State Board of Education
Erin D. Benham, Vice Chairperson — Wallingford
Erin D. Benham was reappointed to the Board by Governor Ned Lamont in April 2019. Ms. Benham was elected as Vice Chairperson of the Board in August 2021. She serves as Chair of the Board’s Legislation and Policy Development Committee and a member of the Accountability and Support Committee. She taught in Meriden Public Schools for 36 years and is the retired president of the Meriden Federation of Teachers and executive committee vice president of AFT Connecticut. She also serves on the board of directors for Project Excel and The Sisters' Project. She earned a bachelor's degree from Saint Joseph College and a master's degree and educational leadership degree from Southern Connecticut State University. Mrs. Benham was the recipient of the President's Award by AFT Connecticut in 2019 and 2013. Her term expires in February 2023.
Natalie Bandura — Westport
Natalie Bandura was appointed to the Board by Governor Ned Lamont in July 2021 as one of two nonvoting student members. Natalie is a senior at Staples High School in Westport, where she holds first honor roll and is a member of the National Honors Society and the Latin Honors Society. Ms. Bandura has demonstrated her leadership role and skills of journalism as editor in chief of Inklings, the award-winning Staples High School student newspaper. She has also served for two years as captain of her school’s math team and is a member of Link Crew, a mentorship organization for incoming freshmen. Ms. Bandura is founder and president of Little Learners, a tutoring program and club at Staples that creates pathways for students in underserved school districts to connect with tutoring from Staples student volunteers. She has further demonstrated her leadership and community service through philanthropic work, including working as a volunteer counselor at the ICC STEM Camp in Greenwich; volunteering as a tutor with students in the after-the-bell program at Silvermine Elementary School in Norwalk, a dual-lingual magnet school; and by creating and running MasksThatMatter.com, a Staples student service initiative to sew and distribute cloth masks to community members in need. She is employed with TopHat Tutors, where she provides tutoring to middle and high school students in math, science, and the humanities. She is also a Latin ballroom dancing competitor. Her term expires in June 2022.
Rishabh Bhandari — Wilton
Rishabh Bhandari was appointed to the Board by Governor Ned Lamont in July 2021 as one of two nonvoting student members. He is a senior at Wilton High School in Wilton (WHS), where he is a member of the Wilton chapter of the National Honor Society. He is a member of the WHS debate club, captain of the JV boys tennis team, and a member of the WHS Warrior marching band, where he plays the trombone. Mr. Bhandari participates in many extracurricular community service projects. He is president of the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation’s CT Youth Chapter, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and coordinates fundraisers and bake sales to annually raise over $10,000 to support schools in southern Asia. He extends his community outreach as a lead volunteer with HSS, a nonprofit sociocultural organization, where he conducts weekly community activities, including teaching kids and community self-defense, life skills, heritage, yoga, meditation, and debate skills. Through community service initiatives during the COVID-19 pandemic, he helped deliver masks and other PPE to local hospitals and nursing homes. He also helped organize food drives that collected and distributed food items to local food banks and homeless shelters. As a long-time student of martial arts, he holds a third-degree black belt in tae kwon do, and also volunteers as an instructor at Karate Universe. Following graduation in June 2022, he plans to major in aerospace engineering and computer science. His term expires in June 2022.
Bonnie E. Burr — Brookfield
Bonnie E. Burr was appointed by Governor Ned Lamont in June 2020. Ms. Burr is the assistant director and department head with the Cooperative Extension System at the University of Connecticut College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. She provides leadership and assistance to 105 faculty and staff managing a wide variety of outreach and educational programs involving public engagement in local, state, regional, national, and international programs. Ms. Burr serves as state chair of the State Committee United States Department of Agriculture and Farm Service Agency for Connecticut. Ms. Burr earned a B.S. in animal science and agriculture from the University of Connecticut, and an M.S. in administration and public and nonprofit administration from Western Connecticut State University. Ms. Burr serves on a number of community organizations, including as ex officio member, 4 H Education Center at Auerfarm; the Steering Committee of Working Lands Alliance, American Farmland Trust; the New England Holstein Dairy Cattle Association Board of Directors; and Connecticut trustee for the Eastern States Exposition. Her term expires in February 2024.
