Administrative Operations and Membership Services
Washington, D.C. Office
Education Policy, Communications and State Partnerships
Key Staff Bios
Gary Beckner oversees both AAE and its supporting foundation. He is based out of AAE’s membership office in Mission Viejo, California.
Mr. Beckner is a successful business executive with a vision for America's educational future. His heart for education comes from his love for children and his desire to see America's young people develop with academic and moral excellence.
Mr. Beckner knows first hand the important role a teacher has in the development of America's citizens. His background includes being a lifetime credentialed instructor with California's community colleges, authoring a college textbook, teaching courses in business ethics, and conducting seminars throughout the state.
Immediately after graduating from Florida State University with a B.S. degree in marketing in 1967, he began a career in business that led to management and part ownership of several insurance industry companies. In 1988, Mr. Beckner began consulting work in insurance and marketing, while holding seats on the board of directors of several organizations.
In 1993, he contracted as a consultant for a Washington, D.C.-based association management company. Over the next year, while working on an education project, and after surveying teachers across the nation, he became convinced there was a need for the Association of American Educators.
In 1994, Mr. Beckner helped found AAE as an alternative for teachers who were disenchanted with the nation's teacher unions. He and a group of nationally recognized and respected educators came together to form this new organization because they thought the two unions were leading our public schools in the wrong direction.
He has also served as the executive director of the Coalition of Independent Education Associations (CIEA). The coalition represents over 300,000 teachers in 23 separate independent, nonunion associations across the nation. They are united in their belief that educators should be free from compulsory membership, and should not be forced to join or otherwise pay dues to a labor union in order to teach.
Mr. Beckner is a frequent lecturer on the nonunion independent teachers association movement and has been featured or quoted in articles published in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, and Investors’ Business Daily among others.
Mr. Beckner resides in Southern California with his wife. The father of three sons, Gary is active in several civic and religious organizations.
Mr. Beckner recalls his favorite teacher fondly: "Miss Barber made me strive to be my best by always expecting me to do my best. When I disappointed her she would always exhort me by saying, 'I expected better from you, Gary.'"
Ruthie (Elmore) Borrelli is the communications coordinator for the Association of American Educators. She assists in communications and outreach through updating the blog, managing social media, and contributing to AAE’s monthly publication Education Matters.
She obtained a Bachelor’s in English at the University of Georgia. Previously, she served as the donor relations intern at International Justice Mission. She currently resides with her husband in Washington, D.C.
Ruthie's favorite teacher is Coach Jordan Bounds, who cares about all of his students.
Senior Director of Communications and Advocacy
Alexandra "Alix" Freeze is the senior director of communications and advocacy for the Association of American Educators, the largest national non-union educators' organization. Alix directs AAE's internal and external communications, focusing on education policy, media relations, and outreach to like-minded groups and educators. She also manages emerging regional chapter growth and state and national teacher advocacy programs.
Alix has worked in a communications capacity for another Washington, D.C. based trade association and on Capitol Hill for the ranking member of the House Education and Workforce Committee where she developed her passion for education reform.
A champion of educator rights and professionalism, Alix is a frequent guest on talk radio programs and has spoken on the non-union teacher movement across the country.
Alix is a native of the Washington, D.C. area and public school graduate. She holds degrees in political science and sociology from Frostburg State University in Western Maryland and resides in Alexandria, Virginia with her husband, Andrew.
Alix's favorite teacher is her 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Amy Jo Johnston, who inspired her drive to succeed, compete, and make a difference.
Regional Membership Director
Kristi LaCroix is a regional director for the Association of American Educators. She was born and raised in Wisconsin and has taught in public schools for 15 years. She most recently served as an English teacher at an award winning STEM school in Kenosha, WI.
Kristi is passionate about education and co-founded an alternative high school in Kenosha County. The majority of her teaching career has involved at-risk students with a focus on remediation and engagement.
Kristi is a staunch believer that teachers should have choice about their professional association and was the 2012 recipient of the National Right To Work's "Carol Applegate" award for her work to expose the devastating effects of forced unionism on teachers and education.
Passionate about education reform, Kristi believes that educators are true professionals and is committed to growing the non-union teacher movement in her region.
