Senior Leadership

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Kati Haycock

Kati Haycock, President 

One of the nation’s leading advocates in the field of education, Kati Haycock founded The Education Trust to promote the high academic achievement of all students, pre-kindergarten through college. In particular, the organization seeks to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement that consign too many low-income students and students of color to lives on the margins of the American mainstream.

Before leading Ed Trust, Kati served as executive vice president of the Children's Defense Fund, the nation's largest child advocacy organization. Earlier, she was founding president of The Achievement Council, a California organization that assisted teachers and principals at predominantly minority schools in improving student achievement. She also served as director of outreach and student affirmative action programs for the nine-campus University of California system.

Kati speaks about educational improvement before thousands of educators, community and business leaders, and policymakers each year. A native Californian, she has received numerous awards for her service to our nation’s youth, and serves as a director on several education-related boards, including those of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, The New Teacher Project, and the Hunt Institute.

Amber Arellano

Amber Arellano, Executive Director, The Education Trust-Midwest

Amber Arellano has worked for more than two decades in journalism, public policy, and strategic public relations. Most recently, she was a columnist and editorial board writer for The Detroit News, where she used the News' online platform of more than 1.2 million visitors a month to advocate for low-income and urban students. In 2009, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists named her Commentator of the Year. Throughout her career, she has covered immigration, politics, and education in the Midwest, Southern California, and Mexico, and won national awards for race relations reporting at the Detroit Free Press. Her work has spanned the corporate, governmental, and non-profit sectors in the United States and abroad.

Amber holds a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Michigan's Ford School of Public Policy, where she specialized in poverty and employment policy. She earned her bachelor's degree in secondary education and journalism from Michigan State University, and studied at the Universidad de Guanajuato in Mexico. A Michigan native, she is the first in her family to go to college. She is passionate about ensuring all Michigan kids have access to great public schools and a shot at their own American dream. 


Sonja Santelises, Vice President for K-12 Policy and Practice

Before joining The Education Trust, Sonja was the chief academic officer for Baltimore City Public Schools, where she focused on setting academic priorities for City Schools to raise achievement of students across all schools. Sonja came to City Schools from Boston, where she was the assistant superintendent for pilot schools, a network of 23 schools with broad autonomy and a track record of successfully meeting students’ needs and improving the achievement of low-income students and students of color in particular. Prior to the pilot schools post, Sonja was assistant superintendent for teaching and learning/professional development in Boston. Before joining Boston Public Schools, Sonja lectured on urban education for two years at Harvard University and spent six years as a senior associate with Focus on Results Inc., where she worked with five major urban districts, coaching superintendents and training school leaders. Prior to that, Sonja served as executive director of the New York City Algebra Project, the local site of the acclaimed national math reform program, also present in City Schools. Sonja began her career in education as director of professional development and teacher placement with Teach for America, New York, followed by stint at a year-round school in Brooklyn where she was a founder, teacher, and curriculum specialist. She holds a bachelor of arts degree from Brown University, a master of arts in education administration from Columbia University, and a doctor of education in administration, planning, and social policy from Harvard.

José Luis SantosJosé Luis Santos, Vice President for Higher Education Policy and Practice

José Luis oversees all aspects of the organization’s higher education work, which is focused on improving access, affordability, completion, and post-enrollment success for low-income students and students of color.

Prior to joining The Education Trust, José Luis was Associate Professor of Education in the Educational Leadership, Learning Technology, and Organizational Leadership programs at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology at Pepperdine University. Before that, he was an assistant professor in the Higher Education & Organizational Change division at UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, an affiliated scholar of the Higher Education Research Institute, and an affiliated faculty member at the Chicano Studies Research Center. He has written extensively on the economic and financial components of higher education.

Himself a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and a first-generation college student, José Luis is galvanized by his belief that federal, state, and institutional policies may not adequately support equitable educational and economic outcomes for traditionally underrepresented students (low-income, people of color, first-generation, and veterans). Instead, they perpetuate lesser outcomes, leading to further stratification.

He earned a doctorate in Higher Education Economics and Finance Policy: Econometrics and Measurement & Research Methodology; a master of arts in Educational Psychology: Measurement & Research Methodology; and a bachelor of arts in Mexican American Studies from the University of Arizona.

Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith, Executive Director, The Education Trust-West

A Los Angeles native, Ryan comes to Ed Trust-West with a deep history of advocating for underserved youth. Most recently, he worked at the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, where he led efforts to strengthen equity-based programs and policies, funded educational programs, helped empower parents, and drove a coalition of parents and local leaders to fight for education improvement in the nation’s second largest school district. Ryan also spearheaded Communities for Los Angeles Student Success, or C.L.A.S.S., which brought together more than 50 civil rights, education, and advocacy groups to help ensure the city’s students receive a quality education.

Previously, Ryan worked in former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office, where he served as senior director of family and community engagement. In this role, he led a team responsible for all parent, student, and community engagement programs within a network of 22 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Under his leadership, the network of schools experienced an increase in parental involvement of more than 40 percent. He also constructed systems within schools to foster authentic family, school, and community partnerships. Additionally, he founded the award-winning Parent College, which taught more than 3,000 parents key strategies to better support and advocate for their children. Ryan has authored more than a dozen editorials and opinion pieces published in the Los Angeles Times and other publications. Ryan began his career as a youth organizer in South Los Angeles with the California-based group Youth United for Community Action.

“All California students deserve access to a quality education,” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust. “Ryan’s experience in and dedication to improving opportunities for underserved students will be invaluable as we work alongside policymakers, advocates, community members, and educators toward that shared goal.”

Ryan completed his undergraduate studies in political science at the University of California, Los Angeles and is currently working toward his doctorate in education there as well. He is an Annie E. Casey Foundation Children and Family Fellow and was named by Education Week as one of the “Ten Young Education Leaders to Watch” nationally. He also received the Families in Schools’ Parent Engagement Leader of the Year Award.


Deborah Veney, Vice President for Government Affairs and Communications

As Vice President for Government Affairs and Communications at The Education Trust, Deborah is the strategic leader of the organization’s legislative, communications, and field operations work. 

Before joining the Ed Trust, Deborah managed media relations for domestic-facing investments at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She has also served as the vice president of communications for two national nonprofit organizations in the education sector: the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and Communities In Schools.  In both of these roles, she was responsible for developing and executing strategic communications plans, and for providing management and oversight for the media relations, advertising, publications, executive communications, and marketing functions of the organization. Prior to entering the nonprofit arena, Deborah built a solid career in corporate communications, working with an impressive array of Fortune 500 corporations, including United Healthcare, DuPont, and CIGNA Corp.  Her experiences include media relations, crisis communications, speech writing, community relations, internal communications, corporate publications, and investor relations communications.

Deborah was the founding board chair of the Philadelphia affiliate of Komen for the Cure, and currently serves on the board of directors for the D.C. Jazz Festival.  She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Howard University, and a master’s degree in mass communications from Temple University.