Our diverse lineup of speakers provide a unique opportunity for attendees to learn key insights from a broad spectrum of experts and colleagues from around the country.
Inspirational Educator & Subject of Paramount’s Freedom Writers Film
Erin Gruwell is a teacher, an education activist, and the founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation. She created the Freedom Writer Methods, a progressive teaching philosophy and curricula designed to achieve excellence from all students. She maintains a steadfast commitment to the future of education, and her impact as a change agent runs deep. By fostering an educational philosophy that values and promotes diversity, Gruwell transformed her students’ lives. She encouraged them to re-think rigid beliefs about themselves and others, reconsider daily decisions, and ultimately re-chart their futures. With Gruwell’s support, they chose to forego teenage pregnancy, drugs, and violence to become aspiring college students, published writers, and catalysts for change. They dubbed themselves the “Freedom Writers” -in homage to civil rights activists The Freedom Riders–and published a book. Inspired by Anne Frank and Zlata Filipovic (who lived through war-torn Sarajevo), Erin and her students captured their collective journey in The Freedom Writers Diary. Through poignant student entries and Erin’s narrative text, the book records their “eye-opening, spirit-raising odyssey against intolerance and misunderstanding.” In early 2007, Teach With Your Heart, Erin’s powerful memoir and call to arms was published.
While Erin has been credited with giving her students a “second chance,” it was perhaps she who changed the most during her tenure at Wilson High School. She decided to channel her classroom experiences toward a broader cause, and today her impact as a teacher extends well beyond Room 203. Erin founded the Freedom Writers Foundation where she currently teaches teachers around the country how to implement her innovative lesson plans into their own classrooms. Recently, Erin’s teaching methods from her time in Room 203 have been published in the Freedom Writers Diary Teacher’s Guide. Proceeds from the sale of all books directly fund the Freedom Writers Foundation. Erin and her students have appeared on numerous television shows, including Oprah, Prime Time Live with Connie Chung, Barbara Walters’ The View, and Good Morning America, to name a few. Erin and the Freedom Writers have earned them dozens of awards including the prestigious Spirit of Anne Frank Award.
Erin is a graduate of the University of California Irvine, where she received the Lauds and Laurels Distinguished Alumni Award. She earned her Master’s Degree and teaching credentials from California State University Long Beach, where she was honored as Distinguished Alumna by the School of Education.
Educational Thought Leader, Master Motivator, Author of Ideas, Ideas, Ideas
Steve Bollar, aka “Stand Tall Steve” is an educational thought leader and master motivator. He works with forward-thinking organizations to generate new ideas, improve climate/culture and maximize leadership skills. His quick wit, experience, and in-depth knowledge make him an in-demand speaker. Steve has experienced first-hand the importance of a healthy school culture as teacher, principal and superintendent. He is a member of the Jostens Renaissance Hall of Fame and was named one of South Jersey’s Top 20 Men of the Year. Steve is the author of Ideas, Ideas, Ideas, which has helped schools throughout North America improve their culture.
Professor of Ed Leadership, Former Teacher & Principal, Author of It’s Like Riding a Bike
Dave Schmittou is a beach bum/educational pirate, an energetic speaker, and the author of Making Assessment Work, Bold Humility and It’s Like Riding a Bike. Dave is currently a professor of Educational Leadership at Central Michigan University, a former elementary and middle school principal, assistant principal, coach and teacher. He is the winner of the 2014 Michigan Administrator of the Year award and the 2018 College Educator of the Year award.
Author of A Dark Journey to a Light Future, Ph.D. Who Was Expelled from 10 Schools
Tommie Mabry grew up in poverty in Jackson, Mississippi. With no one to serve as a model for mainstream success, Tommie turned to life in the streets. He was expelled from numerous schools and by age 11, he was serving time for burglary. Things started to change for Tommie when he joined an AAU basketball team that traveled around world. Although he was shot in the foot during his senior year in high school, he received a full basketball scholarship to Missouri State University. After completing his undergraduate studies at Tougaloo College, he taught school in the same district where he had been expelled numerous times. Subsequently he has served as Director of Enrollment at Tougaloo College before founding the company that bears his name. He earned his Ph.D. from Jackson State University and has published two books, A Dark Journey to a Light Future and If Tommie Can Do It, We Can Do It.
