Legislative Conference 2018: Keynote Speakers and Panelists

Legislative Conference 2018: Keynote Speakers and Panelists
Keynote Speakers

Doris Kearns Goodwin is a world-renowned presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize–winning author. She wrote six critically acclaimed and New York Times best-selling books, including her most recent, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, and Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, which became the basis for the Academy Award–winning film Lincoln. Goodwin was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in history for No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. She also wrote Wait Till Next Year, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, and The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, which was adapted into a TV miniseries.

Goodwin is a frequent commentator on television networks, and she has been a consultant for PBS and History Channel documentaries on Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, the Kennedy family, and Ken Burns’ The History of Baseball and The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. She most recently served as a consultant on HBO Films’ All the Way. Goodwin is currently working on her next project on leadership—a look at how Lincoln, FDR, LBJ, and Teddy Roosevelt became leaders and how they led.

It was Goodwin’s experience as a 24-year-old White House Fellow, working directly for President Johnson in his last year in the White House and later assisting him in the preparation of his memoirs, that fueled her interest in becoming a presidential historian and author. Goodwin also taught government at Harvard University, including a course on the American Presidency.

Goodwin was awarded the Charles Frankel Prize, given by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Sarah Josepha Hale Medal, the New England Book Award, and recently the Carl Sandburg Literary Award and the Ohioana Book Award. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts, with her husband, the writer, presidential advisor, speechwriter, and playwright Richard N. Goodwin. She was the first woman to enter the Boston Red Sox locker room and is a devoted fan of the World Series–winning team.


Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) is a successful businessman with 40-plus years in the real estate industry who has built a respected record of public service to Georgia and the nation. Isakson holds the distinction of being the only Georgian ever to have been elected to the state House, state Senate, U.S. House, and U.S. Senate. In addition, in 2016 he became the first Georgia Republican ever to be elected to a third term in the U.S. Senate. Isakson is the only Republican in the Senate chairing two committees–the Senate Ethics Committee and the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. He also serves on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Isakson and his wife, Dianne, have been married since 1968. They have three children and eight grandchildren.


Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) is serving his 13th term representing the citizens of Virginia’s Third Congressional District in Congress. Previously, he served in the Virginia House of Delegates and in the Senate of Virginia. In Congress, he serves as the ranking member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce. As the senior Democrat on the committee, he is leading the fight for access to quality early, secondary, and higher education for all of America’s children. In 2015, he was one of the four primary negotiators of the Every Student Succeeds Act. He also has introduced the Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education (PROMISE) Act, which would provide resources to state and local governments for evidence-based strategies and programs to prevent juvenile crime. In 2015, he and Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) co-authored the Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act, which has been recognized as one of the most comprehensive criminal justice reform bills in a generation and has attracted significant support from across the political spectrum. Congressman Scott is a graduate of Harvard College and Boston College Law School. He also served in the Massachusetts National Guard and the United States Army Reserve.


Jason Botel is principal deputy assistant secretary of education. Botel began his service at the U.S. Department of Education as senior White House advisor for education. He started his career teaching at Booker T. Washington Middle School in West Baltimore as a Teach For America corps member and served as founding principal and executive director of KIPP Baltimore. Most recently, he was executive director of MarylandCAN.


Elizabeth Alves is assistant commissioner for the Office of Early Learning and Literacy at the Tennessee Department of Education, where she leads, manages, and coordinates departments responsible for improving early childhood and literacy programs serving children from birth to age 8 and their families. Dr. Alves previously served as assistant superintendent/chief academic officer for the Knox County Schools in Knoxville, TN. She began her career in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, where she was a teacher, principal, and district administrator.


Ary Amerikaner is director of P-12 resource equity at The Education Trust. Previously, Amerikaner was deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, where she helped manage the transition from No Child Left Behind, to flexibility waivers, to the Every Student Succeeds Act. She promoted equitable funding for high-need schools and equitable access to effective educators. Amerikaner clerked for a federal judge, was a legislative assistant for U.S. Congresswoman (now Senator) Mazie Hirono, and was an education research assistant at the Urban Institute.


Kristen Amundson, NASBE’s president and 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. Amundson—a former teacher—served for nearly a decade on the Fairfax County, Va., School Board, including two years as its chairwoman, and she was senior vice president for external affairs at Education Sector. In 2017, she was appointed by Governor McAuliffe to serve as one of Virginia’s commissioners on the Education Commission of the States.


Natasha O’Dell Archer is vice president for strategy and development at the Opportunity Institute. Previously, she was national director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids and director of diversity and inclusion at the umbrella nonprofit Council For a Strong America. She was an award-winning television producer. From “New Maury Povich Show,” and the “Montel Williams Show,” she went on to help build the most successful start-up on Black Entertainment Television, “106 & Park.”


