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Rev. Timothy Allen


Reverend Timothy Allen is a nationally recognized lecturer on urban issues. Born and raised in the city of Boston, he began his career in the corporate world, experiencing success in engineering, sales and executive recruiting. His heart for the plight of troubled youth drove him to begin working directly with this population as his vocation. For more than 20 years, he has worked with high-risk youth and their families. He has pioneered strategies to assist youth in re-integrating into their home communities and has designed and delivered training for families to help them support their children. His innovations have caught the attention of law enforcement agencies, schools, community-based organizations, and faith-based organizations, for which he is a regular speaker, trainer and consultant. Rev. Allen is also the senior pastor of the Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, an urban ministry that focuses on restoring broken families.
Session: “Increasing African American and Latino Parental Involvement In School”
Phylicia Anderson at the 2019 National Youth-At-Risk Conference

Phylicia Anderson

Phylicia Anderson MSW, LCSW is currently a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the Savannah, Georgia area. She has experience in mental health services, therapeutic relationship building, special education, conflict management, de-escalation skills, cultural and diversity awareness, behavior and classroom management, family services, case management, public speaking, youth-at-risk, foster care, student outreach, individual and group counseling, and advocacy. She has shared her expertise in various schools, workshops and conferences through presentations and consultations. Phylicia hopes to inspire and motivate all people to explore innovative ways to help themselves, advocate for others and to make impactful change for all.

Session: “Black Girl Magic: Understanding Our Misunderstood Black Girls Through Therapeutic Relationship Building”

Abbigail Armstrong

Dr. Armstrong has been an educator for 23 years. She is currently a professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina where she serves as the Middle Level Education Program Director. She has consulted in various school systems across the United States such as Chicago, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina where she has shared her expertise on fostering motivation and challenging students in at-risk and diverse populations. Dr. Armstrong is the co-author of Rigor in the 6-12 Math and Science Classroom: A Teacher Toolkit. Dr. Armstrong known for her interactive, hands-on, practical presentations.

Session: “Encouraging Resilience in At-Risk Learners”

Bob Barr

Dr. Robert Barr is nationally recognized as one of the leading experts on poverty and education. He is the author or coauthor of 13 books; two have received national awards. His last book, with Emily Gibson. Building a Culture of Hope was selected by Learning Magazine as the 2015 Teacher’s Choice Award for Professional Development. He has appeared on national TV, been quoted in the Wallstreet Journal and the New York Times and has testified as an expert witness in a number of high visibility trials.

Session: “Building Cultures of Hope in High-Poverty and Trauma-Impacted Schools”

Kiana Battle

Dr. Kiana Battle is a licensed Master Social Worker, with a Ph.D. in Social Work Policy Planning and Administration (Clark Atlanta University), and an  M.S.W. in Social Welfare and a B.A. in Sociology (State University of New York at Stony Brook). She currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Human Services at Gordon State College in Barnesville Georgia. Dr. Battle’s professional area of practice is school social work, as she served as the District Social Worker for Lamar County Board of Education from 2008-2017 and school social worker for Long Beach Public Schools (Lindell Elementary School) in New York from 2004-2008. She is also the co-author of Real Girls: Shifting Perceptions on Identity, Relationships, and the Media (2010), and Real Girls: Reflections (2011) and Grief, Why Me? Why Not Me?: A Journey of Self-Discovery (2015).

Session: “Grief & Loss: Shedding LIght on Our Youth”

Jessica Begley

Jessica Begley is a dynamic educator and training specialist. She began her career in education as a teacher in the Philadelphia School District. After leaving the classroom, she transitioned into the field of training and performance improvement where she provided consultation on bullying and violence prevention to schools and youth-serving organizations. In her current role, Jessica serves as an educational consultant for the Delaware Compassionate Schools Initiative, training professionals regionally and nationally on trauma, resilience, and self-care.

Session: “Compassionate Schools: Creating a Systemic Approach”and “It’s Getting Hot in Here: Brain-Based Strategies for Regulating Students & Staff”

Joanne Billingsley

Joanne Billingsley

Joanne is a nationally acclaimed presenter, author and former Texas Regional Teacher of the Year. She is recognized for her expertise in creating engaging, student-centered classrooms that support deep language development and meet the needs of all students, including ELs and special populations. Joanne is the author of Making Words Real (2016) & Aim to Grow Your Brain (2009). Her work combines current neuroscience research with best practices in teaching. She is passionate about supporting educators and sharing creative strategies for building brain-friendly, language-rich, interactive classrooms and fostering positive academic mindsets. Joanne models creative, practical strategies that can be quickly implemented, generating exciting, repeatable “episodes of success.”

