Keynote Speakers

Dr. Tracy Weeden. Ed.D.
Keynote Speaker

President & CEO, Neuhaus Education Center

Dr. Tracy White-Weeden is a seasoned leader dedicated to advancing literacy success for all and academic excellence for children.

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She brings 28 years of experience to a calling of shaping dynamic systems-change so that children are well prepared for the realities of a 21st-century knowledge economy. White is also a relentless literacy advocate who frames literacy as a fundamental human right that transforms the family tree when evidence-based practices are scaled responsibly. Her life’s work has been to position literacy success for all as a moral imperative that creates a place at the table for every child and adult, regardless of zip code or country of origin.

Dr. Heidi Beverine-Cury, Ph.D.
Keynote Speaker

Dr. Heidi Beverine-Curry is a co-founder and Chief Academic Officer for The Reading League, where she designs, supervises, and delivers educator learning opportunities.
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Before working for The Reading League full-time in 2019, Heidi spent 21 years working in public schools where she made use of her certifications in Elementary Education, K-12 Special Education, and K-12 Reading Education. When Heidi began her doctoral coursework in Reading Education in 2006, she became a champion for evidence-aligned literacy instruction, and has led a number of successful reform efforts. Heidi was an adjunct professor at Syracuse University and SUNY Oswego, where she specialized in teaching clinical reading intervention coursework.

Dr. Carol Tolman, Ed.D.
Keynote Speaker

Carol Tolman, Ed.D., is a national and international literacy consultant at the state, district, and school levels.
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As a special educator with over 25 years of public school experience, she spent 12 of those years designing and implementing an innovative, exemplary program for academically challenged high school students. Along with Dr. Louisa Moats, Dr. Tolman is the co-author of LETRS, 3rd ed. (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling), revolutionary professional development aimed at providing educators with the knowledge necessary to improve literacy rates for all students. Beyond LETRS, Carol is the published author of numerous chapters and articles centering on the knowledge necessary to support educators, administrators, and parents as they support children in their journey to becoming proficient readers and writers. As a mother, teacher, presenter, and author, Carol’s life passion centers on her family and on enabling access to high-quality instruction for every child. She is excited to share the science of reading (SOR) with Alaskan educators, information that continues to transform literacy rates throughout the world.

Dr. Carey M. Wright, Ed.D.
Keynote Speaker

Dr. Carey M. Wright was appointed State Superintendent of Education for Mississippi in 2013.
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Under her leadership, Mississippi has initiated successful education reforms that have increased literacy skills in pre-K through grade 3, pushed student achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to improve at a faster rate than nearly all other states, and achieved a higher graduation rate than the national average. Because of these achievements, Quality Counts ranked Mississippi No. 2 in the nation for improvement in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

A passionate advocate for early childhood education, Dr. Wright implemented Mississippi’s first publicly funded Early Learning Collaborative program, which earned the state recognition from the National Institute for Early Education Research as one of only six states in the nation that meet all 10 quality standards for early childhood education. Dr. Wright spearheaded initiatives that nearly doubled the Advancement Placement participation and success rate, resulted in significant annual gains in English Language Arts and Mathematics proficiency, and made Mississippi a national leader in literacy instruction and outcomes.
The U.S. Secretary of Education appointed Dr. Wright in 2019 to the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, the Nation’s Report Card.

Dr. Jessica Swain-Bradway, Ph.D
Keynote Speaker
Dr. Swain-Bradway is the Executive Director for Northwest PBIS Network, a mom of two school-aged kiddos, an enthusiastic hiker, and a former Special Education teacher. Dr. Swain-Bradway has an undergraduate degree from Rutgers University, a Master’s in the Science of Teaching from Rowan University, and PhD in Special Education from University of Oregon with a focus on emotional and behavioral disabilities.
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Her work in school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports (SW-PBIS) and multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) focuses on equipping teachers with high leverage strategies for instruction, relationship-building, and designing effective learning environments. She has extensive experience supporting districts and states to build capacity for PBIS implementation and working across agencies to maximize resources for developing the organizational health of the school environment. Dr. Swain-Bradway and her team are currently engaged in supporting regional and state-wide projects, to install mental health promotion and response, including trauma-responsive practices, to maximize student social-emotional, and academic success. Dr. Swain-Bradway also has expertise aligning restorative practices, mental health practices, including trauma responsive care, and academic RtI into the SWPBIS framework.

