Legislative Conference 2017: Keynote Speakers and Panelists

Legislative Conference 2017: Keynote Speakers and Panelists
Keynote Speakers

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) serves as a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP), Foreign Relations Committee, and Appropriations Committee. Senator Murphy has worked to make college more affordable and ensure that the nation’s public education system works to serve all students. He also led a bipartisan effort to reform the nation’s mental health system, including crafting the first comprehensive mental health bill in the Senate in decades. Following the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in 2012, Senator Murphy championed bipartisan bills aimed at expanding background checks and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. Murphy also served Connecticut’s Fifth Congressional District for three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. During his time in the House, Murphy worked to improve access to housing for homeless veterans, foster job creation, and advocate for affordable healthcare. Murphy also served for eight years in the Connecticut General Assembly, where he was the author of the state’s historic stem cell investment legislation and the state’s workplace smoking ban. 

Congressman Todd Rokita (R-IN) serves as vice-chairman of the House Budget Committee and chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rokita co-authored the Every Student Succeeds Act and is working to build an educational system that returns local control and authority to parents and teachers. He also is interested in reforming Medicaid, Medicare, and other programs. From 2003 to 2011, Rokita served as Indiana’s secretary of state. In this role, he leveraged technology in order to reduce fees and create efficiencies for Indiana businesses. Elected as the nation’s youngest secretary of state at the time, Rokita was selected by his peers to serve as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State from 2007 to 2008. As a member of Congress, Rokita has earned multiple awards, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Spirit of Enterprise award, the Friend of Farm Bureau award, and the Guardian of Seniors’ Rights award. He has been ranked as one of the top ten most accessible members of Congress and was named one of the 25 Hardest Working Members of Congress by Newsmax.

Nicolle Wallace is a best-selling author, a political analyst for MSNBC, a top strategist for the GOP, and the former special assistant to the president and director of communications at the White House under President George W. Bush. Wallace also served as senior campaign adviser for the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008. She appeared frequently on network and cable news programs as the campaign’s top spokesman and defender. Before her time in the White House, she was a press secretary for Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL). She is also a former political analyst for CBS Evening News. Wallace has written contemporary political novels that have been New York Times best-sellers, including Madam President, Eighteen Acres, It’s Classified, and Day in the Life. The books feature women in top political roles.


Kristen Amundson, NASBE’s president/CEO, brings more than two decades of experience as a policymaker to NASBE. She represented the 44th District in the Virginia General Assembly from 1999 to 2009. During that time, she was a member of Virginia’s P–16 Council and the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB). Before her election to the General Assembly, Amundson—a former teacher—served for nearly a decade on the Fairfax County, Va., School Board, including two years as its chairwoman. Most recently, she was the senior vice president for external affairs at Education Sector, an independent think tank. She writes frequently on education issues and has been published in The Washington Post and the Richmond Times-Dispatch, among others. In 2017, she was appointed by Gov. McAuliffe to serve as one of Virginia’s Commissioners on the Education Commission of the States.

Jay Barth is the M.E. and Ima Graves Peace professor and Bill and Connie Bowen Odyssey professor of politics and director of civic engagement projects at Hendrix College, and he is a member of the Arkansas State Board of Education and NASBE’s board chair. He has served on the Governor’s Task Force on Best Practices in After-School and Summer Programs and was named Arkansas Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He previously served on the staff of the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone.

Jane R. Best is the director of the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) at Education Commission of the States in Denver. Dr. Best previously held leadership positions in the research and development industry at McREL International and Learning Point Associates (now American Institutes for Research). She has also worked in the education group at the National Conference of State Legislatures, where she provided technical assistance to state legislators and their staffs. Dr. Best started her career in education as a high school French and ESL teacher in Columbus, Ohio. She has served on the board of directors of Knowledge Alliance and the STEM Education Coalition. She also served on the board of governors for the College of Education at The Ohio State University. She teaches graduate courses on public policy and ethics at the University of Colorado School of Public Affairs.

Sandra Boyd joined Achieve in 2006 as a vice president and now serves as its chief operating officer. Boyd was previously vice president of human resources policy for the National Association of Manufacturers. She was chair of Compete America and the first employer-based workplace flexibility coalition, the FLECS coalition. She also served on the National Advisory Commission on Workplace Flexibility and is a former board member of the National Immigration Forum. Boyd is a frequent speaker and writer on education reform and human resources.