Session: “The Science of Learning: What to Do When Students Struggle or Progress Plateaus” and “The Science of Fear: How to Reduce Fear & Create a Safe Place to Learn”

Keith Brown

From special education to specialty speaker—from “at-risk” to taking risks—Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, Keith L. Brown, “Mr. I’M POSSIBLE,” has established himself as one of the most sought after speakers, authors, trainers and thought leaders today. He engages, educates, energizes and empowers hundreds of thousands annually in school districts, colleges and universities, family advocacy and government agencies, corporate America and conferences both nationally and globally. He has worked with A&E’s, “Beyond Scared Straight,” and is a frequent contributor on Sirius XM Radio, Radio One, I-Heart Radio and other networks. His primary purpose is to enhance the lives of youth and families, primarily the underserved, while taking the masses from, “impossible to I’M POSSIBLE.” Learn more at his website

Session: “Let the Stage Minimize the Rage and Cage: Innovation Through Fine Arts to Reduce Violence, Truancy and Delinquency in Youth”

Reggie Carruth

Reginald Carruth currently serves as a Title/RTI Coach. He served as Dean of Students and Math Department Head at Whitworth-Buchanan Middle School, an MTeach teacher-partner at Middle Tennessee State University, and hosted Parent Engagement Nights at LaVergne Middle School, where he was a site-based presenter. He was chosen as Teacher of the Year, 2015–2016, and has presented at several conferences including the Rutherford County Schools Summer Conference, National Youth-At-Risk Conference, and the AMLE Conference.

Session: “Engaging Students Through Instructional Games”

Steven Edwards

Steven Edwards

A leader nationally recognized by USA Today for his innovative approach to education, Dr. Edwards has successfully implemented numerous programs to improve student performance during his 16-year tenure as a school administrator. He has also been instrumental in helping countless school districts tailor similar programs with positive, far-reaching results. In addition, Dr. Edwards is an internationally recognized keynote speaker, facilitator and trainer regularly featured as a content expert on television and radio with appearances on CNN on topics such as school safety, school climate and reform. He has worked in 49 states and 42 countries.

Session: “Leading from the Heart: Personalization as the Foundation of Successful Schools”

Mary Felton at the 30th Annual National Youth-At-Risk Conference

Mary Felton

Dr. Felton is currently serving as Assistant Principal at Claxton Elementary. Her love and dedication to education have kept her in the profession for over 30 years. Her educational journey has taken her from South Carolina to Florida and now to Georgia. She worked as an adjunct professor at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida instructing students earning their bachelor’s or master’s degree in education. Dr. Felton has also served as the Vice President for the National Board Certified Teachers of Miami-Dade. While in Statesboro, she serves as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Student Services in Bulloch County.  

Dr. Felton’s degrees include an MBA from Strayer University in Washington, DC, a doctoral degree in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, a specialist degree in Reading K-12 and a master’s degree in elementary education from Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, SC. Dr. Felton has been National Board Certified in the area of Early Childhood since 2001.


Dawn Gafa-Davis

Dawn has been teaching mathematics and science for 18 years in the public schools. Prior to that, she was an engineer in the auto industry for 9 years. Dawn’s passion is teaching and she loves being able to help teachers methods to engage students.

Session: “Beyond Bingo: Activities to Increase Student Engagement”

Rebecca Gaylor

Rebecca Gaylor is a graduate student of psychology, aspiring to become a mental health professional. Her areas of focus are Humanistic and Critical Psychology, as well as nature-based and animal-assisted therapies. Her professional background includes working as program manager for an outpatient behavioral healthcare therapeutic farm program as well as director of junior leadership at a young women’s nature-based empowerment camp. She’s passionate about working with young people, especially at-risk youth, as she finds joy in creating community and discovering their unique gifts.

Session: “Igniting a SPARK in ‘Dead-Eyed’ Youth”

Emily Gibson

Dr. Emily Gibson works as a social-emotional learning specialist in Bend, Oregon. With Dr. Bob Barr, she has authored Building a Culture of Hope and a collection of professional articles supporting SEL and the Culture of Hope.  Previously, she served as a teaching & learning coach in high-poverty/high-trauma communities in California and Washington States, implementing a Culture of Hope in Title I schools. She taught elementary and middle school for over 20 years, provided professional development for K-12 teachers, and founded a charter school site for youth-at-risk. Dr. Gibson earned her doctorate in school improvement from Boise State University.  

