Administrative Operations and Membership Services
Washington, D.C. Office
Education Policy, Communications and State Partnerships
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.'"
Finance Support Staff
Angela is the bookkeeper for Association of American Educators and state chapters. A native of Louisiana, she was the bookkeeper for A+PEL, Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, a state partner of AAE. As a graduate of LSU, she has enjoyed a varied employment history including paralegal work and extensive real estate and building contract work.
Angela credits the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Academy for instilling academic excellence and the joy of continual learning in her life.
Director of Membership Services
Piete Beckner is director of membership services. She has senior management responsibilities for the Association of American Educators California office which is the central location for membership processing. A native of Florida, she attended Florida State University where she met her husband, Gary Beckner, the founder of AAE. Together they have watched the Association of American Educators grow into a viable professional non-union organization for educators and a voice for those who are passionate about education reform. Previous to that, she worked for AT&T for ten years and in between raised three sons.
Piete’s favorite teacher was her fourth grade teacher, Miss Geverts. She instilled in her a love for reading by providing quiet cozy areas around the classroom where students could curl up with a good book.
Member Services Specialist
Debbie Brown works as the member services specialist for the Association of American Educators where her duties range from customer service to data processing to inventory management. She also serves as editorial assistant for AAE’s various publications. Her past work experience includes varied office positions with churches, schools, engineering and legal firms. She and her husband are both natives of Orange County, California, are very active in their church and choir, and have two grown children and two grandsons.
Debbie’s favorite teacher was her 10th grade English teacher, Mr. Fox, who instilled in her a love for the English language and for reading.
Charter School Membership Coordinator
Since coming to the Association of American Educators 11 years ago, Bobette Craycraft has worked in every capacity of the membership process. As coordinator for charter school membership, Bobette assists the field membership directors as they reach out to the charter schools across the county.
She received her degree in Elementary Education from Western Illinois University, she utilized that degree as a substitute teacher and then as a stay-at-home mom, volunteering in the classroom. After working in sales in the design field and then returning to the classroom, she joined the AAE team using her combined experience.
Bobette’s favorite educators were her parents. Her mother, a 4th grade teacher and her father, a high school teacher and coach, imparted their standards of excellence to their students with the same care and concern as they did to their daughters.
Legal Services Liaison
Julie Evans serves as the Association of American Educators legal liaison. Prior to joining AAE, Julie worked for the Saddleback Valley Unified School District where she was on the management team for the before and after school day care program. As much as she loves working with children, she thoroughly enjoys providing services and support to teachers in her role with AAE.
Julie is a native Californian and she enjoys spending time with friends and family, volunteering at church, taking trips to Big Bear and going to Disneyland.
Julie’s favorite teacher is her 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Relf, who took a genuine interest in each of her students and was always willing to go the extra mile to see her students succeed.
Membership Payment Processor
Linda Feiner is the membership payment processor in the AAE California office. Linda processes all monthly payments received from members. As a former business owner and chief financial officer, she has a background in bookkeeping, banking, and finance. Linda was born in Buffalo, New York; grew up in Portland, Maine; and has lived in southern California for over 30 years.
Linda recalls her 8th grade Earth Science teacher, Mr. Graeber, as having a strong influence in her life.
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.
Executive Assistant/Office Manager
Alicia Huntsman is the office manager for the membership office in California and also assists AAE’s executive director in operations and development projects. Alicia has previous management experience working with both large and small companies. She has a background in human resources, accounting, payroll, and administrative duties.
Alicia is a native of Orange County, California, where she resides with her son.
Her favorite teacher was her 8th grade teacher, Mr. Vick, who made each one of his students feel important. His passion for teaching made attending class exciting.
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.
Membership Services Specialist
Cari Vedder is a membership services specialist for the AAE membership office in California. A native of Colorado, she attended Colorado State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing. Cari’s past work experience includes sales, account management, and staffing management. After taking some time to raise her family she is thrilled to be a part of the AAE team.
While attending CSU she met her husband Joshua and they have two children. Cari volunteers her time at her children’s school and is the Chair for the annual Jog-A-Thon fundraiser. She also is the team manager for her son’s club soccer team and in her free time enjoys running, reading and spending time with her family.
Cari’s most memorable and influential teacher is her 6th grade teacher, Mr. Paul Stanko, who taught her to always be who you are and to take pride in the work you do.
Ruth Anne Vigil
Membership Support Staff
Ruth Anne provides a support role to the Association of American Educators membership staff. She has an AA degree in business and previously worked as an executive secretary for DiscoVision (the first manufacturer of laser discs), and for 16 years as an administrative assistant in marketing and communications for an engineering company.
Ruth Anne and her husband are both from Colorado and met in their senior year of high school. They have two sons, four grandsons, and one granddaughter.
Ruth Anne attended school both in Washington, D.C., and in Colorado. She remembers Mr. Zolly as a great 7th grade teacher who loved life and laughter and instilled the importance of respect for others. In college she was privileged to have a history teacher that truly brought history to life with his knowledge and enthusiasm, thereby making the class incredibly interesting and impossible to miss.
Alana assists in AAE communications and public relations by updating our blogs, managing social media, and contributing to our monthly publication Education Matters.
Her professional career has centered around writing, marketing, and digital media and her experience spans a wide variety of worthwhile causes from large-scale membership organizations with 5 million members to small but passionate nonprofits, to swing-state congressional and senatorial candidates across the nation! She’s even had the pleasure of writing pieces for a few presidential hopefuls!
Alana obtained a Bachelor’s in Corporate Communication & Public Relations, a Bachelor’s in Professional Writing & Document Design, and a Master’s in Public Administration at the Old Dominion University.
She resides in Fairfax, Virginia with her dog Gromit, and her favorite teacher is her 3rd grade teacher and church leader Ms. Fox, who taught her to have compassion for others and to think critically about the world around her.