Who We Are
Nicholas Kukucka – Executive Director
As a charter school graduate and educator himself, Nicholas Kukucka is passionate about equipping diverse students with the critical skills they need to build successful careers and lead a positive impact in their communities.
Before coming to The Ganas Network, Nicholas served as the Director of Programs for the Watson Institute at Lynn University, where he cultivated innovators, leaders, and entrepreneurs from across the globe as they pursued their undergraduate degrees in Social Entrepreneurship.
Nicholas began his career teaching American History and Spanish at DSST Public Schools: Green Valley Ranch. However, it was his work as the Assistant Director of Entrepreneurial Studies (E-Ship) at DSST Public Schools that really resonated with him. In this position, he is proud to have helped build out the E-Ship program from a small class of 15 students in 2016 to a robust educational experience serving 600 students from 6th-12th grades at DSST Public School’s campuses all across Denver in just three years.
Before becoming an educator, charter schools played a pivotal role in Nicholas’ learning and development. Nicholas attended The Odyssey School for elementary and middle school – the first expeditionary learning charter school in the U.S.
Nicholas is also a proud alum of DSST Public School’s third graduating class. It was the rigorous education he received at DSST that propelled him to graduate from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a double major in International Affairs and Spanish Language & Literature with a minor in Education. In 2019, he also earned his Master’s in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.
Having witnessed some of the disparities in our education system as he watched those with less privilege systematically excluded from the same opportunities he was afforded, Nicholas is dedicated to promoting diversity and equity in the school-to-career pipeline.
The Ganas Network Board of Directors
Beth Bean – President
Beth Bean, Ph.D, is NEFE’s Research and Impact senior vice president, overseeing the expansion and application of the organization’s 2019-2024 Strategic Plan and beyond. Beth strives to increase the portfolio of thought leadership work and advance evidence-based best practices by working with industry leaders who support, implement and evaluate financial education systems.
Before joining NEFE in 2021, Beth served as policy and research director/senior counselor to Colorado Governor Jared Polis. She managed a team overseeing a wide portfolio of issues for the 47th largest economy in the world. Before joining the Polis administration, Beth was vice president of national engagement, philanthropy, and policy at Strada Education Network and director of the Strada Institute for the Future of Work. In addition, she has held leadership positions in Colorado’s Department of Higher Education as well as several roles at both public and private institutions of higher education.
“As NEFE continues its evolution, I look forward to establishing bold priorities, bolstering actionable research to support our community, and building upon NEFE’s legacy and expansive body of work.”
Beth is a first-generation student who received her doctorate in higher education from the University of Denver, her master’s degree from Saint Louis University, and her bachelor’s degree from DePauw University in Indiana. In her free time, Beth enjoys spending time with her two daughters, coaching middle-school lacrosse, running, and working on home projects that never quite finish.
Dr. Nate Easley – Founder & Treasurer
Dr. Easley maintains a consulting business, Easley Found Solutions, LLC, applying more than 30 years of experience in education leadership to providing strategic advice to education nonprofits, foundations, and school districts. Previous leadership roles include serving as: (1) College Track’s Colorado Executive Director, a national organization focused on empowering low-income or first-generation students to earn baccalaureate degrees and transition to the workforce; (2) Founding CEO of The Ganas Network, an initiative to engage ethnically diverse charter school alumni in reforming public education; (3) Founding CEO of RootED, a $25M education champion organization focused on increasing the availability of high-quality public schools in Denver through leveraged investments in educator/leader talent, high performing schools, and a supportive policy environment; (4) CEO of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, a $50M public charity focused on inspiring and empowering Denver Public School (DPS) students to achieve a college education; and (5) President of the Denver Public Schools Board of Education, a $1B school district serving over 90,000 students, the majority of whom were students of color qualifying for free or reduced meals.
Prior to returning to Denver in 2008, Dr. Easley worked as Vice President for National and International Programs for the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE), a national nonprofit dedicated to furthering the expansion of educational opportunities in postsecondary education for low-income and disabled youth and adults.
In addition to his service on The Ganas Network’s advisory board, Dr. Easley currently serves as past board president for the National College Attainment Network, a member and Secretary of the Colorado State University System Board of Governors, and a board member and treasurer for School Board Partners. Previously, he served as a member of DSST Public School’s Board, a founding board member of Roots Public Charter School, a member of the Community College of Denver Advisory Council, a member of the Colorado School of Public Health Advisory Council, and a member of the Advisory Board of Strada’s Center for Education Consumer Value. He is a proud, and active alum of the Pahara Institute Cohort 19.
Dr. Easley has extensive experience helping public school students realize their dream of a college education and securing grant funding to initiate and/or sustain education equity programs. His master’s and doctorate focused on how higher education can better support the academic success and college completion of Black and Latinx students. He has worked at the state, national and international levels to create opportunities for first-generation, low-income, and ethnic minority students.
Brenda Bautsch Dickhoner – Vice President
Brenda Bautsch Dickhoner, Ph.D., is the President and CEO of Ready Colorado, an education advocacy organization. Brenda has spent her career working in education policy at the national and state level.
Recently, she served as the Mike A. Leprino Free Enterprise Fellow at Common Sense Institute where she examined the impact various education policies have on the Colorado economy and individual opportunity. Brenda has previously served as a policy expert at the Colorado Department of Education, helping design and implement programs to help improve the state’s lowest-performing schools and districts. Prior to CDE, Brenda supported education policy efforts at the Colorado Department of Higher Education and the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Brenda earned a Ph.D. in Public Policy at the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs and studied political science as an undergraduate at Duke University. Brenda serves on the board of directors for the Charter School Institute, the statewide authorizer for public charter schools. In 2021, Governor Jared Polis appointed Brenda as a member of his Education Leadership Council.
