Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education

Darden/Curry PLE - About

About Darden/Curry PLE


Our mission is to raise educational outcomes significantly by building on the capabilities of UVA's Darden School of Business and the Curry School of Education in order to strengthen district and school leadership. 

The UVA-PLE believes the limited effectiveness of school system leadership and K-12 organizational design is at the root of our national education challenges. 

  • Vision & Organizational Beliefs


    Our vision is to be a nationally recognized source for insights and delivery capacity, to help school systems develop their leadership capacity and to create the conditions in which these leaders can sustain success. 

    Organizational Beliefs

    • Transformational leadership is a primary lever and a necessary component of any lasting K-12 system or school change.
    • Leadership is not based on title; K-12 system stakeholders at all levels underestimate their ability to inspire others to confront difficult challenges, equip teams to enhance their practice and enrich cross-organizational collaboration.
    • System-level leaders must take ownership for addressing the root causes of system challenges and creating conditions in which schools can achieve remarkable, scalable and lasting improvements.
    • By coupling bold, paradigm-shifting moves with a capacity-building approach, school systems can empower remarkable, lasting results in previously underserved environments.
    • System-level change is most successful when informed by and in service to reality at individual schools while identifying opportunities to design and scale services that meet the needs of many schools.
    • Organizational change will be more successful when educational leaders compare their current conditions and practices to the research-proven system conditions and practices that empower rapid and sustainable school improvement.
    • A tailored approach to change is a critical component of empowering local leaders to identify and confront priorities based on their context and ultimately own the path forward.
    • School systems operate in a societal context marked by institutional racism, economic injustice and other systemic inequities. Educational leaders are at the forefront of addressing systems of inequity and the challenges our communities face.
    • School system leadership should be committed to equity and to prioritizing the needs of underserved students.
    • There is immense power in diverse stakeholders coming together to pursue a common purpose with shared ownership, mutual respect and inclusivity.
    • Educational leaders are at their best when they are reflective and data-driven on what they need to do differently to achieve the goals of their organization.
    • Student outcomes are the single most important measure of our partners and our success.
  • Value Proposition

    The UVA-PLE's transformative and tailored leadership development increases the capacity of district and school teams to shape their own future and achieve lasting improvements in student learning. Through multiyear executive education and on-site partnership, we drive organizational learning and collaboration that empowers teams to heighten focus, improve internal ways of working and confront difficult problems.

    Core Competencies:

    1. Increasing district and school teams' ability to identify and confront highest-leverage priorities for school improvement
    2. Building district, school and individual capacity to lead transformations (i.e., to execute rapid, high-impact school improvement)

    What Sets the UVA-PLE Core Partnership Apart? 

    Responsive approach: Our adaptive methods increase district and school capacity to identify context-based priorities and customize community-based solutions. This ensures our partnership works for each individual district and school. 

    Change that stems from the roots: Major improvement demands committed organizational leadership and honest reflection on system level challenges. Our guidance enables partners to create and strengthen systems that address their foundational needs. 

    Lessons in essential capabilities: We challenge educators to transcend, asking the tough questions necessary to better leverage the talents of others and boost students in complex environments. Instilling self-sufficiency is key. 

    Embedded support: To help leaders stay the course, our team delivers tailored support all year round. 

  • PLE Leadership Team

    William Robinson, Executive Director

    William Robinson is the executive director of the University of Virginia's Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education (UVA-PLE). Robinson has been with the UVA-PLE since 2010, initially overseeing efforts to transform how the partnership supports district partners and builds executive education programs focused on systemic change. 

    Robinson is a graduate of Harvard Business School and an Education Pioneers alumnus. Prior to joining the UVA-PLE, he completed consulting work for various education organizations, including the D.C. Public Education Fund, the Center for Better Schools and Stand for Children. Robinson began his career at McMaster-Carr Supply Co., where he helped manage its supply chain operations in Atlanta. Robinson earned his B.A. in economics from Princeton University. 

    Scott Guggenheimer, Chief of Programs

    Scott Guggenheimer is the chief of programs of the Darden/Curry PLE. Prior to his current role, Guggenheimer served as director of leadership development for District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and, prior to that, as the executive director of African-American Teaching Fellows. 

    In these roles, he has designed and delivered high-quality programming for college students, teachers, school administrators, and central office staff and senior leadership. At DCPS, he helped shape the leadership journey of aspiring principals, with the goal of providing the most powerful learning experience of their lives, thereby empowering new principals to work for transformative change in their schools.  

    Guggenheimer’s background is as an English teacher and administrator in a Title I high school in Washington, D.C. He earned his B.A at Washington and Lee University 

    Tonya Kales, District Support Chief

    Prior to joining the UVA-PLE team, Tonya Kales served as a learning community superintendent in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was responsible for 25 schools (23,000 students) ranging from pre-K–middle college. She partnered with leading education reform organizations to create new teacher roles in her schools without using additional funding. The changes have led to academic success through increasing proficiency rates and exceeding growth standards set by the state.  

