NSBA Rural Education Summit - April 5 - New Orleans

Keynote Speaker


Navigating Diversity in Rural Education

Sheneka M. Williams

Dr. Sheneka Williams
Professor and Chairperson, Department of Educational Administration
Michigan State University

Sheneka M. Williams (Ed.D., 2007, Peabody College of Education and Human Development, Vanderbilt University) is a professor and chairperson of the Department of Educational Administration at Michigan State University. Prior to accepting a position at Michigan State, Dr. Williams spent the first 13 years of her academic career at the University of Georgia.

Having grown up in rural Alabama, Dr. Williams has a keen interest in the lives and educational experiences of African Americans who live in rural contexts. Hence, her current research has two main foci: rural education and school desegregation. Her rural research is published in a co-edited book, Educational Opportunity in Rural Contexts: The Politics of Place, and she has recent works published in AERA Open and a forthcoming chapter in the Handbook of Rural Education. She also has published a chapter titled “Strong Rural Learners” in Cultivating Rural Education: A People-Focused Approach for States. Dr. Williams has also been a guest contributor to podcasts that feature rural education.

Her school desegregation research has been published in Educational Policy, Peabody Journal of Education, and Urban Education. In 2019, she guest-edited an issue of the Peabody Journal of Education that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Her research and contemporary perspectives concerning Brown also have been highlighted in interviews with NPR’s On Point, and Silence is Not an Option, a CNN podcast hosted by Don Lemon.

Dr. Williams is the vice president for Division L of the American Educational Research Association, where she also serves on the nominating committee for the Rural Special Interest Group. Dr. Williams consistently serves the profession as a mentor, reviewer, and advisor to numerous grant projects, editorial boards, colleagues, and students.

Dr. Williams prides herself on being a scholar and a leader who sees her work as part of the greater good.

General Session Speakers


Insights From Rural Students on the Path to Educational Excellence

Mia Burton

Mia Burton
Page High School (AZ)


Owen Fowler

Owen Fowler
South Sevier High School (UT)


Javier Quintana

Javier Quintana
Phoenix High School (OR)

Riley Templeton

Riley Templeton
Yoncalla High School (OR)


Desiree Fowler

Desiree Fowler (Moderator)
Board Member
Page Unified School District (AZ)

Desiree Fowler, a proud Diné woman from the Edgewater and Redhouse clans with familial ties to the Mexican People and Bitterwater clans, is a passionate advocate for education and representation. Originating from Steamboat, Arizona, she brings a unique perspective deeply rooted in her cultural identity.

As the President of the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) Board of Directors, Desiree stands as the first Native individual in the association's history to hold this esteemed position. She has been instrumental in championing the mission, vision, and strategic plan of the organization. As a dedicated school board member from the Page Unified School District (PUSD), Desiree also chaired the ASBA Hispanic–Native American Indian Caucus (HNAIC), where she fervently represented school board members from rural schools, showcasing her keen understanding of the diverse demographics in Arizona's school districts, both rural and urban.

Desiree's advocacy for inclusivity and her tireless work have significantly impacted the educational landscape for PUSD’s Native population. In the 2022-23 academic year, she achieved a notable milestone by collaborating with the Johnson-O’Malley Program, Indian Education Committee, and PUSD’s Indian Education Office to facilitate a transformative visit for Navajo Language and UNITY Club members to the nation's capital during the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools Conference.

In 2018, Desiree's foresight brought Arlando Teller, assistant secretary for tribal government affairs in the U.S. Department of Transportation, and State Representative Myron Tsosie to ASBA’s HNAIC, sowing the seeds for a robust advocacy movement for Arizona's Native students — a testament to her leadership and vision.

Desiree's advocacy extends beyond titles and positions, grounded in a humble mindset that values true potential over status. Embracing the responsibility that comes with influence, she recognizes the importance of accountability for her character and image in the public eye. Representing her people transcends personal endeavors; it is a meaningful cultural duty where she embodies the legacy of her ancestors, community, and ASBA.

As a champion of equity, diversity, and inclusion, Desiree Fowler stands as a beacon for positive change, driven by her grandmother's unwavering belief in the power of education. Her journey as a leader, advocate, and supporter for ASBA reflects a steadfast commitment to a brighter future for all students.

