- Who Are We
- Our Schools
- Institute Team
- Apply Now
- Contact Us
The Charter Institute at Erskine’s highly experienced team fully understands the unique needs of public charter schools. The team consists of educational leaders who actively remove barriers and assist partner schools in their pursuit of academic and operational excellence. Collectively, the Institute’s staff has 157 years of administration experience in the field of education, including 82 years of experience specifically in charter schools. The Institute’s staff also has 85 years of direct experience in the classroom.
Cameron Runyan is the Superintendent and Chief Executive Officer for the Charter Institute at Erskine. Prior to assuming the Superintendent role, he served as the Interim Director and worked with Erskine College to establish the Charter Institute in 2017. During Mr. Runyan’s tenure as the leader of the Charter Institute, the organization has grown from a new school district with no students to one of the largest districts in the entire State of South Carolina.
Mr. Runyan served a four-year term (2012) on the Columbia, South Carolina City Council as an elected representative to 135,000 constituents. In that role, Cameron was chairman of the Budget Committee with responsibility for the development and oversight of the capital city’s $300,000,000 combined annual budgets; recruited and secured authorization of the largest urban redevelopment project east of the Mississippi River; led the development and implementation of an economic recruitment strategy that netted over $1 Billion in new economic investments; and moved 92% of the city’s homeless population into paths out of poverty through a collaborative effort with nearly 100 churches and homeless service providers.
Prior to 2015, Cameron was also a licensed financial professional serving high-net-worth clients across the United States. In that capacity, he provided discretionary, tactical asset management and long-term financial planning strategies for individuals, families, churches, schools and other organizations.
Cameron has lectured extensively and appeared in local, national and international media, including interviews in The New York Times, PBS: Religion and Ethics and Al Jazeera International, discussing issues ranging from effective responses to poverty to the role that proper childhood education can play in the future prosperity of the West.
Cameron holds a Bachelor of Arts from Furman University (99) and a Masters from the University of South Carolina (01). Additionally, he earned advanced financial planning designations from the American College and the College for Financial Planning.
Cameron and his wife, Jenni, have four daughters and are members of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina.
Phone: (803) 849-2402
Vamshi Rudrapati (affectionately known as Mr. V) will be entering his ninth year in the Charter School World. Before joining the Charter Institute at Erskine, he worked at South Carolina Public Charter School District for five years where he managed Federal Programs. Mr. V was also heavily involved in overall district operations from state programs, Charter Applications, finance, and technology needs of the district. Mr. V also worked in a charter school where he managed curriculum, special education, PowerSchool, instructional technology and other leadership responsibilities. Before coming to the charter school world, Mr. V served as a special education coordinator in the Lee County School District. He is currently serving as a board member of the SC Association of Title I Administrators (SCATA).
Mr. V’s relentless quest to improve the quality of education for all students has always motivated his work. He has championed the improvement of educational outcomes for low-income students, students with disabilities, students facing homelessness, and English learners throughout his personal and professional career.
Mr. V holds Bachelors of Commerce and a Special Education degree. He also received his MBA while living in India.
Mr. V loves to cook, which he says is both a gift and a curse. He is well known for his creative short movies and his fabulous sense of humor which is a huge addition to the team.
Phone: (803) 849-2406
Rich Melzer is the Chief of School Improvement and Accountability at the Charter Institute at Erskine. He served as a teacher and administrator in Prince Georges County, Maryland and administrator in both Montgomery County, Maryland, and Rock Hill Schools, South Carolina. As an elementary school principal, his first school, Kenilworth Elementary became the highest performing school in Prince Georges County. Kenilworth was, named a Top 50 School in the Maryland, Virginia and the D.C Metropolitan Region. For the school’s success in improving academic achievement Mr. Melzer was honored as a Milken National Educator. While in Montgomery County, Chevy Chase Elementary was recognized as a top five high achievement school.
Upon accepting a principalship at Ebinport Elementary School, Mr. Melzer moved to Rock Hill Schools. After a year at Ebinport, he transitioned to the District Office as Executive Director of Elementary Education. Developing a standards-based report card, creating T3 (a behavior intervention program), training UBD, refining district-wide curriculum maps, supporting principals and providing Assistant Principal training were among his accomplishments. During his last 2 years in Rock Hill Schools, Mr. Melzer served as Executive Director of School Choice and Professional Learning. He assisted in developing the District’s school choice program and established school choice policies and procedures. He also took pride in training, monitoring, and supporting Professional Learning Communities throughout Rock Hill Schools.
