Thank you to our 2023 OAK NM conference speakers!

Sam Duell
National Policy Director
yes. every kid.

Sam Duell is the National Policy Director for yes. every kid. Prior to leading policy development and design at yes. every kid., Duell was a public school teacher, administrator, and leader in a state education agency. Sam’s policy experience includes reviewing, amending, and drafting education legislation for more than 15 states.

Sam lives with his family in Oklahoma City.

Lisa Grover, PhD
Senior Director, State Advocacy
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Lisa Grover, Ph.D., joined the National Alliance as senior director of state advocacy and support in 2011. In this capacity, she works with local, state and national partners to improve public charter school laws or enact new ones. Most recently, she led the effort to pass the 2017 public charter school law in Kentucky.

She first came to the charter school movement as the lead founder of one of the first rural charter schools in New Mexico, which is nationally ranked as one of the best high schools in the state. A former high school Spanish teacher, she taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District as well as in Mexico, Ecuador, and China.

She lives in New Mexico with her husband and two college-age children who both attended charter schools. She and her rescue dog, Odin, are a certified pet therapy team and love visiting with children and their state-appointed advocates when they have the opportunity. Lisa is an avid student of hot vinyasa yoga and also enjoys hiking, high-desert gardening and spending time with her family. She holds a Doctorate Degree in Romance Languages and a Masters Degree in Linguistics and Multi-Cultural Education.

Amanda Aragon
Executive Director

Amanda is a proud New Mexican. She attended the University of Tulsa where she obtained a degree in international business and Spanish, becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college.

After college, Amanda began a corporate career at ConocoPhillips where she eventually returned to New Mexico as director of stakeholder relations for the company. After six years in the energy sector, Amanda pursued public service as the director of strategic outreach at the New Mexico Public Education Department. Her experience there affirmed her passion for education and motivated her to develop and launch NewMexicoKidsCAN where she now serves as founding Executive Director.

Matthew Pahl
Executive Director
Public Charter Schools of New Mexico (PCSNM)

Matthew Pahl is the Executive Director of Public Charter Schools of New Mexico. He has focused his career with education transformation in New Mexico since 2005, which began as a first-grade teacher and included positions with the state Legislature and as the Policy Director at the Public Education Department. Matt believes education is the fundamental tool to achieving equity in our country, and is interested in how varied academic programs and organizational structures can help improve public educational experiences for all. He received his B.A. in History from St. John’s University in Minnesota and a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Southern California.

Sarah Jane Allen
Moms for Liberty – Bernalillo County

Sarah Jane was raised on a small farm; she met her husband while attending Brigham Young University. After graduating, they created their home in Albuquerque and built a successful small business. They have loved raising their six beautiful children here.

The events of 2020 lit a fire within Sarah Jane’s heart. She felt her sacred right of agency was removed by those at all levels of New Mexico’s government. As a direct result, Sarah Jane committed her life to making New Mexico a place where families and businesses can prosper.

After dedicating many years to serving on her local PTAs, she was inspired to help our public schools thrive and move forward. Sarah Jane founded the first Moms for Liberty chapter in New Mexico. In 2021, she faithfully helped pro-freedom candidates win APS School Board positions. After more than 25 years, the school board finally has a new voice of reason.

Rebecca Dow
Program Director
Opportunity for All Kids NM

Rebecca is the co-owner of Dow Technology and founder of several non-profits in Sierra County designed to help children and their families thrive. These include a nationally accredited early childhood program, NM Prek, K-12 private school, after school programming, behavioral health services, and more. Through her commitment to meeting the needs of the whole child, she utilizes diverse public and private partnerships and to achieve high quality programs at low-cost or no cost for all families, especially those who need it most.

Rebecca is the recipient of the Governor’s Award for Outstanding New Mexico Woman, the Leadership Award from the National Childcare Association, and the Administered of the Year by the New Mexico Non-public school association. Her programs have been awarded the Excellence in Education award from Educate New Mexico, Pioneers in New Mexico Pre-K from NM Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish, the Exemplary Program Award from the Association of Christian Schools International, and the Rio Grande Award for Excellence in Youth Services from the Southern New Mexico Community Foundation.


Burly Cain
State Director
Americans for Prosperity New Mexico


Burly Cain is a native New Mexican, his family moving to the land of enchantment 101 years ago. He met his wife, Bri, in Albuquerque, where they raise their twin daughters, Lexi and Marvel, and their son Magnus. Burly is a product of private, public, and homeschool, graduating from the University of New Mexico with honors in Economics.

