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Administrative Office

Administrative Operations and Membership Services

Association of American Educators
25909 Pala Place, Suite 330
Mission Viejo, CA 92691
Tel: 800-704-7799, 949-595-7979
Fax: 949-595-7970
Email: Website Contact Form


Gary Beckner, Chairman and President Emeritus

Mission Viejo, California


Piete Beckner, Special Projects Manager, Membership Services
Debbie Brown, Senior Membership Services Specialist
Ellen Cole, Paralegal, Legal Services
Julie Evans, Legal Services Manager
Alicia Huntsman, Director of Membership Services
Iris Lacey, Membership Payment Processor
Sharon Nelson, Director of Legal Services
Jillian Quinton, Membership Services Specialist
Grace Talberg, Human Resources Manager and Accountant
Cari Vedder, Senior Membership Services Specialist
Ruth Anne Vigil, Membership Support Staff
Catherine Villani, Membership Services Specialist

Washington, D.C. Office

Education Policy, Communications, and State Partnerships

Association of American Educators
2560 Huntington Avenue, Suite 301
Alexandria, VA 22303
Tel: 877-385-6264, 703-739-2100
Fax: 703-739-2763
Email: Website Contact Form


Colin Sharkey, Executive Director


Alexandria, Virginia

Ariel Elliott, Regional Membership Director
Lauren Golubski, AAE Foundation Development Manager
Amy Kernin-Laye, Regional Membership Director
Christina Mazzanti, Director of Communications
Shanna Morgason, Membership Team Director
Liz Parlett Butcher, Regional Membership Director
Melissa Pratt, Senior Professional Programs Manager
Garry Sigle, Regional Membership Director & State Director, Kansas
Dana Williams, State Director, Georgia
Rena Youngblood, Senior Director of Charter School Services

Visit the State Chapters and Partners page for additional local staff

Staff Bios

Gary Beckner

Chairman and President Emeritus

Gary Beckner is the chairman of both AAE and its supporting foundation, AAE Foundation. Mr. Beckner founded AAE in 1994 and served as executive director for twenty five years, growing AAE from an idea into an institution. He retired from his fulltime role in 2018 and serves as president emeritus.

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 Dallas, Texas, 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.'"


Colin Sharkey

Executive Director

Colin Sharkey is executive director of the Association of American Educators and AAE Foundation. 

Mr. Sharkey previously served as Executive Vice President, responsible for day-to-day operations, include setting and meeting membership and revenue goals, hiring and supervising managers and staff, controlling expenses, and developing and directing operating procedures to support AAE’s objectives and policies. Before that, Mr. Sharkey served as senior director of national projects for AAE, spearheading numerous innovative technology, membership, expansion, and development initiatives.

Prior to joining AAE, Colin served 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, have two sons and reside in Pennsylvania.

If absolutely forced to choose only one, Colin’s favorite teacher is his 10th grade English teacher, Mr. Ted Weiner, who is a passionate and knowledgeable teacher with high expectations.


Piete Beckner

Special Projects Manager, Membership Services

Piete Beckner supports the membership services department. She served for twenty-five years leading the AAE membership services office in California.

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 now resides in Dallas, Texas.

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.



Debbie Brown

Senior 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.


Ariel Elliott

Regional Membership Director

Ariel Elliott serves as regional membership director for the Professional Association of Colorado Educators (PACE), supporting and serving PACE members throughout Colorado and working to introduce many more educators to the benefits of PACE and the importance of membership in a professional association.

Ariel started her professional career in hotel management before transitioning to the association industry five years ago. She recently served as Education Director and Membership Development Director at the Professional Independent Insurance Agents of Colorado (now Trusted Choice Insurance Agents of Colorado). As membership director Ariel grew membership and other programs offered by the association substantially. Ariel is a licensed property and casualty insurance professional and a tax professional.

Originally from the Park Hill area, Ariel was born, raised, and educated in Denver, Colorado. Ariel and her family are deeply rooted in the community and are still very active. She is a mother of three and is a big kid at heart.