Kristi's favorite teacher is Marilyn Ward. Dr. Ward believed in Kristi and taught her to always be a fierce advocate for children and their learning.
Director of Legal Services
Sharon Nelson is the director of legal services for the Association of American Educators. In this capacity, Ms. Nelson oversees AAE's extensive legal teams across the country and works daily with members and panel counsel to address member legal concerns.
A passionate advocate for educators, Ms. Nelson has been a lawyer focusing on employee rights issues for nearly 20 years. Ms. Nelson spent the initial part of her legal career in private practice advocating for employee rights before working at several large law firms working on behalf of companies. In 2003, Ms. Nelson opened her own practice to again focus on employee rights.
As a litigator, Ms. Nelson has conducted numerous jury trials, arbitrations and administrative hearings. Licensed in Nevada and California, Ms. Nelson has practiced extensively in all state and federal courts in those jurisdictions.
Ms. Nelson's favorite teacher is Mr. VonBergon who taught her that life was for living and learning and that there was nothing she could not achieve.
Director of Outreach & Membership
Jill Newell is director of outreach & membership at the Association of American Educators. Jill leads efforts to cultivate potential state groups, leading up to the establishment of state affiliates for AAE. Her work focuses on membership growth, stakeholder outreach, and local leadership development. Previous to this position Jill served as AAE’s Director of Professional Development.
Jill has been involved in education for more than ten years. Before AAE, Jill taught students from diverse backgrounds in a variety of educational settings and content areas. Jill’s first traditional public school experience occurred in Pleasant Grove, Utah as a high school English teacher. The next year she realized a long-time goal to teach in an urban setting accepting a position in the Compton/North Long Beach area of Southern California. At Colin Powell Academy for Success Jill taught 7th grade language arts working primarily with students who read 2–5 years below grade level.
Jill was born and raised in Eugene, Oregon. She attended North Eugene High School, the same high school where her father taught for 34 years. After graduating, she attended Brigham Young University and earned a degree in Secondary Education.
Jill’s favorite educators are a husband and wife team, Coach Roy Bass and his wife, Cindy. Coach Bass was her varsity basketball coach, he taught Jill about teamwork and determination. Cindy, Jill’s kindergarten teacher, taught Jill to read.
Professional Programs Manager
Melissa Pratt is the professional programs manager in AAE’s Washington D.C. office. In this role, Melissa assists with a wide variety of projects, including office management, specialty recruiting programs, and research. Melissa also spearheads professional development initiatives and oversees the AAE Foundation National Teacher Scholarship & Classroom Grant program.
Melissa graduated from Grove City College majoring in both History and Education. She spent ten years teaching middle school in private and public settings in North Carolina, Washington D.C., and Virginia. Melissa’s passion is Social Studies education. Her teaching techniques in these subjects focused on implementing methods that stressed authentic learning and critical thinking skills, with heavy emphasis on primary documents, simulations, research, and the integration of technology.
Having taught in rural, urban, public, and private settings, Melissa has observed that teachers in all situations face similar difficulties. She is passionate about helping teachers, no matter their teaching circumstance, and providing a professional option for all teachers.
Melissa was raised in Liverpool, New York, a suburb of Syracuse, where she developed an appreciation for snow. She currently resides in Alexandria, Virginia.
Melissa’s favorite teachers are found in the history department at GCC, who taught her how to look at things unconventionally, instead of falling into predefined boxes.
Senior Director of National Projects
Colin Sharkey is senior director of national projects for the Association of American Educators. In this capacity, Colin develops, cultivates, and oversees new AAE state chapters while also working with state partners in their development of new programs. He also works with like-minded educators, policy makers, and organizations to expand the non-union educators’ movement.
Colin previously served as the project coordinator for the coalition relations department at The Heritage Foundation, where he supported numerous projects, including the annual Resource Bank Meeting, Policy Experts, and the Leadership for America campaign. Before that Colin worked at the Collegiate Network as a program officer providing financial and technical assistance to nearly one hundred independent college newspapers. While he was at the Collegiate Network, a program of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Colin served as Managing Editor of CAMPUS Magazine Online, created and directed the National Security Online Resource Center, and blogged for National Review Online.
