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NELA-DST Project Team

Bonnie C. Fusarelli, Ph.D.

Dr. Bonnie Fusarelli is a Professor of Educational Leadership at North Carolina State University and a NC State University Faculty Scholar.She earned a BA in Political Science from the University of Texas at Austin, a Master’s in School Leadership from UT San Antonio and her Ph.D. in Educational Administration from The Pennsylvania State University.Dr. Fusarelli’s research focuses on educational leadership and policy, the politics of school improvement, educational equity, and organizational change, with a particular focus on state-level education reform and leadership development for rural schools (Nearly half of students in North Carolina and one-third of students nationally attend rural schools).To support her work, Dr. Fusarelli has received over $25 million in grant funding from a number of organizations including the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.She has authored or co-authored over 50 manuscripts which are published in various research journals including: Educational Policy, Journal of School Leadership, Leadership and Policy in Schools, Journal of School Public Relations, The International Journal of Educational Research, Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, Public Administration and Management, Planning and Changing and the Peabody Journal of Education.

Dr. Fusarelli is the recipient of numerous teaching awards both at the K-12 and university level, including being an inductee into NC State’s Academy of Outstanding Teachers.

Her current work is primarily focused on her role as Principal Investigator and Director of the Northeast Leadership Academy, an initiative to prepare innovative school leaders for rural schools ( and

Dr. Fusarelli can be reached at

Dr. Lance Fusarelli, Ph.D.

Dr. Lance Fusarelli has been at NC State since 2003. He conducts research in the politics of education, federal education policy (NCLB), poverty and demographic change, and on superintendents/school board relations. He received his Ph.D. in Educational Administration from the University of Texas at Austin in 1998, M.A. in Government (UT-Austin, 1994), and B.A. in History and American Studies (Case Western Reserve University). In 2012, he was ranked 79th in the nation among scholars whose research contributes most substantially to public debates about schools and schooling. He serves as co-editor of the Series in Education Policy (Palgrave Macmillan) and serves on the Editorial Board of Educational Researcher, the Journal of School Public Relations, and the National Advisory Board, UCEA Center for Research on the Superintendency and School Governance. He serves on the advisory board of the Hill Center in Durham. He can be reached at

Lesley Wirt, Ed.D.

Dr. Wirt serves as the Associate Director of the Northeast Leadership Academy (NELA) at NC State University. She earned her undergraduate degrees in psychology and early childhood education from James Madison University in VA. She taught elementary school for two years in VA. She then decided to work in higher education and received both her master and doctoral degrees in Higher Education Administration from NC State University. She has worked at NC State University and Edgecombe Community College recruiting prospective students, advising new and current students, tracking student achievement, planning programs, and enhancing student retention and success. She also assists with grant writing and managing budgets. She greatly enjoys working with the Master of School Administration (MSA) Leadership Academies’ students, faculty, staff, and stakeholders. She can be reached at

Tom Benton, MSA

Tom serves as Director of NELA Cohort V-DST. His 40+ years in public education have focused on school level work. He was a high school social studies teacher for nine years and a middle and high school principal for 24 years. Since “retiring” in 2005, he has worked as a consultant for the state turnaround effort as a leadership facilitator/ turnaround coach to two high schools and three middle schools. He also worked as a leadership facilitator for NC New Schools by helping in the planning and opening of two Early Colleges and a New Tech high school.  In addition he serves as the state coordinator for NCPAPA’s Future Ready Leadership program which is a year long training program for Assistant Principals. He served as Chair on the Wake County Board of Education. He has provided training to various groups in implementing PLCs, use of data, classroom management, best practices for school administrators, time management, and other topics. He presently lives with his wife of 40+ years and a dog and a cat. His two daughters are pursuing careers as a high school media coordinator and practicing Psychologist. In his spare time, he renovates old houses and hangs out at Surf City.
He can be reached at

Dianne Griffiths

Dianne is Project Coordinator for the Northeast Leadership Academy at North Carolina State University. She earned her bachelor degree in Communications from The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. She is an ardent supporter of public education and has served in a variety of educational volunteer positions for many years.

She can be reached at

Angela VanGorder, M.Ed.

Angie joined NC State University’s Northeast Leadership Academy in January 2015 and is currently a NELA-DST graduate assistant. Previously, she directed MBA employer relations at the College of Charleston and career services at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. Angie is pursuing a Ph.D. in educational research and policy analysis at NC State University. Originally from South Carolina, she earned a Bachelor of Science in business management from Anderson College, a Master of Education in higher education administration from Clemson University, and certificate in nonprofit management from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a board member for the Friends of Wake County Guardian ad Litem program, a 501(c)(3) non-profit with a mission to change the lives of abused and neglected children by supporting the work of Guardians ad Litem who advocate for the best interests of foster children in the Wake County court system. Additionally, she is a member of the 2015-2016 North Carolina Education Policy Fellowship Program, a 10-month professional development program designed for emerging leaders with a common interest in education and a belief in its power to shape the lives of individual North Carolinians and their communities. She can be reached at