National Urban Special Education Leadership Initiative

An education Doctoral Program for Urban Leadership in Special Education



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Dr. Gabriel Berrio

Gabriel Berrio: I was raised in Chicago and started tutoring students in Reading, Math, and Science each summer during high school until I graduated and went to college.  Helping students in this way inspired me to become a teacher and I enjoyed teaching several years in Chicago and in Orlando, Florida.  As I took on more responsibilities and additional duties outside of the classroom, I became interested in pursuing an educational administration career.  As it turned out, I loved the experience as an administrator and my first year as an Assistant Principal in 2003 was truly a learning and rewarding experience. I learned about NUSELI and was accepted into the program while still an Assistant Principal.  My experience as an Assistant Principal along with my participation in NUSELI as I sought my doctorate degree helped me greatly prepare for my first Principalship at Westridge Middle School.   During my four years at Westridge, was invited to apply for AVID Demonstration School status along and also earned demonstration school status for Imagine Learning.  I completed my doctorate degree at UCF through the NUSELI program in December of 2010. I completed four years as Principal at Timber Creek High School which earned an A grade all of those years. I was invited to join and participated in the Florida Department of Education Commissioner's Leadership Academy. This summer, I became an Executive Area Director for the High School Division for Orange County Public Schools and am excited about the new opportunity. (-)

Dr. Bruce Blake

Bruce Blake: My commitment to being a social service provider began eleven years ago ironically, as a means to pay for art school. Serving individuals with developmental disabilities has been both life altering and a wonderful reciprocal learning experience. My undergraduate BFA and Graduate MBA admittedly are non-traditional tracks towards an educational doctorate degree. Conversely, my impeccable work history, along with social skills to effectively promote change, have given me the foundation to erect an accessible educational leadership framework that supports the community I serve.

The NUSELI project is ever grateful for the service of Dr. Blake. We are saddened by his passing. (-)

Dr. Lorrie Butler

Lorrie Butler: I have been an educator for about twenty-four years. During this time, I have been an elementary school teacher, curriculum resource teacher, assistant principal and am now serving as the principal of an elementary school. I don't remember a certain point in my life when I had not thought of education as a possible career. I do know that the first time that I returned to an elementary school classroom as a requirement of an introduction to education class, I knew that I had made the right choice. Being there and working with the students made me feel as if I had returned home. (-)

Dr. Mark Cerasale

Mark Cerasale, Ed.D: is currently the Educational Technology and Exceptional Student Education Facilitator at Jackson Heights Middle School, Oviedo, FL. He oversees all school technology, integrates technology into the curriculum, and conducts technology training. Dr. Cerasale provides support facilitation services to middle school students with disabilities. Prior to this position, Dr. Cerasale served as the Supervisor of Exceptional Education and Medicaid Services Administrator and Florida Diagnostic Learning and Resource Systems (FDLRS) Technology State Loan Library, Special Education Teacher, Sanford Middle School. Dr. Cerasale is a 24-year veteran of the United States Coast Guard and was a member of the first cohort of the National Urban Special Education Leadership Initiative. (-)

Dr. Margaret Cox

Margaret Cox: I am currently a special education teacher in the Miami-Dade County school system, teaching 4th - 6th grade inclusion classes. I have been in the field of education for thirty-five years. My beginnings are thousands of miles from the United States on the tiny island of Barbados in the West Indies. It is here that my desire to teach began. I "played" teacher with my younger cousins practically all summer, making my own materials and creating my own report cards. (-)

Dr. Anna Diaz

Anna Diaz: Since June of 2004 year Anna D. Diaz has served as Associate Superintendent of Exceptional Education and Multilingual Services for Orange County Public Schools. She oversees programs for over 64,000 students. Prior to that she was the Executive Area Director for the West Learning Community for Orange County Public Schools. She was born Anna Angelica Delgado in Brooklyn, New York, on October 2, 1959. Her grandfather, from Yauco, Puerto Rico, came to this country as a tomato picker in New Jersey; he brought his wife and seven children to settle in New York. Anna was the first of her family to graduate from college. Since 2013, Dr. Diaz serves as one of five area superintendents in Orange County Public Schools. (-)

