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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 151 years of administration experience in the field of education, including 94 years of experience specifically in charter schools. The Institute’s staff also has nearly 54 years of direct experience in the classroom.
Cameron Runyan is the Chief Executive Officer for the Charter Institute at Erskine. Prior to assuming the Chief Executive role, he served as the Interim Director and worked with Erskine College to establish the Charter Institute. 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.
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
Paula Gray is the Director of Human Resources for the Charter Institute at Erskine. Paula brings the most administrative experience in the state (35 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 Associatio 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
Sonja Bradford is the Director of Operations 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.
Grace Rubenzer is the Executive Assistant 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.
Derek Phillips serves as Director of School Communications for the Charter Institute at Erskine. He comes to the Institute after working as a Public Information Specialist with Lexington-Richland School District Five. Derek began his career working in local television as a Sports Anchor and Reporter at WACH Fox in Columbia. Through his five years in the media, Derek covered some of the biggest stories in the southeast including South Carolina women’s basketball team in the 2015 NCAA Tournament Final Four, Daytona 500, PGA Championship in addition to multiple South Carolina and Clemson football bowl games. He was also recognized for his outstanding reporting winning the United States Tennis Association’s Media Award for South Carolina in 2015. In 2016, Derek joined School District Five where he spent two years creating media releases, pitching story ideas to local media and filming and editing feature videos for the district. He also handled the district’s Freedom of Information Act requests and covered board meetings. To further spread news throughout the district, Derek and the communications office created a magazine featuring the district’s top stories that were delivered to local retirement communities. In addition to the magazines, each week he created an e-newsletter that was sent to local media outlets, board members and all District Five schools. Derek was also awarded with School District Five Superintendent Dr. Stephen Hefner’s coveted gold medallion for extraordinary service to the district. Derek has a Bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism from the University of South Carolina. When not working, Derek enjoys spending time with his wife, Kelly and their son, Andrew.
“Derek brings a wealth of knowledge, determination and customer focus to the Charter Institute at Erskine. He has a can-do, friendly attitude and he always delivers high quality results.” –Mark Bounds, Principal, East Point Academy
Ashley Epperson serves as Communications Specialistfor 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 background in theatre and dance, and has taught for three years at the South Carolina Music and Dance Academy. She can often be found on the Town Theatre stage in Columbia. She is a sophomore at the University of South Carolina, pursuing her passion for communications through studying broadcast journalism and criminal justice. She is also a member of Student Gamecock.
Rich Melzer is Director of 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.
Kusuma Buddhiraju is the Data Analyst 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 land 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.
Kristen Stolpa serves as Director of New School Development for the Charter Institute at Erskine. 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 for charter schools across South Carolina. 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 four 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 10-year high school teaching veteran, and her three young children, Annie, Benjamin, and Carly—who keep her hands and heart plenty full.
John Li serves as the Director of Finance for the Charter Institute at Erskine. Mr. Li previously worked at East Point Academy charter school, 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 on ELA’s Planning Committee. As East Point’s Financial Coordinator, Mr. 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 of the school. Beside 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 with 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 to 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 West Columbia, 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
Haley Perez serves as the Director of Federal Programs for the Charter Institute at Erskine. Haley is a certified South Carolina educator and comes to the Institute after working as a classroom teacher in Richland County School District One. Throughout her teaching career, Haley served as grade-level chairperson, curriculum lead teacher, Read to Succeed tutor, and a school-level Title I committee member. Previously, Haley worked in Federal Programs at the South Carolina Public Charter School District assisting with audits and compliance. She has also served as an English-as-a-Foreign Language teacher in Europe. Haley earned a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of South Carolina and is a member of the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement (CERRA) Teacher Fellowship program. She holds a Registered Behavior Technician certification, which she completed at the Autism Academy of South Carolina. As the Director of Federal Programs, Haley strives to provide a high-quality system of support to schools in order to promote educational excellence through the procurement, monitoring, and utilization of federal funds. Out of the office, Haley enjoys volunteering and traveling. She resides in Columbia, South Carolina.
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
Ashley Sturkie joined the Charter Institute at Erskine as Fiscal Coordinator in July 2019. She previously worked as 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 Associates degree in office administration from Piedmont Technical College. She is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in business administration at USC Aiken.
Kirby Jerry serves as the School Compliance 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.
Christy Junkins joined the Charter Institute at Erskine as Executive Director in June 2019. Prior to joining the Institute, Junkins served as Elementary Principal and Superintendent of High Point Academy in Spartanburg, one of the largest K-12 charter schools in South Carolina. During her tenure with High Point, Junkins helped the school secure a multi-million dollar bond, while also maintaining a multi-million dollar budget. She also wore several other hats at High Point including Textbook Coordinator, Testing Coordinator, Federal Programs Coordinator, among others. Junkins began her education career as a teacher at the middle school level. She taught math, science, social studies, and gifted and talented. She also taught all subjects at the fifth grade level. Throughout her teaching career, Junkins served as Lead Teacher and Department Chair. 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. With her educational background and 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.
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 new role with Erskine!
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 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 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.
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.
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 nine 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, 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.