Inside Towers

Meet the Students

Meet the Staff

Katherine List
Executive Program Director

Katherine List serves as Executive Program Director for Towers of Excellence Foundation. For over ten years, she served in Chicago Public Schools and Catalyst Charter Schools, as a Principal, Curriculum Director, Lead Teacher, and Dean of Students. Her experiences working with school leaders, students and their families, and underserved communities, has evolved her belief that all students, regardless of life circumstances, deserve a quality education and enriching life experiences.

Katherine has served as a consultant for the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, TAP system, leading and facilitating training to principals and superintendents. Katherine has served as a panelist at the NIET conferences, addressing issues for advancing teaching through student achievement and growth in specific areas.

As a lead teacher for the TAP system, Katherine worked with 4 Chicago Public Schools principals to help them further develop their education practices, focused on areas of refinement and reinforcement. Katherine supported school leaders as they examined their practices and evolve these practices to ensure high levels of teacher performance and student achievement.

Katherine believes all school systems are responsible for providing quality education, high quality services, and programing to all of their students. Through professional development, strategic planning, and a commitment to excellence, all students should experience academic, social and emotional growth. Towers of Excellence is a program designed to support a school dedicated to success!

Sharon Morgan
Parent Liaison

Sharon Morgan serves as the Parent Liaison for Towers of Excellence. She is responsible for fostering and sustaining relationships with the parents of each student. She coordinates parent meetings and informational sessions to ensure they are involved in their students success.

Sharon began her career with Catalyst Schools in 2006, when she became a member of the design team of a newly formed Catalyst Charter School Network. She was instrumental in the opening of a new charter school, Catalyst Howland Charter School, located in North. Lawndale as a Community Outreach Coordinator. In 2007, she again helped to open the 2nd Catalyst school in the Austin Community, named Catalyst Circle Rock. There, she began the Graduate Support Program, to assist parents and students to navigate the high school application process. Sharon was also instrumental in beginning the Renaissance Fine Arts program with weekly in-school programming, partnering with high profile community and not for profit organizations.

Angelica Granger

Ms. Angelica Yvonne Granger brings more than a decade of child care and teaching experience to Towers of Excellence. As a teacher, Granger works with 4th graders at Catalyst Circle Rock in order to assist students to reach their fullest potential both academically and behaviorally. Prior to teaching 4th grade, Ms. Granger taught 6th grade for approximately 5 years. During this time, Granger felt the need to not only reach students academically, but emotionally and behaviorally.

Because of this yearning, she joined Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS) in order to work one on one with a Little and make a major impact in her life. Her Little was in 7th grade and was promoted to High School during their mentorship. Granger was a mentor for BBBS for over a year before concluding the mentorship due to conflicts with the Little’s residential proximity. Granger continued to develop a relationship with her Little outside of the program.

In order to continue making an impact through mentoring, Granger joined Towers of Excellence as a mentor. Throughout this year, Towers of Excellence has benefited the mentees as well as the mentor. The mentees are developing their values, which has positively impacted their confidence and self-worth. Being a mentor with Towers of Excellence provides Granger with purpose and enhances her ability to reach students of all ages. Granger looks forward to seeing additional growth in her mentees and within herself.

Troy Morris

Troy Morris serves as a founding mentor for Towers of Excellence Foundation. Troy is from Chicago and has lived here all of his life. He began teaching in the fall of 2009 as an 8th grade instructional aide. In 2011, he became a classroom teacher for 6th-8th students. He is currently a 7th and 8th grade Writing Teacher at Catalyst Circle Rock Charter School, on Chicago’s west side.

He attended middle and high school in the south suburbs of Chicago. After graduating high school, he attended Columbia College Chicago, where he received his Bachelor’s degree. After obtaining his Bachelor’s degree he attended graduate school at Valparaiso University, in Valparaiso, IN. He graduated from Valparaiso University with my Master’s degree in English. He is currently working on a Master’s degree in Teaching and pursuing a Doctorate in English studies.

Troy loves to read, write, listen to music and watch movies (he loves Netflix!). He likes to travel, but hasn’t done much of it lately. One of his goals for this year is to make an effort to travel more. He enjoys Towers of Excellence because it really gives him the opportunity to work personally with a small group of scholars. This program, allows him to focus on a core group and watch them grow into successful, productive citizens.