Ariel’s favorite teacher was her 8th grade math teacher, Mr. Wagner, who instilled in her that you must respect and treat others the way you want to be treated no matter what.


Julie Evans

Legal Services Manager

Julie Evans serves as the Association of American Educators legal services manager. 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.



Alicia Huntsman

Director of Membership Services

Alicia Huntsman is the Director of Membership Services 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 sons.

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.



Amy Kernin-Laye

Regional Membership Director

Amy Kernin-Laye serves as Regional Membership Director in Idaho, providing member services, introducing new members to Northwest Professional Educators, AAE's chapter for Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. Amy has worked in and around education for over 15 years. She has her masters degree in Adult and Organizational Learning and Leadership. Born and raised in Idaho, she is a graduate of Kimberly High School, the College of Southern Idaho and the University of Idaho. Amy has worked with college prep programs such as GEAR UP and TRiO for more than 10 year at UNLV and the State Department of Education. For the past year and a half she has been a substitute teacher in the West Ada school district. Through these experiences, Amy was fortunate to have work with teachers and educators from all across the state. Amy resides in Meridian with her husband and two children. She enjoys the outdoors, spending time with friends and planning events for family members.



Iris Lacey

Membership Payment Processor

Iris Lacey is the Membership payment processor for monthly payments in the AAE California office. Her past work experience has been with various industries including chemical, computer, and copier-printing companies. She grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and now resides in Southern California with her husband. She has two grown daughters and her grandson is the new love in her life.

Iris’ third grade teacher, Mr. Williams, made a difference by spending extra time with a “lefty”.


Christina Mazzanti

Director of Communications

Christina Mazzanti is the Director of Communications for the Association of American Educators. She is responsible for advancing AAE’s mission, growth and member service through internal and external communications strategies. This position directs awareness and engagement efforts related to member communications, marketing communications, brand management, media relations, and publications including AAE’s flagship newsletter, Education Matters. Prior to AAE, Christina was Director of Communications with The Center for Education Reform. Her diverse and extensive communications, marketing, and brand management experience also includes leadership roles with Youth For Understanding USA, De Shields Associates, Grace Creek Media, The Cronkite Ward Company and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

Christina is a graduate of the University of Maryland with a BA in Communications. Originally from Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, Christina and her husband are long-time residents of Alexandria, Virginia.

Christina’s favorite teacher was her 11th grade history teacher, Mr. Bellow who always figured out a way to give every lesson a “punchline.”

Shanna Morgason

Membership Team Director

Shanna Morgason is the national membership team director for the Association of American Educators. In this role, Shanna enjoys training, motivating, collaborating with, and recruiting alongside AAE regional directors. She supports AAE member leaders through the LeadersMatter monthly newsletter. Shanna attributes her successful membership growth to having a true passion for serving members and knowledge of what today’s educator needs—a professional association restoring the focus to what matters to us: the kids!

Shanna has extensive experience in membership recruiting and educational sales as well as classroom experience as a secondary literacy teacher and K-4 library media specialist. Prior to joining AAE's Arkansas state chapter as a regional director, Shanna was an educational sales consultant and trainer for Kids College, a K-8 literacy and math test preparation software combining academics with online sports video games.

Shanna resides in Arkansas with her husband, Scott, and their four children.

Shanna credits her love of the teaching profession to her parents, both retired teachers with 35 and 40 years experience. Her favorite teacher is Mrs. Henson. She made 3rd grade an experience to remember and was enthusiastic each and every day!


Sharon Nelson

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.

Liz Parlett Butcher

Regional Membership Director

Liz Parlett Butcher serves as the regional membership director of the Association of American Educators (AAE) in New Jersey. Liz is a passionate education advocate who has represented children with disabilities for several years. She successfully lobbied the governor and the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) regarding speech language services eligibility criteria for New Jersey’s autistic children.

Liz is a well seasoned agent for change having worked as the chief of staff for former powerhouse New Jersey state senator Bill Gormley. During that time in her life, she spent countless hours assisting the senator on legislative bills and initiatives in the senate education committee.