Clarence Burton Jr.
Clarence joined Denver Families for Public Schools in November 2021 and serves as the organization’s Chief Executive Officer. As a first-generation high school and college graduate, Clarence is passionate about protecting and expanding access to high-quality public school options, especially in systematically impacted communities.
Prior to leading Denver Families, Clarence gained considerable experience developing teams, building strategic coalitions, and activating grassroots constituencies. He has worked on several local and statewide political campaigns in Colorado. In addition to his experience in politics and policy, Clarence previously served as the State Director in Colorado for Older Adults Technology Services and as an Americorps member with City Year Denver.
Clarence graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in political science. He lives in Denver with his wife, Clara, and their cat, Cleocatra. When he’s not working, you’ll find him listening to a podcast or taking far too long to make a move in a low-stakes strategy board game.
Karolina is proud to have been born and raised in Denver, Colorado. Karolina began her education career as a teacher in Kansas City, Missouri where she taught Spanish from Kindergarten- 8th grade and Multilingual Learners from 6th-9th grade. She was inspired to become a founding teacher, leading her to be a founding elementary teacher of over 90% Multilingual Learners and Assistant Principal in San Jose, CA. Denver is where her roots are; she returned home to work with an elementary school in Southwest Denver and stepped into the Principal In Residency Program to be a founding school leader. Karolina now partners with aspiring entrepreneurs of color and women by leading and building the skill set to launch their own educational venture. Karolina graduated with honors from the University of Colorado Denver and holds an M.A.Ed in Educational Leadership from Columbia University.
Derek Dash is living proof of the positive impact that a charter school can have on an individual. Prior to serving on the board, Derek spent the past 8 years working in multimedia advertising, statewide Colorado political campaigns, and for federal and state governments.
Derek accepted a position as the Deputy Communications Director in the Polis for Colorado campaign after earning his master’s at the University of Denver in Media and Public Communication with a certificate in Public Diplomacy. Prior to pursuing his advanced degree, Derek lived in New York City where he helped to manage over $10 million in annual revenue by implementing local, multimedia advertising campaigns for a variety of political and advocacy organizations.
Before moving to New York, Derek worked in communication and operations-related roles in federal and state politics in Colorado. He served on two U.S. Senate campaigns during the 2014 and 2016 elections, as well as serving as the Director of Advance for the Colorado Governor’s Office. Prior to these roles, Derek also served as an Advance Associate for the White House Office of Scheduling and Advance in 2014. Derek graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU Boulder) with his B.A. in Political Science in 2013. He is a proud member of the founding class of the DSST Public Schools, a charter school network established in his hometown of Denver, Colorado.
Derek has valued three things throughout his career: education, diversity, and integrity. As the product of a public school system, Derek has faced the challenges that are created by diminishing public school budgets. He has been an active volunteer with education organizations, such as the Denver Scholarship Foundation, to help ensure that every public-school graduate in Denver has the resources to attend college. While attending CU Boulder, Derek joined the Student Academic Success Center (SASC), a multi-cultural academic learning community serving low-income and first-generation college students like him, where he worked until graduating. His professional experience has taught him that it’s easier to hold your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold them 98% of the time. He applies this lesson each day while working for the Ganas Network, ensuring that every action the organization takes is for the ultimate benefit of its program fellows.
As a graduate of DSST Public Schools, Fatima Rezaie is passionate about providing the same exemplary opportunities that she received for every student.
Fatima currently serves as a Project Manager in the Office of Government Relations and Community Affairs at the University of Denver. Since joining the University as a staff, among many other projects, she has been responsible for supporting and managing the creation and implementation of the Campus Framework Plan, a roadmap for DU’s built environment for the next 20 years.
Prior to joining the University as a staff member, Fatima earned her BA in International Relations and Psychology from the University of Denver. Recently, she graduated with her MA in International Development from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.
Van Schoales joined Keystone Policy Center as senior policy director in 2021. He is one of the two Founding Partners of Education Civil Rights Now and the former President of A+ Colorado, a research and advocacy organization founded by Senator Michael Bennet and Mayor Federico Pena designed to improve public education in Colorado. Van has 33 years of experience leading education improvement efforts from the classroom to the statehouse.
Van is an award-winning public high school science teacher (National Association of Geoscience Teachers and Stanford University) and has been a successful school leader in independent, public district, and public charter schools for the first half of his career. He was the founding principal of the first Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound Charter, The Odyssey School, and the first ELOB charter in the nation. He helped organize a variety of successful efforts to improve public schools and school systems, overseeing more than fifty reports on public education improvement. Van is a consultant and regular speaker on education topics. He is often quoted in education news stories from The Denver Post, NBC News, ABC News, National Public Radio, Chalkbeat, The New York Times, Education Week, Univision, and Fox News. Van volunteers on several nonprofit boards including serving as a Commissioner of Cultural Affairs for the City of Denver. He also has a great love for the arts and serves as a Commissioner of Cultural Affairs for the City of Denver and many other nonprofit boards.
Van earned a B.S. from the University of California – Santa Cruz (Earth Sciences), an M.S. from Brown University (Geological Sciences), an M.A. from San Francisco State University (Education Administration), and an M.A. from Stanford University (Education).