Session: “Building Cultures of Hope in High-Poverty and Trauma-Impacted Schools”

Katie L. Greer

Previously of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and for the State Police, Katie Greer travels the country working with and educating law enforcement, communities, school staff/administration and students on social media and tech/Internet safety best practices. Katie has spoken to hundreds of thousands of students throughout the country, urging them to use technology in safe and productive ways. Katie serves as a media industry expert and has been featured on CNN, The O’Reilly Factor, The Meredith Vieira Show, Inside Edition, and in media such as The Huffington Post, TIME Magazine, The Boston Globe, USA Today, Procter & Gamble, Parents Magazine and more.

Session: “Technology and Addiction: How to Have a Healthy Relationship With Tech”

Eliza Hirst, Esq., CWLS

Eliza Hirst is a Deputy Child Advocate with Delaware’s Office of the Child Advocate. In that position, she has represented children in dependency/neglect proceedings since 2010. In addition to direct representation, Eliza is currently partnering with Casey Family Programs and local school districts to increase education supports and opportunities for youth in foster care. She also provides systemic advocacy, training, and advice on child welfare matters, education, and disability issues at the local and national level. Eliza has published articles in many journals including articles in the American Bar Association Child Law Practice, and the Juvenile and Family Court Journal.

Session: “Compassionate Schools: Creating a Systemic Approach” and “Improving Education Outcomes for Youth in Foster Care”

Cary Hollman

Mr. Cary Holman is currently the Principal of LaVergne Middle School, where he has served for the last eight years. Entering his 23rd year in education, Mr. Holman has served as a teacher (1st, 5th, 6th Grades), Assistant Principal, Elementary Principal, Middle School At-Risk Coordinator, Adjunct Faculty member at Draughons Jr. College and Middle Tennessee State University. He received his educational training at Motlow State Community College (A.S-Elementary Education, 93’), the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (B.S- Elementary Education, 95’), Tennessee State University (M.Ed- Administration Supervision, 00’), and at Middle Tennessee State University (Ed.S- Administration Supervision, 05’).

Session: “The Sweet Side of Middle School”


Education Success Strategist and Congressional award-winning author, Hotep is widely known for his proactive, “tough love” approach to education. He is a 15-year master teacher that has developed a reputation for requesting the most troubled students and transforming them into willing participants in their own education. Hotep is the founder of Hustle University and creator of the MAKE A WAY program, a series of high-relevance curricula which are used in over 1,000 schools throughout the U.S. His profound work has earned him nominations for the Presidential Citizen’s Award and as a CNN Hero. Hotep is also the creator of the revolutionary Outcome Progression Model, which he uses to transform the climate and culture of poverty, excuse-making and helplessness into one of empowerment, resiliency and success!

Session: “Addressing the Poverty Mindset” and “For Principals and Admin Only!”

Principal Baruti Kafele

Milken National Educator, internationally-renowned speaker and best-selling author, Principal Baruti Kafele has excelled in the capacity of teacher and principal. As a teacher in NJ, he was selected as the district and county teacher of the year. As a principal, he led the turnaround of four different New Jersey urban public schools, including Newark Tech, which was three times recognized by U.S. News and World Report Magazine as one of America’s best high schools. He is also the author of nine books including his national best-sellers, The Principal 50 and The Teacher 50.

Session: “Just Level the Playing Field and Watch Me Excel”

Dr. Anne Katz

Dr. Anne Katz is an Associate Professor of Reading in the Department of Curriculum, Foundations, and Reading in the College of Education at Georgia Southern University-Armstrong Campus in Savannah, Georgia. She is involved in literacy research and community outreach projects in local schools. Dr. Katz was selected as a Governor’s Teaching Fellow by The University of Georgia Institute of Higher Education in 2015 and currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group of the International Literacy Association. She enjoys mentoring graduate students.

Session: “Transforming Literacy Learning: Action Research Through the Lens of a Reading Specialist”

Frank Kros

Frank Kros, MSW, JD

Frank Kros is a career child advocate who has served as a childcare worker, child abuse investigator, children’s home administrator, consultant, college professor, attorney, writer and speaker. He serves as president of The Institute for Transformation Education, executive vice president of The Children’s Guild, and director of the National At Risk Education Network. He presents professional development workshops and consultations worldwide to students, parents, educators, child-serving professionals and their leaders on various brain-based topics. Frank has presented his workshops at national education, and social work conferences and his work has taken him to countries around world. In addition to lecturing, he has co-authored several books, including Creating the Upside Down Organization: Transforming Staff to Save Troubled Children. Frank earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology (Creighton University), a master’s degree in social work (University of Nebraska-Omaha) and a law degree (Notre Dame Law School).

