Leadership Spotlight: Jay Wehrer

Have you ever known someone who could solve a Rubik’s cube in no time flat? What about a detail-oriented person who could easily recognize patterns and analyze challenges? Ever met someone who could assess large swaths of data in no time flat?

Chances are, that person, with a mind hard-wired to problem-solve, find efficiencies, and build expedient systems, may have what it takes to be in operations and finance. That person could, in fact, have a mind like NOLA’s own Chief Operations Officer, Jay Wehrer.

A Mind Built for Tackling Challenge

Jay Wehrer is a lifelong Louisianan who has always loved learning, problem-solving, and improving outcomes for those around him. When Jay graduated from Jefferson Parish Schools – a client NOLA Education is fortunate enough to call a Star Academy Partner today – he decided to continue on to the University of New Orleans to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering.

“I remember choosing electrical engineering not because I knew anything about being an electrical engineer, but because it offered the most variety of the unknown,” Jay told us recently. “Even back then, I loved tackling new challenges and acquiring knowledge.”

While at the University of New Orleans, Jay met NOLA’s CEO, John Alvendia, and quickly forged a life-long friendship.

Jay & John: A Dynamic Duo

“John Alvendia and I have been friends since college,” Jay said. “We took the same electrical engineering courses, worked our way through college alongside one another, and eventually went where all engineering grads in Louisiana seem to go upon graduation: the Oil and Gas Industry.”

And although the freshly-minted electrical engineers worked for different companies during their time in the industry, they never lost track of each other or their desire to team up on a future endeavor. Within a decade of graduating, the friends found themselves collaborating on an effort that drives them to this day: education innovation.

“John asked me to help with the development of the first startup company, ‘I Can Learn,’ in the early nineties,” said Jay. “We spent our nights and weekends for seven years building the software product while holding successful full-time roles elsewhere. Then, when the math software company received a $7M grant from the US Department of Education, we quit our day jobs to officially launch the company.”

(‘I Can Learn’ was a nationally recognized learning implemented in K-12 schools, colleges, correctional facilities, and adult learning programs across the nation.)

“As the company grew, so did our roles,” Jay recalled. “Initially, I was the State and Federal Programs Manager responsible for overseeing the $55M in state and federal funding that John brought in over the years. Then, in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the finance officer left the company, so I stepped in to manage the operations and finance facets of the business. That was my first official role in operations and finance management, and since then, I’ve been hooked.”

Within a decade, the duo found a new venture they thought they could leverage to benefit America’s learners once again: Star Academy.

“When John started exploring the idea of acquiring Star Academy, I was in the background doing the analysis, looking for funding, and helping strategize how we could make it happen,” Jay told us. “John and I have been fortunate enough to call the other a best friend and right-hand man since college. We have established roles: He sells, and I execute. He operates at 100,000 aerial feet, and I’m operating on the ground.”

Jay’s Daily Motivation: Enhancing & Scaling a Growing Company

Over the last two years, NOLA Education has experienced impressive growth. The company –  which can now boast nearly 80 sites and 18,000+ students served nationwide – currently partners with clients coast to coast thanks to the NOLA team’s laser focus on getting Star Academy’s programming into the hands and minds of students across the nation. As the company seeks to continually enhance its client’s and students’ experiences, a myriad of complexities present themselves.

Fortunately, Jay enjoys taking the inevitable challenges that each company must face when rapidly scaling their organization and developing solutions that make life easier – and better – for those around him.

“I love the journey that comes with building and growing a company,” Jay said. “Operations touches every segment of the organization, and in a way, every customer. I enjoy serving people and putting systems in place that will help them function better today and tomorrow.”

Never Losing Sight of What Keeps the NOLA Machine Running

And while there’s nothing Jay enjoys more than digging into analytical details, he also doesn’t lose sight of what keeps the NOLA machine running: its people.

“We are on a mission to engage and inspire learners. NOLA is an extraordinary organization, and we need people that are passionate about our work and dedicated to the program – and its students’ – success. I feel very strongly about our core values, which we’ve crafted meticulously. They anchor our culture, and as our employees embody them daily, they make this an incredible place to work.”