Phone: (803) 849-2264
Christy Junkins holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Capella University, as well as a Master’s Degree in Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction from Walden University. Before pursuing a graduate degree, Mrs. Junkins obtained a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Elementary Education from Limestone College. Mrs. Junkins has taught Middle School Mathematics, Middle School Science, Middle School Social Studies, all subjects in 5th Grade, and Gifted & Talented. Throughout her teaching career, she has served as Lead Teacher and Department Chair. She served as an Elementary Principal and the Superintendent of one of the largest K-12 charter schools in the State of South Carolina. While as a teacher, Mrs. Junkins spent three years working with the S2tem Centers on Inquiring Minds: Reading to Learn and Innovate in Mathematics and Science Research Project. She has presented at several conferences including the SC Council of Mathematics Teachers and the IQMS Regional Conference. As an Elementary Principal and the Superintendent, Mrs. Junkins helped her school secure a multimillion-dollar bond. She maintained a multimillion-dollar budget, as well as wearing many different hats such as Textbook Coordinator, Testing Coordinator, Federal Programs Coordinator, etc. With her educational background and her experience, she strives to provide the Charter Institute at Erskine and its schools the best educational journey possible. Her goal is to be better today than yesterday by constantly improving her leadership and practices.
Phone: (803) 849-2465
Kusuma Buddhiraju is the Director of Data and Research at the Charter Institute at Erskine. She earlier worked as a Systems Engineer with Deloitte and as a Data Scientist with Verisk Analytics. Having a bachelor’s degree in Mechatronics (Mechanical Engineering), her keen interest for data and statistics propelled her to take up a Data Science certification course, which helped her bag her first job. She holds a Master’s degree in Business Analytics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York where she worked as a teaching assistant in the Mathematical Sciences Department. She also received gold medals for consecutive years during her bachelors for academic performance.
Her passion to utilize data science for social good gravitated her to The Institute. She worked on various data science related projects in her previous roles and at school, and she hopes to use machine learning, data visualization, and data modeling skills to strengthen educational outcomes in South Carolina.
Kusuma’s family resides in India and her hobbies include poetry, painting, and reading books.
Phone: (803) 849-2453
Sherri Herbst serves as the Director of State and Academic Programs for the Charter Institute at Erskine. Prior to joining Erskine, Dr. Herbst served as Interim Head of School, Curriculum and Instruction Specialist, and Principal of the Lower, Middle, and Upper Schools at Bridges Preparatory School in Beaufort, SC. Dr. Herbst has been a K-12 certified educator since 1989. She holds a Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of South Carolina, a Master of Education from Rivier University, a Master of Education in Educational Leadership from the University of South Carolina, and a Bachelor of Science in Spanish Education from Plymouth State University. She also studied at Dartmouth College and the Center for Cross Cultural Studies in Seville, Spain.
After graduating college, Sherri worked in human resources for five years at Malden Mills Industries where she also served the community by teaching English to English-language learners and by mentoring students through the Junior Achievement Program. She then taught high school Spanish and coached track at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, NH.
Upon moving to South Carolina in 2003, she taught middle school and high school in Lexington District One before accepting a position in 2009 teaching elementary Spanish and Latin at Hammond School, an independent K-12 school in Columbia, SC.
Sherri is passionate about school choice and is excited to support schools and students across South Carolina in her role with Erskine!
Phone: (803) 849-2365
Kristen joined the team in October 2019. She brings with her more than a decade of experience in charter school authorizing. Before joining the Institute, Kristen worked as the Chief of Charter Development & Accountability at the South Carolina Public Charter School District. Prior to this, Kristen held positions as the Deputy Director at the Governor John Engler Center for Charter Schools, a higher ed authorizer of more than 60 schools in Michigan; and before this, served as the Chief Authorizing Officer for the Colorado Charter School Institute, the statewide authorizer of more than 35 charter schools in Colorado. Her roles have encompassed the design and maintenance of the performance frameworks and accompanying evaluation tools, the leading of all charter development and renewal processes, completion of all data analysis and performance reporting, charter contracting and compliance monitoring, as well as oversight of state reporting and assessments, special education, federal and state programming, school nutrition, finances, and IT.
