Leadership Summit Speaker Line-up

Get ready for an unparalleled experience at the 2023 Leadership Summit! We're thrilled to announce an exceptional lineup of speakers who are pioneers in their respective fields, ready to inspire and empower you. Join us as they share invaluable insights, strategies, and thought-provoking perspectives that will propel your leadership journey to new heights. Stay tuned for updates on our distinguished speaker roster, and mark your calendars for a summit that promises to redefine leadership excellence!

Keynote Speaker: Principal EL

We are absolutely thrilled to announce Dr. Salome Thomas-EL, widely known as Principal EL, as our esteemed Keynote Speaker for the 2023 Leadership Summit. A distinguished award-winning principal and teacher, internationally recognized speaker, and co-author of five best-selling books, Principal EL champions the belief that resilient leaders are those who make courageous decisions, challenge norms, and embrace risks.

Drawing from his extensive experience since 1987, Principal EL has garnered national acclaim as both a teacher and a chess coach, with his students achieving remarkable success as Eight-Time National Chess Champions. His thought-provoking presentations have inspired over 100,000 attendees worldwide, offering invaluable insights into transforming school cultures, fostering positive climates, and nurturing resilience in students.

Based in Wilmington, Delaware, Principal EL currently serves as a K-8 school leader and shares his expertise globally. He's been a featured contributor on platforms like "The Dr. Oz Show" and is the distinguished author of influential works including "I Choose to Stay" and "The Immortality of Influence". He co-authored the newly released books "Passionate Leadership", "Building a Winning Team", and "Retention for Change".

With a powerful blend of passion, compassion, and visionary leadership, Principal EL provides a down-to-earth roadmap for parents, teachers, and administrators to guide children towards achieving their dreams, regardless of the odds. His impact extends far and wide, having addressed diverse audiences across the United States, Canada, Nigeria, Trinidad, England, Jamaica, and The Virgin Islands. Principal EL's expertise has been featured on prominent platforms such as C-SPAN, CNN, and NPR Radio.

A scholar who's studied at esteemed institutions including Cambridge University in England and Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, Principal EL holds a doctorate in Education from Wilmington University in Delaware. His contributions to education have been recognized with prestigious awards, including the Marcus A. Foster Award and the Martin Luther King Award from the University of Pennsylvania. Notably, Educational Leadership and Reader’s Digest Magazines have celebrated Principal EL as an "Inspiring American Icon". His influence has also graced platforms like Good Morning America and "The Oprah Radio Network". We are honored to have Principal EL lead us into a transformative experience at the 2023 Leadership Summit.

Check out the panel lineup
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Susana Córdova
In June 2023, Susana Córdova became Colorado's 18th education commissioner, marking the first time a Latina has held this position in the state. With over 30 years in education, Córdova's career spans roles from assistant principal to superintendent, including key positions in Denver Public Schools and Dallas ISD. A Denver native and alumna of Abraham Lincoln High School, Córdova's commitment to educational equity is evident in her leadership. Notably, as Denver Public Schools superintendent, she achieved significant gains in graduation rates for African American and Latino/a students. Córdova's dedication to bilingualism and biliteracy also transformed the district's approach. She holds a master's degree from the University of Colorado Denver and is pursuing a doctorate from Southern Methodist University. Currently residing in Denver with her husband and children, one of whom is a high school teacher in the district, and the other a recent Stanford University graduate.


Rebecca McClellan
Rebecca McClellan, elected to the Colorado State Board of Education in November 2016 for a six-year term, re-elected in 2022 for a second term until January 2029, also assumed the role of Chairwoman in January 2023. She previously served as the State Board Legislative Liaison for the 2021 and 2022 sessions. Former Mayor Pro Tempore of Centennial and City Council member from 2006 to 2014, Rebecca focused on school funding improvements and initiated Centennial's inaugural Safe Routes to Schools program in collaboration with Bicycle Colorado. She and her husband, Jim, dedicated significant volunteer time to their children's K-12 education. Rebecca, a San Diego State University graduate and 2017 Gates Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, also represented the Colorado State Board of Education at the National Association of State Boards of Education. The McClellans are proud parents of Colorado public university students. She is a graduate of Leadership Cherry Creek and has held roles in PTO executive leadership and her local district's legislative network.

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Paul Lundeen
Paul Lundeen boasts decades of success in Colorado's business and public policy realms. Currently representing Senate District 9 in the Colorado General Assembly, he brings a wealth of experience, having previously held positions in the Colorado House of Representatives, State Board of Education, and more. As a fervent advocate for charter schools and education choice, Paul champions parents' rights to guide their children's upbringing and learning. With over 30 years of small business ownership, he intimately understands the challenges posed by excessive government regulations. Paul's extensive background uniquely equips him to address the needs of job-creators in Colorado. Alongside his wife Connie, Paul has proudly raised their two children in the state, both of whom graduated from Lewis Palmer high school after 33 years of marriage.

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Breakout Sessions & Ed Talks

Lee Roland

Lee Roland has been a leader in education and the community for more than 35 years.  He has served as a teacher, administrator, Board member,  principal, Executive Director, and pastor.  Lee is a passionate speaker, practical trainer, and dedicated advocate for a better future for all. His book, Fantastic Voyage, chronicles his journey of leadership and radical change at Tulakes Elementary. Voyage Consulting was born out of a desire to inspire, equip, and empower others to believe, pursue and achieve equity and success for all individuals, especially children,  in our community.