Peter Cookson is a principal researcher and director of The Equity Project at American Institutes for Research (AIR). Cookson is author or co-author of more than 15 books on education reform and policy and is completing books on blended learning and equity and education. Cookson blogs for AIR and contributes to popular and scholarly journals and publications. His most recent research focuses on the effects of positive school cultures on students’ educational mobility. He also teaches in the Department of Sociology at Georgetown University.

Matt Gandal is the founder of Education Strategy Group. He brings over 20 years of experience leading policy development, advocacy, and implementation work in both the K-12 and higher education sectors. Gandal previously served as a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, where he led a division responsible for providing policy and implementation support to states. He also was on the secretary’s Advisory Team, which met regularly with the secretary to take stock of progress and establish priorities for the U.S. Department of Education. Before joining the department, Gandal helped found Achieve and served as executive vice president. Gandal also was assistant director for educational issues at the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and held a leadership position with the Educational Excellence Network.

Melinda George is director of policy and partnerships at Learning Forward, where she leads its national and state policy agenda and builds strategic partnerships. Melinda previously served as president, vice president, and chief operating officer of the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future (NCTAF). Melinda also was senior director of education strategic relations at PBS, the first executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), a national spokesperson on education technology, and was instrumental in developing collaborative resources and opportunities for state educational technology leaders. George began her career as a fourth and fifth grade teacher in D.C. Public Schools.

David Griffith is senior director of public policy at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Previously, Griffith directed governmental and public affairs for NASBE, where he oversaw its advocacy and political activities as well as media relations. Griffith also served as an aide to Congressmen Joe Kolter and Robert Torricelli. In addition, he worked on numerous political campaigns, was the legislative and grassroots coordinator for the American Arts Alliance representing the nation’s leading nonprofit arts institutions, and traveled the country doing advance work for the 1996 Olympic Torch Relay.

John-Paul C. Hayworth is executive director of the D.C. State Board of Education. He joined the board in 2015 after serving in two mayoral administrations and on Capitol Hill. He most recently served as an adviser on federal, congressional, and local affairs specializing in education, economic development, and budget issues. He also represents the District of Columbia on the US Department of Education Mid-Atlantic Regional Advisory Committee and as vice president of the National Council of State Board Education Executives. Hayworth has been involved in helping local government find solutions since he was appointed to a student position on the school board in his hometown of Olathe, Kansas. In D.C., he has also served as a member of the Soil and Water Conservation District Citizen Advisory Committee and as chair of the Legislative Subcommittee.

Guy Johnson is senior program director with Partners for Each and Every Child. Johnson spent four years in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, working to enforce civil rights laws at the state, district, and school level. Previously, he was staff director for the Equity and Excellence Commission, a senior policy advisor on education and workforce issues in the Domestic Policy Council of the White House, and an attorney for low-income tenants and undocumented immigrants at Casa de Maryland.

Merrit Jones is a recent graduate of River Bluff High School in Lexington, SC, and is currently taking a gap year. She serves as the director of partnerships at Student Voice, a national student-lead nonprofit organization that is working to strengthen the student movement for more equitable schools. Previously, she founded Student Space after she noticed disparities among South Carolina schools and the lack of students involved in conversations on how to improve them. She is passionate about storytelling, policy, and youth empowerment. Jones is using her gap year to pursue those passions, traveling to talk with students across the United States, researching and influencing policy, and facilitating youth-oriented events and conferences.

John B. King Jr., now the president and CEO of The Education Trust, was secretary of education under President Barack Obama. Previously, Dr. King served at the department as principal senior advisor, carrying out the duties of a deputy secretary and overseeing preK-12 education policies, programs, and strategic initiatives as well as department operations. He also oversaw cross-agency collaboration for President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper task force. King was the commissioner of education for the state of New York, one of the nation’s youngest state education leaders at the time of his appointment and the first African-American and Puerto Rican to serve in that role. He also served as a managing director with Uncommon Schools, a nonprofit charter management organization that operates some of the highest-performing urban public schools in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. He also was co-founder and co-director for curriculum and instruction of Roxbury (Massachusetts) Preparatory Charter School. King began his career in education teaching high school social studies in San Juan and Boston.

