2020 Empowered to Lead Symposium: Meet the Presenters

Sheri Barna, Tolland’s 2009 – 2010 Teacher of the Year, has been an elementary educator for the last 45 years. Sheri is the proud mother of two children, one of whom has special needs and the other adopted from China. This has led her to examine her own classroom instruction, environment, and community. She enjoys the opportunity to research and collaborate with peers and administrators to create the most positive, welcoming, and safe school possible. Building connections with her students and their families helps Sheri create a classroom community where all students can feel comfortable taking risks.




Miguel Barreto is a Program Director with Creative Connections, a non-profit international cultural education organization that fosters global competency in students across 21 countries. With more than 15 years of experience managing programs in Latin America and the USA, Miguel brings his passion for promoting education advancement, management of natural resources, and human rights advocacy to rural and city communities. He graduated with distinction from Mercy College with a M.S. in Internet Business Strategy, a B.S. in Industrial Design from the Pontific University Xaveriana and a Certificate in Social and Environmental Conflict Management from the University of Peace. In his career, Miguel has been distinguished with honors such as the 2014 Connecticut Immigrant Award by the Immigrant and Refugee Coalition, and the 4th place in the 2002 International contest “Alliances Against Poverty” by the World Bank. Miguel developed the Rainforest ArtLink program in 2009 in collaboration with the Rainforest Alliance. Today, the program reaches over 2500 students annually in the US and their counterparts in Latin American schools promoting a dialogue about culture and environment while becoming globally competent. The Program was awarded the “Scott Shuler Award” by the Connecticut Art Education Association in 2015.