Dr. Michael Johnson, Ph.D.
Keynote Speaker

Dr. Michael Johnson was appointed Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early
Development on June 17, 2016, and began his service on July 1, 2016.

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Commissioner Johnson served in the Copper River School District as superintendent, school principal,
district curriculum and staff development director, elementary teacher, and special education program
assistant. During his tenure as its principal, Glennallen Elementary School was named a Blue Ribbon
School by the U.S. Department of Education. Dr. Johnson also is a recipient of the prestigious Milken
Educator Award.
Commissioner Johnson holds a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Arts in teaching degree in
elementary education from Columbia International University, and a Doctor of Philosophy in education
and intercultural studies from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Session Speakers

Dr. Deena Bishop, Ed.D.

Dr. Deena Bishop is superintendent of the Anchorage School District. As
leader of Alaska’s largest school district, her focus on student achievement
and success for all students is backed by her experiences in teaching and
educational leadership. She is firmly committed to the ASD’s vision to
prepare every child for success, giving them hope for their future.

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Dr. Bishop began her Alaska educational career in 1991 and proudly served
as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent, and
superintendent of a neighboring district before being named ASD’s
superintendent in July 2016.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Texas State University, a
master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Alaska,
and a doctorate in learning assessment and system performance from the
University of Oregon. She was part of the first graduating class for the AASA
National Superintendents Certification two-year program.
During her career, Dr. Bishop has been active in several local and civic
organizations, including the Education Commission of the States and the
University of Alaska Board of Regents. She serves on several non-profit
boards in Alaska. Dr. Bishop is married and has three children, a son and
two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family snow machining,
wake surfing, running, and interior painting.

Jill Webb Hoda

Jill has served in the field of education for over 20 years. Her experience as a classroom teacher includes teaching Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten through third grades, as well as K-2 Alternative Education, lead teacher, literacy model teacher, grade-level chair, and teacher mentor.

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She has been privileged to teach in Mississippi, Delaware, and Ohio. Mrs. Hoda previously served as a Literacy Coach, Regional Literacy Coordinator, and currently serves as one of the Mississippi Department of Education’s Assistant State Literacy Coordinators. In her role, she provides on-going support to promote grade-level reading to teachers, administrators, literacy coaches, and professional guidance and resources to regional literacy coordinators. Her greatest strengths include empowering coaches, administrators, and teachers to increase their literacy capacity and instruction; nurturing collaborative leadership; fostering strong working relationships; promoting strategic planning and goal setting; developing innovative literacy resources; and implementing the Literacy Based Promotion Act through continuous state-wide professional development and district/school site visits.

Jayda Brantley, M.S., M.Ed., CALT

Jayda Brantley, M.S., M.Ed., CALT, is the Academic Intervention Specialist with the Mississippi Department of Education and a Certified Academic Language Therapist.

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Mrs. Brantley received her Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees from Mississippi State University and a Master of Education in Dyslexia Therapy from Mississippi College. Prior to joining the MDE, Mrs. Brantley served as a certified dyslexia therapist, school interventionist, and classroom teacher. She has worked with students in grades K-12 as well as adults.

Kelli P. Crain, M.Ed.

Kelli obtained her BS Degree in Elementary Education from Mississippi College and obtained her master’s degree in Elementary Education from William Carey University.

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She taught first grade in Mississippi for ten years and served on the district curriculum team in Language Arts and Mathematics during that time. Kelli has worked for the Mississippi Department of Education through the Literacy Based Promotion Act since 2013 where she served as a Literacy Coach and a Regional Literacy Coordinator before becoming an Assistant State Literacy Coordinator. During this time, she has and continues to provide professional development for educators in literacy through various platforms. Kelli also supports coaches, teachers, and administrators across the state in creating strategic plans for increasing reading skills among students and building teacher capacity in literacy instruction to ensure that students become proficient readers by the end of third grade. She is a passionate advocate for students and teachers across the state of Mississippi.

Kimberly Barnes, M.Ed.

Kimberly Barnes, M.Ed, has more than 25 years of experience in public education as a teacher, instructional coach, and educational leader.

