Chris Minnich - Chief Executive Officer
Chris Minnich is the Chief Executive Officer of NWEA. Before joining NWEA in January 2018, Chris held several key leadership roles in the education industry.
Most recently, Chris successfully served as the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). He became executive director in 2012 and led the organization in a direction to ensure all students in the public education system – regardless of background – graduated prepared for college, careers, and life. A critical part of his role was working with states to upgrade their standards and assessments, transform educator preparation programs, design new approaches to teaching and learning, and implement and sustain promising reforms across the country. He directed the organization during its involvement in the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015.
From 2005-2008, Chris held multiple positions at Harcourt, all of which focused on the advancement and improvement of assessments. At Harcourt, he focused on helping teachers use assessment data and become assessment literate, in addition to assisting states as they rolled out their online assessment products to put data in the hands of teachers faster.
Before joining Harcourt, he served as the Director of Test Design and Implementation at the Oregon Department of Education from 2003-2005. While there, he effectively led the statewide implementation of Oregon’s online assessment.
Chris holds a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from the University of Washington, Seattle, as well as a master’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Maryland, College Park.
Outside of work, Chris enjoys spending time with his wife and his young children. He believes one of life’s greatest rewards is helping others, which includes mentoring students. Chris has mentored a student in Washington, DC for the past seven years, helping him become the first person in his family to earn a college degree.
Melissa Johnston - Chief Strategy Officer
Melissa Johnston is the Chief Strategy Officer of NWEA. Before joining NWEA in April 2018, Melissa held several key leadership roles in education associations and non-profits.
Most recently, Melissa served as Deputy Executive Director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) overseeing strategy development, strategic plan implementation, partnerships, and core operations. Melissa initially joined CCSSO in 2003 focused on helping chiefs develop and implement policies and programs that would support education leaders. She continued to grow at the organization becoming the Director of Strategy and Implementation, Chief Operating Officer, and then Deputy Executive Director. Developing and monitoring its strategy and operations contributed to CCSSO being
recognized as one of the Best Non-Profits to Work for in 2016, 2017, and 2018 by the NonProfit Times. A notable part of her role was ensuring CCSSO not only had a strategic plan—focused on ensuring all students graduate prepared for college, careers, and life—but had a plan that drove staff work every day.
Prior to serving 15 years at CCSSO, Melissa held various programmatic roles at the Public Education Network, the National Association of School Psychologists, and Reading is Fundamental. Each of these roles helped refine her strategy development and execution skills to create impactful work to benefit children.
Melissa has a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies and Black World Studies from Miami University, and a Masters in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago, with a concentration in policy analysis and nonprofit management.
Geri Cohen - Sr. Vice President of Corporate Services and Chief Financial Officer
Geri Cohen joined us in 2005 and brings our organization over 30 years of diversified experience in the financial, software, and online services industries. NWEA benefits from her strong emphasis in business line management, technology-based product development, and organizational turnarounds—a unique combination of skills and insights acquired from working in both Fortune 500 companies and successful start-ups.
Prior to NWEA, Geri progressed through two turbulent decades in the financial services industry, helping major banks navigate through rapid deregulation, massive shifts in the economic environment, and emerging technologies with innovative and profitable services. She started in the advanced technology group with First Chicago and ultimately served as Vice President & Manager of Card Products at US Bank and Vice President & Manager of Consumer Loan Products at Wells Fargo. From there, Geri launched a new career in Portland’s nascent software industry, most recently serving as Director of Solutions Engineering at Unicru (now Kronos) delivering psychometrically validated workforce assessments and analytics.
Geri received her M.B.A. Finance and B.A. in Psychology from the University of Chicago.
For the last 20 years, Geri has been a supporter of a wide range of service dog foundations, including Project POOCH, which provides opportunities for youth in corrections to develop the skills they will need to become responsible, productive members of the community by caring for and training shelter dogs for adoption.
Toni Jaffe - Sr. Vice President of Human Resources and Organizational Development
Toni Jaffe oversees our Human Resources functions, including organizational development, talent management, and community engagement. Toni leads NWEA through growth and change by providing clear direction based on culture, philosophy, and core values. Building upon her thirty year history of establishing solid Human Resources foundations, she helps NWEA focus on its infrastructure and systems for optimal organizational performance and excellence.