Jay’s Three Golden Nuggets

When we asked Jay if there were any pieces of advice that guide him as a professional today, he effortlessly gave us three antidotes of wisdom: Show Your Appreciation to Others, Be Authentic to Yourself, and Savor the Relationships that Give You Strength.

“First, remember to express gratitude to those around you for the work they’re doing, especially if they think no one has noticed their efforts,” Jay said. “I write thank you cards to employees every Sunday. If one of my team members did something that I’m grateful for, I strive to let them know.”

Jay’s next piece of advice isn’t about others, however: it’s about identifying what drives and fulfills you.

“Next, we need to be authentic to ourselves,” said Jay. “If you don’t enjoy where you work, try to figure out why then change it. We spend more than a third of our lives at work. If you can’t wake up and be happy or engaged in what’s ahead that day, that’s sad. Too many people see 8 hours of work as the conduit for what they do for the other 16 hours in their day, rather than an opportunity to enrich their lives and the lives of those around them.”

Finally, Jay encouraged us to savor and lean into the relationships that give us strength.

“It is vital that we take pride in and care for the relationships in our lives that fulfill us, whether personally or professionally,” Jay said. “I enjoy spending my free time with my wife of 32 years, Vickie. We take walks by the lake or drive around the city listening to 70s music to relax. We truly value the time we spend together, and I would never be able to do what I do without her support.”

“I’m also grateful that John Alvendia has faith in me and given me the opportunity to serve others in the way I do today. We are changing the lives of our students: I feel I am meant to do things that are much bigger than me. NOLA fills that void and helps students escape the path of discouragement and poverty. I know we are giving hope and opportunity to our students, and it’s truly a privilege to contribute to helping the next generation live better lives.”

Leadership Spotlight: Virginia Robinson

Virginia Robinson, Chief Education Officer at NOLA Education, grew up in historic Abbeville, Louisiana. She had a wonderful childhood in Abbeville, which she will forever call “home.” It was there that Virginia first decided that she wanted to become an educator. And beyond being an educator, she knew she wanted to be a positive, encouraging educator who inspired students toward reaching their full potential.

“I’ve always loved learning, and in a lot of ways, traditional in-class learning was natural for me,” said Virginia. “There was one subject, however, that I didn’t “click with” right away – chemistry. So one day, during a tutoring session in high school, my chemistry teacher said, ‘This just isn’t your thing. You should really focus on English and Social Studies.’ My goodness, that really stuck with me. That discouragement that comes when someone who is supposed to be supportive of your learning journey emphasizes an area where you’re struggling. I knew right then and there I would be a teacher that shows students they can thrive, not one that shines a light on the areas where they aren’t.”

Virginia listens intently at a NOLA “Town Hall” meeting held at NOLA’s historic New Orleans office, alongside Jay Wehrer, Chief Operating Officer. The education company is amidst an impressive growth cycle, with big developments on the horizon in the next couple of years.

After graduation, she attended Louisiana State University where she earned her Bachelor of Science in History, English and Religious Studies. She continued her education at the University of Louisiana, where she earned her teacher certification. Virginia began her career Lafayette, Louisiana as a Social Studies teacher.  That’s actually where she experienced Star Academy’s programming for the first time. “When I saw the impact potential of Star Academy’s programming, the way it could change student lives, I was hooked,” Virginia told us. “It became clear to me that I needed to be a part of bringing Star Academy to students across the country who needed it.”

Today, you’ll find Virginia at the helm of NOLA’s curriculum and education services team. “My primary responsibility at NOLA is ensuring that the education team becomes the nation’s leading force in hands-on learning,” said Virginia. “We don’t want student futures or teacher success to be left to chance – it’s our job to help facilitate and further their positive momentum.”


“On the heels of COVID-19, NOLA Education’s growth hit turbo speed, and we’re working hard to keep that growth going,” Virginia told us. “We’re looking forward to having a Star Academy site in every state across the nation, then, hopefully, every county and school system! We want to change as many student lives as possible!”