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She has passion and expertise consulting with school districts to support all learners by building deeper instructional leadership and clarity around literacy implementation. She brings deep expertise in the science of reading and her prior experience includes working as a consultant for the Yukon Koyukuk School District (coaching instructional leaders and teachers and building a coaching network), serving as the associate director of the Center for School Improvement and Policy Studies at Boise State University, and serving as a turnaround leadership/school improvement coordinator for the Idaho State Department of Education. Kimberly received a master’s in educational leadership from Boise State University, administrative and Danielson Teachscape Focus Observation/Evaluation licenses from the Idaho State Department of Education, and a bachelor’s in education and communications from Western Washington University.

Five Things Administrators Need to Know about Literacy Leadership
While administrators rarely provide the actual instruction, they are responsible for ensuring there is a structure and system in place that increases the likelihood of success for both teachers and students. Learn, discuss, and plan for leading science of reading practices in your school with confidence.

Laurie Weathersby, Ed.S., LDT, CALT

Laurie Weathersby, Ed.S., LDT, CALT, is the Director of Intervention Services in the Office of Elementary Education and Reading at the Mississippi Department of Education.

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She received her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Mississippi State University, her master’s degree from Mississippi College in Dyslexia Therapy and her Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership from Mississippi College. Laurie served as an elementary teacher and school interventionist, where she was selected as Teacher of the Year. Mrs. Weathersby worked as the District Interventionist and Dyslexia Coordinator at the district level before transitioning to the Mississippi Department of Education. Laurie is a Certified Academic Language Therapist and a Licensed Dyslexia Therapist.

Lori W. Stringer, M.Ed.

Lori has worked with various populations as a special education teacher, elementary education teacher, lead teacher, literacy coach, Regional Literacy Coordinator, professional development provider, and currently serves as an Assistant State Literacy Coordinator in numerous districts across the state of Mississippi.

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In her current role she has worked closely with leading coaching experts to bring coaching professional development to the Literacy Coaches of Mississippi. She was the Mississippi Department Education Conference Chairman for the Mississippi Literacy Association Conference. She has presented at the Mississippi Association of Educators conference, the Louisiana Literacy Academy, Passport to Literacy Conference, Rethink Literacy Conference, and Passport Boost Conference.

Carol Oulton

Description coming soon…

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Melissa Gill

Description coming soon…

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Marjorie Bottari, M.Ed.

Marjorie Bottari is currently a Literacy Specialist for Heggerty Phonemic Awareness.
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Prior to working for Heggerty, Marjorie had the privilege of teaching 6th grade, serving as K-3 team leader, 3-5 reading specialist, K-5 literacy coach, school administrator, and adjunct professor for the Reading Specialist Program at DePaul University in Chicago, IL. Marjorie is co-author of Bridge the Gap: Phonemic Awareness Intervention Lessons and Heggerty Early Pre-K Phonological Awareness Lessons.

The What, Why, and How of Phonological Awareness Instruction
Participants will gain an understanding of what phonemic awareness (PA) is, the critical role it plays in word recognition, and how to implement PA instruction in Tier 1 and intervention settings. The session will define The What by building a shared understanding of the terms phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and phonics, as well as, the reciprocal relationship between PA and phonics. The Why will explain the importance of building a strong foundation for our young learners and why we may need to intervene if older learners are still struggling with word recognition. The How will share ways to provide explicit PA instruction in a Tier 1 setting, as well as, how to provide PA instruction as one component of a word reading intervention.

Melissa V. Beck, M.Ed,

Melissa has worked with teachers in numerous districts across the state as an elementary teacher, middle school teacher, English chairperson, literacy coach, and professional development provider.

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She has presented at the Mississippi Association of Educators conference, Mississippi Department of Education Regional Conference, Passport to Literacy Conference, Passport Boost Conference and Making Connections Conference. Melissa is currently the K-3 Assessment Coordinator for the State of Mississippi. In her role she is responsible for the assessment components of the Literacy Based Promotion Act. She oversees the administration of the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, the 3rd Grade Reading Assessment, and the data collection for K-3 statewide screeners.