Session: “Giving a Fish a Bath: The Untold Story of the Adolescent Mind” and “Becoming a Mental Health Sleuth: The ‘Sherlock Holmes Skills’ Every Program Needs”

Robert Lake

Bio Information Coming Soon

             Karen Lambie

Now retired, Dr. Karen Lambie taught for a total of 32 years at both the elementary school and university levels. She has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Georgia, an M.S. in Middle School Science including an endorsement for Gifted Education from Georgia Southern University and a B.A. in Elementary Education also from Georgia Southern University. Since retiring, she has studied the issue of human trafficking for the past seven years. She is an Ambassador of Hope for Shared Hope International, serves on a task force in Savannah, Georgia, the mission of which is to create a long-term safe house for survivors of sex trafficking, serves on the Mayor’s Commission For Youth in Statesboro, served on the Board of Directors for Savannah Working Against Human Trafficking for three years and was a foster parent for Bulloch County DEFACs for 14 years. She is currently the Vice President for Region 12 for the Adoptive and Foster Parent Association of Georgia. She has spoken throughout the state of Georgia on the issue of Human Trafficking most specifically the sex trafficking of minors. Speaking engagements have included trainings for foster parents, CASA, medical personnel, guidance counselors, churches, civic clubs, the hospitality industry, schools and youth groups. She lives in Statesboro, Georgia with her husband, Tom Lambie.
Session: “Populations of Youth At High Risk for Sex Trafficking.”

Teri Lawler

Teri Lawler is a results-driven educator, passionate about making equity of opportunity available to all students regardless of zip code. Current projects include socioemotional competence, universal behavior screening, strengthening multi-tiered systems of support, and the creation of trauma-informed systems of care for schools, out-of-school providers, and youth-serving organizations. Teri is a founding member of Delaware’s Compassionate Schools Learning Collaborative and the City of Wilmington’s Advisory Council for Youth Gun Violence Prevention. Current passions include expanding awareness of the impact of developmental trauma and toxic stress on learning and the implementation of neurosequential intervention strategies for healing the brain and body.

Session:  “Compassionate Schools: Creating A Systemic Approach” and “It’s Getting Hot in Here: Brain-Based Strategies for Regulating Students & Staff”

Bea Lewis

Known for her “real, raw and relevant” storytelling, Bea Lewis, author, speaker, and CEO of BEAHIVE Consulting, LLC, is a retired educator with 36 years of experience.  She specializes in teaching strategies to building positive relationships with students and parents as the cornerstone to shifting mindsets in order to cultivate a thriving and nurturing school culture.  She is the author of, Really? Apples Don’t Fall Far From the Tree: Understanding the Behaviors of Parents and Students. She is a special guest panelist at Jacksonville Youth Leadership Conference, Inside the System, a Toastmaster, and a member of the Professional Woman International Speakers Bureau.  Bea was also nominated to participate in the Office of Justice as a Program Reviewer. She holds a Bachelor’s in Exceptional Education (South Carolina State University) and a Master’s in Educational Leadership (Nova Southeastern University).

Session: “You Must Know Them, Before You Can Grow Them”

Takeysha Lewis

Takeysha is a District School Social Worker for the Bibb County Public School District. She has worked with the Child Protective Services for the State of Georgia, as well as on the local level. These experiences have afforded her the opportunity to work with youth and families from diverse backgrounds. She is a proud product of the Bibb County Public School System and holds a Bachelor’s in Social Work (Fort Valley State University), a Master’s in Social Work and a Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership (Valdosta State University). Her experience includes working with students and families in public education, with families in Child Protective Services, working as a Hospice Social Worker, and in the community sector for local non-profit organizations. Her passion is to engage and inspire every child on the importance of obtaining an education. This drives the work she performs on a daily basis with students and families—providing children with the knowledge to understand that their future is a shared future.

Session: “Count Yourself In: Bridging Schools and Communities Together to Combat Truancy”

Curlandra Lightfoot-Smith

Curlandra is the PBIS Coordinator in the Bibb County School District and served the county as a School Social Worker and an Educational Therapist/Special Education Lead Teacher at a Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support, where she taught students with a variety of disabilities from Autistic spectrum to SEBD. She holds a Bachelor’s in Social Work (Fort Valley State University), a Master’s in Social Work (Valdosta State University) and an Educational Specialist degree in Teacher Leadership (Valdosta State University). Her experience includes working in public education, with families and children in Georgia’s foster care system, in hospice care and for the DJJ as a Social Worker. Mrs. Smith’s passion is to empower students, families and communities to unite and create a positive climate, not only in our schools but also at home and in the community.