Katherine Bassett is currently the CEO of Tall Poppy, LLC an education consulting organization. Her research and policy work have focused on teacher leadership, professional career continua in education, engagement of educators in the policy process, and equity issues. Bassett spent 26 years as a middle school librarian and served as New Jersey’s 2000 State Teacher of the Year. She served as President and CEO of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, in Director positions at Pearson, and ETS. She led development of the Teacher Leader Model Standards and co-facilitated development of the Model Code of Educator Ethics.
Jan Bassin, a longtime advocate for the power of writing, a former social worker and champion for those in need, founded and is the current Director of The Writer’s Workshop at the Westport Center for Senior Activities.
  Rachel Baumsteiger, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral research associate at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Her research focuses on promoting positive development and well-being, especially among adolescents and young adults. At the Center, Rachel leads efforts to develop a tool to assess and improve the momentary emotional well-being of high school students during school. She also supports research aimed at creating a measure that will both assess school climate in middle and high schools, and will also provide feedback that empowers students to improve their school’s climate.
Chris Buckley has been teaching children since 2001, most recently as a social studies teacher at Brookfield High School in Brookfield, Connecticut. Chris serves as a Lead Educator in the Speak Truth to Power program sponsored by RFK Human Rights and also serves on the steering committee for the Connecticut Human Rights Partnership. Since 2016, Chris has been an instructor for the Introduction to Human Rights course offered by the University of Connecticut’s Early College Experience program. Chris has presented on human rights education at the National Council for Social Studies in Boston, Washington D.C., New Orleans, and Chicago.
Barbara Connery holds a Master of Science in Elementary Education from Western Connecticut University and a Master of Arts in Writing and Oral Tradition from The Graduate Institute in Bethany, Connecticut. She has investigated the correlation between dyslexia and artistic inclination. Barbara has met remarkable educators, parent advocates, and neuroscientists who shed a glowing light on teaching practices that could ultimately ensure reading success for all children. She is currently writing a children’s book on the life of a child with dyslexia.
Dr. James L. Floman is an Associate Research Scientist at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. He received his PhD at the University of British Columbia, where he studied the effects of mindfulness meditation training on teachers’ social-emotional experiences and abilities with Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl. He received his MA in Psychology at Rutgers University studying with Dr. Ira Roseman. Dr. Floman has two research streams: 1) The assessment of dynamic social-emotional processes (i.e., developing and validating EI and well-being measurement tools); and 2) EI, mindfulness, and well-being training (i.e., developing, optimizing, and scaling EI and well-being-enhancement practices for real-world applications).
Robert D. Ford, the 6-12 ELA Coordinator for North Branford Public Schools, has taught high school English for 14 years. Since 2014, he has published articles in The English Journal and The Explicator, and also presented at several conferences, including conferences on educational technology at the University of Connecticut as well as current topics in ELA at NCTE and NEATE.
Neil Gile is the principal of Williams Middle School in Longmeadow, MA. Prior to assuming this position, he served as the assistant superintendent of schools for the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District. His educational career dates back to 1997 when he first began teaching in Charlotte, NC. Dr. Gile earned his Ed.D. in educational leadership and supervision from American International College.
  Steven Gilhuley is the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction in Malverne, NY. Steven joined the Malverne school district as an assistant principal at the Middle School in 2004. He then served as principal for 9 years followed by a promotion to Assistant Superintendent in 2016. In 2006, he was named the 2006 Phi Delta Kappa, Hofstra University Chapter, Educator of the Year, and was named Educator of the Week by WLNY-TV in 2007. In 2011, Steven received the School Administrator Leadership Award by the Academy for Character Education at The Sage Colleges. In fall of 2016, he was awarded the Collaborator of Excellence Award from the NYS English Council. Mr. Gilhuley received his Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Relations from the University of North Carolina, his Master’s Degree in Special Education from LIU Post, and his Administrative Degree at the College of New Rochelle.
  Michele Giorlando DeRosa is an English/AVID Teacher at Western Middle School in Greenwich, CT. Michele has been teaching for 10 years, starting in New York City and now working at a Title I middle school in Greenwich, CT. She is actively dedicated to teaching an inclusive curriculum which offers a variety of perspectives. She has taught in China and conducted research with educators in Poland and Germany. She was the Greenwich Public School District’s Teacher of the Year in 2019.
Rachel Gross is the principal of Davison Avenue Intermediate School in Malverne, NY. During her 8 years as a special education teacher at Howard. T. Herber Middle school, she served as a teacher leader for curriculum as well as a part time dean. Rachel became a full time educational administrator in 2014 when she took on the role as Common Core Chairperson K-6. She was promoted to principal of the Intermediate school this past summer and now oversees all programs and instruction pertaining to grades 3, 4, and 5. In 2015, Rachel earned the title of Distinguished Educator from Renaissance Learning. She received her BA in Psychology from Queens College, MA in Creative Arts Therapy and MS in Inclusive Elementary Special Education from Hofstra University, and her SBL and SDL from Stony Brook.
Anthea Grotton, Tolland’s 2014-2015 Teacher of the Year, has been an elementary educator for the last 18 years. She thrives on expanding her learning and capacity as an educator. As an active member on various in district teams, Anthea is excited to collaborate with colleagues and administration to bring about positive school change. A huge influence on her teaching is her diverse family, which consists of an amazing daughter and many incredible educators. Building connections with her students drives her and Anthea is passionate about working towards school inclusivity and creating a classroom community where all students can learn and feel safe.
Gregory Gwudz is the assistant principal at North Branford High School; he previously taught history at Waterford High School for 10 years. Greg has presented at the New England PBIS Leadership forum and in 2019 was a finalist for the CIAC Assistant Principal of the Year.
Lisa Halloran teaches linguistically and culturally diverse kindergarteners in Montville, CT. Lisa was awarded a 2016 Fund for Teachers Fellowship to study art in Paris as a means of enhancing oral vocabulary development of EL and all students. She has been teaching for 32 years at the elementary level. Lisa has a master’s degree from the University of Connecticut. Lisa has presented at several conferences on the following topics: Fund for Teachers travel grants, English Language Learners, and No Kid Hungry’s school breakfast programs. Lisa has also attended the last 3 NNSTOY conferences and the Teach to Lead Summit in Philadelphia (2019).
Jessica Hoffmann, Ph.D., is an Associate Research Scientist at the Yale Child Study Center, Director of High School at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and a licensed clinical psychologist. She directs two high school initiatives: RULER for high schools and inspirED. Both help promote safe, nurturing school environments where everyone can reach their full potential. Her current research focuses on adolescent emotions; specifically, school climate, creative problem solving, and emotion regulation ability in teens. Jessica has collaborated with colleagues from Italy, Spain, and Mexico, and published in journals including Creativity Research Journal and the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology.


Dr. Cheryl Iozzo has been the art educator for North Street Elementary School for 26 years and has been working with Creative Connections, an international cultural education organization, for the past seven. Through this organization, she has been able to develop a truly interdisciplinary, authentic, and memorable learning experience for her 5th-grade students. Each year, her team at NSS (5th-grade teachers, art educator, music educator, Spanish teacher, PTA, and our supportive administration) has worked to facilitate inquiry-based lessons related to global communication and understanding varying cultural values. The students have exchanged art with three partner classes in Guatemala each year, learned about the Guatemalan culture and their own, and expressed themselves through music. In addition, by choosing a Spanish speaking country for the exchange, the team is better able to integrate the Spanish program and provide students with an authentic opportunity to practice their Spanish speaking skills during a LIVE Videoconference with partner classes in Guatemala. In February of 2017, Cheryl was invited to Guatemala to meet her partners and lead multiple workshops based on her experiences with cross-cultural exchanges to over 40 educators in the Rainforest region of Guatemala.
 Lisanne Kaplan is the English Learner District Coordinator for Montville Public Schools. She has presented extensively on EL teaching strategies, engaging diverse populations, and teacher leadership. She studied refugee resettlement in Malmo, Sweden as a 2016 Fund for Teachers Fellow and participated in a 2019 Teach to Lead summit where she co-authored a teacher leadership initiative. She led her region’s EL teacher PLC group. Lisanne holds an M.A. in TESOL from Fairfield University, a B.A. in Spanish from Mount Holyoke College, and is currently in the Educational Leadership program at Sacred Heart University.
Megan E. Lee is the dean of students at North Branford High School, where she has taught special education and English for 13 years. Recently, Megan presented at the New England PBIS Leadership forum and co-authored an article published in The English Journal.
Scarlett Lewis founded the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, a nonprofit organization, after her son was murdered during the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in December 2012. Scarlett decided to be part of the solution to the issues in society—and that also caused the tragedy. She became an advocate for social and emotional learning (SEL) which teaches children how to manage emotions, feel connected, and have healthy relationships. Scarlett travels across the United States and internationally to promote the Choose Love Enrichment Program, a no cost, comprehensive SEL program empowering educators and students to choose love. The Choose Love Enrichment Program has been downloaded in all 50 states and in nearly 90 countries.