Terrence Cheng, Ex Officio — HartfordTerrence Cheng was appointed by the Board of Regents in May 2021 as the president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system. Mr. Cheng began his presidency on July 2, 2021, and serves as an ex officio, non-voting member of the State Board of Education. As president of CSCU, Mr. Cheng oversees 12 community colleges, four state universities, and Charter Oak State College. Before being appointed president of CSCU, he served as director of the University of Connecticut’s Stamford campus from 2016 to 2021, where he also served as a faculty member in the English department. He has held several academic and administrative leadership and faculty roles, including associate provost/assistant vice president of academic programs at Brooklyn College, associate dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Lehman College, and chair of the Department of English at Lehman College. Both institutions are part of the City University of New York. Mr. Cheng, a first-generation student, earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Binghamton University and an MFA in fiction from the University of Miami, where he was a James Michener Fellow. He is the author of two novels: Sons of Heaven (2002), and Deep in the Mountains (2007), as well as numerous published short stories and essays. In 2005, he received a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Erik M. Clemons — New HavenErik M. Clemons was appointed to the Board by Governor Ned Lamont in June 2020. He was first appointed to the Board by Governor Dannel P. Malloy in February 2016 and serves as Chair of the Academic Standards and Assessment Committee. Mr. Clemons is the founding chief executive officer and president of the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology Inc. (ConnCAT), an organization that prepares youth and adults for educational and career advancement through after-school arts and job training programming in the areas of health sciences and culinary professions, and links adult learners with local corporate partners. Prior to that, Mr. Clemons served as the executive director of the Leadership, Education, and Athletics in Partnership, Inc. and as the director of career technical training for the New Haven Job Corps Center in New Haven. He is the Chair of the board of the Housing Authority of New Haven and is a member of the board of Connecticut Voices for Children. Mr. Clemons received a B.S. degree in sociology from Southern Connecticut State University and a M.A. in theology and ethics from Hartford Seminary. His term expires in February 2024.
Karen DuBois-Walton — New Haven
Dr. Karen DuBois Walton was appointed by Governor Ned Lamont in June 2020. Dr. DuBois Walton is president of the Elm City Communities Housing Authority of the City of New Haven, president of the Glendower Group LLC, and president of 360 Management Group Co. She previously served as the chief operating officer for the Housing Authority for the City of New Haven, as well as chief of staff and chief administrative officer for a former New Haven mayor. As a clinical psychologist, Dr. DuBois Walton served in positions with the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and Yale University Child Study Center. Dr. DuBois Walton earned a B.A. in psychology from Yale University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Boston University. She serves on numerous boards and commissions and is an active member of the New Haven community. Dr. DuBois Walton is the recipient of the Urban League of Southern Connecticut’s Women’s Empowerment Award and the Greater New Haven NAACP’s Community Service Award. Her term expires in February 2024.
Elwood Exley, Jr. — West Hartford
Elwood Exley, Jr. was appointed by Governor Ned Lamont in June 2020 and serves as a member on the Accountability and Support Committee, and the Legislation and Policy Development Committee. Mr. Exley is the owner of Exley Communications LLC, a 31-year-old enterprise that provides editorial services to major corporations in Connecticut and beyond. In collaboration with the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain, Mr. Exley manages the Alma Exley Scholarship Program (https://almaexleyscholarship.org), which encourages greater diversity in the teaching profession. Established in 1995, the program provides support and recognition to outstanding college students of color preparing for careers in education. Previously in his career, Mr. Exley served as a speechwriter to senior executives at United Technologies Corporation, and also as a manager at United Technologies International. Earlier, he was assistant director of public relations at Connecticut General Corporation, now Cigna. He began his career as a reporter and editor at newspapers including the Hartford Times, where he was business editor. Mr. Exley taught English language learners at Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford from 2015 to 2020. Previously, he served for several years as a hospice volunteer with Hartford Healthcare. He has served on the boards of directors of Community Partners in Action, which advocates for criminal justice reform and manages alternatives to incarceration and reentry programs aimed at reducing recidivism; Bloomfield Education Foundation, which supports enrichment programs the schools; and DemocracyWorks, which promoted greater participation in the democratic process. He also served as chair of the Enfield Human Relations Commission. Mr. Exley earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in liberal studies from Wesleyan University. His term expires in February 2024.