Dr. Milagros Rivera

Milagros Rivera: I am the eldest daughter of Blanca and Fernando Fernandez. I was born in Queens, New York but raised in Brooklyn. My parents always instilled in me and my three sisters the importance of a good education. My parents worked hard so we could attend Catholic school. My parents made sure that we learned both Spanish and English. My mother was an English Language Learner, but she made sure she sat down with me when I had to do my homework. I believe my mother learned a lot of her English doing homework with all of us. She would play nursery rhymes to us on the record player before we went to sleep at night. She always bought us books. She even got us the Highlights Magazine. My mother did not realize it, but this was when she started teaching. She stayed at home with us until we were all in school and then she went to work at Dr. Betances Day Care Center as a teacher's aide. There she was encouraged to go back to school and get her GED. She took classes at night and eventually started attending La Guardia Community College. My mother inspired me to want to work with children. I would go to the day care after school and eventually started working there during the summer when I was in high school. (-)

Dr. Kimberly Steinke

Kimberly Steinke: In her 23rd year as an educator, Dr. Kimberly Steinke currently serves as the Senior Director of Exceptional Student Education Services for Orange County Public Schools. As the 10th largest school district in the nation and the 4th largest in the state of Florida, OCPS posts an enrollment of over 195,000 students in the Orlando urban area. While providing direct support to the Senior Executive Director for Exceptional Student Education (ESE/special education), Dr. Steinke shares in the leadership of districtwide ESE programs and services to nearly 24,000 students with disabilities and 11,000 gifted students in over 189 schools. A primary function of Dr. Steinke's leadership is filtering the provision of ESE services between the state, district and local school level requiring facilitation with parents of ESE students and with administrative colleagues at all levels. Additional areas of responsibility include oversight and monitoring of Orange County's Local Education Agency (LEA) Indicators/Profile as a required component of Florida's State Performance Plan, ESE Strategic Planning, ownership of the district's ESE State Reporting and FTE funding processes, and districtwide ESE master scheduling policies and procedures. Prior to her role as Senior Director, Dr. Steinke served as the OCPS Director of ESE Procedures where she had oversight of district-wide ESE compliance, Dispute Resolution, implementation of the statewide Portal to Exceptional Education Records (PEER) on-line IEP system, Matrix training, ESE services for charter school students with disabilities, the McKay scholarship program (Florida's school choice option for students with disabilities), Non-Public services, and ESE services for Parentally Placed Private School Students with disabilities. In the school-based setting Dr. Steinke was an Assistant Principal for Curriculum & Instruction at Conway Middle School and an ESE teacher, department chair, coach and administrative dean at West Orange High School. (-)

Dr. Karen Uhle

Karen Uhle: Although I always knew I wanted a career that helped children, quite honestly I grew up with the thought that I would be a pediatric nurse. My father was a pediatrician, and my mother a pediatric nurse, and they both thought my personality and temperament was better suited to being a doctor rather than a nurse. After some heartfelt struggles with this decision, I decided to help children by becoming a teacher. (-)

Dr. Tom Uhle

Dr. Tom Uhle: was born and raised in Miami Dade County, and has spent the last three years as an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at Miami Dade College. He earned his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Special Education from the University of Florida. Dr. Uhle continued his education by earning National Board Certification and a Doctorate from the University of Central Florida. He spent twelve years as a special education teacher in an urban middle school in Miami. During the 2011-2012 school year, Dr. Uhle was recognized as the South Region teacher of the year for Miami Dade County Public Schools. While a doctoral student, Dr. Uhle had opportunities to collaborate with peers from around the world at the Harvard Institute and the University of Central Winter Institute, as well as at conference presentations for the Council for Exceptional Children. Dr. Uhle spent several years engrossed in educational research under the guidance of Dr. Suzanne Martin and the National Urban Special Education Leadership Institute at the University of Central Florida. The focus of Dr. Uhle's research has been on leadership and administrative issues as they pertain to educational placements for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities. Dr. Uhle has continued his efforts to influence positive change for students with disabilities as a full-time faculty member at Miami Dade College, where he helps prepare the next generation of special educators who are earning their Bachelor's degrees. In his spare time, Dr. Uhle enjoys camping and spending time with his wife, Michelle, his 10 year old daughter, Grace (who wants to be a teacher) and his 6 year old son, Taylor (who wants to be a Jedi). (-)