During her time in this field, she has led or joined the review of more than 650 charter applications for more than a dozen states throughout the country. She has also served as a lead reviewer and panel monitor for the US Department of Education Charter Schools Program Office for the past five years, with work that has spanned state-level review of charter sector performance, grant initiatives, and ESSA planning. Kristen earned her bachelor’s degree from Hillsdale College and earned a master’s degree from Loyola University-Chicago.
Kristen lives in Columbia with her husband, a 12-year high school teaching veteran, and her three young children, Annie, Benjamin, and Carly—who keep her hands and heart plenty full.
Phone: (803) 722-3841
Paula Gray is the Director of School and Board Relations for the Charter Institute at Erskine. Paula brings the most administrative experience in the state (37 years) for authorizing charter schools with her to the Charter Institute. Prior to joining the Charter Institute, Paula served as the Director of Human Resources for the SC Public Charter School District. Mrs. Gray also brings experience with federal programs, teacher certification, board meetings, teacher, student, and volunteer of the year programs, and Interim Superintendency. Paula has also worked with the South Carolina Department of Education in various offices, including Accreditation, Human Resources, Finance and Legislation, Liaison to the State Board of Education. Additionally, she served as Assistant to the Regional Manager of SC Vocational Rehabilitation’s Disability Determination Division and with the SC Association of School Administrators as a Membership Liaison.
Paula and her husband, Marvin, live in Hopkins, South Carolina.
“Paula is friendly, caring and customer-focused, yet driven to produce superior results. No matter the task Paula will excel.”
–Mark Bounds, Principal, East Point Academy
Phone: (803) 849-2460
Kirby Jerry serves as the Charter Authorization Coordinator at The Charter Institute at Erskine. Previously a Senior Human Resources Specialist for the Target Distribution Center, her professional background also encompasses small business management and pharmaceutical manufacturing quality control. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration Management of Human Resources from the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, and an Associate of Arts in Business from Midlands Technical College.
Phone: (803) 849-2328
Grace Rubenzer is the Institute Support Coordinator for the Charter Institute at Erskine. While she is now enrolled as a student at the University of South Carolina, Grace attended charter schools throughout elementary and middle school.
Prior to working for the Institute, Grace received her high school diploma from Boiling Springs Highschool and the Scholars Academy at USC Upstate, graduating at the top of her class. Today, she studies as a double major in Psychology and History at the University of South Carolina.
Phone: (803) 849-2464
Ashley Epperson serves as Communications Specialist for the Charter Institute at Erskine. A native of Blythewood, South Carolina, Ashley graduated as the Class of 2018 Valedictorian of Westwood High School. She began her career in journalism and communications at Westwood, serving as a senior editor for the Redhawk Times. Ashley also has a background in theatre and dance and has taught for several years at the South Carolina Music and Dance Academy. She can often be found on the Town Theatre stage in Columbia. She is a junior at the University of South Carolina, pursuing her passion for communications through studying mass communications and criminal justice.
Phone: (803) 995-0527
Jacob Carter serves as the Media Production Specialist for the Institute. He attended Lexington High School, with an interest in broadcast journalism as well as Digital Marketing. He graduated from the University of South Carolina with a Major in Media Arts and a Minor in Speech Communication. While in school, he started his own business creating photo and video content for commercial businesses, non-profits, and weddings. He’s co-produced high-quality videos for major clients such as Wal-Mart, Dartmouth Medical School, University of South Carolina, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Nephron Pharmaceuticals, and much more. He continues to serve as a consultant to productions across the Southeast as well as post-production on films in Los Angeles. Jacob and his wife Rachael also own a wedding and portrait photography/video company in Columbia, SC that’s been nominated for 2020’s Best of Columbia Photographer and Videographer.
Haley Perez serves as the Executive Director of Federal Programs for the Charter Institute at Erskine. A native of South Carolina, Haley began her career in education working as a certified classroom teacher in Richland County School District One. Throughout her teaching career, Haley served as a grade-level chairperson, curriculum lead teacher, Read to Succeed tutor, and a school Title I committee member. She has also served as an English language teacher in Italy. Haley earned a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of South Carolina and is a member of the CERRA Teacher Fellowship program. As the Executive Director of Federal Programs, Haley strives to provide a high-quality system of support to schools in order to promote educational excellence for all students through the utilization of federal funds. Out of the office, Haley enjoys reading, hiking, and traveling.
