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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


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, Senior Director of Legal Services
Jillian Quinton, Membership Services Specialist
Grace Talberg, Human Resources Manager and Accountant
Cari Vedder, Senior Membership Services Specialist
Catherine Villani, Membership Services Specialist

Policy and Foundation Office

Education Policy, Communications, and AAE Foundation

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

Noelani Bonifacio, Director of Strategic Partnerships
Ariel Elliott, Regional Membership Director
Lauren Golubski, Development Manager, AAE Foundation
Amy Kernin-Laye, Regional Membership Director
Amanda Alpert Knight, Director of Charter School Services
Tamia Mallory, Communications Coordinator & Social Media Manager
Christina Mazzanti, Director of Communications
Shanna Morgason, Membership Team Director
Liz Parlett Butcher, Regional Membership Director
Melissa Pratt, Senior Professional Programs Manager
Jenn Sharkey, Director of Membership Development
Garry Sigle, Regional Membership Director & Executive Director, Kansas
Kira Tookes, Director of Advocacy, AAE Foundation
Dana Williams, State Director, Georgia
Chuck Zurcher, Regional Membership Director, Nebraska

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 Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife. The father of three sons, Gary is active in several civic and religious organizations.

Mr. Beckner recalls his favorite educator 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, including 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. 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 educator is his tenth grade English teacher, Mr. Ted Weiner, who is a passionate and knowledgeable teacher with high expectations.


Debbie Brown

Senior Member Services Specialist

Debbie Brown works as a senior member services specialist for the Association of American Educators where her duties range from customer service to data processing to inventory management of printed materials. She also serves as an editorial assistant for AAE’s various publications. Her past work experience includes 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 educator is her tenth 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 a big kid at heart.

Ariel’s favorite educator is her eighth 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 educator is her third 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.



Lauren Golubski

Development Manager, AAE Foundation

Lauren Golubski is the development manager in AAE Foundation’s Alexandria, Virginia office. She received her bachelor’s degree from Eastern Michigan University double majoring in Special and Elementary Education.

Lauren is also a recent graduate from Johns Hopkins University, where she received her Masters of Education. She has taught special education for the past five years and is passionate about education reform for all students to receive an equitable and inclusive education. While teaching she was part of Urban Teachers, LeadershipISD, and Urban Leaders to help advocate for her students.

Lauren was born in Germany because her father was in the military. She then relocated to a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, with her family. Lauren has frequently relocated to continue her education and professional development but currently resides in Alexandria, Virginia.

Lauren’s favorite teacher was her 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Voldrich, who taught the importance of relationships and how they can make a difference in her life. Lauren was extremely sick with mono in 3rd grade, and Mrs. Voldrich always reached out to check in on Lauren and made learning accessible. Lauren has always valued her relationship with Mrs. Voldrich and carried out the memory of her through her previous years of teaching.



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 educator is 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 years 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 worked with 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.



Amanda Alpert Knight

Director of Charter School Services

Amanda is a graduate of Lafayette College and holds a MPP from University of Chicago with a concentration in Education Policy. She has more than 20 years of education experience, including Teach for America, serving as a special education teacher at Burnet Elementary School, where Amanda was named Special Education Teacher of the Year, serving as a special education consultant to YES College Prep Charter Schools in Houston, working as an administrator under Arne Duncan's leadership at Chicago Public Schools, serving as an education consultant with clients ranging from charter schools, education nonprofits to school districts and leading a charter school network in Chicago. Amanda's favorite educator was her high school math teacher, Mr. Coad, who she still keeps in touch with. She says he made math fun, he knew every student and their families, and he was personable. She also enjoyed Coach Riggs, her English teacher and lacrosse coach, who she also still keeps in touch with. Amanda says she pushed players hard on the field and didn’t put up with any nonsense in class and beyond. She believed in her students.



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 and granddaughter are the loves in her life.

Her favorite educator is her third grade teacher, Mr. Williams, made a difference by spending extra time with a “lefty”.



Tamia Mallory

Communications Coordinator and Social Media Manager

Tamia Mallory is the Communications Coordinator and Social Media Manager at AAE.

A Richmond native, Tamia stayed in Virginia to receive her degree from George Mason University in Fairfax. While at GMU, Tamia interned with multiple organizations, including D.C. Music Download, The Washington Ballet, Meals on Wheels America, Radio One, and Northern Virginia Magazine. She graduated in 2018 with a Bachelor’s of Art in Communication, with a concentration in Media Production & Criticism, and a minor in Journalism.

