Meet Education Voters of PA’s Public Education Champions

We are very excited for the second year of our Public Education Champion program, which will provide training and mentorship opportunities to 13 fellows and three advocates as they engage and educate their communities on key public education issues and state policy matters.

This cohort of Public Education Champions was selected from a very large pool of applicants. They are exceptionally qualified parents, advocates, and community members who are passionate about supporting public education.

Public Education Champion Fellows

Joanne Borgesi

Joanne Borgesi is an advocate for life-long learning. She uses her platform to promote equity, education, and empowerment opportunities to those who are the most vulnerable within the community and beyond.  She supports daily administrative and operational involvement related to change and works together with various stakeholders along a path toward leadership and empathy to create success for all. Some of her long-term projects have been centered around pay equity and program opportunities for women and girls, quality education for everyone, understanding the importance of Title IX and human rights for all regardless of gender, religion, or politics. A few of her current projects have included working with the Heinz History Center on empathy discussions, The Center for Popular Democracy in Washington D.C. encouraging young girls and women to pursue their rightful place in all things, and with PA Schools Work promoting equal educational opportunities for every child, no matter where in the state they call home. She is also a retired School Board Director from the Keystone Oaks School District in Western Pennsylvania.

Her belief is that it is never too late to start a new project and she insists that learning at any age is beneficial to promoting success in any endeavor. Her own formal educational pursuits were not realized until well after her own children had received their bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Her ‘Never stop learning’ mantra has been evident all her life, but she never considered her educational journey as a cohesive and straightforward formal path. Only after working through life’s ups and downs and learning while earning, did she realize that the importance of all skills obtained over time will always relate to overall success. Her accomplishments working as a volunteer for many projects and mentoring those less fortunate are wide and varied. Her goal these days is working towards a doctorate in psychology. Joanne believes that anyone can achieve their goals, over time if “You just keep on keeping on.”

Beth Brindle

Beth Brindle first became an advocate for public school funding in 2011, following the extreme cuts to school funding in then-governor Tom Corbett’s first state budget. At the time, her two oldest sons were in elementary school in the Coatesville Area School District in Chester County, PA. Those children are now in college, Beth’s youngest son attends Coatesville Area Senior High School, and the fight for full and fair school funding continues.

Beth currently serves as District Office Director for Pennsylvania State Representative Danielle Friel Otten, a role she has held since December 2018. Before stepping into her legislative staff role, Beth was Communications Director for the Danielle for PA Committee.

During her children’s early years, Beth worked as a self-employed freelance writer and editor, allowing her the flexibility to become involved in PTA leadership, serve as chair of the school district’s Parent/Administrator Liaison Committee, and become further involved in school funding advocacy. She is an active member of the Coatesville branch of the NAACP. Beth previously worked in the corporate world, holding various roles in strategic communications, content development, and leadership.

A graduate of Coatesville Area Senior High School, Beth received a B.A. in advertising from Penn State University and a master’s in journalism from Temple University.

Candice Butler

Candice is a proud mother of 4 beautiful and loving daughters and a lifelong resident of the city of  Duquesne.

She is currently an Enrollment Consultant for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit Head Start Program, and also worked with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit Adult Basic Education Program within the Allegheny County Jail where she was awarded a certificate of recognition from the bureau of Correction for the active role she plays in providing the inmate population the opportunity to pursue their educational  goals. Because of her actions and devotion to her job, the Education Department has been able to  expand the delivery of Educational Services throughout the institution.

Mrs. Butler is a school board director for the Duquesne City school district and the president of the PTA. Her passion has always been centered around helping and encouraging people to be the best that they can be and to know their self-worth. She believes that “You learn something new every day if you pay attention.”

Shakeda Gaines

Shakeda Gaines is a proud mother of four beautiful and bright children (two girls and two boys).

She is an educational activist and advocate that connects with city and state officials and countrywide organizers to mandate quality education, healthy schools, and equity for all students. Ms. Gaines’s current work includes affordable housing, gun violence prevention, combating youth development deserts, addressing veterans’ emotional and mental needs,  and building voters’ power for black and brown communities.

