportunities to break the cycle of poverty that limits inner-city youth.  Through training in technology, in leadership and in business skills i.c.stars prepares change-driven, inner city future leaders to develop skills in business and technology for high-level careers in information technology (IT) and community leadership.  Sand’s career in education has included focused work on cross-curricular arts integration strategies, diversity training and curriculum development. She worked as a teacher and consultant from early childhood classrooms through adult education affording her a wide perspective in effective project based learning techniques, leadership development, reverse mentoring and asset based pedagogy.

Ryan Lazarus

Ryan Lazarus is a serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist. He is the CMO for Blacknight Holdings as well as the Co-founder and COO of Vue Capital, an early-stage venture capital fund. He is also a co-founder of Windo Global Partners, a consulting firm that works primarily with U.S. companies looking to expand to India and vice versa. Ryan is involved with multiple civic organizations in Chicago, and was the first board member to join our founder Valerie back in 2014.

Dr. Kiley Russell, MA, EdD:

Kiley worked for many years as a teacher as well as an assistant principal and also the Chief Academic Officer for a charter school.  She now works as an educational leadership consultant and also runs her own business, and her success has been featured on Oprah.

Board of Advisors

Francia Harrington, MS

Francia currently works in civic engagement and strategic partnerships at Fifth Third Bank.  Previously, she worked as the president and chief development officer at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital and the director of civic affairs at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Dr. David W. Magill, EdD

David W. Magill, EdD is the Director Emeritus of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, one of the country’s largest and most widely recognized independent schools. For twenty years, he led two Pennsylvania school districts as the superintendent of schools and served as a trustee on the Educational Records Bureau for 18 years. David is also on the Board of a charter school in Chicago and is presently the Interim Head at the International School of Denver.

Ron Manderschied, MBA

Ron Manderschied became President of Northwestern Settlement in 1981. During his tenure as president, the Settlement’s annual budget has grown from $200,000 to $14 million.  He has led the founding and development of many of the Settlement’s largest programs including Rowe Elementary charter school, the internationally-recognized Adventure Stage Chicago theatre, AmeriCorps Project YES!, Family CARES Center, and a nationally-accredited Early Childhood Center.  He also grew the Settlement’s food pantry and after-school programs, and instituted year-round STEM programming at its House In The Wood summer camp in Delevan, Wisconsin.  He became President and CEO of Noble Street Charter School when it opened in 1999 and served as President and CEO of the Network through 2009, where he was responsible for the general administration and fundraising for this $55 million organization. Ron currently serves on several boards including the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, a national membership organization of over 400 child welfare and community based organizations.

Elizabeth Yore, JD

Elizabeth Yore served as Special Counsel at Harpo, Inc. In that position, she acted as Oprah Winfrey’s Child Advocate both with the Oprah Winfrey Show and in South Africa at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. Prior to that position, Liz was General Counsel for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.  At DCFS, Liz created the first missing child unit, which required the DCFS to immediately notify the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children when a foster child went missing. Illinois has been the leader in that initiative. She also spearheaded a program to aggressively prosecute human trafficking cases in the department. Prior to DCFS, Liz was General Counsel at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Virginia, and its first Director of the International Division handling international child abduction cases. She now blogs at Yorechildren.com, twitter:@elizabethyore and consults internationally in child exploitation cases.

Associate Board

Samantha Allen

Samantha currently works at an elementary school in Indiana.  Samantha strive to make sure her students' learning environment is safe and fun for all of them with quality materials for them to receive the best education they can.

Lildella Douglas, M.A.Ed, NCC

Lildella is the President and founder of Spirit of Excellence (SoE) Consulting. SoE offers professional and leadership development coaching for individuals in transition or looking to grow in their authenticity as a leader. With over eleven years in education and community engagement, she encourages the same in the children and families she supports. Her passion is helping others leverage their strengths to realize personal and professional goals. She holds a Bachelors degree in Liberal Arts and a Masters in Education and Community Counseling. In her spare time she enjoys creative writing.