Prior to joining AAE, Tamia served as a Digital Content Producer at NBC 12 in Richmond, Virginia.

Tamia has always had a love for education, serving as a Title 1 Tutor in Richmond Public Schools, an after-school program assistant with Fairfax Public Schools, and a University 100 Peer Advisor at George Mason University.

Tamia’s favorite educator is her 4th grade teacher, Ms. Gwaltney. Ms. Gwaltney always encouraged Tamia to reach for the stars and aided her in winning a city-wide oratorical contest.


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 and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications degree. Originally from Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, Christina and her husband are long-time residents of Alexandria, Virginia.

Christina’s favorite educator is her 11th grade history teacher, Mr. Bellow, who always found 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 educator is Mrs. Henson. She made 3rd grade an experience to remember and was enthusiastic each and every day!


Sharon Nelson

Senior Director of Legal Services

Sharon Nelson is the senior 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 educator 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 educator is 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 educators 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 educator is Professor Rebecca Welch who inspired in her a passion for words and taught her to live in gratitude every day.



Jenn Sharkey

Director of Membership Development

Jenn Sharkey serves as the Director of Membership Development for the Association of American Educators. In this role, Jenn is responsible for implementing strategies and directing projects designed to retain and increase membership and to enhance membership services.

Jenn has twelve years of association membership experience with a heavy focus on member experience. Jenn is known for her cheery disposition and positive attitude as well as her focus on delivering a personal and enjoyable customer experience to association members. Jenn believes that customer service and a personal touch is the key to standing out to members in a crowded field of associations.

Jenn was born and raised in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, and graduated cum laude from Temple University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies. When not raising two hilarious and very sweet boys with her husband, Colin, Jenn enjoys reading and cleaning up at pop culture trivia events.

Jenn's favorite educator is Mr. Brown, her twelfth grade chemistry teacher, who made learning fun with hands-on experiments.



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 in 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 into 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 educator 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.


Kira Tookes

Director of Advocacy, AAE Foundation

Kira Tookes is the Director of Advocacy for the Association of American Educators Foundation. In this role, Kira is responsible for recruiting, training, developing and empowering teachers to make strategic and impactful policy advancements for the benefit of all children. As a proud Alumna of Howard University’s Political Science Department, Kira studied the overlap of public policy and education to develop a commitment to equitable education practices, and holds an M.S.Ed. from Johns Hopkins University as a result of this commitment.

In her most recent role, Kira worked at Teach for America to recruit and develop extraordinary and diverse talent to lead PK-12 classrooms across the country. She is responsible for the ongoing impact of nearly 150 teachers and thousands of students. As a Teach For America Houston corps member and charter school teacher at KIPP Houston, Kira leveraged her experiences in the classroom to uplift and uphold the pursuit of educational equity through mindfulness and yoga in urban schools, and led schools and districts to prioritize student, family, and community organizing to see systems-level policy change. Kira is also a proud member of Leadership for Educational Equity, where she has learned how to organize stakeholders and advance the work for underprivileged populations across the country.

Born in Atlanta and raised in Houston, Kira has continued to advocate for the right of all children to receive high quality education from high quality teachers. Her areas of expertise and interest include: elementary literacy education, effective teacher practice and skill development in cultural competency, education management through talent recruiting and training, advocacy and activism, travel, tacos, and her ten younger siblings.

Kira’s favorite educator and debate coach, Mrs. Locklin, taught her about the importance of advocacy and kindness and has continued to support Kira’s journey as a mentor and friend for more than a decade.



Cari Vedder

Senior Membership Services Specialist

Cari Vedder is a senior membership services specialist for the Association of American Educators in California. Her role within AAE focuses on the management of payroll deduction services for educational entities across the nation.

Born and raised in Littleton, Colorado, she graduated from Colorado State University and earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Marketing. While attending CSU, she met her husband Joshua and they have two amazing children. Cari’s prior work experience includes sales, account management, and staffing management. During her free time she enjoys running, reading, and spending time with her family.

Cari’s most memorable and influential educator 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.


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 a passion for reading and cooking. She has two grown sons, one of whom is an English teacher in Tokyo, Japan.

Catherine’s favorite educator 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 degree in business administration and marketing, a master’s degree in early childhood education, and a specialist degree in educational leadership.

Dana is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia.

Her most memorable educator is her fifth 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.