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Leader U 2017 Speakers
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Keynote - Education in the Age of the Underdog 


Ryan Jackson

Principal, Mount Pleasant School for the Arts, Maury County, Tennessee


Dr. Ryan B. Jackson is the executive Lead Principal of The Mount Pleasant Arts Innovation Zone, the nation's first PK-12 STEAM campus. A former film producer, Jackson transitioned to education in 2007 as an English teacher, starting Maplewood High School's first AP Lang & Comp course while revitalizing the school's student-run school newspaper. Jackson's TEDx TALK details the significance of securing student belonging in the classroom, an action-research study conducted during his years teaching in Metro Nashville Public School System. 

Session Speakers

   Timothy Drinkwine

Dr. Timothy Drinkwine is a native Nashvillian and a 1998 graduate of John Overton High School. He attended UTC and completed his degree in the School of Education with a focus in Secondary Education and a specific concentration in the Social Sciences. He began his teaching career at Gra-Mar Middle School in Metro Nashville. He completed a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership during his time in Metro-Nashville Public Schools. He graduated with that degree in 2006 from Trevecca University. In 2006-2010, he taught seventh grade World Geography and eighth grade U.S. History as well as Teen Leadership while at Sunset Middle. He served Spring Station Middle School for four years as their Asst.Principal, from 2010-2015. During his time as a Williamson County school leader, he obtained a doctorate in Leadership and Professional Practice from Trevecca University in the year 2013. Currently, Dr. Drinkwine serves as principal for Eakin School in MNPS.

Session: ACEs: Cultivating Roses in a Garden of Adversity

  Amy Elleman

Dr. Amy Elleman is currently an assistant professor in the Ph.D. Literacy Studies Program at Middle Tennessee State University. She earned her doctoral degree from Vanderbilt University where she became interested in designing interventions to improve comprehension, especially for children at risk of developing late emerging reading difficulties. Dr. Elleman has expertise in meta-analyses, assessment development, and designing innovative comprehension interventions. As a researcher with extensive practical experience as a teacher and administrator, Dr. Elleman is often invited to speak for audiences of educators interested in bridging the research to practice gap. Her current research focuses on understanding the most effective methods for improving engagement and increasing comprehension through knowledge building, vocabulary acquisition, and inference generation.

Session:The Power of Persistence: Promoting Motivation, Self-Regulation, and Engagement for Struggling Readers

  Thomas Fuhrman

Thomas Fuhrman serves as principal at Jere Whitson Elementary School in Cookeville, Tennessee. He formerly served as a high school English teacher for ten years in Tennessee and as principal for one year at Lynchburg Elementary and two years at Westwood Elementary, which was named a SCORE Prize finalist after his first year. Thomas has served as a leadership coach in the South Central and Mid-Cumberland regions and has presented a variety of sessions at TETC and other TeachMeet and technology conferences throughout Tennessee. He served as a participant in the 2015-16 Innovative Leaders Institute, led by the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network and also serves as an America Achieves fellow, selected as part of the Tennessee Educator Voice fellowship.  He is passionate about technology integration and transferable skill development in elementary grades and is guided by brain-based learning theories, growth mindset, and socio-emotional supports as means to engaging all students effectively.

Session: Brain-Bridging Across Gaps: Our Approach to Meeting the Needs of High-Poverty and EL Students at Jere Whitson Elementary

  Diarese George

Dr. Diarese George serves as a career technical education teacher instructing business courses at Clarksville High School. In that time, he has served as a lead instructor for the school’s career Business and Finance Academy, member of the Instructional Leadership Team, and an Academy lead in cross-curricular collaboration for project-based learning. He is a graduate of his district’s Leadership Development course, and a district-wide Professional Development facilitator for Microsoft Excel training. Diarese holds a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and Masters in Corporation Communications from Austin Peay State University. He also obtained an MBA and Doctorate in Education Leadership from Trevecca Nazarene University.  Additionally, he has completed educator leadership fellowships for Education Pioneers, SCORE, and Hope Street Group.  He is also the founder and executive director for the Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance.

Session: Why Tennessee Needs More Educators of Color:  Addressing the Mismatch Between Student Diversity and the Teachers Who Serve Them

  Lynn Hayes

Dr. Lynn Hayes is Director of the Masters program in Education of the Deaf in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences at Vanderbilt University. She received her doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Hayes has over 30+ years’ experience working with children and adults with hearing loss. Past experience includes: teacher trainer, vice principal of a residential school for the deaf, director of an early intervention program, and interpreter for the Deaf. She currently has an OSEP grant for both deaf education and deaf-blindness and serves as a consultant on the Tennessee Deaf-Blind project. Dr. Hayes has published numerous articles and made presentations both in the United States and abroad.

Session: Accessibility: Students with Hearing Loss in the General Education Classroom.