Donald F. Harris — BloomfieldDonald F. Harris, Jr. was reappointed to the Board by Governor Ned Lamont in February 2021. He serves on the Board’s Accountability and Support Committee, and the Legislation and Policy Development Committee. Mr. Harris has been an active member of the Bloomfield community for the past 55 years. A graduate of Bloomfield High School, he became a teacher, coach, athletic director, vice principal and principal in the Bloomfield Public Schools. Mr. Harris serves as the chairperson of the Bloomfield Board of Education, and served as the deputy mayor of the Bloomfield Town Council from 2007-2011. He currently serves on the Connecticut Commission on Equity and Opportunity, the Capital Region Education Council Board of Directors, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education Board of Directors, the Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce Advisory Board, and the Rotary Club. Mr. Harris received a B.S. from Springfield College, and an M.S. and sixth-year degree in education administration from the University of Hartford. His term expires in February 2025.
Martha Paluch Prou — Bloomfield
Martha Paluch Prou was appointed by Governor Ned Lamont in June 2020. Mrs. Prou is the director of administration and compliance at Phoenix Manufacturing Inc., a machined aerospace components manufacturer. Previously, she served as an operations specialist at Phoenix. Mrs. Prou manages the AS9100 and National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program (Nadcap) certified quality system, export compliance and international logistics program, and IT and cybersecurity. Mrs. Prou has served as the membership and database manager at Association Management Group in McLean, Virginia, and the confidential assistant at the United States Department of Commerce, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing and Services. Mrs. Prou earned a B.A. in international studies with a minor in economics from Johns Hopkins University. She is bilingual in English and Polish, and conversational in French. Her term expires in February 2024.
Awilda Reasco — New Britain
Awilda Saavedra Reasco was appointed by Governor Ned Lamont in June 2020. She has 33 years of experience in public schools and higher education. Mrs. Reasco is the director of pre-collegiate and access services at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). Mrs. Reasco leads a college preparatory program for high school seniors who have the potential and desire to attend the university but do not meet regular admissions standards. This CCSU program provides academic preparation to do college-level work and courses in personal and professional growth. In addition, she served as the special counsel to the president on Latino affairs and chair of the Latino administrators at CCSU. Mrs. Reasco was the facilitator of a group that studied race relations and a diversity issues consultant for the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC). She is a member of the Connecticut Association of Latinos in Higher Education (CALAHE) and the Connecticut Association of Educational Opportunity Programs (CAEOP). She received the YWCA Women Leadership Award, the CCSU chapter NAACP Dedication Award, and the CCSU Latin American Student Organization Advisor Award. She is a strong advocate for first-generation and low-income students and their families. Mrs. Reasco earned a B.A. in psychology from Central Connecticut State University and an M.S. in social work from the University of Connecticut. She is bilingual in Spanish and English. Her term expires in February 2024.
Charlene Russell-Tucker — Guilford
Charlene M. Russell-Tucker was appointed by Governor Ned Lamont as Commissioner-Designate for the Connecticut State Department of Education. Until her appointment, she served as Acting Commissioner from March through August. Prior to serving as Acting Commissioner, she served as the Department’s Deputy Commissioner, a role in which she oversaw educational supports and wellness priorities. Previously, she served as Chief Operating Officer and Division Chief for the Department's Office of Student Supports and Organizational Effectiveness. She also served as Associate Commissioner of Education and Bureau Chief within the Department overseeing a portfolio of programs and services. She is a performance-driven and visionary education leader who passionately supports the inter-connectedness of the social, emotional, physical and mental health of students and their families as foundations for positive school and life outcomes. She values family and community engagement in education and leads school attendance and school discipline initiatives with intensive focus on equity and diversity. Ms. Russell-Tucker has served on various state and national committees, including the Connecticut General Assembly’s Committee on Children Strategic Action Group on Chronic Absence, as President of the Connecticut Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an expert panel member on committees of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, and is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Ms. Russell-Tucker previously served as an adjunct faculty member at Albertus Magnus College School of New Dimensions.
