CFE’s Speaker Series features distinguished educators who share their unique career journeys, knowledge on their specialties, and perspectives and advice on teaching. The events are held monthly and highlight different topics, including educator activism, social and emotional learning, education legislation, and leadership. Students are also encouraged to send in their own questions for the speaker(s). All speaker series events are virtual and are recorded and made available here on our website. Check out some of our past sessions below!
Kimberly Dickstein Hughes (Moderator)
Kimberly Dickstein Hughes, Ed.M. teaches English Language Arts at Haddonfield Memorial High School and was named the 2019-20 Camden County Teacher of the Year and 2020 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year. Hughes has not only taught for 12 years for the Haddonfield School District but also conducted her teaching internship there. She is also an adjunct professor at Rowan University’s College of Education. As a practitioner, Hughes has focused her professional learning in critical global literacies, culturally responsive teaching, and Shakespeare studies.
Hughes believes that New Jersey can achieve equity in education only through radical compassion and collective action. As the 2020 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year, she toured New Jersey’s public schools and state agencies in an effort to empower educators and network with stakeholders invested in community building and involvement. Hughes prioritizes social justice, anti-bias education, and equity not only in her classroom but also on the national stage.
Fall 2021 Sessions
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Jeanne Muzi & Jennifer Skomial: Back-to-School Edition
Jeanne Muzi is the principal of Slackwood Elementary, a culturally rich K-3 school in Lawrence Township. Muzi received her teaching certification from Rider University and taught first grade for over ten years. Jeanne then dedicated seven years to redesigning the Gifted and Talented program across her school district’s four elementary schools. Seeking to empower teachers and play a more direct role in education initiatives, she obtained her administrative certification.
Jeanne has served as a National Geographic Teacher Fellow, NOAA Teacher At Sea, NJ State Teacher of the Year, and Smithsonian Teaching Ambassador. Her passion is providing young students with creative problem solving experiences and opportunities to learn far beyond the walls of a classroom or school.
Jennifer Skomial is currently in her 14th year of teaching. She attended Kean University and Montclair State University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in English-Secondary Education. Jennifer earned her Master of Arts in Teaching (Special Education) from New Jersey City University in 2013 and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership at Montclair State University.
Jennifer teaches in the Academy for Education and Learning at Morris County School of Technology where she gets to work with future educators. During the 2017 school year, Mrs. Skomial was selected as the Educator of the Year at her school. In 2018, she was selected as the Morris County Teacher of the Year which led her to becoming named the 2019 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year. As the NJ State Teacher, Mrs. Skomial earned a six-month sabbatical from teaching, during which time she worked for the New Jersey Department of Education and was a spokesperson for educators across the state and country.
Spring 2021 Sessions
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Angel Santiago: An Educator’s Journey
Angel Santiago is an elementary school teacher at Loring Flemming Elementary school in Blackwood, New Jersey. Santiago is the 2020-2021 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year. His passion for education is rooted in fostering strong relationships with his students, their families, his colleagues, and the communities in which he serves. He believes that if students engage in community service, that it will foster within them empathy, which is instrumental to closing the equity gap in many communities.
Angel graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University and holds a Master’s degree in Education and a Bachelor’s degree in Humanities. He has taught his entire professional career in Camden county and it’s where he was a student growing up in Vineland schools. He began teaching in the Lindenwold Public Schools, and in 2013 moved to Gloucester Township Public Schools.
Sharif El-Mekki: Social Justice in Education
Sharif El-Mekki is the Founder and CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development . The Center exists to ensure there will be equity in the recruiting, training, hiring, and retention of quality educators that reflect the cultural backgrounds and share common socio-political interests of the students they serve. The Center also carries forth the freedom or liberation school legacy by hosting Freedom School sites that incorporates research-based curricula and exposes high school and college students to the teaching profession to help fuel a pipeline of Black educators.
Prior to founding the Center, El-Mekki served as a nationally recognized principal and U.S. Department of Education Principal Ambassador Fellow. In 2014, El-Mekki founded The Fellowship – Black Male Educators for Social Justice, an organization dedicated to recruiting, retaining, and developing Black male teachers. El-Mekki blogs on Phillys7thWard , is a member of the 8 Black Hands podcast and serves on several boards and committees focused on educational and racial justice.
Alisha De Lorenzo & Thomas Belasco: Social & Emotional Learning
Alisha De Lorenzo MS, NCC, LPC, SAC is the Founding Owner of Living YES, LLC and The Living YES Foundation. Created from her passion and commitment to education, social justice, mental health and contemplative practices, Alisha takes a healing-centered approach to systemically address individual and collective trauma and build the emotional literacy of all members of the school, family and community.
Alisha received her Baccalaureate degree in Movement Sciences and Education and has worked in public education as a teacher and Student Assistance Counselor for almost 20 years. Before leaving her traditional role in public education, she served as New Jersey’s first Social Emotional Learning Coordinator designing and implementing an “Integrative Education” model. Alisha is also the Interim Deputy Director for Garden State Equality, NJ’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organization working to created legal and lived equality for all New Jerseyans.
Thomas “TJ” Belasco is a teacher at Lower Cape May Regional High School. In his time at LCMR, he has taught everything from ninth-grade failures to 12th-grade Advanced Placement. Currently, he is teaching Advanced Placement Literature and Composition, AP Capstone, and the Future Educators Course. Additionally, he oversees the school Mindfulness over Matter club stressing mindfulness, yoga, and art therapy. His experience at LCMR also earned him the 2019-2020 Cape May County Teacher of the Year.
In addition to teaching, he also serves the children of Cape May County as the West Cape May School Board President. He has been a school board member for 20 years. Finally, through his certification through the Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Program (Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield), T.J. has started the Mindful Classroom providing guided meditation for teachers and beach meditation classes in Cape May.