Keynote Speakers

Dr. Dena Simmons

"Engaging in LiberatED Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) for Racially Justice and Healing"

In this up-to-date and engaging keynote address, Dr. Dena Simmons will discuss and reflect on opportunities for LiberatED social and emotional learning (SEL), which takes into mind the social and political context of our community and larger society. Participants will dissect current SEL standards and models, and help brainstorm ways that you can begin to implement fearless SEL with the goal of collective liberation. Educators in attendance will also reflect on what gets in the way of equity. Dr. Simmons will help you create a plan for realizing your vision for leading for equity - and liberation - through leveraging SEL practices that center healing, racial and social justice, and radical love. In addition, attendees will reflect on causes of burnout and engage in a burnout inventory; discuss self-care and coping strategies as well as conduct a self-care inventory; explore strategies to ensure equity-responsive, trauma-informed, and healing-centered practices; and Dr. Simmons will help you make a commitment to care for self and for others.

Dr. Dena Simmons is an activist, educator, and student of life from the Bronx, New York. She is the founder of LiberatED, a liberatory approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) that centers radical love, healing, and justice. She writes and speaks nationally about social justice and culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogy as well as creating emotionally intelligent and safe classrooms within the context of equity and liberation. She is the author of the forthcoming book, White Rules for Black People (St. Martin’s Press).

Dr. Simmons is the founder of LiberatED, a liberatory approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) that centers radical love, healing, and justice. She is also a visiting professor at the Institute for Racial Justice at Loyola University of Chicago. Before LiberatED, she co-led a university center, where she supported schools to use the power of emotions to create a more compassionate and just society. Prior to her work there, Dr. Simmons served as an educator, teacher educator, diversity facilitator, and curriculum developer. She has been a leading voice on teacher education and has written and spoken across the country about social and racial justice pedagogy, diversity, emotional intelligence, and bullying in K-12 school settings. Dr. Simmons’ research interests include teacher preparedness to address bullying in the K-12 school setting, culturally responsive pedagogy, and the intersection of equity and SEL—all in an effort to ensure and foster justice, belonging, and safe spaces for all. She is the author of the forthcoming book, White Rules for Black People (St. Martin’s Press).

 Dr. Aubrey Uresti
Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade"The Art of Unapologetically Authentic School Counseling"

Throughout the history of school counseling in the United States, we have seen changes in the preparation and training, scope of practice, and role of the school counselor. Despite the ever-changing hot topics and popular trends in the field, several characteristics persist as requisite to the work of school counselors—advocacy, adaptability, and long-term vision. Moreover, to truly thrive in this work, and guard oneself from burnout, school counselors must also learn how to create harmony between their professional responsibilities and expectations while still maintaining the joy and passion that motivated them to join the profession in the first place. Dr. Uresti will inspire you to access the skill, style, imagination, and love that is needed to embrace “The Art of Unapologetically Authentic School Counseling.”

Dr. Aubrey Uresti is an Assistant Professor of Counselor Education at San José State University. A California credentialed K-12 school counselor and a National Certified School Counselor, Dr. Uresti has experience in all levels of K-12 education as a teacher, school counselor, therapist, supervisor, and consultant. She is a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC) and a National Certified Counselor. Her research focuses on the individual, family, and extended family-level experiences of adolescents who have a parent in jail or prison, as well as their meaning-making processes regarding parental incarceration. Additional research interests include urban education and school counseling, school-based support, grief and loss, peer victimization, child and adolescent development issues, and lifelong learning for counselors.

 Tony Thurmond
Tony Thurmond was sworn in as the 28th California State Superintendent of Public Instruction on January 7, 2019. Superintendent Thurmond is an educator, social worker, and public school parent, who has served the people of California for more than ten years in elected office. Previously, he served on the Richmond City Council, West Contra Costa Unified School Board, and in the California State Assembly representing District 15.

Like many of California’s public school students, Superintendent Thurmond came from humble beginnings. His mother was an immigrant from Panama who came to San Jose, California, to be a teacher. His father was a soldier who didn’t return to his family after the Vietnam War. He met him for the first time when he was an adult. After his mother died when he was six, Thurmond and his brother were raised by a cousin who they had never met.

Superintendent Thurmond’s family relied on public assistance programs and great public schools to get out of poverty and public school education allowed him to attend Temple University, where he became student body president. He went on to earn dual master's degrees in Law and Social Policy and Social Work (MSW) from Bryn Mawr College and began a career dedicated to service.

Much of Superintendent Thurmond’s social service work has focused on improving the services provided to foster youth and directing programs that provide job training to at-risk youth. He also led programs to provide help for individuals with developmental disabilities. He has 12 years of direct experience in education, teaching life skills classes, after school programs, and career training.

Superintendent Thurmond lives in Richmond with his two daughters, who attend local public schools. They are his inspiration and a constant reminder about the promise of our neighborhood schools and the strong future that every child deserves.