Supportive Discipline Innovator, Creator of Responsibility-Centered Discipline
A recognized thought leader on supportive and non-exclusionary discipline practices, Larry Thompson, M.Ed., is often called upon to deliver keynote presentations for state and national education conferences because of his knowledge, humor and passion for assisting today’s students. He has helped thousands of educators and schools throughout North America break away from their traditional discipline models to a model that creates a responsible climate and responsible students. Larry has served in a wide variety of roles in education – from special education teacher to alternative and traditional high school principal. As creator of the Responsibility-Centered Discipline program, Larry understands that systems must be created that can be realistically implemented and sustained. He is the author of Give ’em Five (Elementary & Secondary) and Roadmap to Responsibility.
International Speaker, Author, Creator of SistaKeeper
Tracie Berry-McGhee founded the SistaKeeper Empowerment Center in St. Louis 12 years ago with the mission of inspiring and developing the mind, body and spirit of young women. SistaKeeper has since spread to other locations within the United States and several other countries. Tracie also continues to serve the community via her private counseling practice, which specializes in women and teen girl issues. She is often called upon to speak on topics such as conflict resolution, delaying with low self-esteem and bullying. Tracie is the author of SistaKeeper Poetry for the Soul, I’m a Keeper and OWN your NOW.
San Antonio 2022 speaker information coming soon.
“America’s Educator,” NYTimes Bestselling Author, Disney’s American Teacher of the Year
Known to many as “America’s Educator,” Ron Clark is the 2000 Disney American Teacher of the Year, a two-time New York Times Bestselling author, the subject of a television movie and the founder of The Ron Clark Academy. Ron is regularly featured on network and cable television and was dubbed by Oprah Winfrey as her first “Phenomenal Man.”
Early in his career, Ron pioneered innovative projects in rural North Carolina working with minority students in a low wealth area. His highly effective programs garnered national attention and led to a White House invitation. After watching a television piece chronicling low test scores and the lack of teachers in inner-city New York, Ron packed his car and moved to Harlem. Ron prepared himself by visiting the home of each student before the first day of school. He involved his students in projects in the city and state, and his “low achievers” soon began to excel; by the end of the year, their scores were higher than the “gifted” classes in his district. In 2003, Ron Clark released the New York Times Bestseller, The Essential 55, which includes his 55 expectations of students – as well as all individuals – young and old. Obviously, Ron Clark did not stop there. In 2006, Ron Clark founded The Ron Clark Academy, an inner-city school serving students from across metro Atlanta. The privately funded institution is unique for its innovative teaching methods and curriculum based on worldwide travel. Each year the students apply their in-class lessons to international adventures. By the time of graduation, each child will have visited six of the seven continents. Almost 50,000 educators, teachers and administrators from around the world have visited the Academy to observe the innovative and “outside-the-box” methods for achieving student success.
In 2011, Ron Clark released The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck–101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers. This New York Times Bestseller brought to light 101 innovative and classroom-tested ways for improving America’s schools and leading children to greatness. In his most recent release, Move Your Bus: An Extraordinary New Approach to Accelerating Success in Work and Life.
School Turnaround Specialist, Author of Closing the Attitude Gap and The Principal 50
One of the most sought-after education speakers in America, Baruti Kafele is impacting America’s schools! An expert in the area of “attitude transformation,” Principal Kafele is a leading authority for providing effective classroom and school leadership strategies toward closing what he coined “The Attitude Gap.” As a middle and high school principal, Principal Kafele led the transformation of four different New Jersey urban schools, including “The Mighty” Newark Tech, which went from a low-performing school in need of improvement to national recognition, including being recognized three times by U.S. News and World Report as one of America’s best high schools. A prolific writer, he is the author of eight books which include his national bestsellers Closing the Attitude Gap, Motivating Black Males to Achieve in School and in Life, The Principal 50 and The Teacher 50. His 9th book, Is Your School Better BECAUSE You Lead It? is forthcoming. Principal Kafele is the recipient of more than 150 educational, professional and community awards which include the prestigious Milken National Educator Award, the National Alliance of Black School Educators Hall of Fame Award, and induction into the East Orange, NJ Hall of Fame.