Mary Nikoo

Mary Nikoo is joining the Towers of Excellence program as a mentor for the 2016-2017 school year. Mary teaches third grade Math and Social Studies at Catalyst Circle Rock. Since joining the CCR team, she has extended her involvement in the Mission Team and Girls on the Run. She is passionate about empowering and educating young leaders through holistic education. She currently has a Master of Divinity with a focus in Cross-Cultural Ministry from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a Masters of Arts in Teaching from Dominican University. In her free time, she enjoys being a tourist in the wonderful city of Chicago and running. She is officially a Chicago Marathon 2016 finisher!

Nick Tomasso

Nick Tomasso is joining the Towers of Excellence program as a mentor for the 2016-2017 school year. Relatively new to Chicago, Nick moved to the city from the suburbs of New York City in the Summer of 2013. Since coming to Chicago, Nick has taught Special Education for the Catalyst Schools, first at Catalyst Howland in the North Lawndale community and currently at Catalyst Circle Rock in the Austin community.

Nick attended Adelphi University in Garden City, New York, receiving both Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in Secondary Education. Following his move to Chicago, Nick completed a second Master's Degree in Special Education at National Louis University.

In his free time, Nick loves to read, watch Netflix and travel. Travel is his greatest passion, having visited 11 different countries and driven across the United States. With Towers of Excellence, Nick looks forward to being able to workw ith a group of scholars in order to help them become even better scholars and citizens.

Lynette Russel

My name is Lynette Russell, I was born in raised in Chicago. I’ve worked at Catalyst Circle Rock for 11 years. I started out as an Instructional assistance. I am currently the assistance Dean, cheer and volleyball coach. This will be my first year mentoring for Towers of Excellence. I am super excited to join a dynamic team, whose is driven to provide extra academic success to our students.

Matt Landwehr
Board Member

Matt practices in the areas of state and local tax (SALT) controversy, banking and financial services litigation, business litigation, and appellate.

His tax controversy work involves representing taxpayers (from large multi-state companies to individuals) before Missouri and Illinois state and local taxing authorities in corporate income, franchise, sales/use, property, and other tax controversies. He has negotiated and successfully resolved tax controversies at every stage from audits through appeals, and has also successfully prosecuted numerous large refund claims.

Matt’s banking and financial services work includes representing banks in disputes involving lender liability, check collection and check fraud, and other aspects of the Uniform Commercial Code. His business litigation practice covers a wide range of business disputes including medical practice breakups and peer review proceedings, fraud, insurance, real estate, non-compete, officer fiduciary, and company dissolution and accounting.

Matt has experience in all facets of litigation, and has tried cases before the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission, and state and federal trial courts in Missouri and Illinois. He has also handled appeals at the Missouri State Tax Commission, the Supreme Court of Missouri, the Missouri and Illinois Courts of Appeal, and the United States Courts of Appeal for the Seventh and Eighth Circuits.

Matt is a former law clerk for the Honorable Duane Benton of the Supreme Court of Missouri, a former Missouri Director of Revenue who currently serves as Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Eric Davis
Board Member

Eric Davis is currently the Executive Director of the Chicago Baseball and Education Academy at UIC. The academy is the vision of Major League Baseball player Curtis Granderson and funded in part by the Major League Baseball Youth Development Foundation, the academy will have more than 20,000 youth education and athletic visits by the end of 2017.  Mr. Davis is the founder of D&J Entertainment Holdings LLC who are involved with minor league team ownership and the production of sports documentaries, projects such as 30 for 30 “Phi Slama Jama”. Prior to forming DJE Eric Davis was Vice President/COO of Volunteers of America Illinois. Mr. Davis was responsible for the daily operations of three major programs, Veterans Services, Foster Care and Senior and Disabled Housing. He was also the chief liaison for strategic and political relationships. Prior to his time working at Volunteers of America, Mr. Davis was a Chicago Police Officer with over 25 years of police service in the Gang Crimes and Public Housing Units. To counter the threat of gang violence, Mr. Davis worked to negotiate a truce between Chicago gangs such as the Black Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings and ViceLords. At a time when Chicago had the highest homicide rate in the country, his part in the peace process caused the homicide rate in Chicago to plummet.


Mr. Davis was elected to the Chicago Police FOP Lodge 7 Board of Directors; he served in that capacity for 4 years representing more than 20,000 active and retired Chicago Police Officers. He is considered by the Chicago Police Department and numerous institutions of Higher Learning as a Youth gang and International Organized Crime Expert and uses his contacts, influence and knowledge to be on the front line of conflict resolution between street gangs, organized crime elements and the community. He has lectured at more than 500 High schools and middle schools across the country, in addition to Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Mr. Davis has discussed topics that include Gang Economics and Community Development. He has been a featured narrator for the TV program “ GangLand”.


