2024 Speakers


Patricia Balana is currently Director for the GRAD Partnership for Student Success, at JHU. Previous roles include chief operating officer in the non-profit sector and also at the state level in the education authority in Northern Ireland.
Robert Balfanz, Ph.D., is a distinguished professor at the school of education, Johns Hopkins University, and Director of the Everyone Graduates Center, an applied research, development, and dissemination center. His specialty is translating research findings into practical strategies school's can use to improve student outcomes. He has published widely on college and career readiness, high school graduation rates, early warning systems, and chronic absenteeism. Currently he is working with schools and school districts nationwide to implement student success systems to enable schools to provide the level and intensity of student supports required in a post-pandemic world.
Mike Bovino is the Senior Advisor for Special Olympics PA and collaborates with a dedicated staff who support more than 450 schools throughout the state with fully inclusive Unified Champion Schools programming. This program utilizes Unified Sports, inclusive youth leadership, and whole school engagement activities to empower students, promote inclusion, and improve overall school climate. Mike has worked in the Special Olympics movement for more than 30 years, starting in the international headquarters as the first Director of Sports Marketing. Over the years, he has helped to develop new sports and inclusion programming, built enriching Unified Champion Schools partnerships with over 580 schools in two states + the District of Columbia, and focused on organizational development, strategic planning, and numerous fundraising initiatives. He has been a global and national leader in Special Olympics Unified Sports since its inception in 1989. Unified Sports brings together individuals with and without intellectual/developmental disabilities on the same team for training and competition as equal peers and is highly successful in fostering social inclusion. In addition to Special Olympics, Mike has worked with other nonprofits over the years as a consultant, and also served as Vice President for the United States Basketball League. He earned his B.A. from the University of Michigan.
Christina Bradburn, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, works as an intervention coordinator and a speech-language pathologist in a public school district in Indiana. She is a national seminar leader for the Bureau of Education and Research, speaking on the topic of integrating speech and language interventions into classrooms and curriculum using a workload approach. She earned her doctoral degree from Texas Woman’s University in May 2023. She received her B.S and M.S degrees in Communication Disorders from Indiana State University in 1999 and 2001. Her research interests include classroom-based intervention in the schools, classroom teacher's contribution to treatment effectiveness, and the impact of integrated distributed practice techniques on speech and language progress. She has been a visiting lecturer for several universities in Indiana and an invited speaker at several state conventions and school districts across the nation. She mentors SLPs in the United States and Canada and supervises students from local universities during their school externships. Christina seeks to improve the experiences of SLPs in school settings, as evidenced by her recent service as chair of the ASHA School-Issues Advisory Board, her participation in the ASHA Leadership Development Program schools’ cohort, and as a mentor in the ASHA Leadership Mentoring Program.
Lillian Buckles is a junior at River Valley High School. She has been enrolled in the district's Developing Educator program since her sophomore year. Through this program, she has learned her strengths within the classroom, her intended career goals, and the importance of teaching young minds so they grow up to be the best they can be. This opportunity has shown her the behind-the-scenes work and effort teachers put into their classes, which has helped to solidify her decision to go into the field of education.
Joline Collins, M.Ed., serves as the Deputy Director of the Northeast Regional TAC Center. She is a proud first-generation college student and received her masters from Harvard University Graduate School of Education; studying education policy and management. Since 2017, Joline has honed her expertise in systemic family and community engagement, leadership development and network management at IEL. She has supported the growth of IEL’s District Leaders Network on Family and Community Engagement, a peer-driven knowledge network designed to engage over 175 members as both experts and learners through a national structure to support member capacity building activities, organized professional learning experiences, co-authored Taking it to the Next Level: Strengthening and Sustaining Family Engagement through Integrated Systemic Practice, and more.
Tara Courchaine, Ed.D. is the Chief Research & Development Officer at CAST. She leads CAST’s research and development department to expand CAST’s network of enduring strategic partnerships and help to ensure equitable access to learning by advancing the body of knowledge around Universal Design for Learning, supportive technologies and inclusive education. Before joining CAST, Dr. Courchaine was an Education Program Specialist in the Office of the Director in the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)  where she worked with State Professional Development Projects (SPDGs), Model Demonstration Grants and grants focused on accessibility to help SEAs, LEAs and schools meet IDEA 2004 requirements to provide accessible instructional materials.