Session: “Count Yourself In: Bridging Schools and Communities Together to Combat Truancy”

Stephanie Love

Stephanie Love has been a Juvenile Probation/Parole Specialist (JPPS) with the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) since 2009, with previous work with the Carroll County Department of Family and Children Services, Morning Star Counseling Services, the Georgia Department of Corrections, and Inner Harbor Hospital. As a member of the DJJ, Love is dedicated to their mission and to seeking ways to refine existing programs and cultivate new innovative and effective programs that encourage youthful offenders to become successful members of society.

Session: “Igniting a SPARK in ‘Dead-Eyed’ Youth”

Daryl Macaluso


Daryl Macaluso is a native of Baychester Housing Projects in the Bronx, New York. He is 20 year veteran of Durham Police Department. He Supervises Durham’s Community Engagement Unit (a police unit that addresses crime and quality of life issues in public housing communities. Before he supervised a Street Crimes Unit that focused on gangs, narcotics, prostitution and firearms violations. Daryl has spent 4 years as a School Resource Officer in middle and high school, and 6 years supervising the Gang Resistance Education and Training Unit and the Violent Incident Response Team. He also was an instructor for the North Carolina Military Academy (Fort Bragg NC). Daryl is certified as a “Gang Identification Specialist” with the National Gang Crime Research Center (Chicago IL.). He presents gang awareness/intervention training sessions for Law enforcement agencies, School districts, and Youth groups nationwide. He is a North Carolina Police instructor and was featured in the North Carolina Justice Academy’s state-mandated law enforcement training on gangs. He presents regularly for national organizations and associations. He has served as the Southeastern Representative for the International Latino Gang Investigators Association and is an associated with of the following associations; National Gang Investigators Association; member of the East Coast Gang Investigators Association; member of the National School Resource Officer Association; D.A.R.E. International; and a member of the North Carolina Gang Investigators Association.

Session: “Gang Signs and Solutions: Addressing Gangs Activity in our Schools”

Wesley Montoya

Dr. Wes Montoya is the principal at the Gilliam Youth Detention Center for Denver Public Schools, Denver, CO. He has worked with youth-at-risk, primarily Latino students, for more than 28 years. As a teacher, he taught math, science, and social studies, and has been a Dean of Students and an assistant principal in both low and high performing schools with free and reduced lunch (FRL) populations as high as 100%. Dr. Montoya has worked at the Colorado Department of Education as a Title I Senior Consultant. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Denver, Denver CO.

Session: “What Educators Need to Know About the Opportunity Gap and Educating Latino Students”

Chang’aa Mweti

Known for his dynamic and humorous presentations, Kenyan native Chang’aa Mweti has a B.S in English and Drama, and an M.S in the teaching of English in Secondary Schools, all from the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His area of concentration was “The Power of Narratives in Education.” He taught elementary schools in Kenya for over 13 years. He is currently an associate Professor and “Director, African and African American Studies Program” at the University of Minnesota, Duluth campus.

Session: “Our Cultural Filters Construct Our World View”

Mike O’Neal, Courtesy of Nuno Serrano

Though born and raised in Philadelphia, PA., Michael has been in Savannah for almost 45 years. He has been married for 42 years to Jo-Nell and they are the parents of three sons and a daughter, three daughters-in-law, and 10 grandchildren. He is one of the founders of Parent University and now serves as the Executive Director of Community United Services Inc., the managing entity of Parent University program. He has been the chief steward of this grassroots, community-based program since its inception in Savannah in 1999. Michael currently facilitates Parent University and its new component, the“Early Learning College” program, for the parents of children birth to five years old.

Session: “20 Years of Parent University: Going from the Grassroots to Long-Term”

Steve Parese

Dr. Steve Parese began his career as an educator and counselor, working special needs youth in a variety of therapeutic, community, and correctional settings. Since leaving his teaching position at George Washington University, Steve has become a successful author, trainer, and speaker, and has published 12 curricula related to crisis intervention with high risk youth, and job-readiness for job-seekers with challenging backgrounds. Steve grew up in Upstate New York, but now lives in a small mountain town in NC. He is active in his community and church, and spends his free time renovating his 100-year-old home.

