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Leader U 2019 Speakers
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Keynote - Connecting with Children - It Begins with a Song


Graham Hepburn

Co-founder of, Graham Hepburn heads up all content development and curriculum alignment as Vice President.


Graham Hepburn has a passion for igniting a love of music in the hearts and minds of young kids. He received an honors degree in Piano Performance from the Colchester School of Music and his musical career has ranged from solo recitals to touring the world for six years as a musical comedy performer. Music is a very important part of his life. As the Director of Music for Grindon Hall Christian School in England, his effervescence transformed a quiet program with 20 students to a heralded effort, which included a 90-piece orchestra, 3 choirs, 20 rock bands, a fiddling group of 40 students, and a musical with a cast of 105.

Session Speakers

   Natalie Beach

Natalie Beach is a kindergarten teacher at Prescott South Elementary School, a STEM Designated school in Cookeville, TN.  She has taught in PreK-4th grades in both special and general education classrooms. Natalie is the 2018 PET Teacher of the Year and a PBS Kids Early Learning Champion. 

Session: A Guide to Personalized Learning in the Elementary Classroom




  Country Music Hall of Fame

The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum seeks to collect, preserve, and interpret the evolving history and traditions of country music. Through exhibits, publications, and educational programs, the museum teaches its diverse audiences about the enduring beauty and cultural importance of country music. The CMHOF School Programs Coordinator will lead this session. 

Session: Words and Music: Teaching Social-Emotional Learning through Lyric Writing


  Mark Hale

Mark Hale began his teaching career in Florida but during his 4th year of teaching, he had become stagnant with the music curriculum. Knowing that he still loved music, he resigned in 1999 and moved to Nashville where he believed his dreams of being in the music industry as a singer would come true. However, his first “gig” in Nashville was being a road manager and not singing. For the next 6 years he tour managed artists and bands, travelling across the US and abroad. Mark returned to teaching field and soon discovered that teaching students to love music by playing the modern band instruments was what he was called to do. He has been teaching at the same school or 14 years and oversees Little Kids Rockin' Jams for Metro Nashville Schools.

Session: Popular Music Education and Modern Band

  Fran Hoogestraat

Fran Hoogestraat has invested a lifetime learning and coaching the throwing events of track & field, for all ages for Franklin Road Academy and to high school athletes across middle Tennessee. She earned her masters and doctoral degrees in Higher Education Administration (with a specialty in intercollegiate athletics) from Vanderbilt University, while working as an academic/athletic counselor and throws coach for Vanderbilt Track & Field. One of her recent joys involved a 4 ½ year legislative journey to assist the Tennessee Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (TAHPERD) in a unanimous passage of the Tom Cronan Physical Education Act.

Session:The Importance of PE/Physical Fitness on Learning 

  Angie Markum and Ivy Team Members

Angie Markum became executive director at Ivy Academy Chattanooga in 2011 when the school was in the bottom 6% of schools statewide. The academic turnaround took place over the next five years by changing the model and utilizing some of the teaching modalities that will be shared in this session. Last year Ivy Academy middle and high school scored higher than their district or the state average in all but two state tested courses. Angie continues there as director of development to provide for the school's growth as a result of its success.

Session: Outdoor Learning for Every Classroom and Every Course K-12 and Anywhere

  Emerald Mitchell

Dr. Emerald Mitchell is the Executive Director of Moves & Grooves, a nonprofit arts organization which serves over 350 youth from Middle Tennessee each year in afterschool and enrichment programming. Since moving to Nashville in 2000, she has worked diligently to mitigate the “exposure gap” and ensure that underserved youth are exposed to experiences that will help them realize their aspirations. Dr. Mitchell received her Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Fisk University, M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix campus, Master’s in Education from Tennessee State University and received her Doctorate in Leadership and Professional Practice from Trevecca Nazarene University. 

Session: There’s No “I” in STEAM: A Look Into the Cognitive Process of Learning, Arts and the Brain

  Candi Norwood

Candi Collier Norwood has been involved in career and technical education (CTE) for 19 years. After completing an enlistment in the U.S. Air Force, she taught business and marketing at Henry County High School for 13 years. She served at the Tennessee Department of Education Division of College, Career and Technical Education for five years as the Director of Student Success. Currently, she is the CTE director for Milan Special School District. She holds an MBA from Murray State University and an Ed.S. from TN Technological University.

Session: Session: College, Career and Technical Education: Crucial for Success

  Gayle Porterfield

Gayle Porterfield is an award winning teacher and staff development leader who has taught second, fourth, and middle school language arts and math in the Murfreesboro/Nashville, Tennessee area. The opportunity to work with students living in poverty has opened many doors to creativity in creating supportive learning environments for students dealing with challenges out of their control. Her Classroom Co-op model “Rooms With A View” caught the attention of Gov. Bill Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. She is a passionate educator with a love for empowering all children and their parents to have a voice in their education for a positive impact on their future.

Session: Practical Ways to Deal with the Poverty Issue 

  Lynn Seifert

Having served as a superintendent, principal and teacher, Dr. Lynn Seifert brings a wealth of experience in all levels of schooling. She enjoys planning, writing and delivering professional development to schools across the nation and writing curriculum for national organizations such as ESPN and Major League Baseball. Having been in the trenches with inner city, rural and suburban districts, Dr. Seifert understands the struggles many teachers and administrators face and can provide solid steps for improvement. Currently, Lynn works for No Bully as their School Success Manager helping over 140 schools successfully implement ways to improve school and classroom climate. 

Session: Classroom Management for Every Day Survival 

  Randi Staggs

Randi Staggs is the Associate Principal at Nashville School of the Arts. She holds Masters degrees in Business Management and Education, a Specialist degree in Educational Leadership, and is currently working on her doctoral dissertation on the importance of the performing arts in education.

Session:Drama and Dance: The Transformative Power of Performing Arts in Education



  Elaine Swafford
In July 2012, Dr. Elaine Swafford took the helm as the Director of the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, the first all-girls public charter STEM school in the State of Tennessee. She and her team are in the seventh year of overseeing a school turnaround process and are meeting expectations of leading exceptional gains in student progress and academic achievement. After being on the brink of closure prior to her arrival, the school has now earned Reward School Status, among other awards. As the Executive Principal, she successfully led the Howard School of Academics and Technology in turnaround reform efforts from 2004 to 2007. She left the Howard School to become Area II Superintendent for the Hamilton County Department of Education.

Session: How Purposeful Impact with Data Turned a Tennessee School From Bottom 5% to Top 5%

  Siema Swartzel
Siema Bailey Swartzel is a 35 year veteran of music education, serving at all levels of education from elementary to post-secondary. She is Nationally Board Certified in Early Childhood Music since 2005 and is a former Southeast Tennessee Teacher of the Year. In 2017 she became a fellow with Fund For Teachers and traveled to Ireland to study authentic traditional music and dance. She is also a Yale Distinguished Music Educator. She is active in advocating for students with learning challenges and volunteers to teach music at a special services summer camp. She engages audiences with her love for music as well as her love for students and how music can make such a difference in their lives. She continues to teach in the classroom and loves the connections she makes with students and families through inspiring young people through music.

Session:Music- Engaging Minds, Creativity and Motivation

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