  Tanya Hill

Tanya Hill is a National Board Certified Reading and Language Specialist with 20 years of teaching experience. Originally from New Orleans, LA, she received her Bachelor’s in Elementary Education and her Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction specializing in Reading and English as a 2nd Language from the University of New Orleans. Mrs. Hill is also National Board Certified in Literacy. She relocated to Memphis, TN in 2007 where she found her love for teaching English as a 2nd language. Mrs. Hill is currently a 3rd grade ESL teacher for Shelby County Schools at Kate Bond Elementary. She is also a C2 Facilitator for Teach Plus Memphis providing professional development on Common Core State Standards to Shelby County School teachers. Mrs. Hill’s passion for teaching was featured in Chalkbeat TN as part of their “How I Teach” series in October 2016.  

Session: Literacy Strategies for English Language Learners

  Whitney Loring

As a clinical psychologist on the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD)'s Professional Development and Training team, Dr. Loring’s responsibilities include developing and conducting workshops and consultation for parents, educators, and providers in the community regarding evidence-based assessment and intervention strategies for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). She oversees TRIAD’s Families First program, which is a free monthly workshop series for parents of young children with ASD. Her clinical and research roles include developing and evaluating intervention strategies that address behavioral pediatric concerns for children with autism spectrum disorders (e.g., sleep concerns, toileting difficulties) and the effectiveness of various models of parent training and consultation.

Sessions: Supporting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders 

  Timothy Odegard

Dr. Timothy Odegard is a Professor of Psychology and holds the Katherine Davis Murfree Chair of Excellence in Dyslexic Studies at MTSU. He received a B.A. degree from Hendrix College and a M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas. Dr. Odegard is a Developmental Cognitive Psychologist whose research focuses on memory and language, incorporating experimental methods and neuroimaging to understand the development of these aspects of human cognition. Dr. Odegard serves on state and national committees and boards in the area of dyslexia and specific reading disability. He is a member of the Academic Language Therapist Association, International Dyslexia Association, and a fellow of the Psychonomics Society.

Session: Dyslexia: Identification, Instruction and Accommodations

  Paula Pendergrass

A native of Tennessee, Dr. Pendergrass has been teaching for MNPS (Metropolitan Nashville Public System) the past twenty-one years. She is currently a K-4 Gifted and Talented Educator for MNPS who recently received the 2016-2017 Teacher of the Year Award, an instructor at Vanderbilt University’s SAVY (Summer Academy at Vanderbilt for the Young) Program, and a facilitator for Bethel University. She teaches Advanced Educational Psychology, Effective Classroom Assessment for Diverse Learners, Methodology for Teaching Elementary Math and Science, and Methodology for Teaching Elementary Language and Social Studies in Bethel's Master of Education Program. She is a former track athlete and graduate of Vanderbilt University (Bachelor of Science in Religious Studies), the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (Master of Science in Teaching and Learning), and Tennessee State University (Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction).

Session: Research-Based Curriculum for High Achieving Students

  Cindy Pride

Cindy Pride is currently the Kids on Stage Director at the Mt. Pleasant Arts Innovation Zone in Mt. Pleasant, TN. Cindy holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Tennessee Technological University and a Master of Educational Leadership from Tennessee State University. She began her teaching career in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1997. She has been an instrumental music educator, adjudicator, guest conductor, and clinician. Cindy has presented her work on arts integration at both local and national conferences. Certified in educational administration through the state of Tennessee, Cindy servers on the Tennessee Council of Visual and Performing Arts Supervisors and she currently spends much of her time training teachers in arts integration, the various teacher assessment models and conducting educator evaluations.

Session: Full STEAM Ahead: How Adding Art to your STEM Program Promotes a Creator Culture in a Consumer World

  Leticia Skae
Leticia Skae-Jackson is a Level 5 English/ Language Arts teacher in Metro Nashville Public Schools. She has 11 years of teaching experience, with an expertise and focus in the areas of urban and ELL populations. She received her master’s in education from Vanderbilt University and is currently in the Literacy Studies PhD program at Middle Tennessee State University. She is a member of the Mayor Barry’s Tennessee Teacher Cabinet and a 2015-16 SCORE Educator Fellow. Her love for education stems from her childhood experiences of transitioning from being an ELL student herself, and finding scholarly success.

Session: How the Competitive Teaching Model Raised Engagement and Motivation in an Urban Middle School 

  Ronald Woodard

Dr. Ron Woodard is Maury County Public Schools' director of pupil services. Prior to working at Maury County he served as executive principal of Metro Nashville Public School's Maplewood High School for five years and one year serving as assistant principal. Before serving at Maplewood High, Woodard was assistant principal of Whites Creek High School for three years. He also taught science at Wright Middle School for four years where he served as program director for the Teen Mentoring Program. He has expertise in the areas of developing climate and culture in schools, building capacity and effective teams, and school turnaround.

Session: Keeping Hope in Our Schools: Creating a College-Going Culture for At-Risk Youth 

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