Prior to joining NWEA in 2007, Toni was Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Knowledge Learning Corporation, the largest for-profit educational company in the U.S. She also served as Vice President of Team Resources at Banfield, The Pet Hospital, the world’s largest and fastest growing veterinary practice, located in over forty states and two countries. Additionally, Toni served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Metropolitan Group, a full-service communications firm; as Chief Executive Officer of MedPartners, a large medical practice; and as Vice President of Human Resources at Brim, a national healthcare company.
Toni received a Master of Business degree from Marylhurst University, and a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from Oregon State University.
Toni was honored in 2012 with the Human Resources Professional of the Year award from the Portland Human Resources Management Association (PHRMA). Passionate about community engagement, Toni’s Board of Directors service history includes the American Red Cross, Human Rights Campaign, Basic Rights Oregon, and, most recently, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America—facilitating a strong partnership aligned with the NWEA mission, Partnering to help all kids learn®.
Jan LaRocca - Sr. Vice President of Partner Services
Jan LaRocca joined NWEA in January 2007. She leads our integrated Partner Services teams, providing Implementation Services, Technical and Product Support, Professional Development Operations and Service Delivery, Program Management, and Technical Consulting.
Jan brings to our organization over 30 years of diversified experience in the finance, software, and service industries. NWEA benefits from her strong customer service and operations management experience earned in the aerospace, banking, petroleum, and software industries with such companies as Boeing, Rocket Research Corporation, Conoco, CFI ProServices/Harland FS, and Centrisoft Corporation. Jan has developed a diverse set of skills as a result of working in start-ups, mid-sized organizations, and Fortune 500 companies.
Jan received her B.A. in Information Systems and Quantitative Analysis with honors from Portland State University.
Jan has a heart for service and has helped foster a culture of empowerment and outreach to partners to make their lives easier so they can focus their energies on helping children learn and grow. She devotes her spare time to a number of organizations, including:
- Volunteer and former state board member of The Twilight Brigade—one of the largest end-of-life care communities operating within VA hospitals and hospices across America
- Member of Women’s Foundation of Oregon and P.E.O. International—organizations helping women pursue higher education and grow their lives in a positive direction
- Supporter of Foundations First, an organization building schools and providing education in rural villages around the world
- Children’s Miracle Network volunteer—supporting fund raising for children in Oregon and Western Washington
- PSU Alumni Association—curriculum development advisory team for School of Business
- SHS Alumni Scholarship Fund supporter and selection committee member
- Supporter and volunteer for Unicef
- Volunteer for Oregon Food Bank
Brent Lieberman - Executive Vice President Partner Accounts
As Executive Vice President of Partner Accounts, Brent leads the Sales and Account Management teams responsible for both acquiring and successfully managing accounts for our partners. Brent’s teams focus on providing partners the solutions they need to ensure that students and teachers succeed in achieving growth for every student.
Brent’s career, prior to joining NWEA, spanned from the classroom to the boardroom. Brent began his career as a 3rd and 4th grade elementary school teacher. Since moving to the high-tech world and acquiring an MBA, he has amassed over 25 years of diversified experience in sales, account management, and delivery of technical business solutions for the public and private sectors. He is experienced in complex consultative and solution sales, resulting in multi-million dollar software and services deals. His extensive experience in negotiating successful business transactions and contracts has served him well at a number of organizations over the past decades, including U.S. Bancorp, Crown Zellerbach, James River, Claremont Technology Group, Covansys, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), Saber Government Solutions, Electronic Data Services (EDS), and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Services.
Brent holds a BS in Elementary Education from Portland State University and an MBA in Business Administration from the University of Portland.
Brent’s volunteer experience has included serving on the board of the Software Association of Oregon, as well as on the development board for a community-based medical program dedicated to the treatment and prevention of child abuse.
Dr. Fred McDaniel - Sr. Vice President, Product Management & Publishing
As the Sr. Vice President for Product Management and Publishing, Fred McDaniel leads the lifecycle implementation, strategic direction, and content development for products and services at NWEA.
Fred has worked in the education and educational assessment arena for many years, beginning his career in Virginia as a boarding school counselor for ED and LD students. He also worked as a teaching parent in residential facilities in North Carolina for children and adolescents in trouble with the law. It was during this time that he became interested in educational assessment and research while trying to advocate for the students he served. Fred has managed accountability and assessment systems as well as served as the Chief Planning Officer for a large public school system in South Carolina. Fred has previously served as the Director of Test Development and the Vice President of Operations for NWEA.