Mr. Davis created the Slick Boys Youth Foundation to work with at-risk youth in the city of Chicago and across the country. He co-authored “ The Slick Boys” A Ten Point Plan to Rescue your Community( Simon & Schuster). Mr. Davis was the creative consultant for the “ Ricki Lake Show “  “ New York Undercover “ and the “ Judge Hatchet Show “. While assigned to the Cabrini Green Housing Development, he along with the Slick Boys and in partnership with Al Carter and Patricia Hill created the largest inner city little league baseball program in the nation. The league became the inspiration for the movie “ Hard Ball- A Season in the Projects “ which starred Kenanu Reeves.


Mr. Davis attended the University of Houston and was team captain of the 1982 Final Four Basketball team, playing with NBA Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. After college Mr. Davis signed a free agent NFL contract with the Houston Oilers (Tennessee Titans), Mr. Davis also played professional basketball in the European League playing for the Killester Cats in Dublin Ireland. He is a Summa Cum Laude graduate with a degree in Sociology. Mr. Davis is a member of  Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. Mr. Davis is also active as a board member on the following boards: DePaul University School of Liberal Arts Advisory Member, Delaware Place Bank and Pitch In for Baseball.

David L. Wendel, CPA, CFA
Board Member

Mr. Wendel has more than 20 years experience in the Banking industry. Prior to joining US Bank in November of 2015, he spent 17 years at CitiMortgage, where he served as an executive in a wide variety of areas – including Operations, Sales and Originations, Capital Markets and Finance. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Missouri ‐ Columbia. In addition, David is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and has earned the Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA) designation. Mr. Wendel is based in St. Louis, MO.

Joe Smith
Co-Board Chair

Mr. Smith has served as one of the key principals and CFO of Watchtower Security since its inception in 2004. Mr. Smith holds a Masters of Business and Administration and a Master’s degree in Accounting from the University of Missouri – Columbia. Prior to Watchtower Security, Mr. Smith served as a manager for the “auditing/accounting” department at The Boeing Company. Mr. Smith currently serves on several boards and organizations (Towers of Excellence, Washington University Entrepreneurship Association, EO St. Louis, Olin Business School Start-Up Symposium) in which entrepreneurship and positive ethical business practices are the core values. Mr. Smith is currently a faculty member at Columbia College where he teaches both Financial and Managerial Accounting.

Nathan Burnett
Co-Board Chair

Nathan Burnett has worked as a principal of Watchtower Security Inc. for 12 years serving the security needs of the multi-family housing industry. He spent the first six years of his professional career as manager for an information technology company. Prior to moving to St. Louis, he completed his undergrad in Political Science at the University of MO-Columbia. Shortly after his move to St. Louis, he completed his Master of Business from Lindenwood University. His company, Watchtower Security Inc provides a completely managed video surveillance service working exclusively with multi-family housing properties, law enforcement and municipalities around the country to better our communities. Watchtower Security has been awarded multiple industry awards for its value and unique managed video surveillance services within the Apartment Industry. Nathan sits on numerous association boards and legislative committees including Towers of Excellence, the National/Missouri/St. Louis Apartment Associations, Community Association Institute, Association of General Contractors, St. Louis Downtown Resident’s Crime Prevention Council, Towers of Excellence Charitable Foundation, and Float STL. These volunteer passions are secondary only to his love and commitment for his family and friends.

Sala Sims
Academic Board Chair

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, ...” Robert F. Kennedy

Sala Sims believes that as educators it is our mission to improve the lives of children and the adults who serve them. Sala began her career as a primary grades teacher in 1996. She went on to achieve National Board Certification- Early Childhood Generalist in 2004. Since that time, she has founded and led charter schools on the west and south sides of Chicago.

As an education consultant, Sala is passionate about building the capacity of teachers and principals to lead great classrooms and schools. Sala has served as a leadership coach with Teach for America and Knowledge Delivery Systems. Sala worked with aspiring and sitting school principals to develop their leadership competencies, including instructional leadership, teacher development, school culture, and family involvement.

Sala also has experience in creating and leading professional development. She has presented and served on expert panels at events including the Illinois Statewide No Child Left Behind Conference, Village Leadership Academy, TEAM (Tennessee Educator Accelerator Model) Evaluator Professional Development, Erickson Institute’s The American Teacher panel discussion, and the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching’s National TAP Conference.

Currently, a Lead Faculty member with Atlantic Research Partners, Sala leads instructional transformation at a School Improvement Grant (SIG) elementary school in Chicago, Illinois.