Our Mission

At Academics+ , our mission is to empower families to choose the school that best fits their child’s unique educational needs. Academics+ provides scholarships to low-income children who are not succeeding in their current environment. Scholarships are funded by the donation of corporate and individual Alabama income tax liability.

Academics+ is a parent-driven model. Parents complete an online application and mail in supporting documents to apply. Scholarships are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis with priority given to students zoned to attend a “failing” public school.

Academics+ is leading the way statewide to provide low-income children the educational opportunities to be successful and to have a productive future.

Board of Directors

Lesley Searcy

For more than 20 years, Lesley has provided transformational, executive leadership to large-scale nonprofits. At Step Up For Students, Lesley leads the fundraising, policy, and state partnership teams. Her experience in aligning boards, donors, employees, and communities to a mission has helped to build strong, outcome-based nonprofits. Additionally, her entrepreneurial vision has helped create social enterprises and diverse funding streams for multiple organizations. Lesley is a veteran in public affairs, developing critical relationships with media and elected officials leading successful policy results. Lesley earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from the University of Alabama and a Master of Arts in Public and Private Management from Birmingham-Southern College. She is also a John Maxwell certified speaker, trainer, and coach.

Joe Pfountz

Joe Pfountz leads the team that oversees Step Up For Students’ accounting, finance, treasury, risk management and knowledge management functions and ensures the highest level of fiscal accountability and transparency at Step Up For Students and the programs it administers.

Prior to joining Step Up For Students, Joe spent 29 years in various leadership roles, including Chairman of the Board, Managing Director, Chief Financial Officer and Director of Finance for not-for-profit and for-profit enterprises in the healthcare and manufacturing sectors. Joe began his career in the assurance group of KPMG as an auditor of manufacturing, healthcare, construction, and banking companies. Joe received his bachelor’s degree from Christian Brothers College in Memphis, TN.

Julie Emory-Johnson
Executive Director

For more than 20 years, Julie Emory-Johnson has been an educator in Alabama in both the public and private school settings. Most recently, Julie served as the Director for Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Birmingham. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education from Auburn University, a Master of Education and Educational Specialist Certification from The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Educational Leadership Certification from Samford University and is a current doctoral student at Samford University in that field. She and her husband, Bryan, and their sons Wren and More live in Mountain Brook and attend St. Francis Xavier Church.

Susan Duffey

Susan is a retired manufacturing engineer and has served as a community volunteer for the last 30 years. She is married to Richard Duffey, M.D. and together they have seven children, all graduates of Saint Ignatius and McGill-Toolen Catholic High School. Susan has chaired the Long Range Strategic planning committees at Saint Ignatius Parish and McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, and served as President of the McGill-Toolen School Advisory Council, The McGill-Toolen Foundation and the Saint Ignatius Parish Council. She currently serves on the Archdiocese of Mobile Foundation Board.

Kathy Killion, CPA

With more than 30 years of public accounting experience, Kathy specializes in the field of corporate, partnership, and individual taxation. Kathy is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Alabama Society and the Mobile chapter of Certified Public Accountants. She served for many years as Executive Director of the McGill-Toolen Foundation. She has also served as President of the Mobile YWCA and St. Ignatius Catholic School board, a sustaining member of the Junior League of Mobile, and past Chairman of the St. Ignatius Catholic Church parish council. Kathy and her husband, Fred, have three children and three grandchildren. Their children are fourth-generation graduates of McGill-Toolen Catholic High School and its predecessor schools.

Hodges Harty

Hodges is the founding member of the Harty Carpenter Group, a highly skilled, experienced wealth management team in Fairhope, Alabama, that advises clients in investment management, retirement planning, tax and estate planning services, and wealth preservation.

