Meet the 2019 Special Education Summit Participants

Keynote and Panel Moderator


Emily Hanford

Emily HanfordEmily Hanford is a senior producer and correspondent for APM Reports, the documentary and investigative journalism group at American Public Media. She has been working in public media for more than two decades as a reporter, producer, editor, news director, and program host. Hanford has been at American Public Media since 2008 where she produces education documentaries that air on public radio stations nationwide and can also be heard on the Educate podcast. She has written and produced content for many news outlets,  including NPR, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Washington Monthly, and PBS NewsHour. Her work has won numerous honors, including a duPont-Columbia Award, a Casey Medal, and awards from the Education Writers Association and The Associated Press. In 2017, Hanford won the Excellence in Media Reporting on Education Research Award from the American Educational Research Association. She is a frequent speaker and moderator and is the host of the Ways & Means podcast. She graduated from Amherst College.

Afternoon Session Presenters

Cynthia Pirani-McGurl

Cynthia Pirani-McGurl

Cynthia Pirani-McGurl is a facilitator at HILL for Literacy and Adjunct Professor in the Special Education and Reading Specialist Programs at Fitchburg State University. Pirani-McGurl received her MA/CAGS from Assumption College and her Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Prior to, and during this time, she worked as an interventionist and school psychologist with Pre-K-8 students. For over a decade, Pirani-McGurl has served as a consultant and coach on state, district, and school initiated projects, including implementing whole district/school literacy change models, using data to drive instruction, adopting instructional practices that support diverse learners, and program evaluation.

Stephney Gonzalez

Stephney Gonzalez is serving her sixth year as an external coach for Connecticut’s Literacy Model Project (formerly CK3LI). She looks forward to joining the University of Connecticut where she will support leadership of the CT Literacy Model Project and join a research team studying integrated multi-tiered systems of support in literacy and behavior. Prior to her work as a coach, she taught preschool through third grades, primarily in New Haven, Conn. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Literacy Education Leadership at St. John’s University and holds a Sixth-Year Certificate in Remedial Reading and Language Arts as well as a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction, both from Fairfield University.


Devin Kearns uses Lightboard Technology. (Peter Morenus/UConn)

Devin Kearns

Devin Kearns, associate professor of special education at UConn’s Neag School of Education, researches reading disability in elementary age children, focusing on developing and implementing programs to prevent and remediate reading problems. He is currently conducting studies to (1) understand change in the neurobiology of reading as a result of reading intervention (Computer-Assisted and Reading Intervention with Neuroimaging of Growth – Project CARING); (2) examine how late-elementary-age children read polysyllabic words and how different interventions may induce different patterns of cortical change (Interventions and Neuroimaging for Polysyllabic Word Reading–IN/PoWR); and (3) develop a professional development experience for co-teachers in content-area classrooms in middle schools, to enhance the quality of literacy instruction and support (Content-Area Literacy Instruction–Project CALI).


Dean Gladis Kersaint

Dean Gladis Kersaint
Photo Credit: Nathan Oldham

Gladis Kersaint is dean of the UConn Neag School of Education. 

Prior to her current role, Kersaint served as the associate dean of academic affairs and research for the College of Education at the University of South Florida (USF) since 2011, where she was also a professor of mathematics since 1998. There, she previously served as director of the David C. Anchin Center and held the David C. Anchin Endowed Chair in Education Innovation; the Center promotes alliances and leverages resources to facilitate partnership efforts that support innovation and the advancement of teaching. From 2006 to 2010, she served as coordinator of USF Undergraduate Education and chair of the General Education Council, a role with university-wide reach.

Kersaint is also a well-respected scholar in mathematics education with an extensive publication and national and local service record. She has published four books and numerous refereed journal articles related to factors that influence mathematics teacher education and effective mathematics teaching, the mathematical teaching and learningof at-risk students, and the use of technology in teaching and learning mathematics. During her tenure at USF, she has served as the principal or co-principal investigator of approximately $30 million of National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education, and Florida Department of Education grants.

Kersaint has led a number of collaborative STEM education projects involving school district personnel as well as university faculty in Arts and Sciences and Engineering. She has also provided service at the national level, including serving as a member of the Board of Directors for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the largest professional organization for mathematics educators, and the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators. Prior to her academic post at USF, Kersaint taught high school mathematics for the Miami Dade County Public Schools, the fourth-largest public school district in the nation.

Howard Klebanoff headshotHoward Klebanoff

Howard Klebanoff of the Klebanoff Institute graduated from Yale University and the University of Connecticut School of Law. He was elected to the Connecticut Legislature, and, as House Chairman of the Education Committee, he sponsored Connecticut’s first comprehensive special education laws. He also served on the legislative section of the regulation drafting committee for the federal special education law, 94–1 42, and sponsored a total revision of the way education was funded in the state.