Session: “‘What Were You Thinking?’ Using Cognitive Behavioral Interventions to Influence Antisocial Attitudes and Actions” and  “’Kids These Days!’ Preparing At-Risk Youth with Social Emotional Skills for Workplace Success”

Judge Tom Parmer

Tom Parmer is the juvenile court judge of Carroll County, Georgia. He presides over all dependency and delinquency cases arising in Carroll County. He also presides over the Carroll Juvenile Wellness Court, a juvenile drug treatment court, and the Carroll County Family Treatment Court, a drug treatment court for parents whose children have been placed in DFCS custody. Tom received his Bachelor of Arts from Vanderbilt University in 1987 and his Juris Doctorate from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1990.

Session: “Igniting a SPARK in ‘Dead-Eyed’ Youth”

Tom Peterson

Dr. Thomas Peterson has served for 27 years as a professor of Critical Theory and Philosophy of Education at the University of West Georgia (UWG). He teaches courses including philosophy, critical theory, and history. His research interests include teachers’ inner-life, teacher burnout/renewal, growing a spiritual classroom, and igniting a SPARK in challenging youth. The son of a preacher, Tom lived his formative years in South East Asia. Prior to his appointment at UWG, he was an elementary/middle school principal in North Carolina, and an art teacher in California and Maryland, World Masters gold medal winner in badminton, flight instructor, and father to three sons and five grandchildren.

Session: “Igniting a SPARK in ‘Dead-Eyed’ Youth”

Patrick Phillips

Patrick Phillips

As a social worker, author, college professor, national speaker/trainer and youth engagement specialist, Patrick Phillips, facilitates change through engaging and motivating speaking engagements that leave participants motivated, inspired and equipped with skills to make a difference. With more than 10 years of experience teaching and working with families, youth and adults as an educator and consultant, Mr. Phillips uses a unique combination of evidence-based strategies and practical “real talk” to educate and empower. He is the author of several publications, including Decisions: A Young Man’s Guide to Avoiding the Traps, Change 101, and many others.

Session: “There’s Nothing Wrong With Me…I Just Don’t Learn The Way You Teach”

Mildred Rabun

Mildred Rabun has worked with the Spark Mentoring Program under Dr. Tom Peterson for the last four years. During this time, she has found a true passion for igniting hope in the eyes of students who feel hopeless. Mildred recently graduated from the University of West Georgia with a Bachelors in Early Childhood Education and just started her second year of teaching at Northside Elementary School in Newnan, Georgia. In her free time, she kayaks with her husband and their dog, Stella.

Session: “Igniting a SPARK in ‘Dead-Eyed’ Youth”

Dan Rea, NYAR Co Chair

Dan Rea, NYAR Co-Chair

Dr. Dan Rea earned his MAT in teaching secondary mathematics from Howard University and Ed.D. in educational psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has worked as a secondary mathematics teacher in public and alternative schools and as a professor of educational psychology at Doane College, University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, and Georgia Southern University. Dr. Rea has served as a co-chair of the National Youth-At-Risk Conference since 1994 and published numerous articles and edited books on fostering the well-being of youth placed at risk, motivating student underachievers, and building learning communities in schools. Presently, he is a Professor of Educational Psychology in the College of Education at Georgia Southern University and the founding editor of the National Youth-At-Risk Journal.

Session: “National Youth-At-Risk Journal: Overview and Opportunities”

Caryn Ross

 Caryn Ross was a French and Language Arts teacher for 25 years at both the high school and middle school levels. She has a Master’s and Specialist’s degree in Educational Leadership and it was through these degrees that she started connecting data and research into her classroom and why she designed school-wide interventions to improve student learning. Through research and assessment comparisons, she believes strongly in the necessity of Active Learning for students to connect with and engage in their learning. She currently owns a learning center in Bloomfield Hills, MI.

Session: “Beyond Bingo: Activities to Increase Student Engagement”

Eric Rowles

Eric Rowles

Eric is a nationally recognized trainer and speaker who has worked with over 150,000 youth, adults, administrators, and policy makers within the past 15 years. His previous experience includes work as Senior Director of Training with the Youth Leadership Institute (CA), Director of Leadership Development at Rutgers University (NJ), Director of International Youth Summer Abroad (CA), Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator with Riverside County Friday Night Live (CA), and running a traveling theater company that toured for over 10 years. He’s also a former professional DJ and is renown for his powerful, energetic, and tool-focused presentation style.

