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 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.
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Representation Matters, Part 2: Sima Kumar
Sima Kumar is a New Jersey educator, who teaches at the high school and college levels. She is a Board Member of Make Us Visible-NJ, a grassroots coalition that was responsible for gaining support and passing the AAPI curriculum bill that Governor Murphy signed into law on January 18. Starting in the 2022-2023 school year, this law makes it mandatory for K-12 schools to include Asian American and Pacific Islander history and contributions in their curriculums.
Sima grew up in Ohio, where she completed her K-12 education in public and private schools. She earned a B.A. from Smith College, where she majored in biochemistry, and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. This summer, at the age of 50, she will be entering the Ed.D. program at Rutgers University.
Representation Matters, Part 1: Eric Jones
Eric Jones works as a field representative for organizational development with the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA). He received his bachelor’s degree in elementary education from The College of New Jersey. An elementary school teacher in the Plainfield School District since 2002, Jones also served as the district’s public information officer. He was president of the Plainfield Education Association from 2015 until his full-time employment with NJEA and has held numerous positions in his local association. He also held a seat on the Union County Education Association Executive Committee.
in 2019, Jones founded the Members-of-Color Network, an intentional organizing effort to connect and engage with an underrepresented affinity group within the NJEA. MOC’s goal is to elevate the advocacy, engagement, and ownership that all members have in the union.
Students with Special Needs: Danielle Kovach
Dr. Danielle M. Kovach began her teaching career in 1997 and has taught both general and special education across a wide range of settings. She is a third-grade special education teacher at Tulsa Trail Elementary School and adjunct professor at Centenary University in New Jersey. Danielle is the 2022 President of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving the educational success of children and youth with disabilities. She is also the 2011 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year, 2012 NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence recipient, and the 2014 CEC Teacher of the Year.
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A Conversation with the Newest NJ STOY: Theresa Maughan
Theresa Maughan is a high school social studies teacher at East Orange STEM Academy and is in her 40th year of teaching. Maughan, who was born in Belize, emigrated with her family when she was in elementary school. Her social studies teacher’s efforts to save her family from deportation inspired Maughan to recognize the impact educators have on their students’ lives and pursue a career in education.
Maughan earned a Bachelor of Art degree in history and education from Rutgers University, a Master’s in administration and supervision from New Jersey City University, and is completing a Master’s in American history from Pace University. Maughan is the 2021 NJ History Day Senior Division Teacher of the Year and a nominee for the National History Day Patricia Behring award. Maughan has attended the New Jersey Amistad Commission’s summer institutes for more than a decade and is proud to serve as an Amistad Scholar. Most recently, Maughan was named the 2021–22 NJ State Teacher of the Year.
Preparing for College: Danielle Epps, Joseph Martinelli & Suzanne McCotter
DANIELLE EPPS, Director of Teacher Education, Admissions, Recruitment & Diversity – Montclair State University
JOSEPH MARTINELLI, Interim Dean of the College of Education & Human Services – Seton Hall University
Back-to-School Edition: Jeanne Muzi & Jennifer Skomial
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 2018–19 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.
Social & Emotional Learning: Alisha De Lorenzo & Thomas Belasco
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.
Social Justice in Education: Sharif El-Mekki
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.
An Educator’s Journey: Angel Santiago
Angel Santiago is an elementary school teacher at Loring Flemming Elementary school in Blackwood, New Jersey. Santiago is the 2020–21 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.