Burly is a community organizer. Having worked on issue campaigns and political races from State Representative to US President. He left the finance world as a day trader 15 years ago due to a deep sense of unease in the opportunities ahead for the United States. He works every day to reignite a society where rights are upheld, prosperity is possible and every child can flourish at their highest potential. Burly is the State Director for Americans For Prosperity New Mexico. He leads a team out of the Albuquerque offices focused on breaking barriers for every New Mexican. They work every day to unleash prosperity through expanding freedom and opportunity. His team works in the key institutions of Government, Business, Community, and Knowledge.

Derrell Bradford

Derrell Bradford is the president of 50CAN: The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now. In his role, Derrell leads communications and policy, and trains and recruits local leaders across the country to serve as executive directors of state CANs, advocacy fellows, and citizen advocates. He also leads the National Voices fellowship which focuses on education policy, media, and political collaboration.

Derrell frequently contributes to education debates in print, digital, radio, and TV media. He serves on several boards dedicated to putting the needs of students and families first, including Success Academy Charter Schools, yes. every kid., the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the advisory boards of the Alliance for Catholic Education at Notre Dame and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the PIE Network, and was the founding board chair of EdBuild. He is also a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network (Pahara Fall 2016). A native of Baltimore, Derrell attended the St. Paul’s School for Boys and received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pennsylvania.

Carolyn Fittipald
Marketing Director
Education Trust Board of New Mexico

Carolyn is a seasoned marketing executive with over 30 years of experience developing and implementing marketing and public relations strategy in multiple industries; including home improvement, broadcast media, hospitality/tourism, non-profit health and state government in New Mexico and California.

In her current role as marketing director for Education Trust Board of New Mexico, Carolyn is on a mission to help families plan and save for future education so they can reach their goals and career aspirations without the burden of student debt.

Carolyn is a volunteer mentor in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central New Mexico Mentor2.0 Program. Mentor2.0 matches high school students with college-educated mentors and provides them with the support and guidance they need to graduate high school and succeed in college and the workforce.

Carolyn has lived in New Mexico for over 30 years and graduated from the University of New Mexico with a BA in Communication/Journalism.

Paul Gessing
Rio Grande Foundation

Paul Gessing became the first full-time President of the Rio Grande Foundation in March of 2006. Since joining the Foundation, Gessing has been a prominent voice for limited government and individual liberties in policy areas including: Constitutional liberties, taxes, health care, education, and transportation.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Gessing headed up the lobbying efforts of the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) a respected taxpayer-advocacy organization in Washington, DC.

Paul is on the Board of New Mexico Connections virtual charter school and St. Pius X Catholic School’s Foundation Board.

Rachel Gudgel
State Law & Policy Director
Bosque Advisors, LLC

Rachel S. Gudgel is a New Mexico licensed attorney and expert in public school policy. Rachel has almost 20 years’ experience researching legal issues, drafting and reviewing legal documents and statutes, negotiating with diverse stakeholders, interpreting statutes and rules, and testifying in front of legislative committees. Currently, Rachel works for Bosque Advisors, LLC – the only New Mexico- based municipal advisor firm in the state – and reviews legal documents associated with issuing bonds to ensure Bosque meets its due diligence obligation. Prior to working for Bosque, Rachel worked for the New Mexico Legislature.

Leslie Hiner, Esq.
Vice President of Legal Affairs

Leslie Hiner, Esq. is an advocate of educational freedom, a crusader fighting for the unencumbered opportunity of parents to decide how and where their children will be educated. She believes in the power of individuals to change the world, and believes personal liberty will be enhanced when our method of funding K–12 education is changed to empower parents and students before institutions.

As vice president of legal affairs at EdChoice, the nation’s leading educational choice organization, Leslie leads the EdChoice Legal Defense and Education Center for this nonpartisan, charitable nonprofit and engages with other national organizations to support school choice. She is a proven leader, advancing educational freedom and choice for all as a pathway to successful lives and a stronger society.

Hiner is an attorney with extensive state legislative and executive branch experience. In Indiana, she was the first woman chief of staff to the speaker of the house, counsel to the senate president pro tempore, and general counsel/elections deputy to the Secretary of State. She is also a former small business owner, and former litigator in private practice.

Ashley Soifer
Chief Innovation Officer
National Microschooling Center

Ashley Soifer is the Chief Innovation Officer of the National Microschooling Center, where she leads direct microschool supports, the development of new programs, and parent and leader outreach. Ashley guides the Center’s movement-building work with parents, educators and community members, including helping organizations and individuals launch microschools that live up to the potential of their diversified visions.

Ashley has served as the Chief of Staff at Nevada Action for School Options, a nonprofit organization that supports the growth of diverse choices of rich, high-quality and personalized educational opportunities for all students across Nevada, since 2020. In this role, Ashley played a critical role in building and managing the Southern Nevada Urban Micro Academy, the first of its kind public-private partnership with the City of North Las Vegas. The microschool, created to combat pandemic learning loss, has received substantial national and local attention for its powerful track record of academic growth.