Dr. Elizabeth Greninger, Ph.D., PMP

Elizabeth Greninger is the Assessments Administrator for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

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Over two decades, Elizabeth has taught in K-2 classrooms, led teacher preparation programming, and provided advising and technical support to states, school districts, and schools. She is passionate about creating school systems where leaders, teachers, students, and families thrive as lifelong learners. Elizabeth’s areas of professional expertise include assessment design and delivery; curriculum design and instructional delivery; professional learning and development; and teacher and leader effectiveness. Elizabeth holds a doctorate in Educational Administration (K-12) with an emphasis in public policy from Texas A&M University, K-12 teaching and administration certifications, and a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. Elizabeth is a mom of two children attending public school in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Dr. Patti Permenter, Ed.D.

Dr. Permenter has 33 years of experience as an educator. She is currently serving as an Empowerment Specialist for the Alaska Rural Empowerment for Successful School Improvement project through her work with Region 16 and the Academic Development Institute (ADI).

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She was a K-12 educator for 28 years and achieved National Board Certification as an Early Childhood Generalist. Dr. Permenter is an assistant professor for the School of Education at William Carey University, Associate Director of the Program Research and Evaluation of Public Schools (PREPS), and Co-Chair/Founding member of the Mississippi Rural Education Association (MSREA). She enjoys working with school leaders, teachers, paraprofessionals, parents, and community stakeholders to find innovative ways to transform leading and learning. Dr. Permenter holds a B.S. Degree in Elementary Education, M.S. Degree in Educational Leadership, and Ed.D. Degree in Instructional Leadership.

Dr. Rebecca Tolson, CALT-QI

Rebecca Tolson is Vice President of Literacy Initiatives for Neuhaus Education Center.

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Tolson has a PhD in Elementary Education from the University of Akron and is a member of Academic Therapy Association at the level of Qualified Instructor and Certified Academic Language Therapist and a Certified Dyslexia Therapist through the International Dyslexia Association.


Tolson began her career in education as a fifth-grade teacher and later transitioned to teaching both children and adults with learning disabilities. She specializes in using Structured Literacy techniques as intervention for dyslexia and dysgraphia.


Tolson is a director of the Masters of Dyslexia Therapy program at Walsh University.


Tolson was appointed to the Ohio Dyslexia Committee charged with creating a statewide dyslexia guidebook.


Email Rebecca Tolson at rtolson@neuhaus.org

Robin Lemonis, M.Ed.

Rosie Santana, M.Ed, serves as the senior advisor in literacy, equity, and school improvement at Education Northwest. In 2017 she worked with the North Slope Borough School District, providing training and modeling in several sites on the implementation of reading instruction aligned with the current programs and evidence-based practices.
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In partnership with the Region 16 Comprehensive Center, Rosie also recently led a virtual session on language development through literacy and facilitated a book study on culturally responsive teaching for Alaska educators. Rosie earned her bachelor’s degree in education from Boise State University and her master’s degree in educational administration and leadership from the University of Idaho.

Language and Literacy for School Leaders
Understanding and valuing the home language of our students increases our chances of creating a sense of belonging and establishing learning partnerships where educators view the language that students bring into the classroom as an asset. This starts with an understanding of oral and print cultures and brings to light the important role of oral language in developing literacy. Leaders will distinguish between language and literacy and be provide ways to recognize effective oral language development aligned with the Science of Reading from the perspective of a school leader.

Jamilah Hicks, M.Ed.

Jamilah Hicks is the ELA Director at EdReports, overseeing all ELA materials reviews, leading strategic initiatives within and across the Academic Office, and collaborating with education leaders nationwide.
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In this role, she partners with other leaders to revise and enact strategies for training educator reviewers, conducts curriculum reviews driven by a robust materials pipeline, and considers the needs of districts and classrooms alongside the state of the curriculum market to identify new or improved review criteria or areas for emphasis. Jamilah brings experience from multiple roles in public education–including classroom teaching, school administration, and district supervision–to her work at EdReports. She earned her M.Ed. +30 from University of Louisiana at Lafayette and her B.A. from Northwestern State University.

Dr. Allison Layland, Ph.D.

Dr. Layland has more than 30 years of teaching and leadership experience in general and special education at the school, district, and state levels, as well as five years’ experience in the cable industry in public relations connecting technology with teaching..