Hodges has been a passionate supporter of the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund since its inception. He has served as a volunteer on the McGill-Toolen Annual Fund Drive, Catholic Charities, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mobile and currently serves on the McGill-Toolen Foundation Board. He and his wife, Debbie, have been married for 37 years and have three grown children, Jacquie, Kimberly and Jason. They are active members of Holy Family Parish but also volunteer their time at St. Lawrence Parish in Fairhope.

It is very important to Hodges to give back to the community, including McGill-Toolen Catholic High School Annual Fund Drive, McGill-Toolen Catholic Foundation Board, Catholic Charities, Boy Scouts, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mobile. Hodges has been a passionate volunteer for Alabama Opportunity Scholarships since its inception.

Tim Russell

Tim is a CPCU with an MBA in Finance. He served our country in the U. S. Army in the Vietnam War and received an Honorable Discharge with the rank of Captain. He worked in the insurance and finance industry for 36 years and was honored to serve as Chairman of the largest insurance trade association in the world.

Tim served three terms as Mayor of Foley, Alabama, was Probate Judge for nine years and served as Commissioner of Revenue for the State of Alabama and in the Governor\'s Cabinet.

He served on the St. Benedict School Board for 10 years and was Parish Council President of St. Margaret\'s five different terms over a 25-year period. He is a Knight of St. Gregory.

Bill Barranco

Bill is a retired CPA with 45 years of experience, 40 as partner in a large firm. He is an active member of Saint Bede’s Parish and serves on the finance council of Montgomery Catholic, Saint Bede’s and the Archdiocese of Mobile. He is the father of five children, all of whom attended Catholic schools from K-12. Mr. Barranco has served on his Parish council as well as Montgomery Catholic school boards.

Scholarship Eligible Schools - Archdiocese of Mobile

Christ the King Catholic School1503 Main Street, Daphne, AL 36526Principal: Mr. Maxwell Crain
Corpus Christi Catholic School6300 McKenna Drive, Mobile, AL 36608Principal: Mrs. Kristi Martin
Little Flower Catholic School2103 Government Street, Mobile, AL 36606Principal: Ms. Alesa Weiskopf
Montgomery Catholic Preparatory ~ Holy Spirit Campus8580 Vaughn Road, Montgomery, AL 36117Principal: Nancy Foley
Montgomery Catholic Preparatory ~ St. Bede Campus3870 Atlanta Highway, Montgomery, AL 36109Principal: Ms. Laurie Gulley
Most Pure Heart of Mary School310 Sengstak Street, Mobile, AL 36603Principal: Mrs. Jamie Crain
Resurrection Catholic School2815 Forbes Road, Montgomery, AL 36110Principal: Mr. Tamarcus Milner
St. Benedict Catholic School12786 Illinois Street, Elberta, AL 36530Principal: Dr. Kathy McCool
St. Dominic Catholic School4160 Burma Road, Mobile, AL 36693Principal: Mrs. Laurie Michener
St. Ignatius Catholic School3650 Springhill Avenue, Mobile, AL 36608Principal: Mrs. Tori Miller
St. Joseph Catholic School2009 Montgomery Road, Tuskegee Institute, AL 36088Principal: Mary Florian
St. Mary Catholic School107 North Lafayette Street, Mobile, AL 36604Principal: Mrs. Debbie Ollis
St. Patrick Catholic School23070 Hwy 59 North, POB 609, Robertsdale, AL 36567Principal: Mrs. Margaret Harte
St. Pius X Catholic School217 South Sage Avenue, Mobile, AL 36606Principal: Mrs. Lauren Alvarez
St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School4980 St. Vincent Drive, Mobile, AL 36619Principal: Mrs. Corrine Cuffle

High Schools

McGill-Toolen Catholic High School1501 Old Shell Road
Mobile, AL 36604
Principal: Michelle Haas
Montgomery Catholic Preparatory High School5350 Vaughn Road
Montgomery, AL 36116
Principal: Justin Castanza
St. Michael Catholic High School11732 Higbee Road
Fairhope, AL 36532
Principal: Mr. Faustin Webber