Together, we can do this.

Our vision is clear: Increase access to great schools and close the opportunity gap for 30,000 Minneapolis kids. But we can’t realize this vision unless we work together, with aligned strategies and coordinated efforts.

MN Comeback guides a coalition of more than 80 schools, community leaders and funders, working in tight coordination on the most impactful strategies to support schools’ success.

This aligned approach helps schools grow and improve more quickly and efficiently, and helps funders invest limited resources with the greatest possible impact.

Leadership Council

Providing feedback and guidance on ecosystem plans, investments and interdependencies.

David O’Fallon


David retired from leading the Minnesota Humanities Center in 2019. Prior to that, he spent eight years as CEO of MacPhail Center for Music. His career in the arts is distinguished. Previous roles include leading Perpich Center, creating several arts leadership programs for the University of Minnesota, as well as serving as director of arts education for the National Endowment for the Arts and staff director of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Molly McGraw-Healy


Molly provides oversight to a mid-sized portfolio of charter schools in conjunction with St. Thomas’ Charter Accountability Board. Before joining the university, Molly was the senior manager of the charter school program at Volunteers of America and has also worked as an education policy researcher for the Minnesota House of Representatives’ Research Department. Molly began her career as a classroom teacher and maintains Minnesota teaching licenses in English/Communication Arts and French.

Jennifer Davis

Parent advocate


In her most vital role, Jennifer is raising a 10-year-old student activist in South Minneapolis. She holds a Master of Education in Family Education from the University of Minnesota, where she also pursued an undergraduate degree in Spanish and Anthropology. As an advocate for early learners and CARE fellow, Jennifer examined how public policy marginalizes families with young children from economic inclusion. Presently, she serves as an educator in several capacities – certified Positive Discipline Educator, licensed Early Childhood Family Educator for ISD 625, Women Venture mentor and community organizer rallying support for educational justice.

Kay Comeaux

Parent advocate


Kay is a grandparent and caregiver to her grandson, who is a sixth grade student in Minneapolis, and is an educator in Minneapolis Public Schools.

Daniel Sellers


Daniel’s time as a sixth-grade math teacher in rural North Carolina – during which he was recognized as a finalist for Teach For America’s National Excellence in Teaching Award – engrained in him a deep belief in the potential of all students. After teaching, he returned home to Minneapolis to found TFA–Twin Cities, where he led a bipartisan community coalition to push for the state’s alternative teacher certification. Convinced of the power of advocacy, he then helped advance key education policy reforms as the executive director of MinnCAN before launching EdAllies in 2016.

Phil Hatlie


Phil has spent 15 years directing finances in the Minnesota nonprofit sector – including organizations like the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches, TC Habitat for Humanity, and HECUA. A financial trainer and lender with Propel for more than a decade, he’s worked in areas ranging from education and social services to the arts and community health. Through building strong relationships with the nonprofits he serves, they’ve been able to accomplish more together.

Tim Benz


Prior to the forum, Tim served in marketing and fundraising roles at the College of Saint Benedict, Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Cretin-Derham Hall, and the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls. Tim is a member of the Minnesota Nonpublic Education Council and serves on the board of the Hopkins Early Learning Center. Tim attended private schools through grade 12 and his two sons have attended MISF member schools. He has a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of St. Thomas and has held the Certified Fundraising Executive designation since 2005.

Our coalition structure includes the Leadership Council and committees of volunteers.
Want to participate? Contact Nicholas Banovetz.

Partners – from advocates and families to educators and funders – inform our work.

Board of Directors

Providing vision and big-picture goals.

Carolyn Smallwood

Chair, MN Comeback; Way to Grow


Carolyn has served the last 11 years as the executive director of Way to Grow, Inc. – an early education and elementary organization that serves more than 2,300 people each year. Prior to Way to Grow, Carolyn served as vice president for sales and marketing at Twin Cities Rise!

Tad Piper

Co-Chair, MN Comeback; Piper Jaffray (retired); Piper Family Fund


Tad retired from Piper Jaffray having served as vice chairman of Piper Jaffray Companies since its spinoff from US Bancorp. He also served as CEO of Piper Jaffray for 17 years and as chairman for 15 years. Tad currently serves on the board of numerous nonprofit and publicly traded organizations.

Mithra Irani Ramaley

Treasurer, MN Comeback; City Year


As chief people officer, Mithra is responsible for recruiting, developing, engaging, and retaining City Year’s 3,100 corps members and 940 staff. She is charged with building diverse, high-functioning teams, a Level 5 leadership training program and mindset, and a culture of idealism to meet the needs of thousands of students in high-need schools across the country.

Becky Erdahl

Governance Chair, MN Comeback; Carolyn Foundation


Becky is the executive director of the Carolyn Foundation, which has assets of $32 million and conducts grant-making in Minneapolis and New Haven, Conn. Becky has been with the foundation for nearly 14 years and previously was a principal with the Philanthropy Consultancy and vice president of community relations with The Pillsbury Company.

Bernadeia Johnson

Mankato State University


Bernadeia is an assistant professor at Mankato State University; she previously served as superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools and oversaw academic achievement for 36,000 students and 7,000 staff members. Bernadeia is a former fifth grade, National Board Certified teacher who has also been a building principal. She also serves on the board of directors for the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Chris Smith



Chris is the CEO and co-founder of Kipsu, a technology startup firm based in Minneapolis. He previously served as managing director and venture capitalist with the Coral Group for more than 10 years. Chris has also worked with the IBM Venture Capital Group and Accenture Consulting.