Paige Kowalski is executive vice president for the Data Quality Campaign. She was previously DQC’s director of state policy and advocacy and managed DQC’s efforts to support state policymakers and help them understand their roles and responsibilities in encouraging effective data use at all levels. In addition, she led DQC’s work to inform state and national teacher effectiveness policies and supported state efforts to effectively implement data-related provisions of the 2009 federal stimulus act. Before joining DQC in 2008, Paige managed several national data initiatives for the Council of Chief State School Officers and participated as a managing partner of DQC in its early years. Kowalski has significant state and local experience through her tenures with the University of California, the City and County of San Francisco, and Chicago Public Schools.

Robin Lake is director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education and affiliate faculty, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington–Bothell. She is internationally recognized for her research and analysis of U.S. public school system reforms, including charter schools and charter management organizations, innovation and scale, portfolio strategies, school turnaround efforts, and performance-based accountability. Lake serves on the board or as adviser to the Journal of School Choice, the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools, the Untapped Potential Project, and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. She is also a part of the 2016 cohort of the Pahara-Aspen Fellows.

Dave Lefkowith serves as assistant superintendent at the Louisiana Department of Education. He is co-leader for Jump Start and Course Choice, two innovative programs to transform career and technical education. He previously worked at Procter & Gamble brand management, as a senior executive with two publicly traded companies, and as a management consultant. Lefkowith helped large institutions transition from monopolies to competitive, customer-oriented enterprises.

Reg Leichty, co-founder of Foresight Law + Policy, advises national education associations, state education agencies, school districts, nonprofit leaders, and companies about federal education, student data privacy, and technology law. His work includes a focus on ESEA, FERPA, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He counsels a wide range of entities about how to work effectively with Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, and the FCC, and frequently speaks and writes about emerging policy and legal issues in education reform.

Estela López serves on the Connecticut State Board of Education and was elected as vice chairperson of the board in March 2017. In January 2015, Dr. López was appointed interim provost of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System and served in that capacity through June 2016. Prior to that, she served as a senior associate with Excelencia in Education. She is the former vice chancellor of academic affairs of Connecticut State University, serving from 2002 to 2007. From 1997 to 2002, she served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Northeastern Illinois University. Dr. López has received numerous awards, including the Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association 2008 Achievement Award and the 2006 Latina Citizen of the Year Award. She chairs the state board’s Accountability and Support Committee and served on the Ad Hoc Committee on Accountability.

Patrick Lyden is the founder of Current Government Relations. Lyden draws upon a wide range of policy, political, and advocacy expertise to provide clients with strategic guidance and access to a broad array of policymakers. Previously, Lyden worked for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He also managed legislative affairs at the National Federation of Independence Business (NFIB) and was chief of staff for Congresswoman Mary Fallin and Congressman Michael Fitzpatrick.

Michael Magee, Ph.D., is the CEO of Chiefs for Change. Prior to working at Chiefs for Change, he co-founded and was CEO of the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies (RIMA). Before starting RIMA, for a dozen years, Mike taught American literature and philosophy at Haverford College, Wheaton College, and the Rhode Island School of Design. In 2004, his book, Emancipating Pragmatism, won the Elizabeth Agee Prize in American Studies. In 2007, Mike went on hiatus from academia to help found and direct Mayor Daniel McKee’s Office of Children Youth and Learning in Cumberland, RI. In 2008, he and Mayor McKee founded RIMA. He is a 2013 Pahara Aspen Education Fellow and Walton Family Foundation “Education Reformer to Watch.”

Todd Mann is executive director of Magnet Schools of America. He also has served as the executive director of the National Consortium of Secondary STEM Schools, representing leading STEM high schools. Mann’s career spans both association management and work in the private sector. Previously, he served in a leadership role at the National Restaurant Association, led a large trade association in the construction industry, and started up three companies. He also pioneered an educational internet TV channel, made possible by patenting technology from a company he took public. Mann began his career on Capitol Hill.

Cheryl A. Oldham is vice president of education policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and senior vice president of the education and workforce program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Oldham has 20 years of experience in public policy development and implementation as well as in project management and government relations. President George W. Bush designated Oldham as acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education in 2008 while she was also serving as chief of staff to the under secretary of education. As chief of staff, Oldham was the senior adviser on policy and strategy and oversaw the coordination of programs and policies for vocational and adult education, postsecondary education, and federal student aid.

Leslie Slaughter serves as executive director of the Kentucky Board of Education, and she has been with the Kentucky Department of Education since 2010. Previously, she was executive advisor to the Office of Career and Technical Education, helping lead many of the state’s strategic priorities related to college and career readiness accountability, career pathway development, business and industry engagement, and the JP Morgan Chase New Skills for Youth (NSFY) grant initiative. She has extensive experience with policy development and implementation, strategic planning and evaluation, providing technical assistance to schools and districts, and facilitating state and national professional learning opportunities. Previously, Slaughter worked as a high school family and consumer sciences teacher.