John Bailey is visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a Walton Family Foundation advisor. He is also a Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Fellow. Previously, Bailey was a domestic policy advisor in the White House, deputy policy director to the U.S. secretary of commerce, and director of educational technology at the U.S. Department of Education. He co-founded Whiteboard Advisors, was a senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and was vice president of policy for Governor Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education.


Sandy Boyd is cofounder and CEO of Seek Common Ground, launching this May. Seek Common Ground incubates and sustains state-based advocacy coalitions that strive to realize a public education that meets the aspirations of families and communities for their children to become healthy, happy, productive citizens. Seek Common Ground inspires coalitions to expand their reach, be innovative, and lead discourse to seek—and find—common ground. Boyd joined Achieve in 2006 as a vice president and served as its chief operating officer. She was vice president of human resources policy for the National Association of Manufacturers and chair of Compete America.


Daarel Burnette II joined Education Week in 2015 as a state policy reporter. He previously served as bureau chief of Chalkbeat Tennessee, a startup news organization based in Memphis. He was an education reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Louisville Courier-Journal and a general assignment reporter at the Chicago Tribune.



Lauren Camera is an education reporter at U.S. News & World Report. She has covered education policy and politics for nearly a decade and has written for Education Week, The Hechinger Report, Congressional Quarterly, Roll Call, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. She was a 2013 Spencer Education Fellow at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, where she conducted a reporting project about the impact of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant program.


Joseph P. Cullen is principal of Branch Brook Elementary School in Newark, NJ. Cullen was part of New Jersey’s PreK-Third Grade Leadership Training Series, the PreK-Third Grade Summit at Rutgers University, and the New Jersey Department of Educators Steering Committee for First through Third Grade Guidelines. Cullen is the only U.S. principal to serve on the NASA panel for climate change, and he also was on the NASA Endeavor STEM Teaching Certificate selection committee.


Michelle Exstrom is a program director at the National Conference of State Legislatures, where she oversees work on educator effectiveness, finance, college and career readiness, assessments, accountability, school choice, and education data, and where she tracks state education legislation. Exstrom also staffs NCSL’s Education Standing Committee. Previously, Exstrom was a senior legislative assistant in the Colorado General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Legal Services.


Lula Ford is a member of the Illinois State Board of Education. She brings 34 years of experience as a teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent to her work on the board. In three decades at Chicago Public Schools, Ford was an elementary school teacher, math coordinator, and principal. Ford earned the Principal of Excellence Award for 1992–94. Most recently, Ford was a commissioner on the Illinois Commerce Commission, and she was assistant director of Central Management Services.


Donna Johnson is executive director to the Delaware State Board of Education, where she has led development of the Charter School Performance Framework, which established statewide standards for performance in academics, economic viability, and operations and governance. She has led statewide educational professional associations in Maryland and Delaware and partici-pated in national educational advocacy groups. She serves as the leader of the Public Education Advisory Committee on the Governor’s STEM Council and is president-elect of the National Council of State Boards of Education Executives.


Matt Jordan is director of strategic initiatives at Education Commission of the States, where he serves state policymakers through partnerships with corporations and foundations. Jordan has worked in city management, state government, and civic organizations over the past 20 years. He started his career as an AmeriCorps volunteer in the Mississippi Delta, which ignited a passion for bringing people together to tackle tough problems and build healthy communities.


John Kelly is a member of Mississippi’s State Board of Education and served a two-year term as its chair, and he is chair of NASBE’s Board of Directors. He has been Gulfport’s chief administrative officer since 2007. Kelly was regional director for community and family support with Navy Region Southeast in Jacksonville, Florida, and managed his own consulting firm, Resources Management Inc. Kelly was an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Mississippi–Gulf Park Campus, chairman of the National Board of Directors for the American Cancer Society, and president and chief volunteer officer for South Mississippi’s United Way.


Amar Kumar heads product management at Pearson Online & Blended Learning, where he oversees strategy and planning for technology, curriculum, and services. Previously, Kumar was Pearson’s global head of efficacy and research. This function is helping Pearson transform from a publisher into an education company. Kumar leads two of Pearson’s investments in low-cost schools in India as part of the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund. Kumar also worked at McKinsey and was a teacher and principal in Bangalore.


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.


Lillian M. Lowery is The Education Trust’s vice president for prek-12 policy, research, and practice, leading the organization’s ambitious agenda to focus national attention on inequities in public education. Previously, she served as president and CEO of FutureReady Columbus, a public-private nonprofit focused on college and workforce readiness; state superintendent of schools for the Maryland State Board of Education; and secretary of education for the State of Delaware.


Karen Hawley Miles is chief executive officer of Education Resource Strategies, Inc, where she has worked with school systems nationwide to analyze and improve funding systems, resource use, and human capital and professional development systems. She has taught school leaders at Harvard University, in school districts, and for New Leaders for New Schools. She co-authored The Strategic School: Making the Most of People, Time and Money with Stephen Frank, was senior advisor to the Aspen Institute Education and Society Program, and was a commissioner on the Equity and Excellence Commission for the U.S. Department of Education.


