The only organization dedicated solely to helping state boards advance equity and excellence in public education.

Annual Conference 2019: Keynote Speakers and Panelists

Keynote Speakers

Valerie J. Calderon is a consultant and researcher at Gallup, where she provides strategic guidance to Gallup and Gallup clients regarding the design and execution of research projects. Calderon also directs the Gallup Student Poll, which measures hope and engagement among students in grades five through 12. She has published numerous articles, reports, and case studies and is vice president of the Bennington Public Schools Board of Education and board vice president of the Bennington Public Schools chapter of TeamMates Mentoring.

Dan Goldhaber is director of the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) at the American Institutes for Research and director of the Center for Education Data & Research at the University of Washington. Goldhaber’s work focuses on issues of educational productivity and reform at the K-12 level; the broad array of human capital policies that influence the teacher workforce; and connections between students’ K-12 experiences and postsecondary outcomes. Previously, Goldhaber was president of the Association for Education Finance and Policy, elected member of the Alexandria City School Board, and co-editor of Education Finance and Policy.

Amy Nicholson joined Turnaround for Children in 2014 as a program director, implementing their school improvement model in four schools in Washington, DC. In 2017, she became director of integrated program strategy. Previously, Nicholson was director of school performance for the UNO Charter School Network in Chicago. She also worked as an education pioneer fellow and later as a special projects manager for the Chicago Public Schools.

Rodney Robinson is a 19-year teaching veteran and the 2019 National Teacher of the Year. In 2015, Robinson started teaching at Virgie Binford Education Center, a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center, in an effort to better understand the school-to-prison pipeline. Robinson uses a whole-child approach to help the students who are most vulnerable. He has been published three times by Yale University and has received numerous awards, including the R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence. He is a member of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s Education Compact Team and has also worked with Pulitzer Award–winning author James Foreman on developing curriculum units on race, class, and punishment as a part of the Yale Teacher’s Institute.


Brooke Axiotis is president of the Iowa State Board of Education and president-elect of NASBE’s Board of Directors. She is also Drake Law School’s director of academic success programs and a member of the Iowa State Bar. She serves on the boards of Goodwill of Central Iowa, the Urban Ag Academy, and Links Inc. Axiotis also chairs NASBE’s Public Education Positions Committee.

Stephanie Bell is the longest serving member of the Alabama State Board of Education and was appointed by two governors to serve as a commissioner on the Education Commission of the States. Bell created and then served as executive director on the Statewide Committee on Reforming Education. In 1995, Bell successfully pushed for increasing dual enrollment opportunities for Alabama students. She also exposed and fought corruption in the state’s two-year college system, resulting in numerous convictions. As a reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser/Alabama Journal, Bell received the CASE II Media Award. She is a southern area director on NASBE’s Board of Directors.

Karen Blaak is an award-winning secondary English teacher and head of department in Ontario, Canada. She thrives on creating opportunities for students to engage with audiences for purposes beyond the classroom and has created courses that fuse science, technology, engineering, and math with the English curriculum.

Matthew Blomstedt has served as commissioner of the Nebraska Department of Education since 2014. He has applied 20 years of experience to improving educational finance and organization, assessment and accountability, and professional development and developing systems to enhance blended and distance learning opportunities across the state. Together with the Nebraska State Board of Education, he designed and implemented AQuESTT, Nebraska’s new statewide school accountability system; implemented a 10-year strategic plan shared by the state board and the Nebraska Department of Education; and designed and implemented the statewide, multiple-measure Nebraska Student-Centered Assessment System.

Kevin Boyd is a member of the Georgia State Board of Education, where he represents the 9th Congressional District and serves as vice chair of appeals, vice chair of state schools, and is a member of the Charter and District Flexibility Committee. Boyd is president and second-generation owner of Boyd’s Cleaning Service. He sits on the Court Appointed Special Advocate Board, serving Hall and Dawson counties, and is a member of the Gainesville Kiwanis Board. He is also a southern area director on NASBE’s Board of Directors.

Janet Cannon is serving a fifth term on the Utah State Board of Education, where she served seven years as vice chair, and she served four years on the Utah State Board of Regents. She was the governor’s appointee to the Utah College of Applied Technology Board and was a liaison between the Utah State Board and the State Charter School Board. For many years she also chaired the School and Instructional Trustlands Nominating Committee. She is a western area director on NASBE’s Board of Directors, a position she also held from 2003 to 2005, and she served on the Government Affairs Committee. She received a NASBE distinguished service award in 2006.

Linda Darling-Hammond is president of the California State Board of Education, the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education Emeritus at Stanford University, and founding president of the Learning Policy Institute. She is past president of the American Educational Research Association and a current member of the American Association of Arts and Sciences and of the National Academy of Education. Darling-Hammond previously served as executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, director of RAND Corporation’s education program, and co-founded both a preschool and public high school. She was named one of the nation’s 10 most influential people affecting educational policy in 2006 and later was leader of President Barack Obama’s education policy transition team.