Dave Benoit

Dave Benoit is an education business leader with a track record as an innovator, capable of launching new companies and fixing underperformers.  He has over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, operations and senior management.  Dave’s successful ventures include Lightspan(IPO-2000), Co-nect (sold to Pearson in ‘05), Connections Academy(sold to Pearson in ‘11), Middlebury Interactive Languages (sold to K12 in 2016, won award for excellence at Serious Play Conference in 2011), and ScholarCentric (sold to Advance Path in 2015),.  He also received the EdNet Rookie of the Year Award as best new company and product (Waking Minds, Writing) in the K-12 market for CDI America, an English language company he launched in 2004.  For the past two years, Dave has been leading global business development for Stratasys, one of the largest 3D printing companies in the world.  In this role, he has developed strategic partnerships with Dell, Learning Blade, STEMconnector, Job for America’s Graduates and Jason Learning.  In addition, he is married with three sons, mentors college football players for his alma mater (Northwestern – ’86), has served on several boards and advises a number of companies in the education market.   

Toya Nicole Benson, MBA

LaToya Nicole Benson is a speaker, writer and consultant who helps build bankable brands through social media and empowers women to walk boldly into the life and business they are purposed for. With over a decade of corporate experience as a marketing manager and sales professional for a Fortune 200 transportation company, Toya Nicole proved her executive leadership working with multi-billion dollar corporations like: McDonald’s, Walgreen Co, John Deere, 3M and Caterpillar. LaToya holds a BBA in Marketing from Texas A&M and received an MBA from University of Dallas.

Cecilia Bissoli, MFA

Cecilia has several years of design work in the US and South America. She obtained experience that prepared her to be a rigorous thinker and a good problem solver. She strives to develop solutions that are inviting and interesting but also mirror her core values. She strongly believes that designers have the mission to create graphic solutions that inspire others and give back to the community.

Kendra Bostick, LCSW

Kendra Bostick is a passionate Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has four years of school social work experience and two years of experience within inpatient child and adolescent behavioral health units in Chicago. Kendra is bilingual in Spanish and has immersed herself in many global endeavors including working in a therapeutic day center in London, teaching English in Thailand and coordinating mental health workshops in Ecuador. Kendra is currently obtaining her second Masters degree in Education with a focus on how to use Adventure Programming and Experiential Education to build a compassionate community that maximizes meaningful learning within the education system.

Katie Cahnmann, LPC

Katie Cahnmann is a Master's level Certified School Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselor with almost two decades of providing individual, group, and family counseling; mentoring; tutoring; advocacy; fundraising; event planning; and more. She is also the founder of www.nowyouknowevents.com, one of the top Chicago events calendars.

Annmarie Chereso

Annmarie is an Educational Leadership Coach, Certified Mindfulness Educator and Certified Life Coach. Annmarie is devoted to bringing mindfulness and conscious leadership into the world of education. She has worked for over a decade in Chicago area schools and is an expert at guiding parents, educators, and students to cultivate well being as a means for authentic success.

Adrienne Colvert, MBA

Adrienne Colvert has experience in both the professional and nonprofit arenas.  She worked for many years as a financial consultant with Deloitte and then continued as a sub-contractor with the firm while raising her children. She is currently working part-time as Manager of Research and Administration with Cambridge Consulting (an Executive Search Firm) as well as serving as the President of Hope’s Front Door, a human services agency in DuPage County.  Adrienne holds an MBA from Loyola University of Chicago. 

Samantha Conrad

Samantha is currently a student at Columbia College Chicago with several years of experience in design. Her forte includes creative and aesthetically pleasing work focused on inventiveness and practicality. Her passion aids with accomplishing goals  and in creating beautiful things. She is honored and excited to be working with the Ryan Banks Academy. Her website is SamanthaConrad.com.

Dr. Victor Chears, EdD

Dr. Victor Chears is a born and bred Chicagoan who also saw the need, many years ago, for creating an urban boarding school. He is a passionate RBA supporter and excited to be part of the team. He brings a wealth of experience in management consulting, executive coaching, succession planning, and leadership development. He did his undergraduate studies at Yale University and received his doctorate in education from Fielding Graduate University. As a person who approaches things from a Socratic perspective, he loves to ask a lot of questions – all in hope of moving the conversation or task forward.

Regina Drury, MBA

Regina Drury, MBA is an accountant from St. Louis, MO with 20 years of experience in various industries including Real Estate, Healthcare, Manufacturing and Government.

She owns an Online Education company/podcast called The Biz Geek (www.thebizgeek.net) and is a mother to triplet girls who were the inspiration behind her podcast "Multiple Personalities" (a podcast for parents of multiples) at www.themultiplepersonalities.com.

