The National Charter Schools Institute’s mission is to transform public education and power performance, productivity and accountability breakthroughs that help people win for kids. Our team is made up of passionate professionals who are committed to excellence and known for their integrity. We envision a day when all students will have access to a diverse marketplace of exceptional schools where they can learn, grow and prepare for success in college, work and life.

The Institute is governed by a nine member board of directors and is led by its President & CEO, James N. Goenner, Ph.D. Jim is highly respected in the education reform community and was inducted into the National Charter Schools Hall of Fame in 2010. Under his leadership, the Institute is focused on winning hearts and minds, influencing policy and practice and delivering great programs, tools and services designed to power breakthrough, rather than incremental improvements.

We see the charter schools movement as a way to expand choice and competition and drive the transformation of public education into a more market-based system of schools. We believe this emerging educational marketplace needs transparent and trustworthy academic, fiscal and operational performance measures that parents can use to make informed decisions, and the public can use to ensure accountability.

The Institute was founded in 1995 as the Michigan Resource Center for Charter Schools by former Michigan Governor John Engler and Central Michigan University. Its original mission was to support and guide the implementation of Michigan’s newly adopted charter schools law. Based on its impact and the need for its services nationally, the United States Congress provided $1 million in 2001 for the Institute to legally separate from the University and expand its scope of services. The Institute is a Michigan non-profit corporation with federally recognized 501(c)(3) status.

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Our Team


Dr. James N. Goenner, President and CEO

Leading the way toward a day when all students have access to a diverse array of exceptional schools where they can learn, grow and prepare for success, Jim Goenner serves as President and CEO of the National Charter Schools Institute. Jim joined the charter schools movement in 1995, and has played a prominent role in developing and strengthening the performance of the charter schools sector in Michigan and across the nation ever since. In 2010, Jim’s pioneering efforts and commitment to excellence earned him an induction into the National Charter Schools Hall of Fame. Prior to joining the Institute, Jim served as the Executive Director of The Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University, where he led the first and largest university authorizer of charter public schools in the nation. Under Jim’s leadership, CMU became known as the “gold standard” for charter school authorizing. Jim currently serves on the board of directors of the Charter Schools Development Corporation. He helped found the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and chaired its board of directors (2007-2010). He also helped found and chaired the board of directors of the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers (2002-2010), and served as the first President of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (1996-1998). Jim earned his Doctorate in Educational Administration from Michigan State University, Master of Arts from Central Michigan University and Bachelor of Business Administration from Grand Valley State University. Jim and his wife, Theresa, have seven children.


Michelle Melvin

Joining the team in the fall of 2015, Michelle Melvin is charged with handling the day-to-day responsibility of ensuring service excellence in the areas of board policies and administrative guidelines. Michelle joins us with a background in legal studies, having recently worked in the legal arena as a manager for Schneiderman and Sherman, P.C., and Trott and Trott, P.C., prior to that. Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies in 2002, from Grand Valley State University.


Riley J. Justis, Partner

Driven by a passionate belief that all children deserve a quality education, Riley Justis helps lead the National Charter Schools Institute’s initiatives focused on helping teams achieve breakthrough performance. Having served as Superintendent of the Beaver Island Community School District, where he was dedicated to the core mission of ensuring students were prepared for success in college, work and life, Riley lead a team of professionals focused on strengthening K-12 instruction. Before assuming the role of superintendent, Riley’s strong belief that all students deserve quality options lead him to become the Director of Curriculum and Technology for Schools for the Future, where he had the opportunity firsthand to ensure that at-risk youth — already grade levels behind — had access to excellence in education. Early on the journey, Riley dedicated nearly five years to inspiring students and engaging teachers at the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, where he made a difference in the lives of children day-in day-out, while serving as a classroom teacher, curriculum specialist and teaching advisor. Riley earned his Master of Arts in Educational Leadership (charter school emphasis) in 2011, and his Bachelor of Science in Education in 2007, both from Central Michigan University.


Don Cooper, Partner

Don Cooper joined the team at the National Charter Schools Institute in August, 2015.

He brings with him more than a decade of experience working in education policy, with a strong background in policies related to charter schools. Don has served as an education policy advisor in the Michigan House of Representatives; as Director of Public Policy for The Governor John Engler Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University; and, most recently, he lead the government relations team for one of the nation’s largest charter school operators, National Heritage Academies.

During that time he has been involved in a wide range of education policies, including multiple legislative victories to expand the charter sector in several states. This includes being part successful efforts to establish a “smart cap” on charters in Michigan and the eventual removal of that cap through subsequent legislation; the elimination of the charter cap in North Carolina and the subsequent enactment of laws intended to facilitate charter growth; and legislation to empower five new entities in Wisconsin with the ability to authorize charter schools.

A long-time advocate for choice, change and quality educational options, Don remains a dedicated member of the board of directors for the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (2012-Present) and the Michigan Political History Society (2008-Present). He holds a Master of Public Administration from Central Michigan University and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Hillsdale College.


Ray P. O’Laughlin, Partner

Fueled by a belief that successful organizations must invest in their people and offer excellence in client service, Ray leads our initiatives focused on client care, strategy and performance. Prior to joining the education sector in 2010, Ray served as an executive with a global, leading edge company for much of his career. Launching his career with McDonald’s Corporation in 1980, Ray quickly assumed leadership roles and responsibilities. As a results driven leader, Ray swiftly retooled low performing businesses and turned them into success stories, ramping up their market share and profitability through a team approach and shared vision. Having gained extensive knowledge and management experience, Ray was tapped to assume a leadership role in operations. His early commitment to client service, operations excellence, systems and people development at local, state and national levels, largely contributed to his success. Ray’s passion for people development is evident in his commitment to community and personal desire to positively impact the lives of children and young adults. His rich history of volunteering with organizations such as Junior Achievement, Ronald McDonald’s Children Charities, the Michigan Department of Corrections and the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center speaks volumes to his dedication to making a difference in the lives of those around him, and winning for kids.


Jill K. Urban, Chief of Staff

A faithful steward to the mission of transforming education, Jill leads our Human Resources initiatives focused on growing capacity and building a team composed of passionate professionals, known for their integrity and desire to win for kids. Positioning the team for success, Jill is responsible for providing leadership in serving as a liaison to staff and external publics and carrying out a wide range of day-to-day functions on behalf of Dr. Goenner, President and CEO of the Institute. Before joining the Institute, Jill worked in the authorizing industry for 14 years, where she oversaw the Human Resource initiatives for The Governor John Engler Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University, managed administrative functions for the Office of the Executive Director, and previously coordinated charter contract development initiatives. Jill earned her Master of Arts in Educational Administration from Central Michigan University and Bachelor of Arts from Michigan State University.


Jacklyn S. Mullikin

Having an extensive background in the financial and administrative sectors of business, Jackie brings a wealth of knowledge to our fiscal and administrative operations. She is responsible for managing the business functions for the organization and oversees the budgeting, internal controls, contracting and financial operations for the Institute. Prior to joining the Institute, Jackie launched her career in the hospitality industry, where she dedicated 22 years of service to LaBelle Management. Jackie earned her Associates Degree in Business Administration from Mid-Michigan Community College.


Shelly Veenstra

Dedicated to ensuring the Institute’s internal controls are sound and carried out with integrity, Shelly coordinates a variety of fiscal and administrative functions. Having extensive experience in various accounting roles in the business industry, Shelly brings an abundance of invaluable knowledge to our operations. She is responsible for coordinating numerous processes for the office, ranging from payroll to new hire processing to account reconciliation. Prior to joining the Institute, Shelly launched her career in the business sector, where she dedicated 25 years of service.