Currently, she is the Deputy Chief of Staff for Councilmember Kendra Brooks and the past President of The Philadelphia Home and School Council, a 126-year-old parent organization.

Gaines is mostly known for being one of the original Opt Out Philly Leaders, a voiceful leader during The School District of Philadelphia school closures, a city-wide parent organizer, and an outspoken activist during the pandemic.

Her passion has always been centered around helping parents and children learn their educational rights, becoming more educated in technology, and teaching stakeholders how to fight for a fair and equitable education throughout the entire school district.

Ms. Gaines currently sits on the boards and committees of the Our City Our Schools and Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks Steering Committee. She is a Caucus of Working Educators member and proudly supports The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, CASA, Melantated Educators Collective, the Racial Justice Committee, and a host of other organizations. 

Sharmaine Gamble

Sharmaine , B.S., is an Erie native and is currently living in the Wilkinsburg Borough of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. A graduate of Oakland Catholic High School, she went on to Indiana University of Pennsylvania and received her Bachelor of Science in Marketing. Her commitment to advocacy began early in her upbringing starting with canvassing, assisting voters to the polls, and working the polls once of age. She continues to do heart work as a Community Health Advocate, Research Investigator, and School Board Director Elect for Wilkinsburg School District. A champion for change, Sharmaine, has spoken at the Nation’s Capital advocating for increased educational funding and participated in other campaigns such as “Caps not Cops”.

She is a member of 412 Justice, Healthy Start Incorporated Community Action Network Member, FIMR Community Action Team, parent of 2 boys, Wilkinsburg Family Support Center, Community Empowerment Association Family, East Liberty Family Support Center, and will be continuing as a Public Education Voter Champion Fellow.


Sonya Gooden

Sonya Gooden, a resident of Duquesne Pennsylvania, has been an advocate for families and children for over 25 years.   She is employed as a Family Advocate with the Head Start Program and has 16 years of service as an Elected School Board Member for Duquesne City School District. Sonya is also a proud daughter, wife, and mother.

While advocating with hope for equality, Sonya finds inspiration in a quote from Allan Boesak that says, “When we go before Him, God will ask, “Where are your wounds?”  And we will say, “I have no wounds.”  And God will ask, “Was there nothing worth fighting for?”


M. Rayah Levy

    M. Rayah Levy is the Public Services Librarian at Moravian University. She embarked on the world of Librarianship at Simmons University in Boston seventeen years ago with a concentration in Preservation. Working in both academic and public spaces helped her to bridge both worlds of librarianship; thus, shaping her into a public servant for the community. Additionally, she considers herself a Librarian-without-borders. Currently, she is a candidate running for the Bethlehem Area School District, School Board Director, and also serves on Bethlehem’s Human Relations Commission.

    Before joining the staff at Moravian University, Rayah fostered and sustained relationships with the University, Northampton Community College, Lehigh University, Moravian Historical Society, the Moravian Archives, Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites, and the NAACP Bethlehem Branch. These relationships helped to create strong partnerships within the community. In 2018, Rayah received a grant from the Lehigh Valley Engaged Humanities Consortium to spearhead and create an oral history project titled Voices from the African Diaspora: The Black Experience of Bethlehem, Pa. One of M. Rayah Levy’s favorite quote is by Hillel – Ethics of the Father. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? If not me, who? If not now, when?” Therefore, she is looking forward to being part of the Public Education Champion cohort with great anticipation.

    Karen Lyons

    Karen Lyons currently lives in Braddock Hills where she raised her three wonderful children, nieces and nephew, and their friends who graduated from the Woodland Hills School District. She worked in management at Highmark for 30 years and retired after 30 years of service in the healthcare industry. Currently she is helping to raise her amazing Grandprince, who will be a  Woodland Hills student this fall.

    Karen has served on the board of Education Rights Network, a parent-based organization that leads the fight to achieve fully-resourced, inclusive and quality education for children Pre-K~21 in Allegheny county. (2020-2022). She is a current member of 412 Justice, Member of the Democratic National Convention, and a member of the Mt. Ararat Baptist church. During her free time she has been writing a children’s book, painting, creating music and spending time with family.

