Meet the #ECWC21 Speakers

Keynote Speakers

Hover your cursor over each image to see more information about our speakers!

For more information about the Early Childhood Winter Conference (ECWC),
check out the Early Childhood main page or check out the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) main page.

Image of Dr. Kenneth Wesson, Educational Consultant, Neuroscientist. Dr. Wesson is a former higher education faculty member and administrator who delivers keynote addresses on the neuroscience of learning. His research is frequently published and referenced in Parents Magazine, HealthNet, and the journal Brain World. In 2017, Wesson was nominated to receive the Marquis Who’s Who Lifetime Achievement Award.
Image of Eric Litwin, author. Eric Litwin is a song singing, guitar strumming, # 1 New York Times Best Selling, award winning author who brings early literacy and music together. He is the original author of the Pete the Cat series as well as the author of The Nuts and Groovy Joe. Eric books are designed to be both read and joyfully experienced. And, the more fun the more learning. Eric\'s books have sold over 13 million copies, been translated into 17 languages, and won 26 literacy awards including a Theodor Geisel Seuss Honor Award. Connect with Eric on Facebook, Twitter, or check out his website.

Dr. Wesson is a former higher education faculty member and administrator who delivers keynote addresses on the neuroscience of learning. His research is frequently published and referenced in Parents Magazine, HealthNet, and the journal Brain World. In 2017, Wesson was nominated to receive the Marquis Who’s Who Lifetime Achievement Award. Dr. Wesson's full biography is available to download.

Eric Litwin is a song singing, guitar strumming, # 1 New York Times Best Selling, award winning author who brings early literacy and music together. He is the original author of the Pete the Cat series as well as the author of The Nuts and Groovy Joe. Eric's books are designed to be both read and joyfully experienced. And, the more fun the more learning. Eric's books have sold over 13 million copies, been translated into 17 languages, and won 26 literacy awards including a Theodor Geisel Seuss Honor Award. Connect with Eric on FacebookTwitter, or check out his website.

Image of Dr. Gina Pepin. Dr. Gina Pepin holds an Ed.D. in Teacher Leadership and an M.A. in Reading, Literacy, and Assessment. .She is the 2018–2019 Upper Michigan Teacher of the Year. She is currently a K–3 reading teacher in Escanaba, Michigan, and an online instructor of graduate literacy courses at GCU and NMU.

Dr. Gina Pepin holds an Ed.D. in Teacher Leadership and an M.A. in Reading, Literacy, and Assessment. She is the 2018–2019 Upper Michigan Teacher of the Year. She is currently a K–3 reading teacher in Escanaba, Michigan, and an online instructor of graduate literacy courses at GCU and NMU. Check out Dr. Pepin's website for additional information.

