EdCon Featured Keynote Speakers

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Keynote & Featured Speakers

Jim Mahoney

Jim Mahoney

With more than 35 years of experience serving as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, superintendent, and adjunct professor, Jim served as Battelle for Kids' executive director from 2001 to 2016.

Under his leadership, the organization has partnered with state departments of education, some of the country’s largest school districts, and national foundations in nearly 30 states and Hong Kong to move education forward.

A well-known motivational speaker, Jim has made presentations throughout the United States, Canada, and China. He frequently speaks, writes, and advises around the importance of collaborative action around powerful practices in education, particularly in rural communities.

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State Superintendent Brian Whiston

Brian Whiston

Brian Whiston began his tenure as State Superintendent in July 2015, selected by Michigan’s State Board of Education from a pool of more than 50 highly-qualified candidates to lead the Michigan Department of Education.

Whiston previously served as Superintendent of Dearborn (MI) Public Schools – the state’s third largest school district – since 2008. His involvement in education started long before his time in Dearborn. During his 10 years as Director of Government and Community Services for the Oakland County ISD, Mr. Whiston consistently demonstrated his ability to work with state government to bring financial resources to schools, lead his department to improved student achievement, and help make all schools in the county successful. He also served as a local school board member for 17 years and held the position of President of the Michigan Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA).

While at Dearborn, Whiston’s collaborative model led to a primary focus on math, reading, and writing in the elementary grades to raise student achievement and provide an environment for students in grades six through 12 that kept pace with technology, prepared them for a post-secondary education or training, and met the state’s graduation requirements. Whiston worked to offer students a variety of options at the secondary level to break down the barriers of a typical high school classroom. He established the Collegiate Academy, a five-year program at each of Dearborn’s three high schools, which offers students the opportunity to graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate degree in five years, with all costs covered by the district.

His successful innovation efforts in Dearborn were recognized by the Michigan Association of School Administrators when it awarded him Superintendent of the Year honors in 2014. In addition, district programs, created under Whiston’s leadership, have won several awards including recognition from the Michigan Association of School Boards, Michigan Association of School Administrators, Dearborn Chamber of Commerce, and Best of MichBusiness.

In 2007, while working on behalf of public school districts in Oakland County, Whiston was named a Top Ten Lobbyist of the Year. He was also awarded the Gold Child Advocate award and named Michigan PTA Board Member of the Year and is an honorary life member of the Michigan PTSA.

Whiston also has taught classes at Wayne State University, where he received a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, and for the Michigan Association of School Boards. He has served on several boards and is a member of several community organizations.

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Alan Blankstein

Alan Blankstein

Award-winning author and educational leader, Alan Blankstein served for 25 years as President of the HOPE Foundation, which he founded and whose honorary chair is Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. A former “high-risk” youth, Alan began his career in education as a music teacher. He worked for Phi Delta Kappa, March of Dimes, and Solution Tree, which he founded in 1987 and directed for 12 years while launching Professional Learning Communities beginning in the late 1980s.

He is the author of the best-selling book Failure Is Not an Option®: Six Principles That Guide Student Achievement in High-Performing Schools, which received the Book of the Year award from Learning Forward. Alan is Senior Editor, lead contributor, and/or author of 18 books, including Excellence Through Equity with Pedro Noguera, (In Press). He also authored some 20 articles in leading education print including Education Week, Educational Leadership, The Principal, and Executive Educator.

Alan has provided keynote presentations and workshops for virtually every major U.S. Ed Org, and throughout the UK, Africa, and the Middle East. Alan has served on the Harvard International Principals Centers advisory board, and the Jewish Child Care Agency, where he once was a youth in residence.

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Lisa Swem

Lisa Swem

Lisa L. Swem has practiced school law with the Thrun Law Firm since 1988 and has devoted her law practice to servicing Michigan public educational institutions. Lisa’s interest in school law began in high school when she served as the first student representative to the Board of Education of the Buchanan Community Schools. Before law school, Lisa worked for five years as a social studies teacher at the secondary level. She also coached basketball and field hockey, and was a faculty advisor for many student activities.
While at Notre Dame Law School (J.D., 1988), Lisa was the student editor of the Journal of College and University Law and authored two articles for that publication, including “Due Process Rights in Student Disciplinary Matters.” She earned a B.A. in history from Centre College (1979), an M.A.T. in social studies from Colgate University (1981), and completed over 30 hours of graduate courses in educational administration at the State University of New York.

Lisa practices general school law with special focus on labor and employment law, as well as legal issues related to civil rights, student discipline, special education, policy, curriculum, and athletics. She represents school districts in state and federal courts, both at the trial and appellate levels. In addition to arbitration and mediation proceedings, she practices before various administrative agencies including the Michigan Administrative Hearing System (State Tenure Commission, Employment Relations Commission, and Department of Education), the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

She has written many articles on school law topics, including the chapter “Discipline of Students for Off-Campus Conduct” in the book School Violence: From Discipline to Due Process. Lisa was elected President of the Michigan Council of School Attorneys and served on its Board of Directors for two terms. She also served on the Board of Directors for the NSBA Council of School Attorneys. Lisa has conducted hundreds of seminars and presentations on a variety of school law topics.

Lisa lives in East Lansing where she bravely flies her Notre Dame flag on football Saturdays.

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