    Dr. Trisha Moller

    Dr. Trisha Moller lives in Bethlehem PA with her husband and two sons.  She loves teaching as a Math professor at Moravian University. She is an active member in local and national organizations, including the Mathematics Association of America (MAA), Association for Women in Math (AWM) and American Association of University Women (AAUW).  In 2004, Trisha became an MAA Project NExT (New Experiences in Teaching) Fellow and in 2011, she earned the AAUW Bethlehem Emerging Star Award.  Most recently (2021), the “Calypso Elementary Dr. Trisha Moller Leadership Award” was established in her honor.

    Trisha is a passionate advocate for public school education.  As a PTA leader, she helped raise over $100,000, including funds for a new school playground.  More importantly, she coordinated and initiated many free school events that emphasized education, family support, and connections to the local community.  All students were encouraged to share with their families, have an impact in their neighborhood, and just have fun with learning!  Trisha is an active leader in PA Proud Parents of Bethlehem, a pro-public education advocacy group.  The group’s mission is to educate parents and our community about issues that impact public school funding and empower parents, students and neighbors to make our voices heard.

    With her dedication and compassion, Dr. Trisha Moller strives to help everyone, including herself, become the “best version of yourself.”


    Tasliym Morales

    Tasliym Morales, MS, currently resides in Chester City, PA by way of Norfolk, VA and Brooklyn, NY.  She is a graduate of Neumann University,  where she earned her Masters of Science in Organizational and Strategic Leadership, and also of Metropolitan College of New York, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in American Urban Planning.  Tasliym is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Business Administration at Thomas Edison State University.

    Tasliym is a mother to seven children (five living and two deceased). Her activism and advocacy work are focused in three areas:

    1. creating equitable and accessible educational opportunities for children in lower-wealth zip codes,
    2. tackling the sentencing structure in Pennsylvania that disproportionately affects children living in lower-wealth zip codes, and
    3. addressing “intellectual poverty” as a means of eradicating biases and prejudices.

    She is a proud alumna of UPenn’s DiverseForce on Boards cohort 10, serves as a founding member of the relaunched Parent University at Chester-Upland School District, and in 2024 she will be sworn in as an elected director for the Chester-Upland School Board. Tasliym has been honored as a 2023 Chester Woman of Change, 2023 Community Leader by the Four Chaplains Memorial in Philadelphia, and as a Parent Leader by the Chester-Upland School District.

    “By suppressing the opportunities of the “have nots” and enhancing the opportunities of society’s “haves,” we perpetuate the historical hierarchical status quo”, Tasliym is determined to break the status quo as it relates to equity in public education.


    Erin Small

    Erin Small has been an advocate for public education her entire adult life as a teacher, parent and volunteer.  She grew up in southwestern Ohio and attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. There, she earned a  Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and a Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education. Erin spent eight years teaching high school language arts in the Cincinnati area. She gained valuable experience through teaching at the university level while pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing, also from Miami University.

    Erin, her husband and three children currently live in Lancaster, PA. Since 2018, Erin has advocated on behalf of children in the foster care system as a Court Appointed Special Advocate with CASA of Lancaster and Lebanon Counties. Erin also serves on the board of Lancaster Friends of the Public Library and works with Hempfield Power Packs, a non profit focused on food insecurity. For the last three years she has worked as a subitute teacher in the Hempfield School District. In all of these roles, she has gained invaluable insight into the overlapping needs of the community that often fall at the feet of public schools.

    Most recently, Erin is running for an open seat as a school director for Hempfield School District. After regularly attending school board meetings since 2020, she saw the need for more transparency and less focus on political extremism. She intends to use her background and her position as a Public Education Champion to support students, educators and community members with the goal of voicing the needs of the underrepresented and providing the best possible public education to all.

    Bethany Smith

    Bethany Smith became a Public Education Champion because she no longer wanted to sit on the sidelines watching and complaining about what is going on in her school district. As a parent of a 5th grader, member of the Penn Hills community, and taxpayer, she realized the importance of holding elected officials accountable. Not only holding them accountable but working with them making sure decisions are made that benefit ALL in the community. These decisions should ensure that, especially the children, will be best prepared for their present and future.

