Making Schools Work Conference Keynote and Featured Speakers


Kim Bearden, Co-founder, Executive Director and Language Arts Teacher at the Ron Clark Academy
Keynote Speaker - Opening General Session

2:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Kim Bearden, Co-founder, Executive Director and Language Arts Teacher at the Ron Clark Academy

Kim Bearden is the co-founder, executive director and language arts teacher at the highly acclaimed Ron Clark Academy, an innovative middle school and educator-training facility in Atlanta. More than 80,000 educators from around the world have visited Kim’s classroom and have attended her workshops to learn better ways to engage students, promote academic rigor and create a climate and culture that promote success.

Kim Bearden’s keynote address is proudly sponsored by Teaching Channel.

Teaching Channel - Getting Better Together


Anna Nixon, Co-Founder, STEM4Girls
Keynote Speaker - Closing General Session

3 p.m., Thursday, July 8, 2021

Anna Nixon, Co-Founder, STEM4Girls

Anna Nixon, co-founder of STEM4Girls, a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring young people to pursue opportunities and learning in STEM fields, is an award-winning roboticist, speaker, teacher and leader. In her public talks, Nixon discusses the importance of technical education, technology trends, encouraging girls to pursue STEM, and generational changes caused by technology and education.

TIFPi logo

Our closing keynote address is proudly sponsored by The Institute for Performance Improvement.


Marck Abraham

Marck AbrahamMarck Abraham is the founder and CEO of MEA Consultants, LLC, which he designed to help poorly performing schools and organizations increase achievement for all students, especially young men of color.

As a thought leader for men of color, author and motivational speaker, Abraham has presented to various education audiences and school districts in New York and across the country. His most recent article, “Culturally Proficient Leadership: Improving the High School Graduation Rate for Black Males,” appeared in the February issue of Principal Leadership.


Robert Balfanz

Robert Balfanz is a research professor at the Center for the Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University School of Education, where he is co-director of the Talent Development Secondary reform model and director of the Everyone Graduates Center.

Balfanz published widely on secondary school reform, high school dropouts, early warning systems, chronic absenteeism, school climate and instructional interventions in high-poverty schools.


Craig J. Boykin

Craig J. Boykin

Motivational speaker, author and mentor Craig Boykin offers an inspiring message of hope to educators and the at-risk students they serve. Boykin’s highly regarded speeches, seminars and workshops focus on helping educators engage, support and motivate young people who struggle with the effects of poverty and trauma.


Leslie Hazle Bussey

Leslie Hazle Bussey, GLISI

Leslie Hazle Bussey is CEO and Executive Director of GLISI (the Georgia Leadership Institute for School Improvement), a nonprofit serving and growing over 1,500 school leaders annually in 50+ districts across Georgia.

Now in her 10th year at GLISI, Bussey leads a team of skilled facilitators, designers, and researchers of adult development experiences to bring to life GLISI’s mission, which is also their theory of action: Uplift school leaders,  transform mindsets and action, create vibrant cultures of innovation and build excellent and equitable schools.


Pam Daly

Pam Daly, "Brand Sherpa" and leader of DK Brand Strategy

Self-described “Brand Sherpa” and leader of DK Brand Strategy, Pam Daly was instrumental to the success of the Academies of Nashville initiative, which now enjoys world-wide recognition. Based on Daly’s work, Nashville was designated a “Best in Practice” example of urban school reform branding and marketing by the U.S. Department of Education.


Cheri Dedmon

Cheri Dedmon, Teaching Channel

Cheri Dedmon, Teaching Channel Account Manager, provides solutions to challenges faced by both large and small educational organizations throughout the Southeast and Midwest.

Dedmon has been an active member of the education community for over 43 years, having served in the role of classroom teacher, high school principal, district staff and member of the National School Reform Faculty.


Phyllis Donatto

Phyllis Donatto, FTH Dimension SolutionsPhyllis Donatto is the founder and CEO of FTH Dimension Solutions. A first-generation college graduate, she holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a master’s in reading, a master’s in theological studies and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction. She is certified in school administration and is also a reading specialist.


Rodney Flowers

Rodney Flowers, Inspirational Endeavors

Rodney Flowers, founder and president of Inspirational Endeavors, LLC, inspires, motivates and encourages individuals to reach for their hopes and dreams with earnest expectations regardless of their limitations or challenges.

After a traumatic high school football injury, Flowers was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. Despite an unfavorable prognosis for recovery, he spent the next 18 years regaining his ability to walk and making a positive impact on the world.


Thomas Glanton

Thomas Glanton, The Education Company Thomas Glanton, Jr., is president and lead consultant for The Education Company, a national educational consulting company specializing in school improvement and the art of school leadership. Under his leadership, the company has served over 200,000 teachers and administrators in public, private, and charter schools across the U.S.

Glanton works directly with school and district leaders to develop their capacity to create school climates that are conducive to student success by focusing on operations, instructional leadership, data analysis and school performance.


Catherine Guimarães

Catherine Guimarães, Teaching Channel

Catherine Guimarães, Regional Director for Teaching Channel since 2015, supports districts in using Teaching Channel Plus – a video-enabled learning management system – and adopting personalized professional learning. She believes educators are powerful influencers and leaders in making a better universe. 

Prior to her work with Tch, Guimarães led a team in designing online learning courses, served as an assistant principal at Girls Prep Middle School, led educators across New York City in the transition to the Common Core, and taught in middle schools in Boston and Washington, D.C.


