Our Staff

Midwest Comprehensive Center Staff

Alicia Garcia
Alicia Garcia|Director

Alicia N. Garcia is a Principal Policy Analyst on the Education team at American Institutes for Research. She has more than 9 years’ experience in education law and policy. Ms. Garcia is the director for the Midwest Comprehensive Center. In her role as director, she manages the center’s work to build the capacity of state education agencies in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to design, sustain, and implement reforms that support student success. Projects carried out by the center focus on several federal priority areas including supporting opportunities for teacher and leader development, implementing college- and career-ready standards and assessments, and turning around low-performing schools. Ms. Garcia was formally deputy director for the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest, a research center funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). She also previously served as an alliance liaison for the REL Southwest Texas Hispanic STEM Research alliance and as Minnesota State Manager for the Midwest Comprehensive Center. Ms. Garcia also works on other projects requiring education policy expertise and contributes to AIR’s Education Policy Center. Prior to joining American Institutes for Research, Ms. Garcia was a practicing attorney in the field of education law. Ms. Garcia earned a master’s degree in cultural and educational policy studies from Loyola University Chicago and a juris doctor degree from The University of Texas School of Law.

Lisa Shimmel
Lisa Shimmel|Deputy Director

Lisa Shimmel is the Deputy Director of the Midwest Comprehensive Center and a Senior Policy Analyst in the Education program at the American Institutes for Research. As deputy director of Midwest Comprehensive Center, she focuses on managing technical assistance to the state education agencies in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Shimmel also leads technical assistance projects designed to support state education agency staff in three Midwest region states. She leads the REL Midwest communication and engagement activities, which include the development of the REL Midwest website, social media accounts, interactive mapping applications, events, blogs, videos, and data visualization and other collateral. Shimmel's REL Midwest responsibilities also include technical assistance, outreach, and research as a senior policy analyst. She examines and tracks trends in current education-related legislation and policy issues. Prior to joining AIR, Shimmel worked for Los Angeles Universal Preschool where she gained experience in preschool supply and demand and program quality. In each of these roles, Shimmel has provided support to policymakers and other education stakeholders regarding the use of evidence-based practices and the need for research to supply policy change. In addition, she has two years of teaching experience at the high school level and volunteered for a year with AmeriCorps VISTA as a community outreach coordinator for "I Have a Dream" - East Palo Alto. Ms. Shimmel earned a master's degree in public policy at the University of Southern California and a master's degree in secondary education at the University of Michigan.

State Managers

Taishya Adams
Taishya Adams|State Manager, Minnesota

Taishya Adams is a senior technical consultant at the American Institutes for Research. Adams serves as Minnesota state manager for the Midwest Comprehensive Center. Adams manages multiple projects and staff working in collaboration with senior leadership of the Minnesota Department of Education to implement key initiatives in a number of areas, including American Indian education, early childhood, educator effectiveness, standards implementation, school climate, and school improvement. Adams also leads the REL Midwest School Turnaround Research Alliance, identifying schools achieving at levels higher than expected and analyzing organizational factors that might be related to those achievement levels. Adams also works with the National Charter School Resource Center which provides resources, information, and technical assistance to support the successful planning, authorizing, implementation, and sustainability of high-quality charter schools; shares evaluations on the effects of charter schools; and disseminates information about successful practices in charter schools. Prior to joining AIR, she served as the director of state services for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools where she lead the NAPCS Master Class Series for over 35 state charter support organizations. Prior to joining the NAPCS, she served as a performance officer with the D.C. Public Charter School Board. She earned her Masters of Arts in International Education from George Washington University where she specialized in program management and educational systems and her Bachelor of Arts from Vassar College in Political Science and Film Production.

Deb Gurke
Deb Gurke|State Manager, Wisconsin

Deb Gurke is a senior researcher at AIR. Some of her current work is based in AIR’s collaborative research practice area, in particular contributing to the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest. Much of her work focuses on improving research-practice partnerships and understanding the social and organizational conditions both in school districts and the external context and the role communication plays in creating those conditions. She has worked on a William T. Grant Foundation-sponsored project focused on understanding how research is used by practitioners. Her publications include articles in Educational Policy and Argumentation and Advocacy. Prior to joining AIR, Dr. Gurke was director of research and development for the Milwaukee Public Schools. In that work, she focused her team on developing research-practice partnerships, highlighting these efforts in monthly research reviews. Between 2008 and 2013, as the director of governance and Leadership Development at the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, Gurke led a group of consultants, working with school board members throughout the state to improve their leadership skills, team building, and conflict resolution.

Beth Ratway
Beth Ratway|State Manager, Iowa

Beth Ratway is a senior technical assistance consultant at AIR and is the Midwest Comprehensive center state manager for Iowa. Ratway works with state education agencies and intermediate school districts focusing on implementation of the College and Career Ready Standards and developing innovative 21st century systems that improve academic achievement for all students

Her extensive knowledge and work around the Common Core State Standards has allowed her to support state-level and large-scale technical assistance and expertise focusing on College and Career readiness.  She has facilitated a multistate collaborative to assist states with implementation of the Common Core State Standards as part of a comprehensive College and Career readiness system.  Ratway has worked with individual states to develop online tools to collect local data regarding implementation. She has focused on including states and various stakeholders in the planning and development of the meetings and tools of the collaborative to help build state capacity.

Ratway has 20 years of experience in public school education and teaches undergraduate social studies methods coursesShe served as a consultant at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and at the district and school level for curriculum development, strategic planning, assessment design, action planning, effective technology use, and designing and implementing a 21st century system of professional development.

Ratway is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction, focusing on professional development, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She earned a master’s degree in history from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.