2015 Speaker Bios

  Mazie Leichman   Lancaster ISD

Born in Flint, Michigan, Christopher Paul Curtis was always a great reader, but as a youth he could not find books “that were about me.” He spent his first 13 years after high school on the assembly line of Flint’s historic Fisher Body Plant #1, hanging 80-pound car doors on Buicks. He wrote during his breaks to escape the noise of the factory, while attending college at night. Curtis made an outstanding debut in children’s s literature with The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963. His second novel, Bud, Not Buddy, is the first book ever to receive both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Author Award. Curtis’ writing – and his dedication to it – has been greatly influenced by his family members. He modeled characters in Bud, Not Buddy after his two amazing grandfathers – Earl “Lefty” Lewis, a Negro Baseball League pitcher, and 1930s bandleader Herman E. Curtis, Sr., of Herman Curtis and the Dusky Devastators of the Depression. 


  Maria Webb   Red Oak ISD

Award-winning poet and nonfiction writer, Paul B. Janeczko has published nearly 50 books. His latest poetry anthology is Firefly July: A Year in Very Short Poems, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. His most recent book of poems is Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto. In addition to writing poetry, he has published fiction and nonfiction for young readers, most recently, The Dark Game: True Spies Stories from Invisible Ink to CIA Moles. Janeczko’s books for teachers include Reading Poetry in the Middle Grades and Teaching Literary Elements Using Poetry.


  Malaika Easton   Fort Bend ISD

Ernest Morrell is the Director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME) and Professor of English Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. He is President of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and will assume the past-presidency of this 50,000-member organization in November 2014. For nearly 20 years, his research has focused on drawing upon youth’s interest in popular culture and participatory media technologies to increase motivation and to promote academic literacy development, civic engagement, and college access. He is also recognized nationally for developing powerful models of teaching and learning in classrooms and non-school environments and for engaging youth and communities in the project of educational reform. He has written more than 50 journal articles, numerous book chapters, and four books, as well as received several commendations for his teaching including being recognized five times by Who’s Who Among America’s High School teachers and receiving UCLA’s Department of Education’s Distinguished Teaching Award.  


  Amanda O’Daniel   Eanes ISD

Gretchen Bernabei has taught middle school and high school for 30 years.  After earning her B.A. at Southwest Texas State University, she has attended numerous writing programs around the country and has become a national leader in best practices in the teaching of writing.  Gretchen’s books include Why We Must Run with Scissors:  Voice Lessons in Persuasive Writing; Reviving the Essay:  How to Teach Structure Without Formula; Lightning in a Bottle; Sparklers: High Scoring Test Essays and What We Learn from Them; The Good Writer’s Guide; Crunchtime:  Lessons to Help Students Blow The Roof Off Writing Tests and Become Better Writers in the Process; The Story of My Thinking:  Expository Writing Activities for 13 Teaching Situations; and Fun-Size Academic Writing for Serious Learning.  For her work, NCTE honored her with the James Moffett Award in 2010.  


  Teri Lesesne

Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade language arts and social studies. In her popular book The Book Whisperer, she reflects on her journey to become a reading teacher and describes how she inspires and motivates her middle school students to read 40 or more books a year. In her latest book, Reading in the Wild, she collects responses from 900 adult readers and uses this information to teach lifelong reading habits to her students. She currently facilitates the community blog The Nerdy Book Club and co-writes a monthly column for Scholastic’s Reader Leader Newsletter. Her articles about teaching and reading have appeared in publications such as The Reading TeacherEducational Leadership, and The Washington Post. She is currently the Manager of Independent Reading and Outreach for Scholastic Book Fairs.


Benjamin Alire Sáenz is an artist, poet, novelist, and a author of children’s books. He has been awarded a PEN/Faulkner Fiction Award, two Lambda Literary Awards, a Printz Honor Book, a Stonewall Award, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in poetry, a Lannan Poetry Fellowship, an American Book Award, the Paterson Book Prize, the Americas Award, the Tomas Rivera Award, the Southwest Book Award, and has been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His poetry books include Calendar of Dust, Elegies in Blue, Dreaming the End of War and The Book of What Remains. His fiction includes Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club, Carry Me Like Water, In Perfect Light, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, He Forgot to Say Goodbye, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. 


Sarah Ressler Wright is currently her school’s librarian, but for the last 13 years taught high school English and has earned her National Board Certification, received a Martha Holden Jennings Foundation Scholar designation, and became the OCTELA 2010 English teacher award recipient.   She presents around the country at literacy conferences including NCTE, IRA, TCTELA, OCTELA and ASCD.  She serves as an educational consultant for Sadlier and shares her strategies, author interviews, handouts, and more on her popular blog VocabGal.


Victoria Young is the director of the STAAR reading, writing, and social studies assessments for the Texas Education Agency. She is directly responsible both for managing the content development of these assessments and for overseeing all activities related to the scoring of approximately four million essays and short answer reading responses each year. She is particularly interested in enhancing educators’ understanding of the ways in which authentic instructional practices can increase individual academic achievement in the classroom and lead to success on STAAR. 


As the Statewide English Language Arts and Reading Coordinator, Karin Miller provides statewide leadership for English language arts and reading (ELA/R) education in Kindergarten to grade 12. She has over 26 years of experience in education as a teacher and instructional leader. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education and her Master Reading Teacher credentials from the University of Texas at Austin.



As the “new guy” at the Texas Education Agency, Chris Dolejs is the English and Social Studies Manager. He has been a prekindergarten teacher and a middle grades and secondary school teacher in English language arts, reading, and social studies. He has written reports, professional development materials, and curriculum guides for the National High School Center, the National Center for Educational Achievement, the Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts, and various publishers. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Tennessee, a master’s degree in history from the University of Southern Mississippi, and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Texas at Austin.