Featured Speakers

Image of Dr. Laura Jana. Dr. Laura Jana is an internationally acclaimed pediatrician, educator, TED speaker, and parenting and children\'s book author with a faculty appointment at Penn State University\'s Prevention Research Center. Having first gained national recognition working with world-renowned pediatrician, Dr. Benjamin Spock, she has 20+ years experience working with parents, educators, news media, academia, government organizations, non-profits and corporations alike. From her longstanding role as an early literacy advocate and 10-year owner of a 200-student educational child care center to her recent role as Director of Innovation (UNMC College of Public Health) and media spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr Jana is dedicated to insuring that all children grow up with the support and skills they need to succeed in school and in life.
Image of Ernesto Mejia. Through his hardships, Ernesto learned to never give up on life, he now speaks to students, parents and teachers about overcoming obstacles and never giving up on the American dream: education.
Dr. Melanie Johnson. As a nonprofit leader and education change agent, Dr. Melanie Johnson has been the force behind bringing Houstons key industry icons, such as space and medicine, to a level of understanding for the area’s children and adults to easily and enjoyably comprehend. As the previous Director of Education for NASA’s Space Center Houston, Dr. Johnson was the critical leadership who transformed science education into exhibits and programs that was effective for the next generation of scientists and engineers. She was awarded the Nancy Hanks Award for Professional Excellence by the world\'s largest museum organization, the American Alliance of Museums, was recognized for her global education leadership with the Pierre and Marie Curie award for Humanities and was featured on an episode of The Travel Channels Mysteries at the Museum.
Image of Mary Jo Huff. I have been involved with ECE for over 35 years attending the University of Southern Indiana. Doing training for Early Childhood professionals in 47 states has documented my experience. As director of a center, with 115 children ages 3,4,5, I learned the importance of literacy and storytelling. Story Play and Puppet Play are two of my most recent publications along with my newest CD. Puppet Play and Snap, Clap, Wiggle & Giggle just received the coveted Creative Child Magazines book and CD of the year - 2020. I have presented as a Keynote speaker and workshop leader for Frog Street Press, NAEYC, SECA, 4-C, State Conferences, Head Start and Keynote speaker for SDE for many years, also speaking at the NCFL (National Center for Family Learning) and many more.
Image of Irvin Shannon. Irvin Shannon is a native Los Angelino with vast experience within non-profit, municipal government and education. Irvin is currently a Behavior Specialist for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Within his current role, he supports 101 K-12 schools within the Downtown, Eagle Rock, Silverlake and Highland Park areas of the city. His work is focused upon the implementation of a multi-tiered system of supports inclusive of alternatives to suspension and behavioral services for general and special education students. Irvin’s breadth of experiences span from comprehensive campuses, continuation high schools, and Head Start Centers in South Los Angeles. Irvin holds an undergraduate degree from Howard University and master degrees from the University of Southern California and California State University, Dominguez Hills.
Image of Dr. Vicki Gibson. Vicki Gibson, Ph.D., is a national educational consultant, author, and speaker specializing in differentiating instruction and collaborative practice, classroom management, reading instruction, special education, and early childhood education. Dr. Gibson taught regular and special education classes in public school classrooms for 10 years before owning and directing three private preschools that served children ages 2-12.
Image of Dr. Kathryn Murray. Dr. Kathryn Murray is the CEO of Future Strong Education and works throughout Australia, Europe, North America, Indonesia and Asia. She is a highly sought after public speaker, workshop facilitator and coach. Kathryn has four adult children. Her passion is, and has always been, to support adults so that the children they parent or teach will have the best possible start to a life that is Future Strong!
Image of Cierra Nickerson. Cierra Nickerson is a proud educator and an advocate for educational equity. A Teach for America alumna with over 11 years of education experience, she has served in various capacities such as a teacher, recruiter, and also school and central office administrators. Now, Cierra is the School Climate and Culture Specialist for the Center for Safe and Secure Schools. A certified instructor for Youth Mental Health First Aid, Restorative Practices, and Nonviolent Crisis Intervention (CPI), Cierra provides trainings and support for schools and districts that aim to reduce exclusionary practices and create a healthy and safe school culture and climate.
Image of Dan St. Romain. Dan St. Romain is a national independent educational consultant who provides staff development and consultative services to educators and parents working with children at all developmental levels. Dan is passionate about helping individuals shift their perspective on discipline, understanding the best ways to provide support given the challenges posed in today\'s society.
Image of Debbie Diller, Debbie Diller is a well-known literacy expert/consultant who has studied literacy stations for 25 years in Texas and across North America; author of several books on literacy stations used worldwide; presented at ILA, NCTE, National Reading Recovery, HCDE, Literacy for All, and many state reading conferences.