In addition to Liz’s time spent working for the New Jersey legislature, she has worked for governors in New Jersey and in Rhode Island as well as for parliament in the United Kingdom. Liz also served as the public affairs director for MWWPR and was proud to receive an award for her work with the United States Education Finance Corps (USEFC) where she implemented a highly successful media relations campaign targeting opposition to eliminate student loan interest rate choice.

Born and raised at the real Jersey shore, she is a proud wife and mother of four children. Her advocacy efforts are always ongoing as the mother of a child on the autism spectrum with type 1 diabetes. She continues to passionately advocate for education change whenever she is called upon by anyone in her local community.

Her favorite teacher was her 6th grade social studies teacher, Miss Solomon, where she first learned about government and the nation’s legal system. She is forever grateful to Miss Solomon for the lasting impact she created.

Melissa Pratt

Senior Professional Programs Manager

Melissa Pratt is the senior 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.



Jillian Quinton

Membership Services Specialist

Jillian Quinton is a membership services specialist for the AAE membership office in California. Jillian is a seasoned professional and has worked for various companies and industries. As a lifelong student and a lover of education, Jillian is excited to be on board with AAE and use her knowledge and abilities to help fulfill the mission of AAE. In her free time, Jillian loves to travel, spend time with her friends, work on developing her photography skills, go to music events, and her all-time favorite, go on field trips to Disneyland.

Jillian’s favorite teacher was Professor Rebecca Welch who inspired in her a passion for words and taught her to live in gratitude every day.



Garry Sigle

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 renamed the Garry Sigle Track in 2011.

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 Osborne County Hall of Fame.

Garry has been a member of the Association of American Educators since 1996. 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.


Cari Vedder

Senior Membership Services Specialist

Cari Vedder is a senior 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.


Catherine Villani

Membership Services Specialist

Catherine Villani is a Membership Services Specialist for the Association of American Educators. Her past work experience includes various administrative duties in the medical field with private practice doctors. She is a California native and her husband is from Brooklyn, New York. She and her husband are very active in their church and outreach programs to the homeless. She has two grown sons, one of whom is an English teacher in Tokyo, Japan.

Catherine’s favorite teacher is Mr. Baker, her high school history teacher, because he took a genuine interest in all of his students and inspired a passion for history.


Dana Williams

State Director, Georgia

Dana Williams serves as state director for the Association of American Educators in Georgia.

Dana has worked as an assistant principal, special education leader, and special education teacher for a public charter school in Georgia serving K – 8th grade students. Prior to Dana’s work in education, she worked as an analyst for a consumer products company and as a sales representative. Dana holds a bachelor’s in business administration and marketing, masters in early childhood education, and a specialist degree in educational leadership.

Dana has been a proud AAE professional member for four years. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Jeff, and their three daughters.

Dana’s most memorable teacher is her 5th grade teacher, Mr. Thomas, who continuously told her that she could accomplish anything she set her mind to do. He also held Dana to very high expectations.


Rena Youngblood

Senior Director of Charter School Services

Rena Youngblood is senior director of charter school services for the Association of American Educators. In this role, Rena develops and oversees AAE partnerships with charter schools and charter school advocates. She believes strongly in the power of quality public charter schools in this country and has witnessed firsthand the positive impact they can have on teachers, students, and communities.

Prior to her work with AAE, Rena served as the director of membership and member business services for the Georgia Charter Schools Association. She strategically developed member partnerships that strengthened the relationship between GCSA and member schools.

Born and raised in the beautiful state of Tennessee, Rena decided to trade the mountains for the coast and attended the University of Florida where she met her husband, Steve. A job opportunity sent them to North Carolina where she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and minor in Communications.

Rena and her husband have two sons, live in the Atlanta, Georgia area, and have recently attempted to learn the frustrating game of golf.

Rena’s favorite teacher brought the world of Shakespeare to life. For that, Ms. Dean, her 10th grade English teacher, will forever be remembered as her favorite teacher.