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She brings research to practice building the capacity of state and local agencies to better service students and their families. Her specific areas of focus include adolescent literacy, secondary transition, and learning disabilities. She is currently the Chief Education Strategist for the Academic Development Institute (ADI) and a national and regional consultant assisting state education agencies, U.S. Territories, and Outlying Areas on strategic performance management, school improvement, teacher, and principal evaluation systems, and addressing instructional loss. Dr. Layland was also an adjunct professor for special education teacher preparation at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Her publication include Opportunities and Performance: Equity for Students in Poverty,  Managing Performance Strategically in Education Agencies,  Utilizing Integrated Resources to Implement the School and District Improvement Cycle and Supports,  and Connecting Commitments, Principles, and Practices to Strategically Address Equity and Improvement. Dr. Layland received a bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education from Mount Saint Mary College in New York, a master’s degree in special education from James Madison University in Virginia, and a doctorate in education administration and policy studies from the University of Denver.

Lauren Weisskirk

Lauren Weisskirk is the Chief Strategy Officer at EdReports.org, overseeing the organization’s communications, outreach, and impact priorities. In this role, she works with districts, states, and partners throughout the country to prioritize the selection and implementation of high-quality, aligned materials that will best meet the needs of their students.

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Lauren brings experience from multiple roles in public education – from the classroom to the federal government – to her work at EdReports. She earned her M.P.A. from New York University and her B.A. from Claremont McKenna College.

Karen Melin

Karen Melin is the Chief School Administrator of the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. Mrs. Melin began her career in education over 30 years ago as an early childhood and elementary teacher.

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During her years as a classroom teacher, she taught Pre-Kindergarten through 5th grade. She spent many years as a building leader and Reading Specialist in a Title 1 school. In addition to her classroom and building-level experience, she served at the district level as an Assessment and Intervention Coordinator. Her experience as a teacher, building leader later, and district coordinator led her on a path toward State level work as the Alaska Statewide Literacy Specialist, Administrator of Instructional Support, and Project Coordinator for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. She has most recently served as the Deputy Commissioner for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.


Dr. Ellen Vorenkamp. Ed.D.

MKJ Educational Consulting, LLC, Owner, Independent Consultant Wayne RESA, Assessment Consultant Michigan Department of Education, Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators (FAME), State Lead  Michigan Assessment Consortium (MAC), Board Member/Contractor

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Ellen Vorenkamp has worked in the field of education for the past 30 years. She currently serves as an Assessment Consultant at Wayne RESA, where she specializes in assessment related topics, with a particular interest in Balanced Assessment Systems, Formative Assessment, and the development of Quality Classroom Assessments.

She is currently a lead for the FAME program through MDE, a board member for the Michigan Assessment Consortium and a private consultant with her own consulting business MKJ Educational Consulting, LLC.  Dr. Vorenkamp is also an adjunct professor for Concordia University.
Previously, she spent several years as a middle school teacher in both El Paso TX and Detroit MI where she also served as an assistant principal.  She has also served as the Director of Quality Schools for a Michigan-based charter school management company.

She earned her BS in Sec. Ed. from Baylor University, her MA in Curriculum from Lesley University and her Ed. Specialist and Doctoral Degree from Eastern Michigan University.

She is married with three adult children. She enjoys running, hiking, kickboxing, reading, solving crossword puzzles, and, of course, talking about assessment.

Elbert Harvey, M.Ed.

Elbert Harvey currently serves as an Education Specialist for Academic
Development Institute (ADI), a partner with Regional Comprehensive
Center 16 and SERC. Elbert has over thirty years of experience in education; from classroom teacher, college instructor, principal, district leadership, and ending with a state appointed leadership position with the Arkansas Department of Education. Elbert has been recognized by the Governor of Arkansas and Secretary of Education for his contributions, commitment, and service to education in Arkansas.

Janel Keating, M.Ed.

Janel Keating is superintendent of the White River School District in the state of Washington. An accomplished educator with more than 25 years of experience, she is a former elementary and middle school teacher, elementary principal, director of student learning, and deputy superintendent. For eight years, Janel was principal of Mountain Meadow Elementary School. During her time there, Mountain Meadow was recognized as one of the highest academically performing elementary schools in the state.
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Janel has been named Principal of the Year in Pierce County, Washington, and was a recipient of the 2013 Carroll College 2013 Alumni Academic Achievement Award. An author, Janel has written books and numerous articles on leadership and school improvement. She coauthored (with Robert Eaker) the lead chapter in the 2012 Yearbook of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

She presents at state and national events, and for the past several years has consulted monthly with nearly 250 schools and school districts. Janel is past president of the Washington State Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. She earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Idaho and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Carroll College in Montana. Janel received a superintendent’s certificate from Seattle Pacific University.