Amy Dwyre D’Agati, Senior Faculty Specialist in the College of Education, University of Maryland College Park, is staff at the Center for Transition and Career Innovation. She has her MS in Rehabilitation Counseling/Supported Employment and Transition from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and her BS in Communications Studies and German from Northwestern University. Amy has been working in the field of Transition and Career Development for people with disabilities for nearly 30 years, providing direct employment services to students and their families, partnering with businesses, training transition personnel, and researching and implementing best practices strategies in the field. She established and currently directs UMD’s TerpsEXCEED program, an inclusive postsecondary college experience for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities who could not access college in a traditional manner. In addition, she has helped develop, support and research postsecondary education programs on college campuses for students with I/DD in Maryland, New York, Connecticut,  and other states. She is also a Technical Assistance Provider on several national initiatives related to career development and inclusion of people with disabilities.
KM DiColandrea competed on the Stuyvesant High School Speech & Debate Team from 1999-2003, where they were a state finalist in Extemporaneous Speaking and a national finalist in Congressional Debate. After being the first in their family to attend a four-year college, they graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy from Yale and joined Teach for America. While teaching in NYC public schools for twelve years, they started debate teams at the Frederick Douglass Academy and Achievement First Brooklyn High School. There, they coached students to success on local and national circuits; their teams were champions at national tournaments including Harvard, UPenn, Columbia, and St Joseph's University, and they have been featured in national media including Time Magazine, The Kelly Clarkson Show, and Malcolm Gladwell's podcast. DiCo is a recipient of several teaching prizes including the Teach for America Alumni Award for Excellence and the Jewish Education Project's Robert Sherman Young Pioneers Award. The National Speech and Debate Association named them a First Diamond Coach and awarded them the Brother Sterner Lifetime Service Award in 2022. In 2017, DiCo co-founded Brooklyn Debate League, a nonprofit organization supporting Speech & Debate programming in NYC public schools, with their former student Jonathan Conyers, whose recent memoir  "I Wasn't Supposed to Be Here" tells the story of how debate changed his life. When the social media platform Humans of New York profiled DiCo and Jon in May 2022, over 30K people donated a total of $1.3 million to support Brooklyn Debate League.

Batya Elbaum, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Departments of Teaching and Learning, Psychology, and Pediatrics at the University of Miami and is the author of numerous studies related to parent engagement, interventions for students with disabilities, and outcomes of early intervention and preschool special education programs. In addition, she has served as a consultant to multiple states on the collection, analysis, and use of data for special education accountability reporting and program improvement. Over almost two decades, Dr. Elbaum has worked closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Education and PaTTAN to analyze, interpret, and disseminate results of the Pennsylvania statewide survey of parents of students receiving special education services.
Carol Evans, Ph.D. worked as an itinerant TSVI before re-specializing in school psychology.  After more than forty years in public schools, she now consults with the University of Utah Project TVISP, preparing graduate students in both fields to perform collaborative assessments of students with vision impairments. She has provided independent evaluations for Utah school districts. Carol lives in Utah with her husband and two little dogs.  She has three children and five grandchildren (4 of which are taller than she). She says she is getting old and is here to pass on what she knows before she forgets it all.
Allison Gilmour, Ph.D., is a Principal Researcher at AIR. She has extensive experience in special education policy analysis, with expertise in evaluating policy-relevant questions using state longitudinal datasets. Specifically, she has studied special educator labor markets, teacher evaluation systems, the charter school special education gap, and the outcomes of state-level implementation of Response to Intervention. Dr. Gilmour has more than 34 publications in top-ranking peer-reviewed journals, including Educational Researcher, Exceptional Children, and the Journal of Educational Psychology. Dr. Gilmour was named an Emerging Education Policy Scholar by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in 2020, two of her papers were the most cited articles for the year in Exceptional Children, and she won the Quantitative Dissertation Award from the Council for Exceptional Children Division for Research. Before joining AIR, Dr. Gilmour was an assistant professor of special education and a high school special education teacher.
Ambra L. Green, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Special Education within the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at The University of Texas at Arlington. She received her Ph.D. and served as an Assistant Research Professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Dr. Green is a national scholar with publications and research focused on students of color with and at-risk for disabilities, issues related to inequitable school practices (i.e., disproportionality in special education and exclusionary practices), behavior disorders, positive behavioral interventions and supports, and teacher use of evidence-based practices. She has over 2.3 million dollars in grant funding and is the Primary Investigator a 1.1 million-dollar U.S. Department of Education Office for Special Education Programs (OSEP) personnel preparation grant which provides rigorous training for master’s special education and social work students to support K-12 students with disabilities and high intensity needs. In addition to providing technical assistance at the school, district, and state levels, Dr. Green has provided professional special education consultation in a number of capacities, including for U.S. Senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill and the Texas Education Agency. Dr. Green also has experience working within the U.S. Department of Education Office for Special Education Programs (OSEP) and serves on the OSEP National Technical Assistance Center on PBIS Equity workgroup. Prior to her work in higher education, Dr. Green was a middle school special education teacher and PBIS Coach. She holds current teacher certifications in EC-6 Generalist, 4-8 Generalist, and EC-12 Special Education in the state of Texas.