    Her goal as an “Ed Champ” is to continue learning about the process and policies of state funding and getting that information out to the community. She wants to encourage others to get involved so that everyone understands that they have a voice and can influence policies.   She wants to do her part in championing adequate state funding for public schools in Pennsylvania. In her spare time, she enjoys doing absolutely nothing. Reading, writing, relaxing, and doing fun activities with her son is something she holds dear to her heart.

    Beth Sviben

    Beth Sviben previously worked for the Leadership in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, has a BS in Public Policy from Penn State, and has been active in state and local campaigns since 2010. Beth has been a member of the Government Affairs and Public Policy Committee of SAG-AFTRA New York since 2009, a member of the Legislative Committee of Pennsylvanians for Fair Funding since 2021, and she has been Central Dauphin School Board Director since 2019 and Assistant Board Secretary since 2021.

    Beth ran for Central Dauphin School Board because she wanted the best possible for her nephews attending the district.  After losing narrowly in 2017 she was sworn in December 2019 to fill a vacant seat.  The pandemic quickly hit a couple months later.  All district buildings went online and board meetings were held via Zoom.  In May 2020 Beth voted against her first tax increase.  Even a small tax increase when people were losing their income during a national health crisis was troubling. 

    From the beginning of her time on the Board, Ms.Sviben advocated for districts to be better funded by the state and for the need to get away from the notion that one of school boards’ key functions is to levy taxes. She started tracking legislation from the PA House Education Committee and advocating with legislators.  Beth has been honored to speak at press conferences, to write op-eds and to speak with legislators on both sides of the aisle regarding reform and is definitely honored to be chosen to be an Ed Voters Public Education Fellow and to continue the fight.

    Public Education Champion Advocates

    Ziad Munson

    Ziad Munson first began thinking seriously about our schools after witnessing an attempt to censor several books in his district, something he naively believed was a thing of the past.  Shocked into paying more attention to education issues, he soon learned how broken Pennsylvania’s school funding system is. He has been a public advocate for our schools for more than a decade now and served two terms on the school board in East Penn (2013-2021).  He created a regular blog, which is now a popular newsletter (, to share information and perspectives on education issues with the community.  

    Ziad is a professor and chair of the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at Lehigh University.  He received his BA from the University of Chicago and his PhD from Harvard University.  He has written two books and more than a dozen scholarly articles on activism, religion, terrorism, and civil society.  He is currently working on a study of the political changes taking place in America’s suburbs.  He lives in Emmaus PA with his wife and two children, and spends his free time on board games, camping, cooking (not to mention eating!), cycling, and soccer.

    Sarah Nemitz

    Sarah Nemitz is a Lehigh Valley native and a proud public school graduate. She earned degrees from Ursinus College and the University of Pennsylvania, and currently lives in Salisbury Township with her husband and three children. She is an active community volunteer with Salisbury Music Association, Boy Scout Troop 439 and Trident Swim & Dive Team. She is also the owner of Gingersnaps Bows.

    In 2019 Sarah was elected to her first term on the Salisbury Township School Board. She also represents Salisbury on the Lehigh Career & Technical Institute Joint Operating Committee. Through her work on the school board, Sarah has educated herself about the impact of state funding on her district’s budget and local tax burden, and has become a passionate advocate for addressing funding discrepancies in the areas of charter schools and special education, as well as for reform for the transportation requirement to non-public schools.  

    Donna Usavage

    Donna is a retired knowledge management and technology professional with 32 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. When she is not spending time with her family or being active outdoors, she is volunteering locally in support of public education and environmental conservation. Donna served 10 years on the Boyertown School Board and is currently leading the Boyertown Forward PAC, a non-partisan team supporting the election of high-quality, pro-public education school board candidates who are committed to the educational needs of ALL of the community’s children. Her passion is centered around 5 tenets:

    1. Find your calling and act boldly for what you stand for.
    2. Every child deserves a quality education and public education is the only institution in America required by law to meet the educational needs of EVERY child regardless of {basically anything}.
    3. Our children are our future! As Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve today’s problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.
    4. A collaboration between schools and families is essential to every child’s success in school.
    5. Things are NOT as divisive as they seem. If the large majority of us in the middle can come together, we can achieve great things.