Dr. Marybeth Flachbart, Ed.D.

Marybeth provides technical assistance and support to states, districts, and schools in the northwest on issues related to literacy. Her work with Alaska includes ongoing classes on the Science of Reading through Region I6 Comprehensive Center’s Beyond the Bell Series. Marybeth was a lead author on Alaska’s Reading Playbook.
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Jack Baldermann, M.Ed.

Jack Baldermann, principal of Westmont High School in Illinois, has been an educational leader for more than 20 years, serving as a superintendent, principal, and teacher. As director of secondary schools in Hartford, Connecticut, he supervised a talented group of high school and middle school principals in one of the most improved urban school districts in the country.
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Jack has been selected as the Illinois High School Principal of the Year for 2017. Under his leadership, Westmont (a Title I school outside Chicago) became a professional learning community in 2012. Since then, the school has achieved a 99 percent graduation rate (including a 100 percent graduation rate for Latino and African American students), made adequate yearly progress (AYP) for the first time in eight years, and had double-digit increases on state math and reading assessments. The advanced placement program was recognized by Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, and Washington Post as one of the most improved in the United States. The school increased the number of students who passed AP exams and the number of AP Scholars by 500 percent, drastically reduced the number of discipline referrals, and nearly eliminated school suspensions. In a survey administered by the state, over 97 percent of Westmont faculty agreed that morale was high and the relationship between the administration and teachers was effective. Jack has also helped implement a series of successful intervention strategies to increase student learning.

Previously, Jack served as the superintendent and principal at Riverside Brookfield High School in Illinois. During his tenure, Riverside Brookfield was recognized as one of the most improved schools in Illinois and the nation. Jack’s leadership helped the school earn recognition as one of the top 150 high schools in America from 2006 to 2009. The school also made AYP and realized large increases in test scores and graduation rates, including a six-year graduation rate average of 98 percent.

As a mentor for principals and as a consultant for school districts, Jack has helped many districts achieve significant increases in test scores and make AYP. He also initiated positive changes at Carl Sandburg High School (student population of 3,400) and enjoyed success leading several urban schools, implementing professional learning community concepts at these sites.

Jack has led workshops and presented in 46 states and Canada. A student-centered, compassionate, and visionary leader, Jack excels in building teams that significantly improve the educational community and ensure that all students learn. He shares these proven, practical strategies with fellow practitioners in dynamic presentations infused with thought-provoking wit and wisdom.

Jack is pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He holds a master of arts in educational administration from Saint Xavier University, a master of arts in English from Loyola University, and a bachelor of arts in political science and English from the University of Saint Francis.

Deborah Riddle, M.Ed.

Deborah Riddle is the Division Operations Manager for the Division of Innovation and Education Excellence. During her nine years at the department, she has had the opportunity to be part of several teams including assessments, career and technical education, and school improvement. If asked, she will tell you her favorite position was as the math and science content specialist. She currently oversees four teams: data, special education, early learning, and career and technical education.

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Deborah is a home grown Alaskan, she graduated from Bristol Bay High School in Naknek, Alaska. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Science from Oregon State University in Elementary Education with a secondary mathematics endorsement and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Montana State University.  She taught middle school math and science as well as Family Consumer Science, Robotics and Computers/Technology for 15 years in a rural school in Montana.

Joel Isaak, MFA

Dena’ina Łiq’a yes ve’izhi. His Dena’ina name is Łiq’a yes. Joel Isaak is his English name. Isaak’s village is Ch’aghałnikt, Point Possession and lives in Soldotna Alaska. His grandmother was Fedora Kallander and his parents are Sharon and David Isaak.

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Joel Isaak is an artist, educator, and lifelong learner. He uses the unique way the arts uncover understanding for working in an educational environment that combines a formal Western education model with customary traditional Native Alaskan life ways. Language work inspires Isaak’s artistic practice and education methodology. He uses multi-cultural communication as a medium to aid in language revitalization. Art has served as a safeguard for Isaak and a medium for generating understanding and communicating hard truths to a wide range of audiences to help facilitate wellness. He currently serves as a project coordinator and Tribal Liaison for Alaska’s Department of Education and Early Development.

