APEX Steering Committee

The APEX Steering Committee members are organizers, neighborhood leaders, and the voice of the community in the creation of a policy that addresses equity issues across Hamilton County’s education system.

The Steering Committee is composed of individuals that represent the diversity of identities and experiences in our county.  It is the community partner to UnifiEd’s work to ensure transparency and accountability in our process of moving from community conversations to a proposed policy platform. Committee members work alongside our team to ensure that the ideas and experiences of the community are represented fully in the demands we make to our elected officials.

Role of the committee

  • Learn together with them about Hamilton County’s community and school history
  • Hear directly from them about their experiences with inequity
  • Talk honestly with people of diverse experiences and ideas to identify common issues 
  • Facilitate conversations in their community and across communities about our schools
  • Build a policy that addresses the issues impacting our schools, while providing areas to hold our elected officials accountable within




  • Completing the “Building Power for Change” training workshop series to understand historical and social context of how Hamilton County’s schools have arrived where they are today.
  • Hosting an EdTalk community meeting in their neighborhood by Dec. 1.
  • Visiting at least two schools by Dec. 1 (one near where they live and one that is very different from their neighborhood school).
  • Participating in at least one day of the mobile interactive exhibit to collect community feedback on proposed policy recommendations by February 2.
  • Digital reviewing of shared reports and data analysis that will lead to official policy recommendation.
  • Attending at least 8 of the 10 scheduled committee meetings.



Alayna Baker

Hi, my name is Alayna Baker, and I’m a student at STEM School Chattanooga. I am thrilled for advocating for student voice in the county. In my free time, I enjoy painting, and I’m currently planning a mural of The Starry Night.

Tamarah Daniel

Tamarah was born and raised in Chattanooga, TN. She graduated from Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences and went on to complete both her Bachelor’s and Master’s in Human Resource Management. Tamarah currently works as a National Recruiting Consultant for Manpower Group. She volunteers with many different organizations, including Chattanooga Room in the Inn and Junior Achievement. Tamarah and her seven-year-old son are comic book enthusiasts.

Ariel Ford

Ariel Ford is a new Chattanoogan, having moved here with her husband, dog, and cat about four months ago. She serves as the City of Chattanooga Deputy Administrator for the Office of Early Learning. Her professional experience spans from teaching two year olds to working on statewide early learning systems. Her experiences have taught her that local policies and practices play an incredibly critical role in developing equitable systems starting at birth. Ariel sees the APEX Project as a way to bring compassion and understanding to policy in order to bring equity to education. When she isn’t geeking out on early learning policy briefs, Ariel has recently become obsessed with stand up paddle boarding and is loving getting to know her new city’s scene!

Cary Garrett

I am a Chattanooga native and, while I am the product of a Parochial school education (St. Francis, Notre Dame), I taught in the public school system for sixteen years and feel that this gives me a unique view of our overall educational system. I viewed my teaching career as a mission and investment in the future of our country.

Reginald Gilmore

I help young men and women overcome challenges by personalizing evidence-based practices, assessment, and advocacy based on the individual needs. I envision the APEX Project as a front line service provider to students by offering equal opportunities to learning material thereby making it possible for them to achieve academic success. I love bowling and playing pool with my friends after pretending to be an expert, which I am not, in both activities.

Richard Graham

I am a lifelong resident of Hamilton County, a graduate of Brainerd High School and a graduate of University of Tennessee with a degree in Architecture. For the past 27 years I have been involved with international adoptions, first as co-founder along with my wife Cheryl of an international adoption agency working in Vietnam and China; and now as China Special Needs Coordinator for an international adoption agency based in Hawaii. Along the way I have volunteered with Family and Children’s Services (now the Partnership) to teach citizenship classes to refugees and also volunteered, along with my wife Cheryl, with Catholic Charities to resettle refugees from Southeast Asia and the Middle East. I was honored to be one of the torch bearers for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Cheryl and I have been married for 42 years, we have 5 children and 7 grandchildren. All of our children have gone through the county school system. My hope is that the APEX Project will invigorate the citizens of Hamilton County to join together in a positive way to bring about much needed changes in the commitment of our community to improving our educational system. We cannot prosper as a community without a commitment to education.  

Annie Hall

My love for politics and commitment to public education is as strong today as it was 20 years ago when I was elected to the school board. I was lead volunteer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign in Hamilton County. My two grandsons attend Signal Mountain schools and I’m involved with the Stay with HCDE parent group. I love going on field trips with my granddaughters who attend Battle Academy. I embrace the APEX Project goal of guaranteeing all students the opportunity to attend schools as excellent as those which my grandchildren attend. Late at night you’ll find me on the ancestry.com website. (And yes I did complete the DNA test!)