Meg Grigal, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston and the co-director of Think College, a national center focused on research, policy and practice on inclusive higher education for people with intellectual disability. At Think College, Meg serves as a principal investigator on a variety of research, technical assistance, and evaluation projects including the Think College National Coordinating Center and the Inclusive Higher Education Network. She has co-authored three books, and over 80 peer reviewed journal articles, book chapters, and briefs on college access and employment. In addition to research, Meg has provided professional development to thousands of professionals and families to build expectations and expand opportunities for students with ID to pursue and succeed in higher education. The work of Think College has led to expansion of higher education options for students with intellectual disabilities throughout the US and internationally.
J. Michael Hall is the father of two sons (both high school teachers). Mr. Hall has been a special education teacher, a teacher of the gifted and talented, and an intermediate and middle school principal. As an educator, speaker and founder of Strong Fathers-Strong Families, he has presented to more than 250,000 fathers and parents at local schools, Head Starts, and regional and national conferences. As Strong Fathers-Strong Families has recently completed its 20th school year, his programs are now reaching young dads who were once the children in his programs. Mike is also the co-host of the Intentional Partnerships, a collaborative podcast in partnership with Lindsey Shah and the National Center for Parents as Teachers. He has written five different fatherhood curricula and is presently working on his sixth. He is also a contributing author to the book on fathering entitled Why Fathers Count. He is considered one of the country’s foremost experts on working with fathers in low education and social service settings. Mike was honored as a 2012 White House Champion of Change for his pioneering work in the fatherhood field around the nation."
Ben Hartranft is a 25-year-old young man who was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2. At that time, he knew only 20 words, and everything was a safety issue. Ben has exceeded all expectations and is strengthened by his faith in God and the people He has placed in Ben’s life. He received his diploma, works part-time for Philadelphia Eagles Game Day Staff, earned his driver’s license and treats everyone he meets like a rock star. Ben has had the extraordinary opportunity to carry the Lombardi trophy to start the ring ceremony for the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. Ben’s dream came true in October 2018 when he was invited to be a guest on the Ellen show and promote Autism Awareness and funding for research. His latest adventure was traveling solo to Los Angeles and being a contestant on The Price Is Right. Ben loves being an advocate for Autism Awareness and wants to take awareness to action. His "Benergy" will encourage you as you work with neurodiverse students or family members.
Sandy Hartranft, RN, BSN, CDCES, has been an RN for over 40 years and a CDCES (Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist) for the past 28 years. She now works at the very hospital that diagnosed Ben with autism at the age of 2. She is the proud mom of 3 wonderful grown sons, an avid reader, loves to cross stitch and travel with her family. Sandy is always willing to talk to other families about their experiences and hopes to encourage others the same way she was encouraged on her journey. Sandy’s first book “Swinging from the Chandelier: Finding Joy in the Journey through Autism” is a memoir taken from the many journals she kept over the years raising her 3 boys and the wild ride it has been.
John W. Hodge, Ed.D. is president and co-founder of Urban Learning and Leadership Center (ULLC), an organization focused on student achievement and reduction of the achievement gap. He has served as a reading teacher, English teacher, AVID teacher, Assistant Principal and Associate Director of AVID Center Eastern Division. He served as Director of An Achievable Dream Academy, a high performing, high poverty, inner city school that has received numerous national awards. John received his Bachelor of Science degree from North Carolina A&T State University where he graduated with honors. He later received his Master of Arts degree from Chapman University. John completed his academic and professional preparation by earning a Doctor of Education degree from Virginia Tech where he conducted extensive research on factors that contribute to the academic success and/or failure of impoverished children. What sets Dr. John W. Hodge apart in the field of education is his well-documented ability to put research and theory into everyday practice in rural, urban and suburban schools. Dr. Hodge has helped educators in elementary, middle and high schools make the necessary changes to help all children meet and exceed rigorous academic standards. He is truly one of America's most respected new voices in education. Prior to starting his career in education, Dr. Hodge distinguished himself in the service of our country with the 7th Infantry Division of the United States Army. He is known as a master teacher and staff developer."