Dr. Maria Vazquez

Dr. Maria Vazquez: was born and raised in Tampa Florida After receiving her Bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida she began her teaching career as a math instructor in Hillsborough County. Shortly after, she met her husband Ulysses Vazquez and moved to Longwood, Florida where they raised their three children, Elizabeth, Stephanie and Robert. She received both her Master's in Educational Leadership and Doctorate in Education from the University of Central Florida. Dr. Vazquez is committed to the needs of children for over 20 years and has served in various roles including: elementary teacher, Curriculum Resource Teacher for Reading and Language Arts, assistant principal, principal, Executive Area Director and Senior Director for Exceptional Student Education and Multilingual Services in Orange County Public Schools. She is currently the Area Superintendent for the Southeast Learning Community. (-)

Dr. Ilene Wilkins

Ilene Wilkins: Two of my mother's favorite memories are of me as a 5 year old bringing the local kids around to "play school" or the image of me and my box at the library that I used to carry all the books I would lug home. Although these traits have manifested itself in many different ways through my life, there always remained the common thread of a love for children and a passion for learning. (-)


Dr. Patricia G. Booth

Patricia G. Booth: For over forty years, Dr. Patricia Booth has devoted her professional career to education. She has worked in the public, private, and charter school domains with experience in all levels: Elementary School through Senior High School, including Higher Education. Most of Dr. Booth's teaching years were dedicated to working with exceptional students: special needs as well as the gifted. As an Assistant Professor in the School of Education, Barry University (Miami Shores, FL), Dr. Booth was the Exceptional Student Education Program/Outreach Coordinator for three locales: Miami, Ft. Myers, and Key West. Her responsibilities included a) Hiring qualified teachers to instruct ESE courses, b) Arranging schedules, c) Advising students, d) Consulting with teachers, and, e) Preparing fieldwork experiences. Selected by the School of Education as its representative, Dr. Booth served with other community leaders on the Early Childhood Readiness Coalition, chaired by Mr. David Lawrence, a program dedicated to making pre-school programs available for all children in Florida. Attracted to the concept of the charter school movement, Dr. Booth began her involvement by assisting charter teams interested in the application process. In time, she accepted the position of Education Consultant for a charter school in need of an academic improvement plan for at-risk students. With administration, faculty and staff collaboration, a successful plan was put in place for the students and parents. Soon thereafter, Dr. Booth was asked to join a team in which she not only became a founding charter member, but also stayed on as the Principal. Six years later, Dr. Booth was appointed as Executive Director, Charter School Operations, Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS). Working closely with the School Quality Improvement office and the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE), Dr. Booth monitored 63 charter schools for accountability and compliance with State and Federal mandates. As the liaison for charter schools, she worked with the district's Office of School Quality Improvement and the FLDOE School Improvement Policy Center regarding legislative requirements , such as class size. Dr. Booth's most recent accomplishment was organizing a (private) school for a South Miami, FL family. The master plan she created encompassed all components of a school's operation (programs, policies, hiring certified teachers, and so forth). Included in this master plan were procedures for assisting and supporting students with special needs, and establishing creative and critical thinking classroom environments for all children. She served as the school's Director for three years. Dr. Booth has a Masters in Education from the University of Miami and received her doctorate at Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. Currently, she continues to serve education in the capacity of a consultant by: a) Supporting children and parents with school-related concerns; b) Designing and writing a curriculum with a global perspective; and, c) Formulating a plan for administrators that can better serve the professional development needs of teachers. (-)

Dr. Deborah Bradley Brown

Dr. Deborah Bradley Brown: career as an educator spans almost 40 years. From 1977 - 2013, she served as a teacher, elementary school principal, Senior Director for Analytical Process Services and Executive Area Director for Orange County Public Schools. Prior to coming to Orange County, she began her career as an educator in 1974 for Portsmouth Public Schools in Portsmouth, VA. Dr. Brown was nominated by the Exceptional Education Program at the University of Central Florida and was appointed Graduate Faculty Scholar in the College of Graduate Studies. She has served as a mentor for NUSELI doctoral students for over 8 years. Having recently retired from Orange County Public Schools, Dr. Brown enjoys traveling with her husband and spending time with their three grandchildren. (-)