Image of Gilberto Soto. Image of Dr. Gilberto Soto; Professor of Music Education/Guitar at Texas A&M International University where he teaches early childhood, elementary and secondary bilingual music education courses. He also supervises the guitar and bass studios and directs the “TAMIU Guitar Ensemble”. In addition, Dr. Soto is the owner/director of “Soto Academy of Music”, a music studio for children ages 2-18 years old and in which his university students are trained and use as a teaching lab in preparation for their education careers.
Image of Niki Spears. Niki is a former school principal and now works as an educator and change leader. She shares her passion and enthusiasm for creating positive school culture based on shared leadership – including students as young as 5 years of age. Niki is leading the charge to develop positive schools by sharing the importance of embracing a leadership mindset.
Image of Dr. Carrie Cutler. Dr. Carrie Cutler is passionate about early childhood education and mathematics. She currently holds the position of clinical assistant professor of elementary mathematics education at the University of Houston. A sought-after presenter and award-winning university instructor, Carrie is a teacher of teachers. She regularly presents at local, state, and national conferences for mathematics, literacy, and early childhood education. Her new book, Math-Positive Mindsets: Growing a Child’s Mind Without Losing Yours (Math Solutions, 2020) gives practical advice to parents and teachers who want to help children succeed in math. Come to Carrie\'s session to find out why she drives a 12-passenger van for fun!
Image of Dr. Cherry Gooden. Dr. Cherry Ross Gooden formerly served as an Associate Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Curriculum & Instruction in the College of Education at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas. Dr. Gooden, a dedicated, committed teacher with more than 48 years of teaching experience at both the elementary and university levels and has also been a consultant for various school districts in the state of Texas as well as in the nation. She is a member of many professional organizations including the National Association for Multicultural Education (where she is a founding member, a past National President and a current member of the NAME Board of Directors), the Texas Association of Black Personnel in Higher Education where she is a past State President, and the National Alliance of Black School Educators where she also served on the National Board of Directors. Dr. Gooden is also active in several organizations, including Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Jack and Jill of America and Top Ladies of Distinction, Inc.
Image of Stephen FIte, Melody House Music, Musician, Vocalist, Writer, Entertainer. Stephen has always loved music. He has realized his dream of playing before crowds of screaming fans (of the very young variety)! Stephen is an award-winning musician whose albums have received 18 nationally recognized honors. A vocalist on various Frog Street CDs, he has played a special role at Splash for over 20 years and is a contributing author for the Frog Street Pre-K Curriculum.
Image of Margarita Tovar. Margarita Tovar currently serves as principal of Dogan Elementary School in Houston ISD. Tovar began as a teacher aide at Farias Early Childhood Center and has also served as a teacher, teacher specialist and most recently assistant principal at Dogan. She was instrumental in leading Dogan out of Improvement Required (IR) status to meet state standard in May 2018.
Image of Ernesto Rodriguez. Ernesto is a gifted presenter and specialist specializing in Early Childhood and Early Literacy Development. He has had an impact on schools and children for over 20 years. He is a three-time Teacher of the Year award-winner, and was a certified Master Reading Teacher in the State of Texas.
Image of Gayle Fisher. Gayle is an activist mom of a 8th grader with learning differences. She is an educator, author, advocate, ally, and learning differences consultant, and has been living in the spectrum 12 years. She teaches non-credit workshops as an adjunct at Lonestar College System (LSCM) Academy of Lifelong Learning (ALL) campuses and out in the community. She is Founder at, Founding Co-Facilitator of &; and writes at She is on the Advisory Council of the Center for School Behavioral Health Collaborative (CSBH), participates on several teams of Behavioral Health and Suicide Prevention Community Taskforce (BHSP) and on the boards of Prader-Willi Foundation and Cafe Azul, and contributes to Autism Moms Are Beautiful.
Image of Silvia Dorta-Duque De Reyes. Silvia Dorta-Duque is well known for her contributions in the areas of curriculum design, staff development and parent involvement. Her area of expertise is biliteracy with a focus on academic language, writing and the organization of instruction for explicit teaching of Spanish to English cross-linguistic transfer. In 2018, she was honored with the National Association for Bilingual Education Leadership Award. Silvia is currently a National Biliteracy Consultant and an author at Benchmark Education.
Image of Emily Puente. Emily Puente has a Bachelors degree in Elementary Education with an Endorsement in Kindergarten. In 2016 Emily Puente received her Masters degree at Lamar University in Teacher Leadership . She has taught a variety of grade levels ranging from Pre-kindergarten to 5th grade. Her additional experience consists of serving as a Dyslexia and Reading Interventionist. Emily Puente is now serving as Klein ISDs Early Learning Coordinator. She supports campuses and serves students throughout Klein ISD.
Image of Mechiel Rozas. Dr. Mechiel Rozas has spent her life serving our children and their families. A native Texan, she has served as a teacher, instructional coach, PK-12 principal, and district director. She has launched literacy initiatives and expanded early childhood programming in a large urban district. Mechiel joined Teaching Strategies in January and she is eager to support our Texas educators as they support our youngest learners.