Mary Hemphill-Joseph

Mary Hemphill, state director of K-12 Computer Science and Technology Education, North Carolina

Mary Hemphill is North Carolina’s first state director of K-12 Computer Science and Technology Education. With over 15 years of professional experience as a teacher, administrator, state director and university professor, Hemphill understands the importance of fusing education, empowerment and leadership as she works with communities as a leadership expert and coach and inspirational speaker. She has reached over 25,000 individuals with a message of transformation and innovation, self-empowerment and leadership.


Joe and Dardi Hendershott

Dardi and Joe Hendershott, Hope 4 The Wounded LLC

Joe Hendershott, co-founder of Hope 4 The Wounded, LLC, has an extensive background working with at-risk and wounded youth as a teacher, coach and administrator in traditional, alternative and correctional education settings.

Along with her administrative role as co-founder of Hope 4 The Wounded, LLC, Dardi Hendershott is a certified health and wellness coach, a trained and formerly licensed therapeutic foster/adoptive parent, and an advocate for professionals working with children of trauma.


Robert Jackson

Robert Jackson, Robert Jackson Motivates

Robert Jackson began his teaching career almost 25 years ago in Indianapolis Public Schools after being cut from the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings with a “no more excuses” teaching approach that set high expectations for his students and challenged them to not let their personal circumstances define their futures.

Jackson’s goal is to teach educators and administrators how to use their power more effectively to educate, activate and motivate all students to be successful. His own students have gone on to become successful pastors, lawyers, school administrators, teachers, sales reps, business owners, pro athletes, entertainers and more.

Steph Jensen, Boys Town

Steph Jensen

Steph Jensen is the director of community contracts for Boys Town National Community Support Services.

Jensen joined Boys Town in 2003. She has been in the educational field since 1995, holding positions from middle school teacher, district reading specialist and school consultant, speaker and author.


Baruti Kafele

Baruti Kafele,  School Leadership Expert & Education Speaker

A highly-regarded urban educator in New Jersey for over 20 years, Principal Baruti Kafele distinguished himself as a master teacher and a transformational school leader. As an elementary school teacher in East Orange, New Jersey, he was selected as the East Orange School District and Essex County Public Schools Teacher of the Year, and he was a finalist for New Jersey State Teacher of the Year.


Chris Madrid

Chris Madrid, Program Manager, TIFPIChris Madrid, lead program manager at The Institute for Performance Improvement, manages pilots of TIFPI’s innovative programs, supports agile product, program and partnership development, and scales up programs by leveraging partnerships and collaborations.

Madrid’s professional experiences include go-to-market strategy development and execution, agile marketing, sales channel activation, product realization, project and program management, and cross-functional leadership in both the telecommunications/wireless and nonprofit sectors.


Alan Marnett

Alan Marnett

Alan Marnett, Founder and CEO of BenchFly, is an action-oriented problem solver with over 25 years experience as a Ph.D. scientist and business owner. He believes that innovation originates at the intersection of science, education and technology.

BenchFly was founded in 2009 out of Marnett’s frustration as a chemist in finding access to expert instruction. Streaming video — relatively new at the time — had the potential to democratize access to insider knowledge by enabling scientists to share video techniques with each other directly, fundamentally changing the way scientists around the world were trained.


Christian Moore

Christian Moore, LCSW and founder, WhyTry Program

Christian Moore is an internationally-renowned speaker, licensed clinical social worker and advocate for youth. He is also the author of The Resilience Breakthrough: 27 Tools for Turning Adversity into Action.

Moore found his passion in social work and created the WhyTry Program, a social-emotional learning program that delivers tools and training to help educators change students from unmotivated to engaged, from failing to graduates, and from hopeless to resilient. WhyTry has been implemented in over 25,000 organizations.


Deb Page

Deb Page, TIFPI

Deb Page is president of the International Society for Performance Improvement and founder of the The Institute for Performance Improvement, which trains and certifies school improvement facilitators, including school and district leaders, academic coaches and state and regional education agency staff.

Founded in 2012, The Institute for Performance Improvement works in  collaboration with the International Society for Performance Improvement to train and certify performance improvement facilitators from across all sectors to neutrally guide collaborative coalitions for performance improvement and innovation.


Aaryn Schmuhl

Aaryn Schmuhl, GLISI

Aaryn Schmuhl is Vice President for Program Development & Innovation at GLISI (the Georgia Leadership Institute for School Improvement).

Schmuhl began his career teaching and coaching middle school in Henry County Schools in McDonough, Georgia. He helped open Luella Elementary School in 2005 as its assistant principal and served as principal of Luella Middle School from 2005-2011. He accepted the position of Assistant Superintendent for Learning and Leadership Services in Henry County in 2011 and led the district’s 2020 Vision for Personalized Learning in 50 schools. The district reorganized in 2017 and he stepped into the role of Chief Leadership Officer. 


Dave Shepard

Dave Shepard, The Middle Matters and More

Dave Shepard manages his own educational consulting firm, The Middle Matters and More, in Lexington, Kentucky. As a former teacher, coach, curriculum and program designer, and administrator, Shepard has worked with middle grades and high school students for more than 40 years.


Nai Wang

Nai Wang, KP Education Systems

Nai Wang is founder and president of KP Education Systems.

As a child, Nai struggled in public education, even failing a math class.  Growing up in an immigrant family that ran a restaurant, Nai and his family couldn’t afford medical treatment for his ADHD. That’s when he fell in love with video games, a medium that stimulated his mind at the pace he needed.


Frederick Yeakey

Frederick Yeakey, Providence Cristo Rey High School

Frederick Yeakey is Interim President at Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis, as well as an educational consultant and speaker who has delivered keynotes and workshops on culture, diversity, mentorship, character development, purpose and equity to educators, administrators, parents and students.