2011 National Conference Plenary Speakers

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Holding the Bar High for All Students
One of the nation's leading advocates for better schools, Kati Haycock is the founding president of The Education Trust, which works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-kindergarten through college. Described as the most important truth teller in American public education, the organization also partners with educators and civic leaders to transform schools and colleges into institutions that serve all students well. Before starting The Education Trust, Kati was executive vice president of the Children's Defense Fund, the nation's largest child-advocacy organization. Kati also founded and served as president of The Achievement Council, a statewide organization helping California teachers and principals to lift student performance in schools predominantly serving students of color. Earlier in her career, she directed outreach and student affirmative action programs for the nine-campus University of California system. Kati speaks about educational improvement before thousands of educators, community and business leaders, and policymakers each year. 

Finding the Stories Behind the Struggle for Better Schools
For more than a decade, playwright-activist Brooke Haycock has been crafting and performing documentary dramas for The Education Trust. Inspired by the work of documentarians Studs Terkel and Anna Deavere Smith, Brooke mixes interview with performance to produce incisive chronicles of opportunity and achievement in America’s schools. She holds a bachelor's from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a master's from Johns Hopkins University. A former high school dropout from an urban public school system, she now spends most of her time in schools with students and educators, listening to their experiences of equity in education. Her powerful one-woman performances are based entirely on in-depth interviews with educators and students. She has presented her shows at venues ranging from the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., to churches in South Los Angeles, sparking honest conversations about equity — and what it takes to translate that talk into action.

Moving Teachers Toward High Expectations
Many bemoan the state of America’s schools, especially their disservice to low-income students and students of color, but few do anything about it. Jeff Howard, the founder and president of The Efficacy Institute, is an exception. For the past two decades, he has trained more than 75,000 educators in more than 50 school districts nationwide on how to help all students learn at high levels. He voices concern that low expectations in America’s urban schools create a vicious cycle of low achievement. “Once you convey to children — whether consciously or not — that they are too ‘dumb’ to learn, they will almost always prove you right,” Howard said in a 2004 interview with HGSE News. Jeff holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard and a doctorate in social psychology from Harvard Graduate School of Education. He works tirelessly to promote the notion that teachers who believe in the potential of all children can help all of them excel in school.

Daring to Lift District Achievement
Upon becoming the superintendent of schools in Richmond, Va., which were among the worst in the state at that time, Deborah Jewell-Sherman signed a contract pledging to substantially raise student achievement in one year or forfeit her job. During her six-year tenure, 92 percent of Richmond's schools achieved full accreditation under Virginia's Standards of Learning reform legislation, and the number of Richmond schools meeting the Annual Yearly Progress criteria of No Child Left Behind skyrocketed from 20 percent to 87 percent. “Etched on my soul is the belief that demography cannot be destiny,” she said in a speech at the College Board Regional Forums last year. Earlier in her career, Deborah served as a principal in Fairfax County and Hampton City, Va. In 2009, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents named her Virginia Superintendent of the Year.

Putting the Best Principals Where They Count
Peter Gorman, the former superintendent of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, has built a career on his commitment to high student achievement, transparency, and accountability. “If it's educationally sound, if it's fiscally responsible, and if it's good for kids, I want to work to get it done,” he told the Broad Foundation. During five years with CMS, Peter pioneered promising efforts to better serve the district’s most vulnerable students, winning national acclaim for the Strategic Staffing Initiative, an innovative plan that uses incentives to draw the best principals to the district’s most troubled schools. SSI schools have improved the percentage of students who meet reading, math, and science standards. From his start as an elementary teacher in Orlando, Fla., he rose to become a high school principal in Longwood, Fla., and in 2001, the superintendent of Tustin Unified Schools in California. Under Peter’s leadership, CMS was a finalist for the 2010 Broad Prize, which honors high-achieving, gap-closing urban districts.

Fighting for a Better Future for Children
Yolie Flores has spent much of her life advocating for children and families, so that all kids, especially poor children, grow up with opportunities to lead rich, fulfilling lives. The CEO of Communities for Teaching Excellence grew up attending Los Angeles schools. She recently served on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, where she led the fight to reform the district and challenge the culture of failure for poor children and children of color. Yolie launched her career as a social worker at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power where she developed the department’s nationally acclaimed child care and family support program. She later became the city’s director of child care planning and policy, and after serving as a policy consultant to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, was CEO of the Los Angeles County Children’s Planning Council (CPC). The first in her family to attend college, Yolie earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Redlands, and her master’s degree in social welfare from the University of California, Los Angeles.