Incredible growth, however, isn’t always simple – it requires adaptive, flexible team members who never lose sight of NOLA’s vision.

“Scaling NOLA means changing, adding, pivoting, and shifting our mindset, sometimes on a daily basis.” Virginia explained. “You have to constantly push yourself to do what’s best for our partners and students across the nation, and always remember that delivering extraordinary customer service isn’t optional – it comes standard with every site, 24/7.”

Virginia knows how important support is on a personal level: she credits her husband for his undivided support when she chose to leave a secure position in education to take a chance on NOLA, a promising fledgling education innovation company. “He and our children have made sacrifices so I can be here. Without their consistent support, this wouldn’t have happened. My success – and in a way, even the success of NOLA – has been impacted by the support they’ve given me”


NOLA’s C-Suite Leadership (L-R): Robin Mussa, Chief Experience Officer; Virginia Robinson, Chief Education Officer; John Alvendia, Chief Executive Officer; Jay Wehrer, Chief Operating Officer.

One of Virginia’s favorite things about NOLA’s employee culture is its commitment to appreciating people for who they are and empowering them to use their unique strengths to drive the entire team forward.

“I am 100% myself in this company, and am appreciated for who I am and the skills I bring to the table. In a lot of corporate or educational settings, you can’t say that, but at NOLA, it’s true,” said Virginia. “Our culture is also unique because it’s authentically driven by our core values. Our leader, John Alvendia, lives out the company’s core values daily and inspires each of us to do the same. The standard is high, but it encourages us to be our best selves for the team, partners, and students our lives touch. That’s truly impactful.”

Given NOLA’s current growth cycle, it’s looking for talent that aligns with its core values and is motivated to benefit the next generation.

“We love the part we play in changing student lives, and enriching the classrooms and practices of our partners,” Virginia said. “If you’re someone who loves people, wants to make a difference, and be a part of something BIG – NOLA may be a good fit for you. And if you’re lucky enough to climb aboard, all I can say is it’s going to be a fun ride, so climb in, hold on, and enjoy!”


When we asked Virginia if there was anyone else she’d like to thank for the success she experiences today – apart from her beloved husband and children – Virginia did not hesitate: Her father and grandfather.

“My father and grandfather have inspired and encouraged me my entire life,” Virginia told us. “They were entrepreneurs, respected leaders in their fields, and a gauge many others measure themselves by. They’ve always been honest with me, guided me, and taught me to be bold in my decisions. They demonstrated daily how to have fun, work hard, and love well – I am forever blessed to have had their example.”

Virginia keeps another piece of advice she received from her dad close to her heart: “There is only one thing that is uniquely yours. It’s not tangible, but it is something that can be damaged very quickly. It’s something that you must take full ownership of: your reputation.”

This solid piece of advice is something that Virginia remembers and strives to apply corporately as well. “What we’re building here at NOLA has the potential to change lives,” said Virginia. “We want to make sure that that impact and the dedication of our team to bring that potential to life, while supporting our partners without fail, become foundational elements of NOLA’s reputation.”

Leadership Spotlight: John Alvendia, CEO

John Alvendia is known for three things: his lifelong love of New Orleans; a passion for dynamic, accessible education; and an entrepreneurial spirit that just won’t quit. Roll these together, and you’ve discovered their perfect blend: NOLA Education.

But before John became CEO of NOLA, an education company that’s served tens of thousands of students nationwide, John had a simpler role: tutoring one student at a time. That’s right, John’s journey in education began with a good, old-fashioned college job: tutoring high school students part-time while enrolled in the University of New Orleans’ Electrical Engineering program. Little did he know that planted the seeds for his life’s work.

Following Graduation from UNO, John took a job as a project engineer at a chemical plant. His innate interest in science and math, along with his intrinsic desire to push the bounds of innovation, eventually led him to the field of educational software.