Stephen Parker is legislative director of the Education and Workforce Committee at the National Governors Association, where he directs development and implementation of the governors’ strategic priorities and manages policy and advocacy for child nutrition, workforce development, career and technical education, early childhood, K-12, and postsecondary education. Parker previously was special assistant to the president for advocacy at the Virginia School Boards Association. He also was senior policy advisor to the Adjutant General of the Virginia National Guard, senior special assistant to the Office of Governor Tim Kaine, and project manager for the Governor’s Office for Substance Abuse Prevention.


Denise Pearson is vice president of academic affairs and equity initiatives for State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO), where she produces research, analyses, recommendations, and reporting on student learning, educator preparation, minority-serving institutions, accreditation, and student protections. Pearson is principal investigator for Project Pipeline Repair: Restoring Minority Male Participation and Persistence in Educator Preparation Programs, a multi-year W.K. Kellogg–funded collaboration with state higher education policy leaders and educator preparation faculty at five historically black colleges and universities. She is also a principal coordinator of SHEEO’s annual Higher Education Policy Conference.


Elliot Regenstein is a partner at Foresight Law + Policy Advisors. He is a frequent author and speaker on accountability, state data systems, and the connections between early learning and K-12. He has extensive experience in state-level policy and advocacy, with a focus on early learning. As director of education reform in the governor’s office, Regenstein was one of the chief architects of Illinois’s Preschool for All program and co-chaired the Illinois Early Learning Council from 2004 until April 2009. He also clerked for the Hon. Kenneth F. Ripple on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.


Ryan Reyna is senior associate at Education Strategy Group. Reyna previously directed the Office of Accountability and Data Management at the Delaware Department of Education, where he led the state’s efforts to develop multimeasure accountability, centralize data reporting and analysis, develop its flexibility waiver application, and report on pre-K through higher education outcomes. He was a program director in the Education Division at the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, where he led support on college- and career-ready standards, assessment, accountability, and transitions to postsecondary education and training.


Roberto J. Rodríguez is president and CEO of Teach Plus, where he builds the teacher leadership movement. He was on President Obama’s White House Domestic Policy Council as deputy assistant to the president for education and was principal education advisor to the late U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy. His distinguished awards include the National Champion for Children Award from First Focus and the Head Start Windows of Opportunity Award from the National Head Start Association. Rodríguez began his career at the National Council of La Raza, where he directed research and policy analysis of federal and state education issues.


Andrew J. Rotherham is co-founder and partner at Bellwether Education Partners, where he leads its policy analysis and thought leadership work. He is a senior editor at The 74, a contributing editor to U.S. News & World Report, writer of the blog Eduwonk.com, a senior advisor at Whiteboard Advisors, and a teacher at The University of Virginia. Previously, he served as special assistant to the president for domestic policy during the Clinton administration, on the Virginia Board of Education, as education columnist for TIME, and as a think tank leader.


Amy Starzynski is a founder and partner at Foresight Law + Policy. As a former congressional staff member, state-based policy institute executive, and senior member of a leading education law and policy practice, Starzynski worked on statewide systems of assessment and accountability, student-centered approaches to learning, educator support and growth, school and district improvement, and capacity building. She practiced law with a Big 4 audit firm in Europe, served as chief operating officer of the Georgia Department of Education, and was a senior advisor to Senator Johnny Isakson during his tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives.


Eric Thomas is Georgia’s first chief turnaround officer, where he is responsible for creating and executing the strategy to support the state’s lowest-performing schools. Previously, he was chief support officer for the University of Virginia’s Turnaround Program and chief innovation officer for the Cincinnati Public Schools. He was a turnaround principal, principal coach, district coordinator, and teacher during his nearly 20 years in Cincinnati. Thomas was an instructor in the University of Cincinnati’s Educational Leadership program, a trainer at the Ohio State Fisher Business School, and has consulted with the Ohio Department of Education on low-performing districts. 


Kate Walsh is president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, where she spearheads efforts to instill transparency and high standards among institutions that exert influence and authority over teachers. She launched the first-ever review and rankings of teacher preparation programs. Walsh worked at The Abell Foundation in Baltimore, the Baltimore City Public Schools, and the Core Knowledge Foundation. She started and ran a boarding school located in Kenya in order to educate at-risk boys from Baltimore; one of the nation’s premier STEM programs; and the first alternative certification program for teachers in Maryland. Walsh served on the Maryland State Board of Education.


Ross Wiener is a vice president at the Aspen Institute and executive director of the Education and Society Program, where he leads a team that creates rich learning experiences for education leaders and policymakers and resources for improving educational outcomes. Previously, Wiener was policy director and vice president for program and policy at The Education Trust. He was also a trial attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Educational Opportunities Section. 

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