Sessions: “MOVE to M.I.S.T.: Power Tools to Engage Youth” and “Rockstars & Revolutionaries: Training Your Staff For Success”

LaMarr Shields

LaMarr Shields

Dr. Shields is a bilingual author, film maker, educator and thought leader who has dedicated his life to inspiring others to pursue a higher, more meaningful purpose and achieve sustainable value for long-term success. As a former professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Education, his extensive experience as a scholar-practitioner in the field of racial, ethnic, and academic identity among Black and Latino male youth, coupled with his depth of experience with fostering interconnectivity and deep engagement among educators, policy makers, parents, and other change agents, uniquely positions him as a leader in the field.

His recent trans-media project Beyond Stereotypes takes an in-depth look at individual and group identity formation of young African American and Latino men and the impact of societal and cultural forces on this identity and his latest book What I Learned in the Midst of KAOS: The Making of an Ubuntu Teacher is being used in conjunction with his equity work in K-12 school systems, non-profit organizations, and universities throughout the country. As a 2016 Open Society Institute Fellow and a member of the National Blue Ribbon Commission on Equity and Achievement, LaMarr brings with him an unparalleled level of enthusiasm and complexity to all the work he does.  

Session Title: Is America Ready to Talk About Equity In Education?

Session 2: Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Removing Policies and practices that favor incarceration over education.

Jacqueline Smart

Dr. Jacqueline Smart is employed with the Savannah-Chatham School System. She is a graduate of California State University and Cambridge College School of Education with a degree in Educational Leadership, and is also the author of What Makes A Bully. Dr. Smart is passionate about finding solutions to the issue of bullying behavior and that everyone is responsible for bullying solutions. Dr. Smart also writes for various local newspapers where she writes a column about bullying and social justice issues.

Empowering her students to envision themselves as productive citizens encourages a desire in them to better our nation and world of tomorrow.

Session: “Bullying Comes in Different Looking Packages”

Eric Thomas

A native of Savannah, Dr. Thomas was selected to become Georgia’s first Chief Turnaround Officer. In this role, he is responsible for creating and executing the strategy to support the state’s lowest-performing schools. Eric spent six years as the Chief Support Officer for the University of Virginia’s Turnaround Program. The program is widely recognized as the top turnaround program in the country. Before UVa, Eric was the Chief Innovation Officer for the Cincinnati Public Schools. As a member of the superintendent’s cabinet, Thomas’ responsibilities included redesigning the district’s teacher evaluation system, leading new district improvement initiatives, facilitating the development of new schools, and launching a Principal Development Academy.

Session: “Georgia’s School Turnaround Approach: A Partnership Involving All Stakeholders”

John Vandenburgh

John Vandenburgh works with organizations across the country seeking to enhance school climate and student engagement. John has presented his work for the Office of Homeland Security on building Safe Schools, the California Attorney General Gang Prevention Summit, and the Urban Superintendents of America Association on the Future of High School Youth Leadership. He is the Author of the Evidence-Based PLUS Program and the Founder of Direction Survey.

Session: “Do You Know What YPAR Is? You Should, It Is Evidence-Based to Increase Student Engagement!”

Victor Woods

Born to two college-educated parents, Victor threw the script with which he was born to play completely away and rewrote it. He started his own underground newspaper in high school, for which the police were called, and then, as a teenager, he moved onto orchestrate one of the biggest armed robbery rings in the history of Chicago, for which he was sent to state prison. He then masterminded a $40 million Visa Gold credit card conspiracy and was arrested by the United States Secret Service. He left prison determined to succeed and use talents the right way. Inspired by wisdom from his grandmother, he wrote his life story in A Breed Apart. His story has been shared on national TV shows, including FOX, CNN and C-Span. He has spoken at corporations, colleges, school districts, conferences, and to countless students, administrators, teachers, corporate executives and law enforcement officials nationwide.

Session: “Never Give Up, Take Charge of Your Life, School & Community Before It’s Too Late”

Cordelia Zinskie

Dr. Cordelia Zinskie is a Professor of Educational Research at Georgia Southern University, teaching graduate courses in research methods (quantitative and qualitative), statistics, and proposal writing. She has extensive experience mentoring graduate student research and has served as an evaluator on several funded grants. Dr. Zinskie was the co-chair of the 2017 National Youth-At-Risk Conference in Savannah and is chief editor of the National Youth-At-Risk Journal.