After leaving elective office, he served as Counsel to the Connecticut House of Representatives and was the first chair of the Connecticut Board of Higher Education. He has practiced in the area of education law for more then 40 years.For his work in the area of education law, he has been listed in Best Lawyers in America; U.S. News & World Report; Super Lawyers, which published a cover story about him; and Connecticut Magazine’s top lawyers in Connecticut; and received a Martindale–Hubbell commendation for 25 years of the highest peer review rating in legal ability and ethical standards. He also received the Hartford County Bar Association’s President’s Award for excellence in the practice of law. The University of Connecticut established the Howard Klebanoff Institute of Special Education at its Neag School of Education in recognition of his work in the area of special education.

Joseph Madaus Headshot

Joseph Madaus

Joseph Madaus is a professor of educational psychology and the associate dean for academic affairs at UConn’s Neag School of Education. He is also director of the Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability and a past president of the Division on Career Development and Transition, a division of the Council for Exceptional Children.

Madaus currently serves on the editorial board of nine journals, including the Journal of Postsecondary Education and DisabilityTEACHING Exceptional Children, and Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals. He was the co-editor of Preparing Students with Disabilities for College: A Practical Guide for Transition. He is the principal investigator or Co-Principal Investigator on grants through the Office for Postsecondary Education, Office for Special Education Programs, the Institute of Education Sciences, and the state of Connecticut.


Melissa HickeyMelissa Hickey Summit 2019

Melissa K. Wlodarczyk Hickey is the Director of Reading/Literacy at the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE). As Director, she oversees and manages the Academic Team leading projects related to K-3 Literacy, Connecticut Core Standards, content area standards implementation, manufacturing, Mastery-Based learning, and Career and Technical Education. She has been an educator in Connecticut for over 20 years with a wide range of experiences such as literacy coach, science coordinator, middle school reading/writing teacher, and second-grade teacher. Prior to joining the CSDE, she was the Director of Humanities for the Hartford (Conn.) Public Schools. Melissa received her doctorate from the University of Hartford, and her doctoral work contributed greatly to the understanding of the diffusion of Instructional Rounds.


Natalie JonesNatalie Jones

Natalie Jones is a consultant in the Bureau of Special Education at the Connecticut State Department of Education. She works in the due process unit, which handles complaints, mediations, and hearings. Prior to joining the State Department of Education, she was the Assistant Director of Disability Services at the University of New Haven.

Jeanne Morgan Special Education Summit 2019Jeanne Morgan

Jeanne Morgan has served in the field of special education for over 27 years in the Waterford (Conn.) Public Schools. She provides evaluative, diagnostic, and intervention services for students with dyslexia and districtwide Wilson certification training as a Credentialed Wilson Trainer. Her passion for systematic and structured reading instruction led to multiple credentials in the Wilson Language System, Orton-Gillingham Associate level training, and CERI certification. Morgan initiated Waterford’s structured literacy K-12 strategic plan by developing the assessment, diagnostic, and implementation teams for students with dyslexia and establishing standards for qualified dyslexia interventionists. Waterford Public Schools hosted the 2018 IDA school visit tour as the public school representative in Connecticut. Morgan earned her MS in Special Education from University of Connecticut and 092 Administrative Leadership 6th Year from Southern Connecticut State University, and is part of her school’s administrative team. She has worked as a consultant, advocate, interventionist, and evaluator privately for almost 20 years helping dyslexic students and families in Southeastern Connecticut and serves on the executive boards of the Dyslexia Society of Connecticut and IDA Connecticut.

Louise Spear-SwerlingLouise Spear-Swerling

Louise Spear-Swerling, Ph.D., is Professor Emerita from the Department of Special Education at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, Conn. Her research interests focus on children’s reading development and literacy difficulties, as well as teacher preparation in reading, and she has published widely on these topics. Her most recent book is The Power of RTI and Reading Profiles: A Blueprint for Solving Reading Problems (Brookes, 2014). She is a member of several journal editorial boards, including those for Annals of Dyslexia, Teaching Exceptional Children, and Reading Psychology.

Spear-Swerling has prepared general and special educators to teach literacy for many years. She consults regularly for Connecticut school districts, mostly on cases involving students with severe or persistent literacy difficulties, including dyslexia and specific reading comprehension disabilities. In 2009 she served on the working group for the International Dyslexia Association that helped to produce national IDA professional standards for teachers of reading. Currently she is helping to revise Connecticut’s guidelines on identification of children with learning disabilities.

The Special Education Summit has been made possible through the generous support of the Klebanoff Institute.