Upon hearing Ryan's story Regina was very moved and immediately volunteered to be a part of the organization.

Although currently living in St. Louis, Regina grew up in the greater Chicago/NW IN area and is passionate about providing this great educational alternative to the city.

Sanchit Mulmuley

Sanchit Mulmuley is an entrepreneur with experience in operations, business development, food & beverage investments, government relations and public policy. He is currently working on a product to reduce friction in the local food economy out of the Polsky Exchange Business Incubator at The University of Chicago. He is a former policy researcher for the Wisconsin State Senate, where he focused on Higher Education and Agriculture. He has been actively involved with various startups since 2011, and his experience investing in local food businesses led to the founding of Banyan Technologies, a B2B marketplace for local food based in Chicago. Sanchit holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Wisconsin - Madison

Kaitlin Reimann

Kaitlin is a business and community leader who left consulting to co-found a company she felt would make a difference. This company, uBack, is changing the giving conversation so we can all change the world. Kaitlin believes that we each have the power to create the change we want to see and her desire is to make getting involved as easy as possible. Kaitlin and her husband are proud new parents to a loveable little boy and are learning what it is like to function on little to no sleep! Any tips are welcome. When she is not spending time with family, friends or working she loves to be outdoors and enjoys anything to do with sports.

Jon Schickedanz

Jon is president and founder of The Alliance Labs has been selling, managing, and producing creative projects for Fortune 1000 industries for the past two decades. The mission of the lab is to solve a persistent problem within the creative technology community; How does one get a job without experience, but get experience without a job. Since it’s launching in April of 2015, the mentors and residents of TAL have worked with over 30 companies and organizations providing web-development, design, creative consulting and web strategy services, while providing real-world training and mentoring dozens of emerging, untapped creative young adults for full-time careers in creative technology.

Aaron Sims

Aaron D. Sims is a 14 year reformed banking executive, locally with LaSalle Bank, MB Financial and Associated & nationally with GE Capital, turned consultant-focusing on preparing small business owner and operators for banking relationships by advising them through the capital acquisition process and empowering them to be more favorably received by lenders.

Aaron is a serial philanthropist and has always been passionate about improving Chicagoland's most challenging communities, dedicating several hours each month volunteering with local philanthropic organizations whose missions are centered around promoting & improving access to education, enhancing exposure to opportunities, and encouraging an alternative mindset for students of a suppressed social-economic status.

Michael Soguero, MEd

Michael Soguero has been a leader in education reform since 1993 when he was a founding member of Eagle Rock School & Professional Development Center (PDC) development team in Estes Park, Colorado. Michael became the Co-Director of the School for the Physical City in New York City and later the Founder and Director of the Bronx Guild where his work was held up as an exemplar of effective small school leadership.

Dr. Trudy Taylor, MA, PhD

Dr. Trudy Taylor has worked as an administrator, teacher and parent volunteer in Chicago and Flossmoor, Illinois. While principal of Jesse Owens Community Academy students achieved gains that ranked in the top quartile and the top third in reading and math, respectively in the network. While at New Sullivan, a school with a focus on the arts, as assistant principal Dr. Taylor wrote and received grants from the Illinois Arts Council, The MacArthur Foundation and Ballroom Dancing, which allowed an arts-in-residency creative writing program, band performance in Florida and an appearance on WGN News 9 Chicago. Dr. Taylor's work was awarded First Place with The Chicago Area Alliance for Black School Educators Award; The Cindy Brinkley Parent Volunteer Award in Flossmoor School District 161; and was named teacher of the year at the former Spalding Branch School for children with special needs and at Vanderpoel Magnet School. Her career spans thirty years. Currently she is working in South Holland, IL, serving students with special needs.

Kim Vigsbo
Web Designer, Business Coach

Kim has been in business since 1995 and his company, StoneHill Media, works daily with responsive (mobile-friendly) web design, development and UX Engineering.

Kim is also the founder of We Are Fish, a business coaching program primarily for entrepreneurs with learning disabilities such as Dyslexia, AD(H)D and OCD.

Christopher Ziobehr

Christopher is a Futurologist and Technologist. Owning his own business in the technology space, he focuses on developing opportunities to grow his network and connect people for the success of the Chicago. Additionally he consults business owners who need assistance in scalability and operational strategies. He helps with RBA as an advisor of connectivity.