Rosita Balch

Hennepin County


Rosita is a planning analyst at Hennepin County, specializing in family advocacy, and is a graduate of Universidad de La Salle.

David Nelson

Carlson Family Foundation


David is the executive director for the Curtis L. Carlson Family Foundation, which has more than $200 million in assets focused on education opportunities and services for at-risk youth. Previously, David was a vice president and director for community outreach and donor services with the Lutheran Community Foundation.

Ethan Gray

The City Fund


Ethan is a partner at The City Fund, a nonprofit organization that supports city-based efforts to help more children access great public schools. Ethan was previously the founder and CEO of Education Cities, a national nonprofit network that supported and advised city-based education organizations on their efforts to improve public education. Before his role at Education Cities, Ethan served as vice president of The Mind Trust in Indianapolis where he helped develop the ‘Opportunity Schools’ plan for transforming Indianapolis Public Schools.

Sandy Vargas

The Minneapolis Foundation (retired)


Sandy served as the president and CEO of The Minneapolis foundation from 2007-2016. During her tenure, the foundation’s grant-making more than doubled, from $37 million to $80 each year. Before joining the foundation, Sandy had been the Hennepin County administrator.


Rob Albright

Albright Family Foundation; Alternative Strategy Advisers


Rob in a principal and founder of Alternative Strategy Advisers, a boutique alternative investment firm based in Minneapolis. Prior to this, he was the president of EW Blanch Asset Management, an asset management business. Rob has also worked for Cargill Financial Markets and the LEK Partnership.

Aimee Guidera

Guidera Strategy


Aimee Guidera is the former president and CEO of the Data Quality Campaign, a national, nonprofit organization leading the effort to empower educators, students, parents, and policymakers with the information they need to make the best decisions to improve student outcomes. Aimee believes that data has the power to transform education to ensure every child in this country is prepared for success in college and careers.

Stan Alleyne

Vitals Aware Services


Stan serves as the chief of communications and partnerships for Vitals Aware Services. Previous roles include communications at Tunheim, chief of communications for Minneapolis Public Schools and, in North Carolina, director of communications for Buncombe County Schools and public relations officer for Wayne County Schools.

Margie Soran

Soran Family Foundation


Margie serves as vice chair of the board of directors for The Minneapolis Foundation, and also serves on the board of directors for The Family Partnership, KIPP Minnesota and Close Gaps by Five.

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Jennifer Stern

Great MN Schools


Jennifer is the CEO of Great MN Schools. Previous roles include serving as president of Spark Strategic Consulting, executive director of talent management and strategic programs for Denver Public Schools, vice president at the Charter School Growth Fund, and working at the New York City Department of Education.


Executive Director


Al is the founding executive director for MN Comeback since its launch in 2015. He was previously the founder and executive director of Charter School Partners for six years and led the work to improve the quality of charter schools in the Twin Cities. Prior to this, Al worked at General Mills for 16 years where he held various sales and marketing executive positions. Outside of MN Comeback, Al serves on the Board of Trustees for The Minneapolis Foundation and on the Leadership Council for Generation Next. He has been a Big Brother for more than 20 years, and has served on the boards of Cookie Cart, Social Venture Partners-MN, Hiawatha Leadership Academy and KIPP-MN.

Director of Partnerships & External Relations


A native of the Arrowhead, Nicholas is a proud father of two and a longtime advocate of strengthening education. Nicholas steered the incubation of MN Comeback from concept into reality while at The Minneapolis Foundation. Previously he served as director of new site expansion at 50CAN and deputy director of MinnCAN, and was also a founding executive committee member of MinneMinds. Nicholas serves on the board of directors for the Friends of the Boundary Waters Action Network and the Development Committee at Dodge Nature Center, and previously chaired development for the Friends of the Boundary Waters.

Director of Talent


Motivated by the amazing teachers in her life, Cay supports the goal that every child feel the joy of learning and resulting confidence that great teachers nurture. For the past 15 years, Cay and her family lived in New Orleans where she worked with New Orleans Public Schools, the Louisiana Board of Regents and the Recovery School District. Her experience includes improving the conditions and support needed to retain and develop great teachers, and to provide high-quality pathways into the profession for aspiring educators. In her role as talent director at MN Comeback, Cay is focused on supporting current and aspiring teachers and school leaders in dramatically increasing student success. She earned her B.A. degree from Macalester College, and a master of public administration degree and a master of arts in geography degree from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

Rashad Turner
Director of Community Engagement


Rashad is a Twin Cities native whose activism and social justice work has garnered national recognition. The former leader of Black Lives Matter St. Paul, he also served in roles to strengthen diversity, culture and equity at White Bear Lake Area Schools and Century College – including supporting the academic success of first-generation students. Rashad has a nine-year-old daughter who attends a traditional district school.

Director of Development


Kristen began her development work in education while serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Citizen Schools New Jersey. Upon returning home to Minnesota, she worked at the Children’s Hospital Foundation before joining the team at MN Comeback.

Our coalition structure is intended to offer the education sector much-needed coherence. Together, we can accomplish more than we could independently.


We are grateful to the many foundations, individuals and corporations that have come together to support the work of our coalition. Their generosity and philanthropic investment are helping to ensure every child in Minneapolis has access to a rigorous and relevant education.

Access a list of our funders in our 2019 annual report.