Image of Lucy Martinez. My name is Lucy Martinez I am a Certified Child Care Health Consultant with a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Nutrition and Foods from the University of Houston. I have dedicated over a decade of my professional career to the early childhood public health sector, specifically with the Women Infants and Children Program of Harris County. I also formed part of the non-profit organization Brighter Bites where I solidified my knowledge on the state recommended guidelines of childhood nutrition, breastfeeding, and physical activity. I have experience in management as I worked as a Field Supervisor for the WIC program and as a Healthcare Operations Manager for DaVita Dialysis. Based on my extensive experience in management and quality assurance, I can also consult early childcare facilities on compliance, state guidelines, and enhancing childcare standards.
Image of Savannah Rave. Savannah is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she obtained a degree in Inclusive Early- Childhood Education. Savannah has taught in Alief ISD for the past three years and places a large emphasis on social/emotional learning and development within her classroom. She recently wrote and published her first children\'s book, Buzzing, which was written as a tool for children, teachers, and families to use when discussing feelings and emotions.
Image of Yasmine Barrera. Yasmin Barrera received a Bachelor of Science in Health Promotion from the University of Houston. She is currently working on receiving her Master of Public Health degree from Lamar University. Yasmin has numerous years of experience working with the community as she previously worked within HCPH as a program specialist for the dental program where she previously educated children on healthy oral hygiene habits, planned and implemented oral health education & assessments at schools, guided parents to dental clinics & provided them with dental information, and educated the community at school fairs. In her current role as an Early Childhood Health and Wellness Specialist, she will be to able provide dental support to early childhood centers by providing trainings to staff & parents, refer the centers to clinics, and provide other dental resources as needed.
Image of Kelly Tumy. I have 30 years in public education, 20 years in the classroom, 10 years in administration and 20 years in presenting to teachers.
Image of Dr. Jim Ewing. Dr. Jim Ewing, associate professor at Stephen F. Austin State University, is passionate about helping ELs in math. He presents at national conferences such as ASCD, NCTM and state conferences such as TEPSA, TXASCD, and CAMT. Jim offers workshops online and in person. If you Google Math, ELLs, Workshops, Jim\'s name comes up on top of the page. Let Jim be your GUIDE at
Image of Jesse Gershuny. Jesse Gershuny is passionate about the nexus of education and technology, and preparing students and educators for successful and sustainable careers. Her latest passion project is designing a fellowship and mentoring program committed to helping K12 educators explore and design tech-enhanced learning experiences for the classroom. Jesse holds an MBA from the University of Maryland, and an M.A. in Learning and Design from Georgetown University.
Image of Hailey Hunt. Hailey Hunt is currently part of the Instructional Staff at Neuhaus Education Center in Houston, Texas serving in the role of Associate Vice President of Professional Learning. She currently holds certifications as a Certified Academic Language Practitioner, Reading Specialist, and English as a Second Language teacher. Hailey earned a Master of Education degree from Southern Methodist University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and government from The University of Texas at Austin. Hailey worked in public schools in the Houston area for ten years as a classroom teacher, interventionist, and instructional specialist, and has widespread experience working with special populations such as English language learners and students with learning disabilities. Hailey has worked at Neuhaus Education Center for two years. She was drawn to the work of Neuhaus after participating in multiple Neuhaus professional learning classes as a public school educator. Hailey is passionate about literacy and promoting teachers’ ability to use research-based instructional strategies effectively.
Image of Joy Sloan. Oilfield Energy Center.
Image of Abbey Sickorez. Instructional Specialist for Early Learning and Occupational Therapist
Image of Nicole Shanahan. Nicole Shanahan is the curriculum director for mathematics for the Teaching and Learning Center at Harris County Department of Education (HCDE). She creates customized workshops to improve student discourse and increase academic achievement. Her goal is to engage and entertain her participants while they learn new ways to teach mathematics.
Image of Brandy Alexander. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD.
Image of Brittney Cohen.
Image of Gloria Diaz de Vargas not available.
Image of Joy Sloan not available.
Image of Katie Chennisi. Katie Chennisi is the Manager of Early Childhood Programs at Harris County Public Health (HCPH). Prior to joining HCPH, Katie was the coordinator of the Texas Early Childhood Professional Development System (TECPDS) at the Children\'s Learning Institute. Katie has a Master’s in Public Health and is a Child Care Health Consultant.
Image of LeeAnn Flores. Lee Ann Flores is in her 20th year as an elementary school educator. She began her career as a 1st grade teacher, but felt a calling to teach children with special needs. She moved on to teach life skills, Pre-K inclusion, structured learning, and PPCD. All of which have molded her into a knowledgeable, structured, and tech-savvy educator.
