Making Schools Work Conference Keynote and Featured Speakers


Pedro Noguera, UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies
Keynote Speaker - Opening General Session

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

Pedro Noguera, UCLA GEIS

Pedro A. Noguera is the Distinguished Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and Faculty Director for the Center for the Transformation of Schools at UCLA. He is a critically acclaimed scholar, a dynamic speaker and a committed activist.

Prior to joining the faculty at UCLA, Noguera served as a tenured professor and holder of endowed chairs at New York University (2003 – 2015), Harvard University (2000 – 2003) and the University of California, Berkeley (1990 – 2000).

Dr. Noguera’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.

Anna Nixon’s closing keynote address is proudly sponsored by AVIXA Foundation.

AVIXA Foundation Logo


Marck Abraham

Marck AbrahamMarck Abraham is the principal of McKinley High School as well as the founder and CEO of MEA Consultants, LLC, 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, Flippen Group

Phyllis Donatto, Leadership Development Strategist for Flippen Group, provides districts with professional development training focused on improving instructional practices and curriculum alignment. Drawing on her extensive experience as a secondary and postsecondary educator and administrator, she has presented at the international, national and state level on topics ranging from effective course design to teacher effectiveness.


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.


Kari Hankins and Kristen Cassidy

Kari Hankins and Kristen Cassidy, Truth, Facts & Lies

Kari Hankins is one of the co-founders of B Curriculum, LLC, and the Truth, Facts & Lies education program, a seven-session, evidence-based, social emotional learning curriculum for middle grades and high school students that addresses human trafficking, online solicitation, bullying, social media safety, relationship abuse and addiction.

Kristen Cassidy, co-creator of the Truth, Facts & Lies education program, is a licensed professional counselor-supervisor and a national certified counselor. She also has a private practice in Jennings, Louisiana, where she provides counseling to adults and children in both individual and family settings.


Mary Hemphill

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

Joe and Dardi 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 trained and formerly licensed 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 over 20 years ago in Indianapolis Public Schools 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.

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.


Zackory Kirk

Zackory Kirk

Zackory Kirk, former director of curriculum and instruction for Atlanta Public Schools and K-12 ELA coordinator for Henry County Schools, has served as a teacher and educator for more than 16 years. Kirk inspires teachers and leaders to adopt a continuous improvement mindset grounded in the responsibilities of teaching and leadership as a profession of service.


Madeline Levine

Madeline Levine is the Senior Manager of Community Partnerships and Outreach at Girls Who Code, an international nonprofit that works to close the gender gap in technology and change the image of what a programmer looks like and does.

As a passionate advocate of social justice, Levine works to foster strong community partnerships with school districts, library networks, and community-based organizations so that every girl has the opportunity to gain the confidence and skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.


Doug Major

Doug Major, Superintendent/CEO, Meridian TechDoug Major is superintendent and CEO of Meridian Technology Center in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and the president-elect of ACTE, the Association for Career and Technical Education, the member association of CTE educators in the United States.

Major began his career as an agriculture education student in Kingfisher, Oklahoma. Through his membership in FFA, he had the opportunity to serve both as a local and state officer, which helped shape his decision to enter the teaching profession.


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.


Joseph Valerio

Joseph Valerio, AVIXA Foundation

Joseph Valerio is Program Director for the AVIXA Foundation, charitable arm of AVIXA, the international trade association representing the audiovisual industry. He oversees all efforts devoted to creating opportunities for tomorrow’s AV professionals.

Valerio manages the Foundation’s workforce development programs and partnerships with schools and allied organizations. He also spearheads the many annual scholarship and grants awarded to students and community groups striving for success in the industry.


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.

A self-taught programmer, he started college as a computer science major but quickly got bored. Much to his parent’s chagrin, he changed his major to psychology to pursue a fascination with the human mind and understand why he couldn’t retain information like his peers. This unlocked his perspective on combining the logic of programming with the chaotic nature of the brain.

After graduating, Nai created KP Education Systems with the dream of combining his passion for video gaming with education. He created the world’s first fully multimedia-driven Culinary Arts curriculum and started applying gamification themes to his products. Later, he invented a formative mastery assessment system that allows students to “level up” their knowledge. Students loved it.

Today Nai is working on a new project to help at-risk youth use all the tricks of gamification without creating a video game. This new methodology gets students to practice math in an unprecedented volume, making it feel like Fortnite. He hopes that the Math Fluency Project will help kids who are disinterested in school build their confidence, lift their emotional spirits and bring them into “the Zone of Proximal Development.”


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.