President and CEO
Brenda’s passion for education stems from her own experience as a first-generation college graduate. With two children who attended North Carolina public schools, she is driven by the belief that every child should have access to a great education.
Brenda is the President & CEO of BEST NC (Business for Educational Success and Transformation in North Carolina), a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition of over 100 business leaders with a focus on making education in North Carolina the best in the nation. Through policy and advocacy, BEST NC strives to ensure that every student in North Carolina will graduate with the knowledge, skills and behaviors to succeed in a competitive global economy.
With over twenty-five years of experience as a business owner, public policy professional and education advocate, Brenda leads the overall BEST NC vison, strategy, and operations while leveraging her expertise to be the business-to-education bridge in BEST NC’s work to transform education in North Carolina. In 2002, she founded Scandinavian Child, a baby products manufacturing and importing business. Prior to founding her business, she had almost ten years of public policy experience in both education and transportation policy and programs. She serves on various boards and education organizations, including the Principal Fellows Commission, NC Rural Center, Kenan Fellows Program, myFutureNC, and the NC Community College Foundation. Brenda has a B.A. in Economics and a Master’s degree in Public Policy, both from Georgetown University.
Zachary Hodges’ commitment to improving educational outcomes in North Carolina stems from his experience as a local public school student, and his mother’s nearly two decades of work as a teacher. He first joined the BEST NC team as an animations contractor in January 2016 and was officially welcomed as a full team member in April 2017. In his role as BEST NC’s Chief Storyteller, Zachary helps build narratives around complex education topics, leads the organization’s video production team, and is intimately involved with the implementation of communications and marketing efforts, focusing on graphic design, assets for social media, and web management.
A native of Fuquay-Varina and an alum of Appalachian State University, Zachary graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing and Film Studies before moving back to Raleigh. He originally began a career in communications with a local education non-profit; but it was the ability to tell stories from a state-wide perspective and his commitment to elevating educators that finally led Zachary to BEST NC.
Research & Policy Analyst
Chris Palmer’s passion for education is rooted in the belief that education is the most powerful agent for change for people and for communities. A North Carolina transplant, Chris spent the first 35 years of his life living in New England. In the past 12 years, he has worked as a middle school para-educator, middle school science teacher, elementary school administrator, and high school baseball coach in rural Vermont schools.
As a teacher, Chris prioritized student voice and choice in curriculum, technology integration, and authentic student work products that reached audiences outside of the classroom. As an administrator, he worked to bring project-based and Maker learning opportunities to his school and became an advocate for restorative educational approaches to improve learning environments and school-community connections.
Chris earned a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering Science from Tufts University, as well as Master’s degrees in Secondary Science Education and Educational Leadership from the University of Vermont.
Vice President of Policy & Engagement
Leah Sutton’s passion for improving school quality and educational access is grounded in her experiences working with disadvantaged students and from her own upbringing as a public school student in rural eastern North Carolina. As BEST NC’s Vice President of Policy & Engagement, Leah leads the development and execution our Educator Innovation policy agenda, helps guide the organization’s communication efforts, and provides support for key BEST NC programs and publications including the Education Innovation Lab and Facts & Figures.
Prior to joining BEST NC in 2018, Leah worked at The Hunt Institute where, in her role as a policy analyst, she planned and organized North Carolina policymaker convenings, cultivated relationships with state legislators, and authored policy primers and other publications. Leah also brings six years of classroom experience as a North Carolina public school teacher to her role. She taught high school Social Studies in Greenville before teaching middle school English Language Arts in Raleigh, where she was recognized as a 2015 Teacher of the Year. Leah also serves on the Board of Directors for Profound Ladies. She earned a bachelor’s degree in history education from North Carolina State University and a master’s degree in education policy and management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She also holds a certificate in education finance from Georgetown University.
Ashleigh joined the BEST NC team as the Administrative Assistant in February 2016. Prior to that, she graduated from Wake Technical Community College where she earned her Associate in Arts degree. After working various jobs to support herself through college, she is thrilled to be pursuing her professional goals at BEST NC. Ashleigh is enthusiastic and proud to be a part of an organization where she can contribute to improving education for all of North Carolina’s students.