Image of Melissa Jones. Melissa has been in education for 31 years as a special education teacher, elementary teacher, instructional coordinator and a literacy coach. Nicole has been a classroom teacher and a literacy coach. They have attended trainings through Columbia university and Fountas and Pinnell on shared reading which they have shared with their teachers in Waller as they lead the primary teachers in curriculum design. Melissa has presented at TEPSA and TCEA and Nicole presented at Superior Technology for Teachers and Cypress-Fairbanks\'s Digital Learning Conference.
Image of Michelle Nixon. Pre-Kindergarten teacher of 17 years. District Primary Model Teacher 10 Years. Primary Instructional Specialist 3 years. TEA Literacy Achievement Academy Trainer 1st Grade. TEA Mathematical Achievement Trainer Kindergarten - 1st Grade. Created District Pre-Kindergarten Curriculum Guide with the lessons planned to support our teachers.
Image of Robin Rettie. Robin Rettie, M.Ed., Special Education combines components of evidenced-based behavioral strategies, cognitive development, and neuroscience into a teaching framework laying the foundation for self-regulation through measures supporting sensory processing and social-emotional learning in all settings. Robin has a life-time of experience; sibling to Laurie Lorraine Rettie (LLR) born with Microcephaly and 34 years directly in the field working to support individuals with neurological and genetic differences. Robin is the founder of Lighthouse Learning Resources (LLR – named in honor of her sister), an online specialty store, educational consulting, and educator and parent training company. Robin’s professional training includes a BA in General Education EC – 8 and Master’s in Special Education, extensive training in autism, curriculum, sensory processing, behavior, All Kinds of Minds - 8 neurological constructs of learning, Mediation and Negotiation Training, and Special Education Law. Additionally, Robin is the former Life Academy and Employability Director of The Monarch School and Institute in Houston, TX. Areas of concentration include educational consulting with families navigating public education, employment training, job coaching and company disability training, educators and parent training utilizing evidence-based strategies to redirect behavior rooted in sensory and social-emotional challenges. Each individual is supported with an end goal of increasing access to all aspects of life; school, community, and employment. Robin actively serves on the PAC Advisory Board for Attention Deficit Disorder Association, Former USA Board Member of World Autism Organisation, PAWS Abilities, and Advisory The Greater Houston Disability Chamber of Commerce. “I cannot rewrite Laurie’s history, but can help to script the future of others like her.
Image of Erika Flores. Erika Flores is the founder of ChildrenFlow, an early childhood education professional development organization. She has over 20 years of experience in early childhood education. Erika has brought her expertise to statewide quality improvement implementations, school districts, and Head Start programs. Previously Erika worked at Teachstone as Client Relations Director, at the University of Virginia as a Researcher, and at DePaul University as Faculty. Erika has also taught young children in Mexico and the US. Erika earned her M.ED from the University of Illinois at Chicago and her B.S. in Psychology from the Universidad de Monterrey.
Image of Amelia Hewitt. Amelia Hewitt holds an EdD in early childhood education. She is currently an Associate Professor in Early Childhood at University of Houston-Downtown. She has 25+ years of experience as a teacher. She believes that literacy is the foundation for all other learning. Her primary area of interest is in addressing the needs of the whole child through purposeful play and developmentally appropriate teaching.
Image of Yvonne Lopez Taylor. Art of Education University Summer and Winter World Wide Conferences (2018- 2020), Magnet Schools of America National Conference (2019), Texas Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development Ignite of 2019, Technology & Curriculum Conference of Aldine (2017-2019), Harris County Department of Education Early Childhood Conference (2018 & 2020), Young Audiences National Conference (2019), Houston Art Partners Conference (2018), Mid-South Magnet Schools of America Conference (2018), Texas Art Educators Association Conferences (2015 - 2020), Technology & Curriculum Conference of Aldine (2016-2020) and Aldine ISD (2016- 2020)
Image of Alleigh Stewart. Alleigh has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and was a supplemental instructor for Anatomy and Physiology, Nutrition, and Microbiology at College of the Mainland for four years. While obtaining her degree Alleigh discovered a passion for working with children. She has five years of experience working with at-risk children in the foster care system providing social, emotional and educational stability as well as advocating for the needs of those children. She worked for three years as an educator for the Children’s Museum Houston developing curriculum and delivering Professional Development for the Early Childhood sector in STEM, physical health, and financial literacy. Now, as an Early Childhood Health and Wellness Specialist for Harris County Public Health, Alleigh brings her in-depth knowledge of science education, child fitness and nutrition, the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines, and the importance of physical play to increase child wellness.
Image of Tammy Russell. I received a Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Tennessee Knoxville with a focus on Curriculum and Instruction and a specialization in Early Childhood K-3. The University of Tennessee Knoxville is also where I obtained a Master of Science in Education with a focus on Curriculum and Instruction. In 2008, I received a Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Phoenix. I have been in education for many years with accomplishments such as teaching grades K-5 as a teacher for gifted children and in the classroom as a regular classroom teacher.