Bringing Native Nations Into the Field of Rural Education Through Systems Alignment Leadership

Alex Red Corn

Alex Red Corn, Ed.D.
Osage Citizen
Executive Director, Kansas Association of Native American Education (KANAE)
Associate Professor of Educational Leadership
Kansas State University, College of Education

Alex Red Corn (Ed.D.) is a citizen of the Osage Nation (π“·π“˜π“»π“˜π“»π“Ÿ), where he is a member of the 𐓲𐓣𐓻π“ͺπ“·π“˜π“―π“°π“˜π“€π“Ÿ (Gentle Sky/Peacekeeper) clan, with family roots in the π“·π“˜π“Έπ“˜π“ͺπ“§π“£Ν˜ district near Pawhuska, Oklahoma (USA). In the College of Education at Kansas State University, he is an associate professor of Educational Leadership, coordinator of Indigenous Partnerships, co-chair of the Indigenous Faculty and Staff Alliance, executive director of the Kansas Association for Native American Education (KANAE), and program coordinator for the Indigenous Educational Leadership Graduate Certificate. In 2022, Dr. Red Corn also became chair of the new Kansas Advisory Council for Indigenous Education Working Group (KACIE-WG). His scholarship and service are focused on building capacities for Native Nations to take on a more prominent role in the education of their citizens.

As a member of the College of Education faculty, Dr. Red Corn has consulted with school and tribal leaders across the region on various topics related to advancing education for, about, and with Indigenous peoples, communities, and Nations. He also has developed the new Indigenous Educational Leadership Graduate Certificate program, as well as partnership programs with the Osage Nation that has graduated two cohorts of Osage leaders with master’s degrees in Educational Leadership. Additionally, Dr. Red Corn teaches courses in qualitative research methods, specializing in Indigenous approaches to research and autoethnography.

Fostering Hope in Schools: The HOPE Framework

Hasan Davis

Hasan Davis
Hasan Davis Solutions LLC

As a youth, Hasan barely stayed one step ahead of the law. After an early arrest as a pre-teen, expulsion from an alternative school, and a lifelong struggle with learning and behavior challenges (ADHD, Dysgraphia, and Dyslexia), Hasan earned his GED diploma and decided to leave the life he knew well for one he could hardly imagine.

Hasan talked his way into Berea College in Kentucky. Although expelled twice, he returned a third time, determined to prove that failure would not be his lasting legacy. With the renewed mindset and the proper supports, Hasan earned his Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Berea and his Juris Doctor from the University of Kentucky College of Law.

Hasan has been recognized for his professional and personal efforts in serving children, youth, and families across a continuum of care from early education to careers in education, juvenile justice, child welfare, and the arts. He is a Rockefeller Foundation Next Generation Leadership Fellow, an EdTrust Family Education Fellow, an Annie E. Casey Children and Family Fellow, and the recipient of a Council of State Governments Henry Toll Fellowship.

While leading complex systems and organizations, Hasan has held to the belief that all children can find success when the adults in their world create and nurture hope. In 2012, Hasan became Kentucky’s fifth Commissioner of Juvenile Justice, where he was instrumental in reforming the state’s juvenile justice system.

Currently, Hasan provides technical assistance to youth-serving organizations across the country. In 2014, he founded Hasan Davis Solutions to continue his work supporting youth and families nationwide by creating meaningful engagement and training experiences for the amazing teams of professionals committed to youth success in justice, education, and social service environments.

Hasan is the author of four books and an actor, developing living history programs that highlight the important but often unacknowledged contributions of African Americans in the shaping of America. He lives in Berea, Kentucky, with his wife Dreama, a national expert in rural access and education, and their two sons.

Changing the Story We Tell: Asset-Based Approaches to Rural Teacher Recruitment and Retention

Jenny Seelig

Dr. Jenny Seelig
Senior Research Scientist
NORC at the University of Chicago

Dr. Jenny Seelig is a senior research scientist at NORC at the University of Chicago where she studies how geography affects educational equity, with a primary focus on teacher labor and workforce sustainability and the role of schools in community development. Dr. Seelig studies educator pathways and teacher diversification initiatives and provides expertise on educational ecosystems in rural America. With over a decade of research experience, Jenny works regularly with state and local partners to develop qualitative and mixed methods studies that evaluate a variety of educator pipeline programs.

Prior to joining NORC (a nonpartisan survey research organization), she was a program officer with the Spencer Foundation, an assistant director of rural education research, and a rural high school Spanish teacher in Appalachian Ohio. She holds a doctorate in Educational Policy Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is an alumna of Ohio University. Her work has been published in theβ€― Journal of Research in Rural Education, Theory & Practice in Rural Education, and the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, among others. She also is a contributing author to Cultivating Rural Education: A People-Focused Approach for States and The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rural Education in the United States.