Malia K. Sieve — Norwich
Malia K. Sieve was appointed to the Board by Governor Dannel P. Malloy in 2016 and serves on the Accountability and Support Committee. Ms. Sieve is a director at HCM Strategists in Washington, D.C., where she works with system and institutional leaders from regional universities and community colleges and elected officials on higher education goal setting, monitoring, and policy development in states across the country. Prior to her current job, Ms. Sieve worked as an independent consultant for HCM Strategists and for AEM Corporation, where she provided policy direction on strategic planning and developing data systems to improve outcomes. She also served as associate director for policy and research for the Connecticut Board of Regents of Higher Education, director of the United Way of Connecticut Community Results Center, and project director of the Connecticut Policy and Economic Council. Ms. Sieve received a B.S. degree from the University of Connecticut, School of Family Studies, and a M.S.W. from the University of Connecticut, School of Social Work. She served on the Norwich (CT) District Data Team and on the Huntington School Governance Council (Norwich, CT). Her term expires in February 2024.
Allan B. Taylor — Hartford
Allan B. Taylor was reappointed to the Board by Governor Ned Lamont in April 2021. Mr. Taylor served as the chairperson of the Board from March 2005 through March 2021. Mr. Taylor recently retired as the legislative and legal advisor to the Hartford City Council, after 37 years in the private practice of law. He has an extensive record of public service in the Hartford community. He earned an A.B. from Harvard College; an M.P.P. from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Mr. Taylor has served on the Board since 1994, and serves as Chair of the Finance, Audit and Budget Committee. Mr. Taylor was elected as the Northeast Area Director of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) in 2014-15 and 2008-09, president-elect of NASBE (2010), and served as NASBE president in 2011. In recognition of his significant accomplishments and contributions to public education at the local, state and national levels, Mr. Taylor was selected by NASBE as a recipient of the 2014 Distinguished Service Award. His term expires in February 2025.
Robert J. Trefry, Ex Officio — Fairfield
Robert Trefry was appointed by Governor Dannel P. Malloy as Chair of the Connecticut Education and Career System Governing Board in October 2012, and serves as an ex officio, non-voting member of the State Board of Education. He served as the chair of the State-appointed Bridgeport Board of Education from 2011 to 2012. Mr. Trefry is the retired president/chief executive officer of Bridgeport Hospital and executive vice president of the Yale New Haven Health System. He is a Columbia University certified executive and organizational coach, and currently is an executive and organizational coach with Path Quest Coaching and Consulting. He currently serves on the boards of the United Way of Coastal Fairfield County, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, and the Bridgeport Regional Business Council. Mr. Trefry has an undergraduate degree in industrial and systems engineering from Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia, and a master’s degree in healthcare administration from the School of Business at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He is a life fellow of the American College of Health Care Executives and a member of the International Coaching Federation.
Kellie-Marie Vallieres, Ex Officio — East Haddam
Dr. Kelli-Marie Vallieres was appointed to the Board by statute that was signed into law by Governor Lamont and effective July 1, 2021, and serves as an ex officio, nonvoting member. Dr. Vallieres is the chief workforce officer of the newly established Office of Workforce Strategy and the vice chair of the Governor’s Workforce Council. She is an owner of two manufacturing companies, Sound Manufacturing Inc. and Monster Power Equipment, where she served as president and CEO for 14 years before stepping down to take on her new role with the State of Connecticut. Dr. Vallieres has served and presently serves on the board of several organizations. She is president emeritus for the Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance and continues to serve on the board of directors for Eastern Workforce Investment Board. She serves on the Connecticut Department of Labor Apprenticeship Council, the Department of Economic and Community Development Manufacturing Innovation Fund Advisory Committee, and she is an emeritus board member of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. Dr. Vallieres served as a member of the Statewide Advanced Manufacturing Advisory Committee for the state college and university system and worked with Three Rivers Community College to develop their precision sheet metal program and the Early College Opportunity Programs. Dr. Vallieres earned her degree in educational leadership and adult learning from the University of Connecticut. Dr. Vallieres is able to combine her roles in industry and education to develop learning curricula and establish educational pathway programs from secondary through postsecondary educational systems.