Born and raised in Southern Nevada, Ashley is committed to improving education in Nevada, and firmly believes that the best way to do that is to ensure that educational opportunities not only exist, but thrive. She and her husband, Don, are raising three microschooling children in Las Vegas.

Fred Nathan, Jr.
Founder and Executive Director
Think New Mexico

Fred Nathan, Jr. founded Think New Mexico and is its Executive Director. Fred served as Special Counsel to New Mexico Attorney General Tom Udall from 1991-1998. In that capacity, he was the architect of several successful legislative initiatives and was in charge of New Mexico’s lawsuit against the tobacco industry, which resulted in a $1.25 billion settlement for the state. Fred serves on the boards of Santa Fe Preparatory School and the Thornburg Foundation, and is a former trustee of his alma mater, Williams College.

Don Soifer
National Microschooling Center

Don Soifer is Chief Executive Office of the National Microschooling Center, America’s comprehensive resource center, movement-builder and authority for the most exciting new education movement in a generation. He co-created and co-directed the Southern Nevada Urban Micro Academy, the nation’s first public–private partnership microschool with the City of North Las Vegas, delivering unprecedented academic growth with a previously underserved population of families under pandemic operating conditions.

Prior to opening the Center, Soifer has been President of Nevada Action for School Options, an award-winning nonpartisan “action tank” he founded in 2017 to support the growth of diverse choices of rich, high-quality and personalized educational opportunities for all students. He previously served as Executive Vice President of the Lexington Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Arlington, VA that he cofounded in 1998. Soifer directed the institute’s education and other domestic-policy research programs.

Soifer earned a record as one of the nation’s most accomplished charter school authorizers, serving an unprecedented three mayor-appointed, Council-confirmed terms on the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board beginning in 2008, and served on the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority board, appointed by the State Board of Education, from 2019-2021. He is an Aspen Institute Pahara Education Fellow since 2018. Soifer lived in Las Vegas with his wife Ashley and family.

Dr. Laurie Todd Smith
Director of Center for Education Opportunity & Center for the American Child
America First Policy Institute

Dr. Laurie Todd-Smith serves as the Director of the Center for Education Opportunity (CEO) and the Center for the American Child (CAC) with American First Policy Institute (AFPI). Prior to working at AFPI, she was appointed by President Trump to lead the Women’s Bureau at the United States Department of Labor. She brings more than 30 years of experience in education and workforce to AFPI. Dr. Todd-Smith is the former Executive Director of the State Workforce Investment Board and State Early Childhood Advisory Council in Mississippi. Playing a leading role in the creation of the Family Based Unified and Integrated State Plan, she also served as a Senior Education Policy and Workforce Advisor to Governor Phil Bryant. Dr. Todd-Smith led numerous legislative efforts to help improve public education in Mississippi including The Literacy Based Promotion Act, Early Childhood Education, Charter Schools, Special Needs Education Scholarship Account, and an A-F rating system for school districts, which resulted in improved outcomes for students. These education reforms have been deemed the “Mississippi Miracle” as the state’s students now lead the nation in growth in reading and math achievement outcomes. Dr. Todd-Smith is a former elementary school teacher and has a doctorate in education leadership from Mississippi State University, a master’s degree from Western New Mexico University, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona.

Mandi Torrez
Education Reform Director
Think New Mexico

Mandi serves as the Education Reform Director for Think New Mexico, a nonprofit think tank in Santa Fe that focuses on nonpartisan solutions to improve the lives of New Mexicans. She focuses on K-12 education state policy issues and advocates for improving the system at every level.

Mandi received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder in journalism and her master’s degree in integrated elementary and special education from Boston’s Wheelock College. She taught for nine years in Bernalillo Public Schools as an elementary classroom teacher.

In 2019, Mandi was named the BPS Teacher of the Year and was named the New Mexico Teacher of the Year in 2020, advocating for students and teachers throughout the pandemic. She served as the teacher engagement liaison for the New Mexico Public Education Department where she led teacher leadership programs and teacher engagement.

Vince Torres
Santa Fe Christian

Vince Torres is the Founder of Santa Fe Christian, a small elementary school serving children in Kindergarten through 5th grade. Together with his wife, Tiffany, and two other families, Vince founded the school in 2022 to address a growing need and demand for quality education in a Christian environment. He now serves as a volunteer for the school, managing donor relations and grant writing. Vince has more than 15 years of experience in public policy and community leadership. He currently serves as the Chief of Staff for the New Mexico Senate Republican Leader and pastors in his local church.

Vince and Tiffany have been married for 15 years and have two children who attend Santa Fe Christian. They met while attending Liberty University, where Vince earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Government and Business Management.