Leadership Team

The StudentsFirst Leadership Team is responsible for guiding the organization toward its goal of ensuring that all students have access to great teachers and great schools.  Drawing from experience in education, politics, and organizational management, they help build and execute the programmatic and operational functions of this mission.

Jim Blew, President

Jim has nearly 20 years of experience in education reform. For the past decade, he has served as advisor to the Walton family, which has invested more than a billion dollars in initiatives to expand high-quality school options for all children and build an advocacy infrastructure for education reform. From 2000 to 2005, Jim directed various campaigns for the Alliance for School Choice and its predecessor, the American Education Reform Council. Prior to committing himself full-time to education reform, Jim worked at political and marketing communications firms in New York and California. Jim holds a BA from Occidental College and an MBA from Yale University.

Michelle Rhee, Founder

Michelle began her career as a Teach for America corps member in Baltimore. Through her own trial and error in the classroom, she gained a tremendous respect for the hard work that teachers do every day. In 1997, Michelle founded and led The New Teacher Project, which recruits and trains teachers to work in urban schools. More recently, from 2007 to 2010, Michelle served as chancellor of District of Columbia Public Schools. Under her stewardship, D.C. schools experienced increases in student achievement, a rise in graduation rates, and an upswing— for the first time in decades--in enrollment. Michelle earned her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a master’s in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Kellen Arno, VP of Membership

Kellen directs the organization’s membership strategy. Kellen has spent the last ten years helping political groups, candidates, non-profits, and businesses build campaigns and citizen-led movements to bring about meaningful change. Most recently, he served as the National Field Director for Arno Political Consultants, where he specialized in managing ballot initiative drives, citizen engagement campaigns, and GOTV and general canvassing operations for a variety of clients. Kellen served as the National Field Director for Americans Elect. At Americans Elect, Kellen utilized a combination of traditional organizing methods and digital tools to build a team of several thousand volunteers across the country, while assisting in the recruitment of hundreds of thousands of site members. Kellen earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Davis.

Rob Calentine, Director of Development

Rob Calentine leads the organization’s Development team including grants, individual gifts and membership programs. He also assists the state offices in creating sustainable fundraising streams from regional stakeholders. Prior to joining StudentsFirst, Rob ran a successful fundraising firm, 6 Group, in New York for 12 years consulting for dozens of high profile politicians. From 2007-2009 he served as Executive Director of the New York Senate Democratic Campaign Committee where he led the effort to capture the Democratic Majority for the first and now only time in over 50 years. Rob has a BFA from California Institute of the Arts where he also completed the MFA program in Critical Writing.

Angelia Dickens, General Counsel

Angelia brings a unique set of experiences to her StudentsFirst legal work. Prior to coming to StudentsFirst, she worked in the in-house counsel’s office for the American Civil Liberties Union and practiced corporate law for a large New York City law firm. She also teaches Non-Profit Organizations at Fordham Law School and is a member of the Government Relations Committee of the Non-Profit Coordinating Committee of New York. Angelia received her law degree from Columbia Law School and her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University.

Tim Melton, VP of State Affairs

Tim is a former three-term Democratic state representative in the Michigan legislature. During his time there, Tim served in leadership roles, including Assistant Majority Floor Leader, Chair of the Caucus Campaign, and Chair of the House Education Committee. As Chair of the House Education Committee, Tim successfully pushed through many bi-partisan educational reforms that included merit pay, take over of failing schools, smart cap charter school legislation, and creating effective principal/teacher evaluations using student data. He’s brought his commitment to progressive reform and skills in forging coalitions for change to lead the State Affairs team at StudentsFirst. Working with our members, his team has helped change over 130 policies in 18 states affecting 23 million children. Tim earned his bachelor’s degree from Oakland University.

John Pallasch, Director of Human Resources

John has more than 13 years of experience contributing to the operational efficiency of large, complex organizations across diverse fields, including education reform.  Since joining StudentsFirst in 2012, John has served in two capacities.  First, he was tasked with leading the organization's accountability efforts to ensure that legislation supported by StudentsFirst was implemented with integrity and fidelity.   Currently, John serves as StudentFirst’s Director of Human Resources.  In this role, he and his team provide consultation to senior leadership on all matters of talent and human capital, including strategic staffing plans, compensation, benefits, training and development, budget, and performance evaluation and accountability.  John also takes a leadership role in developing a culture that enables employees to perform in accordance with the StudentsFirst mission and vision.  John earned his undergraduate degree from The Ohio State University and his law degree from Pepperdine University.

George Parker, Senior Fellow

George Parker is a 30-year veteran math teacher of the D.C. public school system. He is the former president of the Washington Teachers Union, elected to that post in 2005. In 2010, Parker worked with Michelle Rhee to negotiate a ground-breaking collective bargaining agreement that featured innovations in teacher compensation, professional development, and evaluations. The agreement was rooted in the shared belief that DCPS leaders must raise academic and teaching standards while also treating teachers fairly and giving them the tools and conditions to work effectively with children.