Nikole Y. Hollins-Sims, Ed.D., is the senior educational consultant and strategist for Hollins-Sims Consultation. She formerly served as a technical assistance coordinator for the Midwest PBIS network and is a former Special Assistant to the Secretary of Education at the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). Additionally, Dr. Hollins-Sims has previously served as an educational consultant for the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN), where she was the co-statewide lead for the Learning Environment & Engagement initiative. She is a Pennsylvania certified school psychologist and has conducted research around caregivers of children of incarcerated parents and their motivation to engage in family-school partnerships. Dr. Hollins-Sims has been awarded as a Moral and Courageous Leader for Education by Cabrini University in 2021, the 2021 American Psychology Association (APA) Anti-Racism School Psychology Emerging Professional Award and was named the 2021 Pennsylvania School Psychologist of the Year. She has also been honored with the Gateway to Equity Award by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) - Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Chapter. One of her career highlights is serving as the lead author of the book titled: Creating Equitable Practices in PBIS.
Meagan Karvonen, Ph.D., is Director of ATLAS (Accessible Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Systems), a research center at the University of Kansas. She works on assessment design, instructional strategies, and professional development for teachers who provide academic instruction for students with significant cognitive disabilities. Dr. Karvonen currently leads two federally-funded projects to improve instruction: 5E Science Education for Special Educators and SETTT for Success. Dr. Karvonen has coauthored more than 200 articles, book chapters, technical reports, and presentations.

David Kirkland, Ph.D. is a visionary leader, educator, and scholar dedicated to advancing equity and social justice. As the founder and CEO of forwardED, LLC, a pioneering company focused on transformative solutions in education, he has been at the forefront of driving innovative change in response to the evolving demands of the social and geopolitical moment. Dr. Kirkland's illustrious career has been marked by his pursuit for more collaborative, dynamic, and engaging educational experiences. During his tenure as Vice Dean of Equity, Belonging, and Community Action, and as Executive Director of the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at New York University, Dr. Kirkland has demonstrated a keen awareness of social innovation and an ethical imagination. Throughout his career, Dr. Kirkland has focused on supporting vulnerable students, engaging in research and advocacy work that has not only generated accolades and prestigious awards but also has had a tangible social impact, securing millions in grants and investments for educational equity initiatives. From reducing racial disparities to fostering culturally responsive-sustaining education, his work has shaped policies and frameworks nationwide, transforming education across diverse settings. Dr. Kirkland's influence extends far beyond academia. His expertise on equity and racial justice has earned him a national platform, where he regularly delivers over 40 featured presentations each year, reaching audiences from coast to coast. His commentaries and insights have been cited extensively by reputable media outlets, including the New York Times, NPR, CNN, and the Washington Post.

Nichole Kopco, M.Ed. has been an Educational Consultant with the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN) in Harrisburg since April 2014. Nichole has 27 years of special education experience in public education, 22 of those years have been in a leadership capacity. Immediately before coming to PaTTAN, Nichole served as Director of Special Education for Somerset Area School District. Nichole has a master’s in education, Education of Exceptional Persons, and her credentials include Pennsylvania certifications in elementary education, special education, reading specialist certification, special education supervisor certification and she obtained her Superintendent Letter of Eligibility from Gannon University in the Fall of 2020. At PaTTAN, Nichole serves as the Central Region lead for the Special Education Law and Leadership initiatives and she is a proud member of the PaTTAN Literacy team. She also supports IUs 8, 10, and 11 as the PaTTAN Point of Contact. Nichole has been an integral member of the grant development committee in helping to establish and lead the work for Pennsylvania's Disability Inclusive Curriculum Pilot.
Tim A. Krushinski is a Policy Advisor for the Bureau of Special Education. He graduated Penn State University with a degree in Special Education and graduated from St. Joseph's University with a degree in Educational Leadership and Special Education Supervision. He served as Supervisor of Special Education, Principal, and Director of APS schools in the eastern part of the state. He also served on the Special Education Advisory Panel appointed by the Governor of PA.
Joseph Latimer, Ph.D. is an assistant research professor within the School Mental Health Collaborative. His research interests focus on integrating multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), educational leadership and system change when addressing students’ social, emotional, and behavioral needs. He currently leads a federally funded research grant that focuses on the development and validation of a multi-informant decisional assessment system to integrate and use multiple sources of data for accurate and efficient identification of social-emotional and behavioral (SEB) concerns. Dr. Latimer’s roles and responsibilities include supervision of graduate students, leading submission of grants, providing technical assistance to school district partners, and developing resources for training and dissemination.
Kristen Lewald, Ed.D., is the Statewide Projects Director for PDE at Lancaster-Lebanon IU13. This includes leadership in several areas of statewide work across Pennsylvania for PDE – the PVAAS Statewide Team for PDE, PIMS/PVAAS for Educator Effectiveness, PDE’s Research Team and as the Project Advisor for statewide school improvement. Kristen has a master’s from Bloomsburg University in Speech-Language Pathology, a Master’s in Organizational Development from Temple University, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Immaculata University.  Kristen has been the recipient of numerous awards including the 2002 IU13 Annual Administrator Employee of Distinction Award, the 2006 Battelle for Kids Pioneer Award, the 2010 PAIU Dr. Gary L. Miller Memorial Distinguished Service award, the 2011, the EPLC Leadership Program Alumni Award in 2011 and the 2016 Learning Forward recognition for Best Practices in the Area of Professional Learning in the State of PA. In 2022 Kristen was awarded the SAS User Feedback award for the work she and her team provide to align PVAAS reporting to the needs of districts and schools.