Dr. John Edwards

Dr. Sonia Esposito

Dr. Barbara Jenkins

Dr. Barbara Jenkins: A 25-year educator, Dr. Barbara Jenkins currently serves as District Superintendent for Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Florida. As an executive cabinet member of a large urban district with over 21,000 staff members serving 179,000 students she serves as the Superintendent's designee, supervises five area superintendents and oversees the division of Teaching and Learning. Previously as chief of staff, she oversaw Human Resources, Public Relations, Labor Relations, Strategic Planning, and served as the chief labor negotiator for the district. While chief of staff, she also coordinated executive functions for the district and provided direct support to the school board. From 1998-2005 she was the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources for the 120,000 student district, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she was responsible for Employee Relations, Licensure, Benefits, Information Systems, Compensation and Employment. During her time in Charlotte, she was recognized in Urban School Reform: Lessons from San Diego (Harvard Education Press, 2005) for innovative strategies to increase equity among schools. Dr. Jenkins previously served as Senior Director for Elementary Education in Orange County, supervising principals and schools. She has also been a classroom teacher, staff developer and principal. Her undergraduate and doctor of education degrees were received from the University of Central Florida. She is a fellow of the Broad Superintendents Academy. (-)

Dr. Cynthia Kiffer

Cynthia Kiffer, Ed. D.: has successfully served students for more than 35 years. During her career in Orange County Public Schools, Orlando, Florida she served as a Curriculum Resource Teacher, Assistant Principal, Principal, Executive Area Director, Area Superintendent as well as Senior Director for Curriculum. Currently, Dr. Kiffer trains district/school leaders and leadership teams in the use of "Thinking Maps, A Language for LEADERSHIP" in order to create a positive culture critical to a learning community and ensure the fidelity of a Thinking Maps Implementation in order to impact student learning. (-)

Dr. Carmen B. Marinelli

Dr. Carmen B. Marinelli: is a Program Professor in Educational Leadership at Nova Southeastern University with over 35 years in K-12 education. Prior to joining Nova Southeastern University full time, Dr. Marinelli was also an Adjunct Professor in Educational Leadership. She has been a teacher, assistant principal, middle and high school principal, as well as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and Leadership Development in Miami Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS), the fourth largest school district in the country. She completed her career in K-12 as a Region Superintendent for MDCPS with over 70 schools in her region. Her undergraduate degree was in English with a minor in Drama and Secondary Education from Barry University, Miami, FL in 1976. She continued her education at the University of Miami with a Masters of Arts in English. Carmen then attended Nova Southeastern University to receive her certification in Administration and Supervision and continued on at Nova to receive her Doctorate in Educational Leadership. In 2000 Dr. Marinelli was named the Miami- Dade County Public Schools Principal of the Year. Throughout her career in education she has worked with mentoring programs, professional development, dual language programs and community partnerships. Dr. Marinelli's work with mentoring of educational leaders has assisted many in furthering their career goals. She is on the School Board for Christopher Columbus High School in Miami on the Academic Committee, the Board of Trustees at Chaminade- Madonna Preparatory School, the Hispanic Advisory Board at Nova, and is the Scholarship Chair of the Alumni Board at Barry University and a member of St. Timothy Catholic Church, Miami. (-)

Dr. Jonathan McIntire

Dr. Jonathan McIntire: has served as a teacher and special education administrator in both urban and rural public school systems for over thirty-five years. Currently he is working with the University of Central Florida coordinating a graduate program producing urban special education administrators. The last decade he focused on building educational services for children on the spectrum of autism as well as those with emotional and behavior disorders. He has been a strong advocate for quality education services for students with disabilities and those at risk of school failure for other reasons and built an alternative off campus and community based high school that reduced the drop out race in a former high school to 1%. He has a reputation for working respectfully and collaboratively with parents of children with disabilities as well as building administrators and their teams in problem solving complex issues to ensure the students have the specialized instruction they need and their teachers have the resources and knowledge necessary to teach them well. Dr. McIntire has one Masters in Education Degree from Boston College and a second from Teachers College, Columbia University. His PhD is in Education Policy and Administration was obtained from the University of Michigan and his internship was with a US Congressional subcommittee in Washington, DC in the area of disability policy. He has served as a special education teacher for eight years, a public school Special Education Administrator for twenty-two years in Vermont and Florida and a State Consultant in Special Education five years. Active nationally, Dr. McIntire served from 1998-2000 as the President of the International Council of Administrators of Special Education, Inc. (CASE). He also served as the president of two other national associations in previous years. Dr. McIntire has been a leader in building inclusionary services for all children with disabilities in the public school systems where he has worked, has consulted nationally throughout his career and has received numerous awards for his work over time. (-)

