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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Our Team 

Ryan Banks Academy wouldn't be possible without the dedication and hard work from all of our incredible team members! Below you can learn more about all of our current Board of Directors members and volunteers.

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!

Our Team Members

Valerie Groth
Founder

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, which will be published Summer 2017.

 

Parissa Behnia

Parissa Behnia is CEO & Business Whisperer of Sixense Strategy, a consulting firm that advises clients using her proprietary Sixense Empathy Model™. She firmly believes that before you can provide professional services, you must start from a place of empathy and mutual understanding. She’s recognized in the Chicago entrepreneurial community as an advisor and angel investor, with a particular heart for fellow female founders but a love of creative minds above all else. Parissa co-taught an experiential entrepreneurship seminar for ACM, a collaborative association of Midwest small liberal arts colleges. Parissa is also a frequent speaker on topics leadership and entrepreneurship and co-founder of ProductCamp Chicago. She’s also an active mentor and volunteer in cultural, civic, women’s, education and business organizations and has served in numerous service leadership and board positions.

Jeff Bell

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

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.

Mark Kramer

Mark Kramer is a Managing Director in the Investment Banking Practice within Duff & Phelps. In that capacity he leads the firms Transaction Advisory Services in the Midwest. He also has experience participating on board of directors for multiple charities and a museum.

Ryan Lazarus
Interim Chairman, Board of Directors

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

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.

Amanda Lao

Amanda Lao has experience working in many industries, having transitioned from a career and accounting and finance to one in interior design.  She is involved with and gives to a variety nonprofit organizations in Chicago and nationally, focusing on the issues of hunger and nutrition, sustainable food supply, women’s issues, and arts and arts education.  She and her husband are members of The Kitchen Community, a nonprofit based in Boulder that builds learning gardens in city schools, and was instrumental in helping to bring the program to Chicago.

As an immigrant to the US at a young age, she attended public schools both overseas and in Chicago, and through personal experience of the very different systems, has come to firmly believe in the major role that one’s educational environment plays in shaping one’s future.

Jason Sams

Jason Sams is a Chicago native. A Roosevelt University and Loyola Law School Graduate. He is the founder and CEO of a non profit organization in Chicago and has been in public service more than 20 years.

Samantha Allen

Graduate from Purdue University Northwest, earning a bachelor's degree in elementary education. She worked with children all through high school and college both as a mentor and as a daycare assistant. 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.

Toya Nicole Benson

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

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

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

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.

Adrienne Colvert

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

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.

Hilario Dominguez

Hilario Dominguez grew up in Chicago where he attended Chicago Public Schools and became a product of the neighborhoods he surrounded himself in. He went on to complete his bachelor's education at Johns Hopkins University where he received a degree in sociology and public health with a specialization in education. Later, he received his Master's Degree in Special Education from Dominican University. Hilario taught special education for two years before becoming a housing organizer for The Resurrection Project.

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.

Nagendra Sherman
Marketing Chair

Nagendra Sherman currently serves as a Customer Sucesses Executive at the SAVO Group. He is also a leadership coach focused on the sucess of millennials. He recieved his Bachelor's Degree in Accounting and Finance from Delhi University - Bhagat Singh College.

Michael Soguero

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

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.