Michael Harris

Michael is an active member of the community with experience working on Parent/Teacher boards, and most importantly, a parent of a child in the Hamilton County school system. I envision the APEX Project identifying the problems within the school system through community input, thus leading to creating public policy and implementing solutions. Most importantly, I just want to assist in making the public aware of the necessary steps they can take to improve their schools. For fun, I enjoy genealogy research, running, hiking, history and good debate.

Rodney Johnson

I am a native Chattanoogan. I am a husband, father of three and grandfather of four.

After twenty years of service in the Navy, I retired and returned home to Chattanooga. I pursued a B.S. Degree in Elementary Education from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga and a Master of Education from Trevecca Nazarene University.

I am employed by Hamilton County Board of Education as an Assistant Principal at Ooltewah Middle School. I mentor high school and college males. I believe in reaching out and being a role model to our black males. I have had positive people in my life to help guide me to make good choices, and I want to be that positive influence in someone else’s life.

Kimberly Mathis

Kimberly Mathis is a Marriage & Family Therapy Intern, mother of four daughters, and UTC alumna. She loves Chattanooga and passionately believes all HCDE students deserve a high-quality education. When she’s not working or spending time with her family, you’ll find her in the garden, or out for a walk with her dog.

Lorean Mays

Lorean is a National Health (Heart/Stroke/Cancer) and Education Advocate, Teacher, Mentor, and Ball of Black Girl Magic. I envision the APEX Project will provide a foundation for a better HCDE. The work ahead and resources provided by UnifiEd will put us on the track to finding and aiding in the betterment of the educational system here for our children.

Fun fact about me: I love cupcakes and travel to visit bakeries/cupcake shops in search of “The Best”.

Jamie Petty

I’m a 6th grade World History teacher and parent of 2 young kids. I think the APEX Project will be a strong focal point for the important goal of addressing equity issues for the students of Hamilton County. I hope our efforts will result in a variety of improved outcomes for all of our students, and the community as a whole. I enjoy cycling, snowboarding, and listening to punk rock.

Gladys Pineda-Loher

I’m from Colombia, South America, mother of 4 wonderful kids, wife of a Chiropractor, advocate of English Language Learners (ELL), local Latina leader and Director of International Community Outreach at ChattState.

Love hiking, salsa dancing, cooking and spending quality time with my family.

I envision the APEX Project as a venue to learn from a diverse group of people and to contribute my voice, background, network, and experience to set the tone and make recommendations and policy changes towards equity in education and expansion of opportunities for students in Hamilton County.

Jessica Phillips

My name is Jessica Phillips and I am a student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga graduating in May 2018.  In the community, I am volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).  I also volunteer with the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, the Mayor’s Council for Women, and the Chattanooga Neighborhood Roundtable. I envision the APEX Steering Committee determining real solutions to the literacy issues in Hamilton County.  A fun fact about me is that I love art and I love to crochet.

Lili Reynolds

Lili was born in Los Angeles and has also lived, worked, and been educated in Denver and Houston. She loves to travel with her husband and has visited over fifteen countries. She’s also a lover of tacos and empanadas, an inherited taste from her Mexican-Colombian heritage.

Having arrived in Chattanooga a little over two years ago, Lili resides in the Ridgedale neighborhood. She is an active member of the Ridgedale Community Association advocating for all neighbors to be represented. Taking a lead role in the recent restructuring of the association’s bylaws, she fought for increased emphasis on a balanced representation for all neighborhood stakeholders, especially residents. As a first-generation Latin woman and Spanish speaker, she is an active member of various groups focusing on issues such as racial reconciliation and immigrant women’s issues.

Currently enrolled at a local university, she is working towards her B.S. degree in Nursing. She envisions that in collaboration with the APEX Project, she can encourage engagement from the diverse areas and experiences of our city.

Steve Slater

I am a 1972 graduate of Soddy Daisy High School, and in 2014, I was inducted into the SDHS Hall of Fame. I played college baseball at Tennessee Temple University and am a retired Farm Bureau Insurance Agency Manager after 34 years. I’m married to Leisa with two grown children and three grandchildren. Currently, I serve as chairman of the SD Trojan Fund and am an active member of Stuart Heights Baptist Church. At age 59, I played in an alumni football game with my son (not many dads can say that).  

When 2/3 of our county’s third graders can’t read at grade level, they will not be prepared later for college or the work force. Hopefully, the APEX Project can bring ideas to change that.

Rachel Turner

Rachel is a teacher at Hamilton County High School, where she was named the 2015-2016 Teacher of the Year. She is a current Hope Street Group Fellow and serves on the Superintendent’s Advisory Council. She is a Teacher Ambassador for the Public Education Foundation and acts as a mentor to new teachers in her district, and was awarded the “Outstanding Educator Award” by Humanities Tennessee in 2017. She is a former SCORE fellow, America Achieves Fellow, Teaching American History Fellow, PEF/HCDE Leadership Fellow, Fund for Teachers Fellow, Gilder Lehrman Fellow and NEH Fellow. She previously served on the TN’s U.S. History Rangefinding Committee and has been the recipient of several grants. Also serving as an Academic Coach for inner-city youth with the City of Chattanooga, Rachel understands the importance of advocating for students of all ages and backgrounds. She received her B.A. in History from ETSU and her M.A. in Education from Lee University.

