Dr. Soner Tarim, Founder, and CEO
Dr. Tarim leads the founding team at Royal Public Schools. Dr. Tarim has been an educational advocate and national leader in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education for nearly two decades, encouraging students to pursue STEM fields. He is a pioneer and driving force for STEM education throughout Texas and the United States. He brings decades of experience developing innovative educational programs for K-12 schools.
He is the founder of Houston-based Harmony Public Schools, which has garnered national recognition for its high academic standards. Dr. Tarim is a Pahara-Aspen Fellow and he also completed the Broad Academy Fellowship. Both organizations are the top educational think-tanks whose mission is to identify, strengthen, and sustain diverse high-integrity leaders reimagining public education so that every child in America has access to an excellent public school. Dr. Tarim developed the Royal Public Schools model, in which he marries a new fine art, reading and writing, and social-emotional curriculum to his renowned STEM program. Dr. Tarim received his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University.
Benjamin Warren, Chair
Mr. Warren has served as the CEO of the ITC Trading Company Limited for over 20 years. As a successful entrepreneur in the food business, Benjamin has built, managed, and sold leading food businesses with extensive operations across the United States including Coleman Natural Food, Swift & Company, and Food Brands America Inc. Mr. Warren has been an active volunteer and supporter of Cristo Ray Houston College Prep Academy, and a board member of KIPP Houston Public Schools, the Holocaust Museum Houston, the Houston Jewish Community Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, and the Leo Baeck Education Center Foundation, which founded Israel’s KIPP Inspired Network Schools.
Cariño Cortez, V. Chair
Chef Cariño Cortez is a Project Manager for La Familia Cortez restaurants in San Antonio and a third-generation food enthusiast who grew up in the restaurant business. Her family tradition began at Mi Tierra Café in San Antonio, but her passion for cooking has taken her across the country. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Business Management and Accounting. and studying abroad in Oxford, Ms. Cortez pursued a culinary art degree from the Culinary Institute of America. She spent her externship working in the New York City three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Jean Georges, later studying authentic Mexican food in Chicago under Rick Bayless.
Dr. Abelardo Saavedra, Member
From his start as a classroom teacher, San Antonian Abelardo Saavedra has worked to improve opportunities and outcomes for students in Texas. Dr. Saavedra is currently a professor of practice for Texas A&M University. He has served as Superintendent of South San Antonio ISD, Superintendent of Corpus Christi ISD, and Superintendent of Houston ISD, where he became known nationally for leading a system that made impressive gains in student achievement and school improvement. In addition to teaching, Dr. Saavedra consults for various public entities, nonprofits, and private sector companies. Dr. Saavedra holds a Ph.D. in School Administration from the University of Michigan and an M.S. from Texas A&M University.
Harriet Wasserstrum, Treasurer
Ms. Wasserstrum retired as vice-chair in the Texas region of JPMorgan Chase in Houston and subsequently served as the president of the Houston/Gulf Coast Chapter of the American Leadership Forum, a non-profit organization that joins and strengths diverse leaders to serve the common good, and as board chair of the American Leadership Forum (ALF) -National. Miss Wasserstrum serves on the Board Development Committee of the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council. She previously served under Good Behavior Game Advisory Council, SEARCH Homeless Services and INROADS, the Executive Council of All Kids Alliance, and the Regional Faculty Executive Committee of Houston A+ Challenge. She is a Senior Fellow, Class 21, of the American Leadership Forum. She grew up in New York City, where she attended public schools and graduated from Bronx High School of Science. Ms. Wasserstrum holds an MBA from Harvard University and B.A. from Bernard college.
Ray Tijerina, Member
Ray Tijerina is the Senior Partner and co-founder of Verdant EDU, an educational consulting firm based in San Antonio, Texas, that helps manage talent and talent recruitment and implement bespoke technical applications and strategic systems. Ray has a wealth of experience in public charter school education, specifically in recruitment and talent development, and helped grow several charter networks in San Antonio. Mr. Tijerina is a strong advocate for education, and in 2019, Governor Abbott appointed him to serve as a member of the state’s Continuing Advisory Committee for Special Education. He also serves on the City Education Partners’ Educate 210 Talent Steering Committee and the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce Education Workforce Committee. Ray is a U.S. Navy veteran who served honorably for nine years and earned his B.A. in Social Science from Ashford University and an M.A. in Teaching and Learning with Technology.