DC School Reform Now is educating, organizing and advocating to build support for public education strategies that prepare kids to become college and career ready.


David Pickens, Executive Director

David Pickens is a former military officer who started his career in education via an alternative certification program. After spending nine years as an award winning middle school teacher at Price School in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), he became an assistant principal at Arai Middle School.  

Shortly after Arne Duncan was appointed CEO of CPS, he tapped David to be his deputy chief of staff. David remained in this position for two years until Duncan created the position of Deputy to the CEO. In that position, David became senior advisor and system-wide manager to the CEO and was responsible for a wide array of high profile departments and initiatives. Departments included system-wide external and internal communications, governmental affairs, community relations, local school council relations, external partnerships and resources. Initiatives included school closings, consolidations, turnarounds and relocation, the Violence Reduction Initiative and the creation of the automated Board Report Process for the entire district. A few months after President Obama appointed Arne Duncan U.S. Secretary of Education, David was appointed chief of staff to the Chicago Board of Education. In that capacity he was the highest ranking employee in the Chicago Board of Education and one of only two direct reports to the Chicago Board of Trustees, with the other being the CEO of CPS.

David became the executive director of DC School Reform Now in August 2010. He attended Michigan State University, University of Illinois in Chicago and holds a master's degree in education and a principal’s certification from Roosevelt University in Chicago and University of Illinois in Chicago, respectively. David has served on a number of boards and has won a number of teaching awards. He was named a Golden Apple Finalist in 1999. David is married and has two children in traditional neighborhood schools in DC.

Emerald Becker, Senior Director of Programs and Communications

Emerald Becker is dedicated to promoting quality education and lasting education reform.

A former preschool teacher, Emerald earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, and moved to Washington, DC in 2008 to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA. In this position, she engaged communities from various DC Wards to strengthen Higher Achievement, an academic enrichment program for urban middle school students. The highlight of this experience was providing her students with the opportunity to voice their opinions on National Public Radio about public education policy that directly affected them.
After her service, Emerald pursued her master’s degree in international education from American University to explore innovative approaches to education in other countries. During her master’s studies, Emerald worked as a researcher for the Flamboyan Foundation in which she studied family engagement initiatives in DC public schools. She also worked as an education Blogger for Change.org to promote reader activism through social media.

Prior to joining DCSRN, Emerald worked as a communications consultant for Collaborative Communications Group. Notable projects that Emerald led include redeveloping a website on afterschool and expanded learning for the National Network of Statewide Afterschool Networks, writing marketing materials for Urban Teachers and developing the publications for the 2012 National Charter Schools Conference.

Emerald joined DCSRN in July 2012 and is thrilled to be focused on local DC education once again. Notable projects include managing DCSRN’s annual High Quality Schools Campaign (HQSC), which helps families from the underserved communities in DC navigate the public school choice application process in order to compete on an even playing field for access to quality schools. Emerald also produces DCSRN’s virtual school tours, which help families gain access to authentic information about quality school options, DCSRN’s annual report and developed and manages DCSRN’s custom-built HQSC database.

Kay Starr, Director of Development

Kay Starr served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Kyrgyz Republic, and has a decade of experience working in the nonprofit industry.
She earned her bachelor's degree from Johns Hopkins University, joining the Peace Corps upon graduation. During her two years of service, Kay worked as a Sustainable Organizational and Community Development Volunteer. She worked closely with Community Based Tourism (CBT) in Karakol town, a local tourism group founded with the help of the Swiss organization Helvetas. CBT's goal is to assist local people in setting up their own small tourism businesses, as a way to encourage tourists to spend their money with locally-based providers instead of large tour companies. For CBT, Kay wrote grants, composed tourism brochures and other material, trained local service providers in everything from English to project organization to cooking. She also worked closely with other non-governmental organizations based in Karakol, such as the UN Development Project, the local American Corner library, and taught English conversation and literature courses at the local university.
Kay returned to the US in 2008 and settled in Washington, DC, first working with Miramed, an organization which assisted Russian orphanages, then joining the Development Department of the Blinded Veterans Association in 2009. Over her seven years with BVA, Kay wrote and managed many grants, including a grant that launched a new Veterans Care Review partnership with the VA to ensure quality of care for blinded veterans throughout the VA system, overhauled BVA's online donation system, and helped launch a new accessible website in 2015.
Kay believes that high quality public education should be available for all students and is thrilled to join the DCSRN team.
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