Francesca Quarles

First and foremost, I am a wife and mother to 7 children, who all attend Hamilton County schools. I am a local Girl Scout leader, substitute teacher, foster parent, special needs advocate, and church member. I am currently enrolled in Western Governors University working on a general education and special education degree.  I look forward to working with the APEX Project and seeing positive changes in our school system that provide every child with the very best education available. I believe life is too short not to be yourself, so I enjoy wearing vintage hair styles and clothes.

Frida Uwimana

My name is Frida Uwimana. I was born and raised in Tanzania and I emigrated to the United States in September 2008 at the age of nine. I am a senior at the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and I am also a dancer for Ballet Tennessee. I am involved in the Unum Leadership Program, I am a Passport Scholar through the Public Education Foundation, and I am involved in Women’s History Project through Girls Inc. What I envision for the APEX Project is working with other Steering Committee members in order to reach our goal of addressing equity issues in our education system in Hamilton County in the most efficient way. A fun fact about me is that I love to travel and I’m open to new experiences.

Tara Viland

My name is Tara Viland and I am the mother of Kai and Strat Daddy.

I am an advocate and supporter of local music, the arts, and action in our community. I am a product of Hamilton County and attended CCA, East Ridge, Tyner and Meigs County High Schools.

My vision for the APEX Project is to start a real conversation about the economic and cultural disparities in our schools. I want to see us move toward providing a well-rounded student, giving them the arts, sports, and high-quality education no matter their school zone.

Fun Fact: I am loud and a hugger. Live music is my happy place.

Jim Watson

I have taught almost every science class for the past 45 years in Hamilton County and Dalton. Presently, I teach Marine Science at Ivy Academy, coach Middle School Wrestling, run the Honors program, and organize our field studies. I also conduct professional development for teachers in the field of Environmental Education. I love snow skiing and just about any beach activity. This summer I received training to be a Dolphin Watcher for the Dolphin Project on the Georgia Coast. I believe the only way to stay young is to keep moving and constantly challenging yourself in new activities.





Marie Dean

Marie Dean grew up in the Detroit area and made Chattanooga her home six years ago. She enjoys Southern weather, especially when school closes for “snow” and she can use her day off to cut the grass! Dean earned a BA in English and psychology from Michigan State University and an MA in education from University of Michigan. Her professional experience includes crisis counseling, drug and alcohol assessment, parent education and support, life skills and anger management facilitation, and public school teaching and teacher support. She currently lives in Ooltewah and works at Brainerd High School. Dean is honored and challenged to be part of the APEX Project, and is committed to increasing HCDE’s responsiveness to the needs of each unique community it serves.


Jennie Moreland

I am first a wife and a mom of two girls, Ainsley and Addie. My family loves spending our weekends at the pool or the lake with our families. I love any type of water sport but especially water skiing and hope my girls will grow to love it as much as I do. I currently work in Voluntary Benefits at Unum and have been with the company for six years.

Since both of my children are now attending a public school in Hamilton County, I was looking for other opportunities in programs in which they are now involved. The APEX Project felt like the right move to make this happen and I am extremely excited to see how we can impact the children in this community. I hope to add some insight into what local special needs parents are experiencing in our current school processes and can’t wait to get started.



Elizabeth Tallman

Elizabeth Tallman is the Director of Education at United Way of Greater Chattanooga. Before her service at United Way she worked in South Chattanooga at the Bethlehem Community Center. Elizabeth also served with the National Office of Head Start, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the US Army Corps of Engineers. She received her Masters in Nonprofit Management from UTC and her undergraduate in Communications. Elizabeth is mom to two beautiful daughters and a supporter of public education. You can find her gardening or dancing at her home in Brainerd Hills on any given day.

Samantha Boucher

Samantha Boucher is a young professional and activist, making her career in the technology sector. Her activism focuses on the LGBTQ+ community, veterans issues, and emergency services.

She is the lead organizer for the Chattanooga Queer Community Forum and serves on the board of Tennessee Valley Pride. She also volunteers as an analyst for a disaster response agency, Team Rubicon, having deployed in twenty-two disaster zones domestically and internationally, and with the US Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol.

She was raised and currently resides in the Chattanooga area.

Lisa Bolus

Education has been a life-long passion of mine, both as a high school teacher and now as a mother of three girls in the Hamilton County school system. My family moved to Hamilton County in 2005, and this is truly the place we will forever call home. If I am not in the classroom teaching English I at the STEM School, you can find me reading a book out by the pool or hiking a trail near our home in Soddy Daisy.  My sincere hope is that the APEX Project can truly unite our communities around a common goal of providing all students in Hamilton County with the education and resources they all deserve and need to be successful in school and in the future.