Alvin Lukose is a student at Penn State Harrisburg that has been Involved in the Career Studies program since the fall of 2021.
Karen Magalich is a Rising Educator STEAM Academy Instructor for the River Valley School District. Karen has 18 years of teaching experience in various roles.
Jose Martin, J.D.’s law practice has focused exclusively on matters involving the education of students with disabilities under the IDEA and Section 504, for over 30 years. A graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, his background in journalism has led Jose to frequent publication in the area of disabilities laws and their impact on public schools. As a litigant, he has tried cases at the due process, district court, and court of appeals levels. As a speaker, Mr. Martín presents numerous sessions every year on disabilities laws to audiences at local, regional, state, online, and national conferences.
Sandy McBride, M.Ed. was an elementary learning support teacher for thirty-five years in the Camp Hill School District. She was also an employment specialist for Goodwill for a short time before starting at Penn State Harrisburg in July 2021 as the Program Coordinator for the Career Studies Program.
Katherine McLaughlin, M.Ed., AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator, is the Founder, CEO and Lead Trainer for Elevatus Training. As a national expert on sexuality and I/DD she trains professionals, and parents as well as individuals to become sexual self-advocates, and peer sexuality educators. She is the author of, Sexuality Education for People with Developmental Disabilities curriculum. She has developed two online courses: Developmental Disability and Sexuality 101 for professionals and Talking to Your Kids: Developmental Disabilities and Sexuality for parents, and a 3-Day certificate training: Becoming a Sexuality Educator and Trainer. She has spent her 25+ year career committed to elevating the status of all people, which is why the name of her growing company is Elevatus Training.
Amy Davis McShane has worked in the education field for over 30 years and is currently employed with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit based in Homestead, PA. Currently she serves as the Career Ready PA Lead and Western PA Gifted Liaison, both with the Pennsylvania Department of Education. As well as working in those areas Mrs. McShane coordinates Academic Competitions and Events for the region’s students and is the State Coordinator for the STEM Design Challenge.
Laura Moran, Ph.D. is an educational consultant with Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN) in Harrisburg, PA. Currently, Laura is the PA State Systemic Improvement Plan (SSIP) coordinator to increase graduation rates for students with disabilities. In addition, she is the central office was lead for Pathways to Graduation (P2G), which is to increase school completion for middle school students with emotional behavioral disorders.  Laura’s work also encompasses literacy, Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), and special education leadership. Laura is a certified LETRS trainer in PA and nationwide and a national Paideia faculty member. Laura holds a doctorate degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Administration and Leadership Studies for the Public Sector and her research focused on teacher efficacy.
Shirley Moyer
joined PDE/BSE in October 2018 as the Special Education Adviser for Gifted Education after 36 years of experience in a variety of roles in education including teacher, principal, supervisor of special education, director of pupil services. She has worked in prisons, public schools, and IUs across the Commonwealth in grades pre-K through adult education. The work she does is grounded in compliance and she is available to all stakeholders to respond to gifted questions. She is thrilled to be working with Amy Davis and Patrice Semicek, whose work is grounded in best practices, as we strive to ensure our messages are the same as we work toward improving gifted services within the Commonwealth.
Amanda Nickerson, Ph.D. is a professor of school psychology and director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York. Her research focuses on school crisis prevention and intervention, and the critical role of family, peers, and schools in preventing violence and building social-emotional strengths of youth. She is a licensed psychologist, nationally certified school psychologist, fellow of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Nickerson has published more than 130 journal articles and book chapters, written or edited 5 books (including the PREPaRE School Crisis Prevention and Intervention Model), and conducted over 350 professional presentations. Her work has been funded by several national, state, and private foundations, such as the National Institutes of Health, the Committee for Children, and the Institute of Education Sciences. Dr. Nickerson is also the Coordinator of Research for the National Association of School Psychologists’ School Safety and Crisis Prevention Committee.