Jason Dean is chairman of the Mississippi State Board of Education. He is the vice president of Tenax Aerospace, an aerospace company based in Madison. Previously, he was vice president of the Mississippi Economic Council and a policy adviser to Governor Haley Barbour. He also was a White House Fellow and member of faculty and staff at the University of Mississippi. Dean serves as a new member representative on NASBE’s Board of Directors.

Byron Ernest is director of educator development and partnerships for Noble Education Initiative. Previously, he was principal at Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis after Indiana took it over for receiving seven consecutive failing annual performance grades. Under Dr. Ernest’s leadership, Manual became the only takeover school in Indiana to be removed from the failing category. He was department head for agriculture and Future Farmers of America at Lebanon Community School Corporation, head of schools for Hoosier Academies, Indiana Teacher of the Year in 2010, and serves as secretary to the Indiana State Board of Education and secretary-treasurer to NASBE’s Board of Directors.

Martha Harris is a member of the Maine State Board of Education, where she previously served as chair. She also served over 20 years as a board member of RSU 22/SAD 22. Harris has been in the general practice of law in Bangor since 1977 and brings the perspective of living in a small town and being involved in the local school board.

Robert Hull, NASBE’s president and CEO, leads its work on teaching, leading, learning, and governance after a 40-year career as an elementary teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent. Previously, Hull was NASBE’s executive vice president and director of the center for college, career, and civic readiness, and he was assistant superintendent of schools in the division of teaching and learning and associate state superintendent at the West Virginia Department of Education.

John Kelly is immediate past chair of NASBE’s Board of Director and a member of Mississippi’s State Board of Education, having served a two-year term as its chair. 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.

Jordan Koch teaches sixth grade at Hickory Hill School in Papillion, Nebraska, and previously served as an intern at NASBE.

Hailly Korman is a senior associate partner of policy and evaluation at Bellwether Education Partners, focusing on correctional education, justice-involved youth, and school discipline. Previously, Korman was director of special projects at the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings and an attorney at Morrison & Foerster LLP, where she served as pro bono counsel in Reed v. State of California, representing student plaintiffs at underperforming Los Angeles public schools challenging the constitutionality of strict reverse-seniority layoffs. In 2010, she received both Public Counsel’s Impact Litigation Award and the American Civil Liberties Union’s Social Justice Award for her work on that case.

O. Victor Lenz Jr. joined the Missouri State Board of Education in 2013. He worked in the Lindbergh School District in St. Louis, Missouri, as a teacher and administrator, ending his career there as assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. For 10 years, he served on the Lindbergh Schools Board of Education and was president of the Missouri School Boards Association from 2011 to 2012. He is a central area director on NASBE’s Board of Directors.

Kenneth Mason is director of Urban Initiatives for the Southern Regional Education Board and a member of the Georgia State Board of Education. He is a founding board member and advisory council chair for KIPP Strive Academy and teaches high school students on a civil rights emergent experience called Sojourn to the Past. Mason has also been a community liaison and robotic engineering consultant for Berkeley National Laboratory and served as a corps member adviser for Teach For America.

Jim McNiece represents District 10 on the Kansas State Board of Education, where he served as board chair from 2015 to 2017. He has almost 40 years of experience as a teacher, coach, and principal in Kansas, serving both public and private schools, and he has participated in numerous state committees as well as professional and community boards. McNiece is a former principal of the year and received the Excellence in Public Service award. He led NASBE’s Board of Directors in 2016.

Samuel J. Meisels is the founding executive director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska, where he is also a professor of child, youth, and family studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A former preschool, kindergarten, and first-grade teacher, he was senior advisor in early childhood development for the Developmental Evaluation Clinic of Boston Children’s Hospital, a professor in the Department of Child Study at Tufts University, and director of the Eliot-Pearson Children’s School. Meisels spent 21 years on the faculty at the University of Michigan and became the president of Erikson Institute in 2002.

Chris Minnich became CEO of NWEA in 2018. Previously, he was executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. Minnich also held multiple positions at Harcourt, all of which focused on the advancement and improvement of assessments, and he was director of test design and implementation at the Oregon Department of Education. He is co-chair on the Oregon Business and Industry Education Committee and a member on the University of Oregon President’s Diversity Committee.

Adam Morfeld is a Nebraska state senator representing northeast Lincoln, and he is founder and executive director of Civic Nebraska, a nonprofit that works to instill civic leadership in young Nebraskans and ensure that democracy is accessible to working Nebraskans, families, and seniors. Sen. Morfeld serves on the Education and Judiciary Committees and also teaches American government and public administration as an adjunct faculty member at Doane University’s Lincoln campus.