 In 1998, John co-founded JRL Enterprises, Inc., an educational technologies company where he designed and coded the “I CAN Learn” algebra software. In a few short years, the program blossomed from a startup to a $35 million company that served learners from K-12 classrooms and colleges to correctional facilities and adult learning programs. That gratifying work laid the foundation for his true calling: NOLA Education, a company focused on delivering innovative, research-backed education technologies to local, state, and federal clients seeking at-risk student intervention.

NOLA Education: A Southern Company in Full Bloom

Over the last decade, NOLA has grown steadily, with an impressive boom occurring in the past two years. The culprit of the company’s meteoric ascent? COVID-19. While the pandemic didn’t serve as a catalyst for growth for most industries, it did for NOLA, which specializes in helping students catch up in the classroom.

Over the last decade, NOLA has grown steadily, with an impressive boom occurring in the past two years. The culprit of the company’s meteoric ascent? COVID-19. While the pandemic didn’t serve as a catalyst for growth for most industries, it did for NOLA, which specializes in helping students catch up in the classroom.

Despite online learning efforts, the average student fell behind at least 12 months during the pandemic. Some students, including those from lower socio-economic backgrounds with limited academic resources, found themselves more than 18 months behind.

But that is where NOLA Education’s offering Star Academy steps in.

Star Academy is a proven academic accelerator that uses project-based learning, situated within inclusive classroom environments to keep learners coming to school and on track towards graduation. That’s why school districts, cooperatives, and state leaders have partnered with NOLA over the past 24 months to help reach their students before they slip out of their hands.

Following the pandemic, NOLA has blossomed into an education innovation company that serves thousands of students each semester. Our staff and facilities have also grown to accommodate an increasing demand for our product and services.

Our growth cycle is nowhere near complete, however, as the company is still seeking innovative leaders and passionate educators to round out its team.

NOLA’s Executive Leadership Team (L-R): Robin Mussa, Chief Experience Officer; Virginia Robinson, Chief Education Officer; John Alvendia, Chief Executive Officer; Jay Wehrer, Chief Operations Officer.

Now Hiring: Motivated Leaders, Ready to Inspire.

“At NOLA, we think ‘outside the box,” said John. “We don’t hire based on job history alone – we are open to applicants with unique skillsets that could benefit the company. It’s about the WHO, not WHAT.”

Are you a prospective employee, AND you’re crazy about New Orleans? Let’s just say that’s a big plus here. That’s because John believes there’s no place like the South, and more specifically, there’s no place like New Orleans.

You see, New Orleans itself shares similarities to what a NOLA employee should be: passionate, vibrant, imaginative, and committed to having a good time while making an impact. And at the end of the day, that warm spirit of New Orleans hospitality permeates our team – we strive to connect with one another, appreciate each other’s skills, and enjoy one another’s company, too. And the opportunities for advancement and role development within our team: virtually endless.

Now that NOLA is a bonafide success, people often ask John what’s next for him. For John, that answer is simple: Growing their clientele until there’s a Star Academy program in every state – and hopefully, then every county – across the nation. Retirement isn’t – and probably won’t ever truly be – on the table.

“Star Academy is my life’s work,” said John. “There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing lives changed through this program. Having parents chase you down in a parking lot and thank you for what you’ve done for their child with tears in their eyes – that’s what this work is all about.”

Heartfelt Gratitude & Appreciation

John pointed out however that NOLA wouldn’t be what it is today without those who have loved, supported, and inspired him throughout the years, especially his wife, their four wonderful sons, and his executive team—Jay Wehrer, Virginia Robinson, and Robin Mussa.

John’s long-time love and supporter, his wife, Angele, and his new inspiration: his first grandchild!

The Original Fab Four: John and Angele’s four sons, as well as their beloved daughters-in-law, and sweet grandbabe!

“Everything I’ve been able to accomplish is because of the unwavering support of my wife, the love of my sons, and the loyalty of my leadership team, even when times were tough,” John said. “I’m forever grateful to them, and hope to make them even more proud in the years ahead.”