In addition to his work with AAE, Colin sits on the board of a non-profit media organization and serves as National Director of National Employee Freedom Week. Colin has been interviewed on Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, and numerous local and syndicated radio programs.
Born and raised in Abington, Pennsylvania, Colin is a proud product of the award-winning Abington public school district. Colin completed a two-year honors program at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, and he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. Colin and his wife, Jennifer, reside in Pennsylvania.
Colin’s favorite teacher is his 10th grade English teacher, Mr. Ted Weiner, who is a passionate and knowledgeable teacher with high expectations.
Regional Membership Director
Garry Sigle serves as a regional director of the Association of American Educators, as well as the executive director of AAE’s state chapter in Kansas. Garry served for 33 years as a teacher and coach at Riley County High School, Riley, Kansas.
He is a 1978 graduate of Fort Hays State University with a B.S. in Industrial Arts and a 1982 graduate of Kansas State University with a M.S. in Physical Education. While at Fort Hays, Garry was a five time NAIA All-American in cross-country and track and field. In 2010, Garry was inducted into the Fort Hays State University Tiger Sports Hall of Fame.
At Riley County High School, Garry taught Woodworking and Drafting and was awarded the 1998 Wal-Mart Area Teacher of the Year. In addition to his teaching duties, Garry was the Head Girls’ and Boys’ Cross Country and Track and Field Coach. His teams won a total of 12 state championships, 7 in girls cross country, 3 in boys cross country and one each in girls and boys track and field. He coached 17 individual state champions in cross country and 56 individual state champions in track and field. Garry finished his track and field coaching career with a streak of 17 consecutive years with at least one individual state champion. The track at Riley County High School was recently renamed the Garry Sigle Track.
Garry earned Kansas Coaches Association Coach of the Year 3 times, twice in Girls Cross Country (1992 and 2009) and once in Girls Track and Field (1998). He was also the Midwest Region Girls Track and Field Coach of the Year in 1999 and the Girls Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2010. Garry was active at the state level in the Kansas Coaches Association serving as the Chairman for Cross Country for 10 years. In addition, he served as the president of the Kansas Cross Country and Track and Field Coaches Association from 1996 to 2004. Garry was inducted to the Kansas Fellowship of Christian Athletes Coaches Hall of Fame, the Kansas State High School Activities Association Hall of Fame, and the Osborn County Hall of Fame.
Garry has been a member of the Association of American Educators for 15 years. In 2008, Garry was the chairperson of the Riley County Educators, a local teacher organization, which successfully voted to decertify from the Kansas NEA. The Riley County Educators then became the recognized bargaining unit for the Riley County teachers. He previously served on KANAAE’s board of directors before becoming Executive Director of KANAAE in 2011.
Garry and his wife, Linda, have three sons.
Garry's favorite teacher is Coach Kent Litton because he had high expectations and made Garry realize he was capable of achieving great things through hard work and perseverance.
Regional Membership Director
Charity is responsible for recruiting and retaining new members in Utah, establishing AAE roots in the state, connecting with education leaders, and promoting the non-union options among the many stakeholders in Utah.
Charity is passionate about education and has taught English on both middle and high school levels. An accomplished and esteemed educator, Charity has twice been a nominee for the Apple for the Teacher Award, and was a finalist in the Utah Teacher of the Year competition.
From coaching girls basketball to implementing school-wide programs, Charity has always enjoyed taking initiative and providing support to those in need. She is an adamant opponent of forced unionism and believes teachers deserve the authority, as professionals, to choose the support of a professional organization.
During her first year of teaching she taught in a high-need school, where she learned firsthand the trials of teachers across the country. Not long after, Charity emerged with passionate positions and ideas relating to education.
Charity continues to strive to meet the education goals of her community. Charity serves on the board of directors at Good Foundations Academy, a high-performing, character-driven charter school in Riverdale, Utah. Prompted by her strong belief in service, she spends her summers planning and executing a summer literacy program in her local neighborhood.
Charity graduated from Weber State University.
Charity's favorite teacher is Mrs. Melanie White because she believed in Charity when she felt no one else did. Mrs. White pushed Charity beyond her natural ability and instilled a love of critical thinking skills.