Sydney Morris is co-founder and co-CEO of Educators for Excellence. Previously, Morris taught second and third graders in the Bronx and designed and led her school’s first-ever afterschool ballet program. In addition to regularly contributing to media outlets on education issues and speaking at conferences, including Forbes Women’s Summit and SXSWedu, Morris has been recognized on City & State’s 40 Under 40 Rising Political Stars list, Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Education list, and as a finalist for the Teach For America Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership.

Maureen Nickels is vice president of the Nebraska State Board of Education. She taught in upper elementary grades for the Grand Island Public Schools for 26 years. Nickels is a past president of the University of Nebraska at Kearney Alumni Association, served on the Hall County Clean Community System’s Board of Directors, and is a member of the Alpha Phi Delta Xi Alumni Chapter.

Antonio Parés is a partner at the Donnell-Kay Foundation. Previously, he was education policy director for the Mayor’s Office of Children’s Affairs in Denver. Parés consulted with multiple national nonprofits focused on educational equity, worked on political campaigns in Texas and Colorado, and supported two school turnaround efforts within Denver Public Schools. He started as a secondary social studies teacher with IDEA Public Schools in Texas along the U.S. and Mexico border. Parés serves on the boards of Conservation Colorado, Latino Community Foundation of Colorado, and the Colorado Charter School Institute.

Lupe Ramos-Montigny was elected to the Michigan State Board of Education in 2012. She worked in Michigan public schools for 36 years. Most of her professional career was dedicated to the Grand Rapids Public Schools. She has served on the Committee to Honor Cesar E. Chavez, The Cesar E. Chavez Unity Committee, Student Advancement Foundation Board, and the Kent County Citizens Friend of the Court Advisory Board. Ramos-Montigny has also served on the Michigan Democratic Hispanic/Latino Caucus, Kent County Democratic Party, and Michigan Democratic Party.  She is a central area director on NASBE’s Board of Directors.

Darren Reisberg is chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education and vice president of programs and strategy at the Joyce Foundation. Previously, he was vice president for strategic initiatives and deputy provost at the University of Chicago and as the first executive director of the university’s Institute of Politics. From 2005 to 2012, Reisberg was general counsel and deputy superintendent of the Illinois board. He began his career in Chicago as an employment and labor attorney at Sidley Austin, LLP, after serving as a judicial law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer.

Nina Salomon, deputy program director of corrections and reentry at the Council of State Governments Justice Center, oversees the Improving Outcomes for Youth Statewide Juvenile Justice Initiative, was a lead author of the School Discipline Consensus Report, and leads the organization’s efforts to improve educational outcomes for youth involved with the juvenile justice system. Previously, she was a policy advisor at EducationCounsel LLC and an investment associate at The Chicago Public Education Fund.

Angelika Schroeder is a former tax certified public accountant, college professor of accounting, and a member of the Colorado State Board of Education. She served on the Boulder Valley School Board as treasurer and vice president and on the Teacher and Special Services Professional Standards Board. Schroeder also served on boards and executive committees of the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Alliance for Quality Teaching, and she participated in the National School Boards Association’s Federal Relations Network. She is on the Teacher Quality Commission and liaison to the Colorado Association of School Boards. She is a western area director on NASBE’s Board of Directors.

Rachel Wise, elected to the Nebraska State Board of Education in 2013, chairs NASBE’s Board of Directors. Dr. Wise has been involved in education for over 30 years, beginning her career as a teacher in Tekamah, Nebraska. Wise also taught at Winnebago Public Schools, Logan View Public Schools, and Wayne State College. She has held positions in administrative and management at Martin Luther Home in York, Nebraska; Educational Service Unit #7 in Columbus, Nebraska; and Omaha Public Schools and Building Bright Futures in Omaha, Nebraska.

Carey M. Wright, EdD, is the state superintendent of education for Mississippi. Previously, Dr. Wright was chief academic officer and the deputy chief for the Office of Teaching and Learning at the District of Columbia Public Schools and a consultant to the Harvard Business School Public Education Leadership Project. She also was associate superintendent for the Office of Special Education and Student Services at Montgomery County Public Schools and was a teacher, principal, and director of special education and student services at Howard County Public Schools. Dr. Wright is past president of the Board of Directors of the Council of Chief State School Officers and is a member of the Broad Academy and Chiefs for Change.

Fez Zafar is a student member on the Iowa State Board of Education. He attends Roosevelt High School in Des Moines. Zafar is founder of Rider Films and is an international inclusion and diversity ambassador at his school. He also founded the nonprofit, Site for Smiles and Smarts, to raise awareness and funds for the education and well-being of children in Central Iowa and around the world. He is an avid national award-winning filmmaker and was recently recognized at the White House for his nonprofit work.