YouTube Sensation & Real-World Educator
Long before Gerry Brooks made YouTube videos, he was a regular, fun-loving, principal at an elementary school in Lexington, Kentucky. His educational experience includes six years in the classroom, two years as an intervention specialist, and 12 years as an administrator. Gerry is a passionate public speaker whose focus is on encouraging and helping teachers improve their instructional abilities via climate and culture strategies and helping administrators successfully lead their staff in a positive and constructive manner. His following of more than 500,000 people on social media has developed through humorous videos that focus on real-world educational experiences.
Award-Winning STEM Educator & Teacher Support Specialist
Dr. Marquita S. Blades is an award-winning educator, international speaker and author. As a high school science teacher, she led nationally recognized STEM programs for high-achieving students. Through her consulting practice, she now offers professional development programs, curriculum & assessment writing, conference planning and teacher coaching in the areas of STEM instruction and teacher burnout. Dr. Blades created The Mediocre Teacher Project to help teachers avoid burnout by helping them incorporate their unique talents into their daily practice. She is also the host of The Dr. Marquita Blades Show: Candid Conversations that Create Change, an internet-based broadcast dedicated to discussing current trends and issues in education. Dr. Blades is the author of POWARRful Teaching Strategies for Increasing Engagement & Collaboration While Maintaining Rigor in Science Courses.
Author of Traumatized Students: School-Based Interventions, Former Dean, Founder of High Mountain Counseling Institute
Aaron J. Wiemeier is a licensed professional counselor with 20 years of experience in the mental health field and is a nationally recognized author, trainer and educator. He is an expert in the neurophysiology of trauma, attachment & adoption and has worked successfully with the most difficult of clients and with the most chaotic and conflictual systems. His pioneering work and program development has led to highly successful outcomes that increase permanency in least restrictive settings and ultimately reduce fiscal spending particularly in the mental health, educational and legal systems. In 2011, Aaron published a workbook titled, My Feelings Workbook, which teaches affect regulation, awareness and skill development on a nonverbal body level to children. The book was subsequently endorsed by well-established professionals in the trauma, attachment and Autism community. Aaron is also the Dean of Students at Littleton Preparatory Charter School in Littleton, CO, where he is pioneering the development of curriculum and programming that integrates education with the ever increasing mental health needs that plague public schools in the United States. Most recently, he co-authored School-Based Interventions for the Traumatized Student, a culmination of a life’s work centered around creative ways to reach, work with and inspire hope in children who have experienced trauma.
District Director of Student Support, National Speaker & Consultant
“The two most important days of your life are the day you were born, and the day you find out WHY.” This quote from Mark Twain perfectly captures Dr. William Noel’s personal calling and dedication to working with children. That higher calling and dedication is why Dr. Noel remains committed to being an influential role model for all students, but especially for the (sometimes) Hard-to-Reach students. Dr. Noel emphasizes the importance of connecting with those students through establishing genuine relationships, and teaching them to make better decisions. He would be the first person to debate that knowing WHO you teach may be more important than WHAT you teach. Dr. Noel began his journey in education as a substitute teacher, then as an alternative education teacher, social studies teacher, coach, assistant principal, and now district director of student support and disciplinary review. When asked by a colleague if he was going to miss teaching, Dr. Noel replied, “I will always be a teacher; just no longer from a classroom.”
Progressive Educator/Administrator, Master Trainer Responsibility-Centered Discipline
Eric Clark, M. Ed., is a Certified Master Trainer for Responsibility-Centered Discipline and helped shape the implementation materials for the program. He most recently served as Head of School at a progressive private school in the Midwest. Previously he served as Principal in a public school setting, while also serving at the District Technology Integration Specialist. Eric began his education career teaching English Language Arts, Journalism and Media Communications. Between his other responsibilities, he also launched a thriving publishing company. As an administrator, he has successfully implemented the supportive, non-exclusionary principles of Responsibility-Centered Discipline with elementary, middle and high school faculty and students.