Clare Papay, Ph.D. is Senior Research Associate/Project Manager at Think College at the Institute for Community Inclusion, UMass Boston, where she conducts research on inclusive higher education for students with intellectual disability. Clare is the Evaluation Coordinator for the National Coordinating Center for the TPSID model demonstration program funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE). She is also the co-Principal Investigator for the IES-funded project, “Moving Transition Forward: Exploration of College-based and Conventional Transition Practices for Students with Intellectual Disability and Autism” and co-Principal Investigator for the OPE-funded project, “Think College Inclusive Higher Education Network: A Technical Assistance and Dissemination Center.” Dr. Papay serves as co-editor for the Journal of Inclusive Postsecondary Education (JIPE).
Beth Poss, M.A., CCC/SLP is an educational and technology consultant, accessibility and inclusion advocate, speech/language pathologist, former special education administrator, and former assistant principal. In addition to her independent consulting, she is the Director of Educational Programs for LessonPix. Beth is passionate about designing educational environments that support all students in accessing a rigorous curriculum and meeting educational outcomes. In her work with school districts, universities and national and state level organizations she focuses on literacy, augmentative and alternative communication, Universal Design for Learning and inclusive educational practices. She is one of the authors of Inclusive Learning 365: EdTech Strategies for Every Day of the Year.
Emma Prenni is a senior attending River Valley High School and is currently enrolled in the Developing Educators Program.
Darcy Rakar is a 6-12 grade Life Skills Support Teacher at Central Cambria School District.  Last year was Central Cambria's first year to have a Bocce ball team.  It was a really great experience!
Linda Rhen, Ed.D. is an Associate Teaching Professor of Special Education at Penn State Harrisburg. She started the Career Studies Program at Penn State Harrisburg in 2015. This inclusive post-secondary education program for individuals with intellectual disabilities provides utilizes peer mentors, full-time undergraduate and graduate students to support the inclusion of these students in academic classes and social activities. Dr. Rhen is Professor-in-Charge of Penn State Harrisburg's Special Education Certification Program and teaches courses in special education, inclusive education strategies, and behavior strategies to graduate and undergraduate students. Linda is a member of the leadership workgroup under the PDE initiative to Attract, Prepare and Retain Special Educators. Prior to coming to Penn State Linda served the PA Department of Education in the roles of Director of School Services, Senior Policy Adviser, and Director of the Bureau of Special Education. Linda was Executive Director of Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 and also served as Special Education Director. Prior to coming to IU 13, she held various positions in the PA Department of Education and developed several models of technical assistance to help develop the capacity of school districts to meet the needs of students with disabilities. She began her career as a Speech and Language Pathologist for the Capital Area Intermediate Unit 15.
Paul Riccomini, Ph.D. is a former middle and high school mathematics teacher and special education teacher. Paul possesses in-depth knowledge of content matter and evidence-based instructional techniques. Drawing from extensive classroom experience, Paul understands the unique challenges faced by mathematics teachers. Guided by principles from cognitive science, the science of learning, and learner characteristics, Paul collaborates with math and special education teachers to develop engaging and effective instructional activities. These activities promote conceptual understanding, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills throughout the academic year, ensuring sustained student growth. With a rich background spanning 30 years, Paul has made significant contributions to both the fields of special education and mathematics education. His research focuses on innovative teaching strategies and pedagogical approaches, providing practical and research-based methods to enhance math instruction.
Jenny Root, Ph.D., BCBA is an Associate Professor of Special Education in the School of Teacher Education and Affiliate Faculty with the Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University. She began her educational career as a special education teacher at a public middle school in southeastern North Carolina. Her research focuses on instructional methods to promote meaningful academic learning for students with autism and intellectual disability, particularly in mathematics. Dr. Root has authored over 45 peer-reviewed manuscripts and 12 book chapters on assessment and instruction of students with disabilities.
Jennifer Ross, M.A. has served as an Educational Specialist and PVAAS Statewide Team member with Lancaster-Lebanon IU13 since 2007. Her role is to provide professional learning, resource development, and technical assistance for the statewide implementation of PVAAS, as well as provide support to LEAs across Pennsylvania in the use of K-12 data.  Prior to her work on the PVAAS Statewide Team, Jennifer served as an Evaluation Specialist at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit working with school districts, Intermediate Units, the Pennsylvania Department of Education and various assessment vendors by supporting them in program evaluation and data-driven decision-making.  She holds a bachelor’s degree in Statistics and a Master’s in Arts in Educational Research Methodology, both from the University of Pittsburgh.
Lindsay Ruhter, M.A.Ed. is a research associate for ATLAS and a doctoral student in Special Education at the University of Kansas. Her research interests include building teacher capacity to use data to inform their teaching in inclusive settings through professional development, as well as exploring how to apply the UDL framework to next-generation assessment and instructional design in inclusive settings, particularly for students with extensive support needs. She currently works on IES- and OSEP- funded projects to design, implement, and evaluate professional learning models for teachers of students with extensive support needs. Prior, she was the science test development coordinator for the Dynamic Learning Maps Alternate Assessment Consortium and served on the assessment design team for an OSEP-funded grant. Before joining ATLAS, Ms. Ruhter was a special educator in Virginia where she taught students with mild to moderate disabilities and students with extensive support needs.