Dr. Jennifer Reeves

Ken Schneider

Ken Schneider: For the past 38 years, Dr. Schneider has dedicated his professional career to the advancement of services to students with disabilities. He attended Tulane University for his undergraduate studies and then Florida Technological University (presently University of Central Florida) where he obtained a master's degree in Learning Disabilities. He began his teaching career in Atlanta, Georgia supporting students with significant learning disabilities and emotional disorders. In 1979, he was a recipient of a B.E.H. training grant and attended the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana where he received his doctorate in School Administration with an emphasis in Special Education. For two years he worked as an Assistant Director for exceptional education and student services in nine school districts in Illinois for the Belleville Area Special Education District. In 1983, Dr. Schneider moved to Orlando Florida where he served until July 2011 as a special education administrator. Early in his administrative career his responsibilities spanned from school based administration in a K-12 special school for severely disabled students and hospital homebound programs, supervision of low prevalence programs and oversight for federal project budgets and grant writing. In 1991, Dr. Schneider was appointed Director of Exceptional Education and Student Services programs where he provided oversight for curriculum and instruction, transition services, Positive Behavioral Support project, the development of the RtI/MTSS process and the supervision of psychologists, social workers, compliance specialists, instructional coaches and other personnel. From 2000-2006, he received an appointment and served on the Florida Committee for Comprehensive System for Personnel Development and from 2007-2009 received an appointment and served on the Florida Department of Education/Exceptional Education Department Task force on Transition Services. Since 2006 he has served as an Advisory Board member and mentor for the National Urban Special Education Leadership Initiative at the University of Central Florida. After his retirement from Orange County Public Schools in 2011 Dr. Schneider has supervised student interns at the University of Central Florida, assisted parents and school districts as a private consultant, continued since 1999 as a review board editor for the Journal of Special Education Leadership, in 2012 was an invitee by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Special Education Research to participate in a technical working group, Improving Outcomes for Adolescents with Disabilities and has volunteered as the Program Advisor for a work training program, Recognizing Abilities and Inclusion of Special Employees. (-)

Dr. Kristen Springfield

Dr. Jeanethe (Ella) Thompson

Dr. Jeanethe (Ella) Thompson: is currently the Principal on Assignment for Corrective Programs and AYP for Orange County Public Schools. She oversees school improvement processes for struggling schools focusing on building administrative/instructional capacity and the implementation of school-wide accountability systems for effective instruction. She has the opportunity to work with principals and leadership teams, in collaboration with district curriculum and instruction departments, to increase student achievement at targeted schools. The most rewarding part of her job is the opportunity to have courageous conversations with educators that impact and improve their practice. Dr. Thompson served as the Principal of Winegard Elementary School from July 2002 - January 2010. Winegard Elementary, a Title 1 school with a large ESOL population, earned a school grade of an "A" in 2003 and maintain the "A" grade through Dr. Thompson's tenure. (-)

Dr. Winston A. Whyte

Winston A. Whyte M.B.A., Ed., D.: is a 30 year educator who has made commendable contributions to the Jamaican and American communities. A graduate of the University of the West Indies with a degree in Zoology and Chemistry. He has published in Analytical Biochemistry on his cancer research findings in the field of DNA Polymerases while working at the University of Miami, prior to becoming an educator. Dr. Whyte's career path includes serving as a teacher, Assistant Principal, Principal, and Administrative Director supervising principals and schools. His graduate degrees have been in the area of Leadership and his diverse areas of expertise includes Special Education where he has a passion and has been an international presenter. As a Founding Member/Past President of the Jamaican Association of Miami Dade Educators for the past 21 years, Dr. Whyte has contributed through resources, materials, scholarships and workshops. He serves as a member of many boards and in 2007, as Principal of Howard D. McMillian Middle School, he led his school to become the first secondary school in the State of Florida to receive the prestigious Governor's Sterling Award. Dr. Whyte has been given numerous accolades and awards, including the Consulate General of Jamaica Community Service Award, Principal of the Year for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and State of Florida Middle School Principal of the Year for 2008. (-)