Lori Leibowitz is an experienced administrator and advocate for advanced learners. Having presented about personalized learning and equity of gifted programming all over the country, Lori brings her passion of reaching all learners while challenging and bringing out students’ full potential. Currently, Lori is the District Coordinator for the Gifted and Talented program in Norwalk, Connecticut. She previously taught in the Advanced Learning Program in Greenwich, Connecticut for twenty years. Lori holds a Master’s Degree from Sacred Heart University and her Intermediate Administrator Certification in the state of Connecticut.
Lisette Martinez-Samalot is a graduate of Springfield College. She earned a Master’s in Education at the University of Massachusetts, and has worked as a intervention teacher for ten years. Currently, she is pursuing a second Master’s in Teacher Leadership at Mount Holyoke College, where she is a fellow.
Meredyth Martini is the Special Education Director in Malverne, NY. She started her career as a school psychologist at Malverne High School. After nine years in that position, Meredyth was promoted to Director where she oversees the special education department K-12. In 2007, she was recognized by the NAACP Lakeview Branch for “Changing the Lives of Children” and was also honored by the branch for her outstanding and dedicated service. In 2014, Meredyth received the PDK Friends of Education award from Stony Brook University, and she was a NYCASE Special Education Administrator of the Year finalist in 2017. Meredyth received both her BA and MA from St. John’s University, and her degree in Educational Leadership from CW Post.
Kate Miserocchi has been an elementary teacher for 26 years. In 2017 she was a recipient of a Fund for Teachers grant which took her to Munich, Germany to teach music and art to refugee children from Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq. This experience profoundly influenced her desire to better educate herself and her students on critical global issues such as immigration and the inequitable distribution of resources that affect communities locally and abroad. In addition to teaching 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders in the Advanced Learning Program in Greenwich, she runs an afterschool club helping kids to learn about the UN ‘s Sustainable Development Goals, and how to take action in support of local community groups
Kelsey Murphy LaPrad has been a special education teacher, unified sports coach and Best Buddies advisor at Brien McMahon High School for 10 years. Since the beginning of her career she has recognized a need for the inclusion of students with severe special needs in the whole school community. Her vision of a peer assisted program came to life after receiving the Lawrence O’Toole Grant in 2018. Since then the lives of her students have been greatly impacted as they feel welcomed and included in the whole school community.
Ann Neary, NBCT, teaches ELA (AP Literature, Children’s Literature, World Literature, and Journalism). She is 2018 Mount Holyoke’s Masters in Teacher Leadership graduate, a Fellow at Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence, and a facilitator for NNSTOY. Ann’s motto is “always sharing, always hopetimistic.”
Michele Ridolfi O’Neill is the Connecticut Education Association’s Issues Specialist in the department of Professional Practice and Government Relations. Michele earned two separate teaching certification endorsements while completing a double major in English and History/Social Science at Eastern Connecticut State University, and received her Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction at St. Joseph College in West Hartford. She taught for ten years in the Montville public schools before coming to CEA, and in her second year of teaching, was one of only five teachers in New England to receive the New England League of Middle Schools’ Promising Practitioner Award. She has delivered trainings and presentations for numerous statewide, regional, and national organizations, most notably Learning Forward, Future Educators of America, and the National Education Association.
Stephanie Peckham has been a health education teacher at Brien McMahon High School for the past 22 years. Stephanie has worked on the development of the peer assisted program offered at Brien McMahon, and for the past two years she has had the opportunity to pilot three different peer assisted classes – Peer Assisted Farm to Table, Peer Assisted Physical Education, and Peer Assisted Health. In 2019, Stephanie received a Fund for Teachers grant to create an outdoor education program for special populations that will be implemented in the spring of 2020. Her work with inclusion stretches beyond the classroom as she coaches Unified Sports for the Brien McMahon High School team.
Jack Rudy has worked for the Berlin Public Schools for the last 4 years as the Director of Berlin Upbeat. Prior to that Jack worked as a middle school math teacher for Baltimore County Public Schools. Jack has is BA in Elementary Education from the University of Maryland.
Dorina Sackman-Ebuwa is known as The Lab Coat Teacher and affectionately “Miss Dorito” by her students. With her unique teaching style, Dorina has spent the past 22 years empowering ALL students at the K-12, college, and adult learner level. An expert in building solid relationships that result in successful learning experiences, Ms. Sackman-Ebuwa strongly believes cultural responsiveness, community, and EI over IQ make up the true learning experience. A Nationally Recognized Educator and Florida Teacher of the Year, Dorina takes her classroom experiences, collaborative teacher workshops, and doctoral research on emotional intelligence and travels the globe as a “teacher on loan” inspiring, motivating, and empowering. When not wearing the many hats of an educator, Dorina dons a Stetson and works on her ranch, tending to her beloved rescue cows, goats, chickens, miniature donkeys, and barn cat, “Sits with Eggs.”
Jessica Stargardter holds a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Connecticut. Jessica’s experience with students includes teaching at the Summer Institute for the Gifted on Yale’s campus and the Dr. Joseph S. Renzulli Gifted and Talented Academy in Hartford, Connecticut. She has presented all over the country about personalizing learning and equity of programming for gifted students. Jessica currently teaches in the Gifted and Talented Program in Norwalk, Connecticut where she uses technology with her students to enhance critical thinking and communication skills.
William Sullivan is in his 4th year as an 8th Grade Social Studies Teacher at Williams Middle School. Mr. Sullivan believes in authentic, research-based, and engaging instruction that is designed around supporting the whole child. Mr. Sullivan won the Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award for the 2017-2018 school year.