Roni Russell, M.Ed., has served for over 25 years as an educational consultant with the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network-Harrisburg, a division of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education. Roni secured her undergraduate degree from Lebanon Valley College and her graduate degree from Shippensburg University. She holds her Pennsylvania K-12 Principal Certification, as well as an Instructional II Certification in Special Education K-12. At PaTTAN, her responsibilities include regional coordination of Special Education Cyclical Monitoring in Correctional Facilities, Intensive Interagency Coordination with child serving agencies, Secondary Transition (Indicator 13), Special Education Law, Principals as Instructional Leaders course, and Medicaid billing in schools. Additionally, she provides technical assistance to a number of schools with Procedural Safeguards, IDEA/Chapter 14 regulations, autism, and 504/Chapter 15.

Patrice Semicek started her teaching career in Orlando, Florida and moved to the Philadelphia region to work for the School District of Philadelphia as an elementary teacher. After working with the most amazing and talented group of teachers, Patrice earned a master’s in special education and started working for the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit in 2010 as an Autistic Support Teacher.   Since 2011, Patrice has specialized in Math, Literacy, STEM, and Gifted as a project consultant in the Office of Professional Learning at MCIU.
Marcy Stein, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus at University of Washington Tacoma (UWT) where she was one of the founding faculty members of the School of Education. She has published extensively in the areas of both special education and general education on teacher preparation, reading and mathematics instruction, curriculum analysis, and textbook adoption. She is an author of Direct Instruction Mathematics. In 2006, she received the UWT Distinguished Scholarship Award; in 2015 she and her colleagues received the UWT Community Engagement Award. While at UWT, Dr. Stein, with her colleague Dr. Diane Kinder, received a five-year grant from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) to evaluate and redesign the K-8 dual track teacher certification program to better prepare, retain, and support highly qualified special education teachers who receive dual licensure in general and special education. The focus of the redesigned program was the implementation of evidence-based instructional practices and systematic progress monitoring with emphasis on collaboration between special and general education teachers. Dr. Stein has considerable experience consulting with teachers and administrators on improving the performance of students who are at risk for academic failure. She also has consulted with state departments of education throughout the country on how research findings can be used effectively to improve instructional practice, and with schools, districts, and states on the systematic evaluation of mathematics and literacy curriculum materials."
Stephanie Stollar is the founder of Stephanie Stollar Consulting LLC and the creator of The Reading Science Academy. Dr. Stollar is a part-time assistant professor in the online reading science program at Mount St. Joseph University, and a founding member of a national alliance for supporting reading science in higher education. As a board member for the Innovations in Education Consortium, she collaboratively plans the annual MTSS Innovations in Education Conference. Dr. Stollar has worked as a school psychologist, an educational consultant, and as Vice President for Professional Learning for Acadience Learning Inc. She has provided professional development, conducted research, and published in the areas of assessment, early intervention, and collaborative problem solving. She is passionate about improving educator knowledge and aligning school systems to prevent reading failure. You can follow Stephanie Stollar Consulting and the Reading Science Academy on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, and contact her at stephaniestollar@gmail.com.
Russell Swinburne Romine, Ph.D. is the associate director of ATLAS, Accessible Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Systems (ATLAS), a research center at the University of Kansas. He is a member of the leadership team for the Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) system and has more than 10 years of experience in the development of large-scale alternate assessments using principles of Evidence-Centered Design and Universal Design for Learning. Swinburne Romine's research focuses on cognitive models of learning that support comprehensive literacy instruction and access to the general academic curriculum for students with disabilities. Swinburne Romine is the principal investigator of the Shared Writing Instructional Model (SWIM) for Students with Intellectual Disabilities project. He also leads collaborative work with the National Center on Deaf-Blindness to develop learning map-based instructional resources for students with extensive support needs including dual sensory loss.