Susan McKenzie, M.Ed.

Susan McKenzie is the Director of Innovation and Education Excellence at the Alaska’s Department of Education and Early Development.

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During her 39 years in education, she has also had the privilege of working as a teacher, reading specialist, principal, superintendent, and special education director in Oregon and Alaska. Susan completed her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education at Western Oregon University and then went on to complete her Masters in Language and Literacy with a Reading Endorsement at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF). She also holds endorsements in Special Education from Pacific University and Administration from Concordia University. As a lifelong learner, Susan has enjoyed each professional education experience as it has proved valuable in working to provide an excellent education every day for students. Aside from professional life, she enjoys spending time with her four adult children and a grandchild that have made Alaska their home.

Brittnay Bailey, M.Ed.

Brittnay Bailey is the School Recognition and Support Administrator for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

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For the past 12 years Brittnay has worked in Alaskan education in varying capacities, from being an ELA teacher of a multi-grade classroom in a village of about 200 people, to an educational technology coordinator for a district the size of the state she left for Alaska (it was Ohio if anyone is curious), to now working for the State of Alaska, using her knowledge of rural life, Native culture and traditions, educational practices, and technology integration to help ensure the state is continuously able to rise to its mission; providing an excellent education for every student, every day. 

Kelly Manning, MAT, MFA

Kelly Manning is the Deputy Director of Innovation and Education Excellence at the department.  

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Kelly was born, raised, and educated in Alaska, having completed her Bachelor of Arts in English and Master of Arts in Teaching at the University of Alaska, Southeast (UAS) and then going on to complete her Master of Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF).  Most of Kelly’s teaching experience has been working with adult learners, having taught English Composition at both UAF and UAS and managed training programs for both the Division of Juvenile Justice and REACH, a Juneau-based disabilities services agency.  In addition to teaching, Kelly has ten years of experience managing statewide and local programs designed to support underserved populations throughout the state.  As a lifelong Alaska with two children in the public education system, Kelly is committed to an excellent Alaska education system that ensures Alaskans the opportunity to thrive at home.

Donald Enoch, M.Ed.

Don Enoch began his career in education in 1981 training military police with the US Army.  In 1988, he enrolled with Black Hill State University where he received his BS in special education.

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 After graduation, Don moved to Alaska and since has worked in all regions of the state.  Don completed his MA in education administration through the University of Alaska at Anchorage and in 2008, Don accepted a position with the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, where he is currently the State Administrator for Special Education.

Tamara Van Wyhe, MAT, NBCT

Tamara Van Wyhe has served as Alaska’s State Director for the Region 16 Comprehensive Center (R16CC) since July of 2021.

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Prior to retirement from full-time state service in June 2021, Van Wyhe served as a division director for Alaska DEED and in service to Alaska school districts in positions including superintendent, director of teaching and learning support, school principal, assistant principal, instructional coach, and as middle and high school English language arts and fine arts teacher.

Her focus on academic equity in rural schools and districts has included substantial work in digital teaching initiatives and remote learning. Director Van Wyhe is a National Board Certified educator, a former member of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, and a recipient of the ASTE Technology Leadership Award.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich

Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich currently represents Senate District J in Anchorage, which includes Fairview, Downtown, South Addition, Government Hill, Mountain View, Airport Heights, Eastridge, and Russian Jack neighborhoods. He has held the Senate seat since his first election in 2016 and has served as Minority Leader since 2019. In Alaska’s 32nd Legislature, he serves on the Education, Ethics, Health and Social Services, World Trade, and Rules Committees.
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Senator Begich is passionate about advancing early childhood education, alternative energy, and economic equity. Outside of his public service duties, Senator Begich owns and operates CW Communications, a firm devoted to strategic planning, facilitation, and communications. He specializes in juvenile justice, education, community development, strategic planning, and media and government relations.

In the past, he worked as an aide to two Alaska State House Majority Leaders and Chief of Staff to the Alaska State Senate Caucus Chair. He also served as the Community Justice Coordinator for Alaska, and as the National Chair of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. He is an alum of Bard College, The University of Alaska, and attended Oxford University. Over the past 40 years he has served on numerous boards and commissions in Alaska.

Senator Begich is also a professional musician and writer with seven released albums, several published nonfiction articles, and one published book of poetry.

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