    Kales brings extensive academic and administrative experience to her current role. Named Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Principal of the Year in 2012, Kales spent much of her career as a school principal and administrator. She was a strategically staffed principal at Ashley Park pre-K–8 School from 2009–12. Prior to her tenure at Ashley Park, she was principal at McAlpine Elementary and an assistant principal at Smithfield Elementary. She was chosen as a North Carolina Principal Fellow in 2000. She earned her National Board certification as a teacher in 1999.

    A native of Charlotte, she holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in administration, curriculum and instruction from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, where she is pursuing a doctoral degree in educational leadership.

    David Kutas, Senior Project Director

    David Kutas has been with the PLE since 2014, initially serving as a project-focused alumnus of Education Pioneers. Through his experience in the private, nonprofit and public sectors, Kutas provides leadership on how the UVA-PLE can continue to meet partner needs as they strive to meet the needs of their students.

    Kutas is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Bryan School of Business and is a candidate for a master's in curriculum and instruction at the Curry School of Education at The University of Virginia. Prior to joining the UVA-PLE, he was a marketing and business manager for The Mailbox Books, and completed consulting and research-driven work for various education organizations, including Communities in Schools, The Center for Creative Leadership and the Curry School of Education.  

    Leighann Lenti, Chief of Partnership

    Leighann Lenti joined the UVA-PLE as chief of partnership in 2018. Prior to joining the UVA-PLE, she spent nearly three years at the College Board and five years at the New Mexico Public Education Department. While serving as the deputy secretary for policy and program in New Mexico, Lenti oversaw the state’s implementation of standards and assessments, school accountability, teacher evaluation, options for parents, pre-K and early literacy, college and career readiness, and school turnaround — including working with New Mexico school districts while they were PLE partners.

    In total, Lenti has over 15 years of experience working on education policy at the federal and state levels, including the U.S. Senate, U.S. Department of Education, the New Mexico Public Education Department and Office of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

    Lenti earned an M.A. in politics and education from Teacher’s College at Columbia University in New York City, as well as a B.A. in integrative studies, liberal studies for education, from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

    Coby Meyers, Chief of Research

    In addition to his role with the UVA-PLE, Coby Meyers is associate professor of education at UVA’s Curry School of Education. Prior to joining the UVA-PLE in 2015, Meyers was the senior researcher at American Institutes for Research (AIR), where he managed AIR’s work in the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northeast and Islands. Meyers also led a beating-the-odds study for REL Midwest, working to identify schools achieving at higher levels than expected and analyzing organizational factors that might be related to those achievement levels.  
    Meyers has played integral roles in various school turnaround initiatives, an area in which he has presented and published, including co-authoring the book Turning Around Failing Schools: Lessons from the Organizational Sciences and multiple journal articles. He was recognized in 2012 with the Emerging Scholar Award by the American Educational Research Association special-interest group School Turnaround and Reform. 
    After working as a middle and high school literature teacher, Meyers attained a master’s degree in secondary education at the University of Kentucky and earned his doctoral degree in education leadership, policy and organizations at Vanderbilt University. 

    Denise Watts, District Support Chief

    Denise Watts most recently served as the leader of Project L.I.F.T., a semi-autonomous learning community within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). The L.I.F.T. initiative focuses on talent, time, technology, and community/parent engagement and policy change.  Embedded in this role, she also served as principal supervisor for the nine L.I.F.T. schools as well as 19 other Title I schools in the school district. Under the leadership of Dr. Watts, Project L.I.F.T. schools were among the first in the nation to implement Opportunity Culture, a model that leverages district support systems to re-design career pathways and compensation to extend the reach of excellent teachers to more students within budget.  

    In her 20-year career trajectory, Dr. Watts has been recognized for her leadership as the North Carolina’s NASSP Middle Level Principal of the Year in 2008.  She was also tapped for Strategic Staffing, CMS’s nationally recognized turnaround initiative that placed top leaders and teachers in its most challenged schools. In addition to completing the Relay Graduate School of Education Principal Supervisor Fellowship in 2017, Denise also recently finished a doctorate in educational leadership at Wingate University in 2014, authoring a dissertation on the partnership cultivation between philanthropy and school district leadership in school reform efforts. 

    Dara Wilson, District Support Chief

    Dara Wilson is a leader in education, committed to maximizing student success for every student. She joined the UVA-PLE in June 2018, after participating in the program for three years in her district role as area superintendent. Prior to joining the UVA-PLE, she had a 32-year tenure in public schools, where she served as a special education teacher, curriculum support teacher, principal, area executive director, assistant superintendent, achievement zone officer and area superintendent. Throughout her tenure, she was charged with leading schools to dramatic academic outcomes for students, often serving the most economically disadvantaged and underserved populations in the school district. She has extensive experience in working with Title I, special education and ESOL populations and a proven track record of positive results. As a principal for 16 years, she lead each of the three elementary schools where she served as principal to award-winning status at the local, state and national level and received numerous personal recognitions and awards, including being named the recipient of the Jo Richardson Principal of the Year award.   

    In her last role as area superintendent, she lead extensive efforts to turnaround the lowest performing schools across the district, while supervising 30 principals and over 30,000 students, and ultimately ignited the district to create a strategic support model to provide differentiated support to schools based on student needs and performance across a district serving over 100 schools. Wilson earned a bachelor's in special education from the University of Georgia and a master's and specialist degree in educational leadership from Georgia State University.