Emily Thatcher, M.Ed., a member of the Accessible Teaching and Learning Assessment Systems (ATLAS) is the research project manager for the Office of Special Education (OSEP) funded model demonstration grant, Shared Writing Instructional Model (SWIM). Emily’s responsibilities include the development and implementation of professional development, instructional resources, and coaching model across districts in the state of Iowa. Prior to joining ATLAS, Emily served as the Iowa Department of Education Specially Designed Instruction Consultant for students with significant disabilities.  Major responsibilities included the strand lead for the OSEP State Personnel Performance Grant (SPDG), Specially Designed Instruction in Literacy, developing and implementing professional development and coaching resources to build regional centers and districts capacity to increase the knowledge and skills of educators in delivering language, communication and literacy instruction for students with complex learning and communication needs. Additional assignments included leading the development, providing oversight and management of the State of Iowa’s alternate assessments which include the Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) Alternate Assessment and the State of Iowa’s Early Literacy Alternate Assessment. Emily also collaborated with Iowa institutes of higher education in developing pre-service training, led the State of Iowa’s assistive technology team and was the state coordinator for National Instructional Materials and Accessibility (NIMAS). Emily earned her master’s degree in special education consultation from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Iowa State University with a concentration in literacy learning for students with significant disabilities.
Roddy Theobald is the Deputy Director of the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) and a Managing Researcher at American Institutes for Research. He received his PhD in Statistics from the University of Washington in 2015, and previously worked as a Research Assistant at the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington and as a 7th-grade math teacher at Westlake Middle School in the Oakland (CA) Unified School District as a Teach for America corps member. His ongoing projects investigate teacher education and licensing, career and technical education, and special education in Hawai`i, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
Jan Tomsky is nationally recognized for her expertise in special education law. She draws on her “seen-it-all” experience, deep well of knowledge, and steadfast commitment to her clients to advise them on the most difficult circumstances and achieve the best outcomes possible. Jan represents school districts in mediations, due process hearings, and litigation in state and federal courts and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Jan frequently is invited to present by prestigious education organizations throughout the country. She holds a master's degree in education from Dominican University of San Rafael with an emphasis in special education and student development and earned her Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.
Virginia L. Walker, Ph.D., BCBA-D, is an associate professor in the Department of Special Education and Child Development at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Dr. Walker began her career as a special education teacher of students with extensive support needs in Atlanta, Georgia before attending the University of Virginia where she worked on several federally funded grants involving research in the areas of multi-tiered models of positive behavioral interventions and support and teacher preparation in the area of extensive support needs. Building upon this work, Dr. Walker’s line of research has focused on three general themes: supports planning to enhance the inclusion of students with extensive support needs, positive behavioral interventions and supports, and effective training practices for school staff supporting students with extensive support needs. Dr. Walker serves as an editorial review board member of Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, Inclusive Practices, and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
Maria Waltemeyer is Chief Design Officer, Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education. For over two decades has supported schools and districts in developing and implementing evidence-based practices including the On Track to Career Success, a project that has developed national milestones for grades 9-14 highlighting students’ journey from high school to their post-secondary life. Has also supported Pathways to Adult Success, and Success Mentors. Currently, in partnership with 8 national organizations, is sharing evidence-based practices such as student success systems (strengthened early warning systems) contributing to build and facilitate communities of practice reducing chronic absenteeism, helping students to stay engaged in school while preparing for post-secondary success.
Thai Williams is a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and a National Board Certified Teacher with 31 years of experience as a special education teacher. While she has taught students in preschool through transition across disability categories, the majority of her career was spent with students with extensive support needs. Her research interests include: (a) curriculum and instruction for students with extensive support needs, (b) family-centered and culturally sustaining and -revitalizing practices for Native American families and children with disabilities, and (c) the use of evidence-based practices in rural educational settings. Thai currently works as a graduate assistant with the ATLAS 5E-SESE project and is the student representative-elect for the Division of Autism and Developmental Disabilities. In her spare time Thai enjoys working on her van conversion, creating multimedia art, and random adventures.
Greta Yesenosky is a special education teacher at Central Cambria School District. Her current position is Autistic Support, grades 6-12. Last year, the first Unified Bocce Ball team at Central Cambria was started. We had many ups and downs, but so many wonderful memories along the way. We are excited to get our 2nd season started soon!
Tiffany Yu is the CEO & Founder of Diversability, an award-winning entirely disabled-run and led social enterprise to elevate disability pride, and a content creator with 200k+ followers across platforms. She is a 3x TEDx speaker and has been named a TikTok API (Asian & Pacific Islander) Trailblazer, a LinkedIn Top Voice in Disability Advocacy, and a Well+Good Changemaker. Her first book, The Anti-Ableist Manifesto, will be published by Hachette Go in 2024. Tiffany has helped to invest over $170,000 in disability initiatives through the Awesome Foundation Disability Chapter and the Disability Empowerment Endowed Fund at Georgetown University. She has been featured in Marie Claire, the Guardian, and Forbes. She started her career in investment banking at Goldman Sachs and has also worked at Bloomberg and Sean Diddy Combs' REVOLT Media & TV. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and a master's from the London School of Economics. At the age of 9, Tiffany became disabled as a result of a car accident that also took the life of her father.