Empowering Rural Education: Panel Discussion on Collaborative Strategies for Sustainable Impact

Julia Cunningham

Julia Cunningham
Director, Rural Engagement, Office of Communications and Outreach
U.S. Department of Education

Most recently, Julia was the Deputy Director for State Engagement for The Hunt Institute. In this role, she primarily focused on overseeing relationship building, strategy, and program development to support The Institute's expansion into new states through the state legislators retreat model. Before joining The Hunt Institute, Julia was a fifth- through eighth-grade writing teacher at American Horse School in the Oglala Lakota Nation in southwestern South Dakota. After teaching, she earned a master's degree in education policy and management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she co-founded the Harvard Ed School Rural Educators Alliance. Julia earned a bachelor's degree in English from Fordham University.

Dreama Gentry, J.D.

Dreama Gentry
Founder, President and CEO
Partners for Rural Impact

As the founder, president and CEO of Partners for Rural Impact, Dreama Gentry works to ensure the success of all rural students. For 25 years, those efforts were focused on Appalachian Kentucky, where she developed strategies to increase investment and improve outcomes on six indicators of success — kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading, eighth-grade math, high school graduation, postsecondary degree attainment, and individual wellness.

Through the experience of designing and leading the first rural Promise Neighborhood, she created a place-based, cradle-to-career approach for improving outcomes for rural students and communities across the country. The model has been shared with and adopted by communities across the country, including Walla Walla and the Yakima Valley in Washington, Cocke County in Tennessee, and others in South Carolina, Mississippi, and Texas.

In 2018, Gentry launched the annual Rural Summit to bring practitioners and leaders from across the nation to share inspirations and ideas for improving the educational outcomes for students from rural communities. An Annie E. Casey Children and Family Fellow, she also serves on the board of directors for the Pine Mountain Settlement School.

A first-generation college graduate, Gentry holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Berea College and a Juris Doctor from the University of Kentucky. She lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Hasan Davis, where they raised their sons, Malcolm and Christopher.

Frank S. Henderson, Jr.

Frank S. Henderson, Jr. (Moderator)
Immediate Past-President, National School Boards Association (NSBA)
Board Member, Seaman USD 345 (KS)

Frank S. Henderson, Jr. is the Immediate Past President of the National School Boards Association (NSBA). Henderson was elected NSBA Secretary-Treasurer while serving in his second term as the association's Western Region Director and as President of the National School Boards Action Center (NSBAC). He also served two terms on the Board of Directors of NSBA's National Black Council of School Board Members. Henderson has served on nearly every NSBA Committee and chaired many of them.

Henderson is a Past President of the Kansas Association of School Boards after serving several years on its Board of Directors and the Legislative Committee. He is in his seventeenth year on the USD 345 Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas. Additionally, Henderson completed a term on the Board of Directors of the Kansas State High School Activities Association. He was appointed to the Governor's Advisory Council on Education and has served as a commissioner on the Education Commission of the States.

Henderson, a public policy consultant, worked in Kansas State Social Services and the Criminal Justice System for over 25 years, providing services to those in poverty, the mentally ill, as well as victims and offenders. Henderson was appointed Chairman of the Kansas Parole Board, which he served for four years. Additionally, he served in the Office of the Attorney General for seventeen years as the Executive Director of the Kansas Crime Victims Compensation Board, holding the offices of President of the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards and the Kansas Organization for Victim Assistance.

Henderson holds a bachelor's degree from Washburn University and a master's degree from Kansas State University. He has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the Living the Dream Scales award for Excellence in Education Leadership, as well as awards for community leadership.

Melissa Sadorf

Dr. Melissa Sadorf
National Rural Education Association (NREA)

Dr. Melissa Sadorf is the superintendent of the Stanfield Elementary School District in Arizona. In this rural district, she also serves as the business manager, federal grant programs director, and HR director.β€― Prior to her work with Stanfield, Melissa was a teacher, literacy coach, assistant principal, and principal. Melissa is the executive director of the Arizona Rural Schools Association, the Northern Arizona University Rural Resource Center, and the Arizona Affiliate of ASCD. She also is very involved in the National Rural Education Association, where she is currently the president of the executive board.β€―She facilitates monthly round tables for rural superintendents, has created a Rural Leaders Network that spans the country, and produces and hosts a podcast called “The Rural Scoop” that highlights best practices in rural school systems. She serves as an assistant teaching professor for Northern Arizona University, teaching educational leadership and principal preparation courses. Melissa can be reached on Twitter at @dr_sadorf, LinkedIn at @velaeducationalconsultants, or through her website at www.velaconsultants.com.