Phone: (803) 849-2461
Ashley Sturkie joined the charter institute at Erskine in July 2019. She previously worked as Fiscal Analyst III/Accountant for the South Carolina Department of Education. Previously, Ashley worked as Financial Coordinator and Data and Information Coordinator and Registrar supervisor at East Point Academy in West Columbia. Before arriving at East Point in 2014, Ashley served in management with a salon in Lexington. There, Ashley managed clients, finances, and inventory. Ashley holds an associate degree in office administration from Piedmont Technical College. She is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration at USC Aiken. Out of the office, Ashley enjoys photography. Ashley resides in Leesville, SC with her husband, Eric, and daughter, Keidlen.
Phone: (803) 995-0852
Sarah Shealy serves as School Compliance Coordinator at the Charter Institute at Erskine. She is no stranger to non-traditional education, choosing to be homeschooled before attending Coker University, where she was a World Scholar and traveled abroad. Sarah joins the Institute from Midlands STEM Charter School, where she served as Executive Assistant to the Executive Director/Principal, and HR Coordinator. Her background includes Audio Visual Technology, Conference and Event Management, and Marketing.
Phone: (803) 830-0718
Elizabeth Riberdy serves as the Institute Support Coordinator for the Charter Institute at Erskine. Elizabeth is from Blythewood, where she attended Westwood High School and graduated second in her class. This was where she discovered her passion for education as a Teacher Cadet. Currently, Elizabeth is a junior at the University of South Carolina, where she is majoring in Early Childhood Education and plans to get her master’s in Special Education. She is also a Teaching Fellow and a Palmetto Fellow’s recipient.
Phone: (803) 849-2464
Ciera Bing serves schools as the Director of School Federal Programs Finance. Ciera previously worked in Richland School District Two, where she served as an accountant. Prior to Richland 2, Mrs. Bing also worked with South Carolina Public Charter School District for four years as the Assistant Director of Finance. Mrs. Bing implemented several policies and procedures such as travel, procurement, and fixed assets in her previous roles, and has worked with local, state, and federal grants that include Title I, McKinney Vento, 21st Century, SSIP, EEDA, and the many more.
Mrs. Bing holds a Bachelor’s in Accounting from the University of South Carolina – Aiken, a Masters in Business Administration, and a Masters in Accounting from Gardner-Webb University. She is also a member of the South Carolina Association of School Business Officials, in which she became a Certified School Business Official.
“Ciera is a pleasure to work with. She is dependable, motivated and brings joy to the workplace.”
–Penny Dininny, Richland School District Two
Phone: (803) 429-2329
John Li serves as the Director of Finance for the Charter Institute at Erskine. Mr. Li previously worked at East Point Academy, where he served as the school’s Financial Coordinator. Mr. Li also served as the Board Treasurer for East Link Academy and was a member of ELA’s Planning Committee.
As East Point Academy’s Financial Coordinator, Mr. John Li was responsible for developing, implementing, and overseeing East Point’s annual budget and financial controls. His work in the Finance Office contributed to consistently clean annual audits for the school. Besides his role as the Financial Coordinator, Mr. Li also played an important role in developing the school’s Extended Care and Summer Programs. Mr. Li was awarded the Next Generation of Afterschool Leaders Award by the National Afterschool Association in 2016. Mr. Li serves as an archery instructor with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources where he introduces and teaches archery to South Carolina youth. He is a certified instructor with the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) and with the USA Archery program. Mr. Li resides in Lexington, South Carolina.
“Mr. Li exudes competency, intelligence, and moral character far beyond his years. His consistent level of financial understanding, institutional knowledge, and measured intelligent contributions to all meetings make him an impressive team member and belies his youthfulness. Mr. Li will accomplish his goals because of his intellect, compassion, sincerity, and drive. His combination of skills, drive, determination, and ethical leadership are rare in seasoned executives. To blend together in harmony at a young age is truly unique.”
– Alan Buck, Board Treasurer, East Point Academy
Phone: (803) 849-2459
Sonja Bradford is the Director of Human Resources and Beneifts as well as the Title IX Coordinator for Charter Institute at Erskine. She comes to the Institute with over twenty-five years of Business and Human Resources experience and holds two senior level human resources certifications. Prior to joining the Charter Institute, Sonja was the Owner of Bradford HR Consulting, LLC for ten years. In this role, she provided consulting, investigation, training, organization development, policy formation, and statistical reporting to federal contractors, government organizations, education institutions, and professional associations.