Session: “National Youth-At-Risk Journal: Overview and Opportunities”

Dr. Rajni Shankar-Brown

Dr. Rajni Shankar-Brown is an Associate Professor and the Jessie Ball duPont Chair of Social Justice Education at Stetson University. She is also the Executive Director of the Poverty and Homelessness Conference, serves on the Board of Directors for the National Coalition for the Homeless, and in her 2nd elected term as the Co-Chair of Equity and Social Justice for the International Society for Teacher Education and Information Technology. She is a distinguished educational leader and scholar committed to advancing educational equity and excellence, particularly for diverse and underserved students living in poverty. She has facilitated educational workshops around the globe, published in leading journals, and remains committed to civic engagement at the international, national, state and local levels. She is a recipient of the “Engaged Scholar Award” by the Campus Compact, the “Transformative Leadership and Equity Award” by Volusia County Schools, the “Summer Scholar Fellowship” by the National Humanities Center, and was recently selected as “Educator of the Year” by the FL Chapter of PDK-International. Dr. Shankar-Brown is also a devoted mother, multi-media artist, and social activist.

Session: Dispelling Myths and Advancing Justice: Creating Equitable Learning Environments for Students Living in Poverty and Experiencing Homelessness 

A.J. Ali

A.J. Ali is the Director & Producer of “WALKING WHILE BLACK: L.O.V.E. Is The Answer,” an award- winning feature-length documentary film improving relations between police and people of color. He coined the acronym “L.O.V.E.,” which stands for Learn about your community, Open your heart to the people in it, Volunteer yourself to be part of the solution in their lives and Empower others to do the same. He also hosts the Wellness 101 game show. He has produced, written and/or appeared in numerous media projects. He and his wife Jane have been married for 24 years. He’s a USAF Veteran.

Session 1: “WALKING WHILE BLACK: L.O.V.E. Is The Answer” documentary film

Session 2: Follow up to the film

Dr. Adair White-Johnson

Dr. Adair is the Executive Director of The Empowerment House where they offer programs, processes, and presentations that focus on empowerment, resiliency, leadership skills, trauma and youth, teen dating violence, and parent engagement. As the international, bestselling author of 12 bestselling books and three curricula she is also a retired school counselor and motivational/inspirational speaker. Dr. Adair is an Associate Professor and teaches graduate level courses in research methods and dissertation advisement. She is also a leading authority on creating strategies and techniques that teach educators, parents, and teens how to move toward positive changes in their lives.

Session Title: Using a Trauma Informed Approach to Help Teens Become Effective Leaders in their Lives


Dr. Joe Johnson

Dr. Joe Johnson is a former standout college athlete who understands the importance of education and developing individuals and organizations in as many ways as possible. As a Licensed School Counselor, he has worked in a variety of K-12 school settings but has also done extensive work with undergraduate and graduate populations, corporate organizations, and with many entrepreneurs. Serving as an Educator, Mentor, Trainer, Peak Performance Coach, and Entrepreneur Leader across the country, Dr. Johnson continues to transform the lives of individuals and organizations by shifting mindsets which translates into purposeful thinking, acting, and living. As the author of the books “Pursue Your Purpose Not Your Dreams” and “The College Kids” which is one of the first bilingual books in the country about college for elementary school-aged students, Dr. Johnson is excited to spread his message of versatility, purpose, and self-esteem to the world.

Session Title: Working With “At-Risk” Youth: Self Check


JaHon Vance

This presentation focuses on contemporary educational frameworks used to understand instructional quality, student engagement, youth development, parenting, and leadership in racially diverse communities. The presenter shares guiding principles and practices that have led to males of color achieving academic success in the classroom. Educators will learn how to raise achievement levels for males of color, while narrowing the gaps between groups, by increasing community, teacher, student, and family engagement in the learning process.

Session Title: Closing the Achievement Gap for Male of Color

Jeff Dane

Students dealing with poverty, homelessness, behavioral issues, learning disabilities, learning English, or incarceration can present severe teaching challenges. Meet the challenge with the structures, activities, and procedures you’ll learn in this workshop. Combining tools from Cooperative Learning, Win-Win Discipline, and Brain-Friendly Instruction, this workshop empowers you with knowledge and strategies you will put to work immediately in your classroom. You will reach and support your hardest to reach and teach students. While individual teachers benefit greatly from this workshop, it is even more powerful when the entire school (or a school team) implements these powerful tools to transform the school experience for high-risk students.
Session TitleRevolutionary Tools to Transform At Risk Youth


#NYAR20 | March 8–11, 2020 | Hyatt Regency, Savannah, GA


Last updated: 4/15/2019