Daisy Torres is currently the Director of English Learner Services, Dual, and World Languages for Hartford Public Schools and oversees programming and services for approximately 4000 English Learners. She is a Bilingual educator with over 20 years of urban school experience in education. From 2014-2018, Ms. Torres was the Director of Bilingual, ESOL, World Language & Parent Engagement for New London Public Schools where she provided professional development on research-based instructional strategies for ELs to teachers and administrators district-wide, created New London’s first-ever Parent University, facilitated team analysis on data to improve outcomes for ELs, launched Latinos in Action, a college and career readiness program for middle school students, and led program development and design of the district’s magnet Dual Language and International Studies K-12 pathway. In December 2019, Ms. Torres published her first bilingual children’s book entitled “I’ll See You On The Bridge.” From Southern Connecticut State University, she earned her Master of Arts Degree in TESOL/ Multicultural and Bilingual Education, her Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary Education, and her Bachelor of Arts Degree minor in Spanish. She earned a Sixth Year Professional Diploma in Educational Leadership, and will be pursuing her Doctorate of Education in Curriculum, Teaching, Learning, and Leadership with a focus on equity.
As co-founder of Pathways to Empower, Donna Volpitta, Ed.D. makes the brain science of resilience and mental health easy to understand and apply. Her Resilient Mindset Model has been applied to areas of leadership from parenting to corporate management. Dr. Volpitta is co-author of the book The Resilience Formula author of Neuroworld: A Guide for Teaching the Brain Science of Resilience and co-creator of the Nametags Resilience Program.

Cynthia Willner, Ph.D., is an Associate Research Scientist at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Cynthia conducts research on children’s emotionality and the development of self-regulation. At the Center, Cynthia is leading a project to develop new tools that educators can use to assess students’ emotion regulation. Prior to joining the Center, Cynthia completed a postdoctoral fellowship in translational developmental neuroscience at the Yale Child Study Center. She obtained her Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies from the Pennsylvania State University and her B.S. in Cognitive Science and Psycholinguistics from Brown University.



Kimberly Winfield is the World Language Instructional Coach for Hartford Public Schools. She began her career in education as a 2012 Teach for America corps member. She taught Spanish at Great Path Academy from 2012 to 2019 where she served as the Unified Arts Lead Teacher. During her time at Great Path Academy she helped to organize GPA’s first international Spain trip for 17 of her students. In 2016, she traveled to Costa Rica to attend a Glowing Global Educators Institute as a Fund for Teachers grant recipient. She also spearheaded the 2019 implementation of the Seal of Biliteracy at Great Path Academy, ultimately guiding 15 of 60 seniors to achieve the Seal. She graduated with her Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on TESOL/Bilingual and Multicultural Education in 2017 from the University of Connecticut. She is deeply passionate about educational equity, World Language teaching and learning, traveling and expanding her knowledge of other cultures.

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