Bill Knous


Having served in an array of public, private and charter schools, Bill brings leadership and partnership to prospective, new and current charter school leaders.  Bill’s expertise in community engagement, student recruitment and enrollment, as well building healthy, high performing teams is mission critical to the continued health and success of the charter sector in Colorado.  Bill is passionate about ensuring more students and families have access to high quality options throughout the state.

A Denver native, Bill grew up attending Denver Public Schools.  Prior to joining the league he served as a School Director for DSST: Public Schools, the highest performing charter network in the state.  He has also served as the Secondary School Principal of Colegio Granadino, a K-12 school located in Manizales, Colombia.  He earned his B.A. in History from the University of Wyoming, a certification in Nonprofit Management through Temple University, an M.A. in Secondary Education from Villanova University. He also completed the National Principals Fellowship program through the RELAY Graduate School of Education, and is a 4.0 Essentials Fellow and co-founder of an educational startup called Gran Via Education.  He is proudly fluent in Spanish, loves reading, and all things Denver sports. 


Dawna Taylor
Dawna leads all programs and services for member schools, including supporting board governance. She is also responsible for overseeing all human resources functions of the League. Dawna is an experienced educator with expertise in developing and managing charter schools across the country including Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. 

Prior to joining the League, Dawna served in various roles in the educational sector including as the Director of Blended Learning Programs for Commonwealth Connections Academy,  the Assistant Vice President of K-12 Programs for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and as the Chief of Schools for San Jose Schools. She earned her undergraduate degree from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida in Elementary Education and her Masters in Educational Leadership and Administration from Jones International University in Centennial, CO. 

Ms. Taylor has also served as a reviewer for the US Department of Education Smaller Learning Communities Grant, School Leadership Grant, Education Innovation and Research Grant, Invest In Innovation (i3) Grant, and the Charter School Program (CSP) Grant. She has also served as a Quality Assurance Team Member and Lead Evaluator for Cognia, a school accreditation and improvement network. Dawna resides in Denver and is the proud mom of two adult children, Raleigh and Morgan, and grandma to her granddog, Sydney. 


Dr. T.J. Vari

T.J. Vari is the Deputy Superintendent of Secondary Schools and District Operations in the Appoquinimink School District in Delaware. He is a former high school English teacher, middle level assistant principal, and middle school principal.

T.J. holds several adjunct appointments teaching leadership at the university level, including coursework in supervisory behavior, data usage, human resources, and curriculum practices. He advises doctoral students toward the completion of their dissertation projects as well as their personal leadership development plans. 

T.J. is also one of two Executive Officers (w/ Dr. Joseph Jones) for a leadership development institute called TheSchoolHouse302, which works to develop leaders in education and beyond. TheSchoolHouse302 produces a monthly leadership curriculum, including a blog post, leadership podcast, a video series on books to read as a leader, and a review and reflect activity, all on a special topic for leading better and growing faster each month. 

Choosing to Stay in Challenging Times — Cultivating Cultures of Learning, Joy and Resilience

Dr. Salome Thomas-EL, an acclaimed educator, advocates for resilient leadership, emphasizing that every child deserves someone who deeply cares for them, while his presentation centers on transforming school cultures and empowering leaders to prioritize processes that build resilience in all students.

Building a Winning Team — The Need to Recruit and Retain Top Talent in Every School to Build a Bench

Hosted by: Principal El & Dr. TJ Vari
Talented leaders and teachers have a profound impact on student outcomes, shaping school culture and fostering positive influences within the community; The Three Doctors emphasize the importance of cultivating a skilled team for long-term leadership success.

Future of the Colorado Workforce – A Call for Instructional Leadership
Hosted by: Bill Knous & Dawna Taylor
Preparing Colorado students for the growing demand in STEM fields is crucial, and this session will underscore the significance of college degrees, technical skills, and STEM training, while also emphasizing the pivotal role of instructional leadership in achieving strong educational outcomes, along with addressing critical areas like Operations, Staffing, and Community Engagement for comprehensive development.

The Equalizer: Why and HOW educators must and can level the playing field for today's children
Hosted by: Lee Roland
Educators hold the responsibility of leveling the playing field for a diverse range of students, acknowledging and addressing disparities to create an inclusive environment conducive to success, achieved through transformative pedagogy, cultural inclusivity, and community collaboration.

The Power of Praise – Motivating and Inspiring Your Staff to Perform at New Levels

Hosted by: Principal El & Dr. TJ Vari
Regularly acknowledging and praising teachers for their outstanding work is a powerful motivator that significantly impacts their performance, but it's crucial to offer this feedback consistently, as studies show that many teachers feel they receive inadequate praise, highlighting the need for open communication.

The Voyager: An Educator's Path Less Traveled
Hosted by: Lee Roland
Discover strategies for bridging social and cultural divides in education by exploring the transformation of Tulakes Elementary, where a dedicated commitment to every child's success led to remarkable improvements in areas like suspension rates, parent engagement, and academic performance, providing valuable principles for navigating an evolving educational landscape.

Education Policymakers: Leadership Topics in the Next Five Years
Panel Lineup: Susana Cordova, Rebecca McClellan, Paul Lundeen
Engage in a panel discussion with prominent policymakers, led by Dan Schaller, League President, as they delve into the present and future of education in Colorado, with opportunities for audience participation.