Courtney Tanenbaum is a principal researcher and director of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) practice area at American Institutes for Research (AIR), where she examines sociocultural factors affecting students’ access to high-quality learning experiences. She led a U.S. Department of Education project that brought together thought leaders and researchers and resulted in “STEM 2026: A Vision for Innovation in STEM Education,” published in 2016. She is a research partner to 100Kin10, supporting their initiative to map the challenges to ensuring that all students have excellent STEM teachers. Tanenbaum also is the principal investigator for a National Science Foundation project on federal investments in STEM undergraduate research experiences and for an NSF study on bridge programs to promote the success of historically underrepresented minorities in STEM doctoral programs.

Melissa Tooley is the director of preK-12 educator quality with the Education Policy Program at New America, where she provides research and analysis on policies and practices affecting teaching quality and school leadership. She primarily writes on educator preparation, evaluation, development, and retention, and she has worked on college and career readiness policy. Tooley’s work has been featured in The Atlantic, Education Week, U.S. News and World Report, and The Wall Street Journal, among others. Before joining New America, Tooley was a teacher quality policy analyst at The Education Trust. She also worked in higher education policy at The Institute for College Access & Success, in health policy at the Epilepsy Foundation of New York City, and in market research consulting at Nielsen BASES.

Steve Tozer is founding coordinator of the UIC EdD Urban Education Leadership program and an expert on urban school leader preparation. After an early career of teaching and leadership in early childhood education, he joined the policy studies faculty at UIUC, publishing a textbook for teachers that has been in print for over 20 years. He later served as head of curriculum and instruction at UIUC, chair of policy studies at UIC, president of the American Educational Studies Association, and president of the Council for Social Foundations of Education. He was named a University Faculty Fellow and University Scholar at UIC and received the Association of Teacher Education Robert J. Stevenson Award for Outstanding Leadership and Dedication to the Education Profession. Tozer is lead editor of the Handbook of Research in the Social Foundations of Education.

Marla Ucelli-Kashyap is assistant to the president for educational issues at the American Federation of Teachers, where she leads a team working on policy, practice, and professional development aimed at helping teachers and their unions improve education quality and their profession. Previously, she was director of district redesign and leadership at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and a senior program officer at the Rockefeller Foundation. Ucelli-Kashyap has been an independent consultant in education policy, a political press secretary, and a reporter. Ucelli-Kashyap was chair of the board of Editorial Projects in Education, Inc. (publisher of Education Week) and was a founding co-chair of Grantmakers for Education.

Sara Vecchiotti is chief program officer at the Foundation for Child Development (FCD), where she is responsible for program development, grant development and monitoring, and communications. Previously, she was chief operating officer at Lutheran Social Services of New York. She also served as associate commissioner for child care operations; assistant commissioner for policy, planning, and analysis; and director of strategic planning at the Division of Early Care and Education in New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services. Vecchiotti completed the Society for Research in Child Development Congressional Fellowship in the Office of Senator Jeff Bingaman and the Executive Branch Fellowship in the Office of Child Care, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. She has been a fellow at FCD; Teachers College, Columbia University; Yale Child Study Center; and the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy.

Governor Bob Wise is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. Wise served as governor of West Virginia from 2001 to 2005, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1983 to 2001, and state legislator from 1980 to 1982. He has advised the U.S. Department of Education, White House, and key state and federal policymakers. As governor, Wise fought for and signed legislation to fund the PROMISE Scholarship program, which has helped thousands of West Virginia high school graduates continue their education in the Mountain State. During his administration, West Virginia saw a significant increase in the number of students completing high school and entering college. Wise is a recipient of the 2015 Friday Medal and the 2014 Bammy Award for Education Policy/Researcher. He was named one of the 10 most influential people in education technology by Tech & Learning in 2014 and was named to the NonProfit Times’s “Power & Influence Top 50” in 2011.

Todd Ziebarth is senior vice president for state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Previously, Ziebarth was a policy analyst at the Education Commission of the States and at Augenblick, Palaich, and Associates. He has helped numerous states enact laws to better support high-quality public charter schools. He has also authored many national and state-level research and policy publications on charter schools.

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