Fred received his undergraduate degree from the University of Montana’s Davidson Honors College and holds a Masters degree in Educational Research and Measurement and a Ph.D in Educational Psychology and Research from the University of South Carolina.
Fred volunteers his time with a number of organizations:
- Co-founding board member of the Friends of Epworth, a private, not-for-profit organization devoted to raising funds in support of The Epworth Children’s Home in Columbia, South Carolina
- Past member of the Richland Two Education Foundation, an organization dedicated to raising funds to support educational initiatives for Richland School District Two
- 2011 Leadership Columbia participant
- Volunteer coach for youth football and soccer programs
Jason Mendenhall - Chief Product Officer and Executive Vice President of Research
As the Chief Product Officer and Executive Vice President of Research at NWEA, Jason Mendenhall oversees Product Management, which is responsible for evaluating competitive solutions, proposing responses to confirmed opportunities, and translating market requirements into actionable plans; Program Management, which manages the delivery of complex, large-scale, solutions against contract and business expectations; and Academic Research activities that support product quality, address partner research needs, propose innovative learning solutions, as well as conducting original research to strengthen teaching and learning.
Jason has worked in the education industry for years. He first joined NWEA in 2003 with eight years of experience as a secondary and post-secondary educator. He served in a number of capacities over eleven years at NWEA, including Vice President of Publishing and Test Development, Senior Director of Strategic Implementation, Director of Alternative Markets and Supplemental Service Programs, and Director of Product Strategy. After 11 years at NWEA, he joined Rubicon International as a partner, and later founded Argo Advisors, an education consulting firm focused on helping education technology organizations and K-12 institutions design student-centered learning systems. In 2016 Jason returned to NWEA as the Sr. Vice President of Strategic Solutions and now serves as the organization’s Chief Product Officer and Executive Vice President of Research.
Jason has a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and Literature and a Master of Arts in Teaching, both from Pacific University where he currently serves on the advisory council for the College of Education.
In his spare time, Jason enjoys volunteering and coaching at local schools, playing golf and poker, and raising his two children with his wife Kayleen.
Katie Topping - Executive Vice President of Communications
Katie Topping’s career encompasses both education and technology marketing. She leads the Marketing, Public Relations, Advocacy and Internal Communications teams in championing the NWEA mission—Partnering to help all kids learn®—to audiences around the world.
Katie’s marketing career spans twenty years in the technology industry. At the international public relations firm Text 100, she led Strategic Communications for blue-chip clients such as Microsoft, Intel, and Orange. She helped to oversee the expansion of the company from fifty employees to over 300. As Executive Vice President at the US agency Waggener Edstrom, Katie led Asian expansion, managed business development and marketing, and played a key role on the Microsoft Leadership team.
Prior to joining NWEA, Katie taught third, fourth, and fifth grade at Mill Park Elementary in Portland, OR, where she also developed partnerships and programs to enrich students and engage parents.
Katie holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Oregon and an MA in teaching from Willamette University.
Katie has served on the Board of Music and Arts Partners for the West Linn Wilsonville School District, where she was responsible for fund raising. She is currently a volunteer with Housecall Providers, where she provides companionship to elderly shut-ins.
Dr. Raymond Yeagley - Sr. Vice President of Research and Chief Academic Officer
Raymond leads our research division in continually delving into the cutting-edge explorations that will promote learning for all students.
Prior to joining us in 2005, Raymond enjoyed a twenty-nine year career as a teacher, principal, and superintendent of schools—and NWEA benefits from his range of expertise. His tenure included seven years as superintendent of Alexander Local School District in Ohio and seventeen years as superintendent in Rochester, New Hampshire. During this service, he gained a national reputation for his understanding and effective use of data to improve instruction and increase student learning. He is a widely published author, respected presenter, and has been privileged to actively participate in and lead several professional organizations, including a term as chair of the National Forum on Education Statistics.
Raymond received his Bachelors in Music Education at the University of Utah in 1972, earned a Masters in Secondary Education in 1979, and received an Ed.D. in School Administration in 1981. Both graduate degrees were earned at Indiana University in Bloomington.
Over the past twenty-five years, Raymond’s volunteer work has supported the Boy Scouts of America, the Lion’s Club, and the Rotary Club.