Prior to owning a company, Sonja served in management, business partner, and specialist roles where she improved operational efficiencies, and positively impacts organizational development through the creation of business and human resources strategies that improve employee/employer relationships. As a compliance and organizational development subject matter expert, she helps minimize risk exposure by putting long-term HR practices and policies in place that align with corporate strategies and goals.
When not working, Sonja spends time quality time with her family and volunteers with Junior Achievement where she teaches financial literacy. She served on her local school district’s School Improvement Council, served as a school mentor, homeroom parent, bible study teacher, and Operations Blessings volunteer.
Sonja is a current member of the National Society for Human Resources Management, Columbia Society for Human Resources Management and the South Carolina Industry Liaison Group where she served in several board positions to include Past President.
Sonja holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from the University of South Carolina and a Master of Science degree in Human Resources Development from Villanova University.
Sonja is happily married to Thomas M. Bradford, Jr, and absolutely adores her three daughters and grandson.
Phone: (803) 429-2355
Celina Patton is the Chief of Student Services for the Charter Institute at Erskine. Celina began her career as a classroom teacher – where she was an acclaimed teacher of the year. She was later promoted to literacy coach and ultimately into the role of a Special Education Director.
Prior to joining the Charter Institute, Mrs. Patton previously served as the Director of Special Services for High Point Academy – the largest brick and mortar charter school at the time in the state of South Carolina. In this capacity, Celina developed and deployed an innovative and successful program model for students with disabilities. Additionally, Mrs. Patton designed and implemented a related model for High Point Academy in Fort Worth, TX. Celina has also served in many other capacities including as a homebound and an RTI coordinator.
In 2019, Celina was awarded for her Outstanding Contributions in Education by the South Carolina Association of School Psychologists (SCASP).
Celina holds a Bachelors of Arts in Education in Early Childhood from the University of South Carolina and a Masters of Education in Special Education from Converse College.
Celina and her husband, Shane, have 5 children and live in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Phone: (803) 849-2458
Laura Merrick serves as the Director of School Special Education for the Charter Institute at Erskine. Previously, Mrs. Merrick served as a School Psychologist for over 10 years in Beaufort County School District before shifting into the role of Special Education Coordinator at Bridges Preparatory School. She has since worked with a number of charter schools as a School Psychologist and Consultant assisting with special education compliance, RTI, behavior intervention, and parenting programs.
Laura holds a Bachelors in Secondary Education from Clemson University, a Masters in Psychology, a Masters in School Administration, and an Educational Specialist in School Psychology from The Citadel. Additionally, she is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and Licensed Psycho-Educational Specialist.
Laura lives in Beaufort, SC with her husband and three daughters.
Phone: (803) 849-2462
Kathy Griffin serves as Director of School Special Education for the Charter Institute at Erskine. She comes to the Institute with extensive experience in the field of education. She has worked and advocated for students as a classroom special education teacher, Special Education Transition Coordinator, IDEA Compliance Monitor, and Director of Special Education, as well as a Charter School leader where she worked to develop a school committed to cultivating 21st century learners through rigorous academics, diverse experiences, and shared leadership with a focus of improved student outcomes. She has worked for change throughout educational systems for improved outcomes and the inclusion of students with disabilities through innovative program development, systems of continuous improvements, and shared leadership. She has honed her talents in both small and large school districts, SC Department of Juvenile Justice, the SC Department of Education as well as through charter school experience. Kathy Griffin hold a bachelor’s from East Carolina University, M.A.T in Teaching Students with Disabilities from the University of South Carolina, and Master of Science in Education in Leadership in Educational Administration from Capella University. She resides in Aiken, SC with her husband Neel and 2 daughters as well as her dog and cat rescues.
Phone: (803) 830-0719
Sophie Ellis serves as Coordinator of Psychological Services and MTSS for the Charter Institute at Erskine. Ms. Ellis has served as a school psychologist with public and charter schools across the state for the last 9 years. Ms. Ellis has also worked in a private practice in North Charleston as a Licensed Psycho-Educational Specialist conducting clinical evaluations for children and adolescents. Prior, Ms. Ellis was a high school English and French teacher in North Carolina and South Carolina. Ms. Ellis holds a Bachelors in English and French Education and a Masters in Technical and Professional Communication from East Carolina University and a Masters in Psychology and an Educational Specialist in School Psychology from the Citadel. Ms. Ellis resides in Hanahan, South Carolina with her two children.
Phone: (843) 813-3566