A member of our leadership team is involved at every partner school, personally ensuring that projects meet school requirements and objectives. We find that this more open environment is best not only for inspiring creativity, but also for providing responsive and flexible school service.

Jay Vazquez, President & CEO
Jay brings his passion, drive, and expertise to Philadelphia Academies, Inc. every day with the expectation of achieving positive results for the young men and woman we serve in Philadelphia. As President and CEO, he draws on his experience and knowledge having worked in education, healthcare, comprehensive community initiatives and child welfare. Jay’s background and skill in capacity building, information technology, and systems reforms have made him an ardent believer that education, industry involvement, and civic engagement are the catalyst for improving the lives of young people.

Before being named President and CEO, Jay served at PAI for seven years, the majority of which he held the role of Director of School Operations, in which he led the operational planning and implementation of the organization’s strategy to significantly expand the number of young people supported by the career academy model in Philadelphia in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia. Prior to joining PAI, he worked on several national initiatives to assist in large-scale system reform efforts across the country which included program development, self-evaluation, and capacity building to help communities improve outcomes for children and families. He also led efforts to integrate a workforce development and education strategies used as a method to bring employers, educators, and service providers together to help youth aging out of foster care.

Jay holds a B.A. in Economics and Labor Studies from Queens College, City University of New York. He is actively engaged locally and nationally in issues related to education and youth development; he is a member of National Career Academy Coalition and the Ford Motor Company’s Next Generation of Learning.


1401 Walnut Street – 9th Floor
Philadelphia PA 19102

Connie Majka, Director of Learning & Innovation
If we were mountaineers, Connie Majka would be our Sherpa. Officially our Director of Innovation & Learning, Connie helps us navigate some tricky terrain, connects us to important resources and devises clever solutions to challenging issues. As co-founder and past president of the National Career Academy Coalition, an organization dedicated to creating and supporting a national network of existing and emerging career academies, Connie clearly has the professional expertise to direct the professional development and capacity building of PAI and school staff. But what Connie brings to PAI is so much more than that: she is astute, insightful, enthusiastic and extremely thoughtful in considering “outside the box” solutions. That’s why she is our “go-to” person when we need a clever thoughtful response to some of youth development’s most challenging issues.

As a PAI and national leader with nearly 30 years experience in the career academy model, Connie also heads up a newly formed team of professional development providers who offer fee-for-service consulting nationally, helping other districts replicate Philadelphia’s academy model success story.

Connie’s MA degree in Counseling comes in handy daily as she figures out how to help adults who are working with young people adopt new practitioners and to be the best they can be for young people.

Stephanie V. Smith, Director of Business & Community Relations
It’s hard to imagine just how many young lives Stephanie Smith has impacted in three decades with PAI. In her many roles throughout the years, one thing has remained the same: her dedication to providing our students access to the guidance, support and opportunities they need to succeed.

Stephanie is a connector by nature and is perfectly suited for her role. She brings her extensive training in the hospitality field to the forefront as she makes marriages between industry partners and school practitioners as well as recruits volunteers from the community to play substantive roles in the lives of kids and schools. She is a walking PAI history book carrying 25 years of stories in her brain and sharing them daily so that we never forget our roots. Stephanie’s focus is on connecting youth to career paths. Her success in collaborating with various groups such as the Philadelphia Human Resources Group, the Conrad Foundation, the WesGold Fellows Program, and the University of Pennsylvania speaks to her dedication to providing our students with meaningful real world experiences.

Ilene Merlino, Director of Finance & Administration
In her 28 years at PAI, Ilene Merlino has seen a lot of things come and go – from music to fashion to technology. Through it all, Ilene has kept everything on track in the office. She pays the bills, manages payroll, figures out our technology needs, manages our budgets, and handles all of the back office details. As Director of Operations, Ilene is ultimately responsible for the smooth functioning of day-to-day activities in the office, including vendor relations, office supplies, records management and storage, and anything else that impacts the general office environment. In addition, Ilene is the keeper of much organizational history and knowledge. If you have a question about how something works or what happened last time or where to find the 1993 annual report — you go to Ilene.

Staff Contacts

Albert Mclaverty
Associate Director, Industry Organizing

Brett Vance
Academy Specialist

Cheryl Ann Lafferty
Executive Coordinator/Fund Development Support Specialists

Connie Majka
Director, Learning & Innovation

Corvette Kittrell
Associate Director Hotel, Restaurant, Travel, and Tourism Academies

Cynthia Whiting
Manager, Administration

Dorothy Lemanski
Professional Development Provider Specialist

Iesha Coates
Administrative Coordinator

Ilene G. Merlino
Director, Finance & Administration

Jannette (Rivera) Perodin
Work Based Learning Specialist

Jay Vazquez
President & CEO

Jonthan Jacobs
Project Based Learning Specialist

Laurese Harper
Hotel, Restaurant, Travel and Tourism Business Specialist

Lydia Robinson
Hotel, Restaurant, Travel and Tourism Business Specialist

Marquis Coates
Academy Specialist

Nadia Schafer
DOR and Data Specialist

Ronit Caplan
Associate Director, Field Operations

Ronmil Hoop
Administrative/Finance Coordinator

Roosevelt Tucker
College and Career Specialist

Sarah Hill
Academy Specialist

Stephanie Smith
Director, Business & Community Relations