Regional Speakers

Julie Albee has taught first, third, and fourth grades in the regular classroom, gifted students in kindergarten through 8th grade, and one year of high school math in schools in Missouri, Iowa, and Colorado.  Then she moved to the university classroom, where she has taught a broad variety of courses to both undergraduate and graduate students. Julie taught at Northwest Missouri State University for several years, then joined Hannibal-LaGrange University in 2003, where she is currently a Professor in the Education Department.  She primarily teaches courses in the remediation of reading difficulties, writing instruction, and supervises practica experiences in reading.  Presentations at numerous local, regional, and national conferences; working with districts to strengthen their reading programs; co-authoring a textbook on reading difficulties; and researching and writing articles related to reading assessment, instruction, and remediation are scholarly activities she enjoys.

Julius Anthony is Founder and President of St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature Initiative, a subsidiary of The ECE Prep School, LLC. Julius has enjoyed more than twenty years as an early childhood education teacher and administrator and has served on several Boards, curriculum committees, and state level work groups.  Julius is also the Founding Principal of City Academy, a bourgeoning independent day school located in one of St. Louis city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. Throughout his professional life, Julius has enjoyed writing motivational poems and short stories for his students and has always been a fierce advocate of culturally competent literacy based early childhood education instruction.  In October 2014, Julius published his first children’s book, a collection of original poems entitled Me! Ten Poetic Affirmations.  Julius is a graduate of Howard University, 2001 graduate of Leadership St. Louis (FOCUS St. Louis), and a 1995 fellow of Washington University’s National Endowment for the Humanities’ (NEH) Harlem Renaissance Project.

Jill Arnold

Jill Arnold is the Director of the Graduate and Online Division at Hannibal-LaGrange University.  Since joining HLGU, Jill has been an Associate Professor in the Education Division and has authored several pieces of educational research.  Her scholarly interests include reading, reading with fluency, and readers who struggle.  Jill has taught grades 1-3, has been a Title I Reading teacher, and has been a Parent Educator for several Missouri school districts.  Currently, she serves on the Advisory Board for the Hannibal Parents as Teachers Program and is a presenter at area conferences and local businesses on education and leadership.  Currently with the HLGU Education Division, Jill has helped launch an entirely online Reading Specialist certification with a Master’s degree option.

Paula Berry serves as Project Construct Coordinator in the Columbia, Missouri, School District. She has been a facilitator training teachers in constructivist practices for the past nineteen years.  She is also a consultant for Missouri Preschool Learning Communities in the Southwestern region of the state.  Paula was formerly the Director of St. Charles Community College Child Development Center for fifteen years before moving to Shell Knob, Missouri with her husband, Bill.  She has a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Administration from Tulane University.  She is passionate about collaborating with teachers to develop our youngest children into capable and confident learners.

Sam Bommarito

Sam Bommarito retired from full-time teaching after a 43-year career in education. That career included teaching at almost every grade from K through graduate school.  He taught reading courses to teachers at both the graduate and undergraduate level. He’s made numerous presentations at ILA (formally IRA) conferences, including national conferences. Most of his career was spent working in Title 1 buildings as a reading specialist and/or staff developer. Those buildings were often highly successfully as demonstrated by national awards from the Secretary of Education.   He was active in the ILA Read and Feed project which provided 1,500 plus books for the Ferguson Florissant summer program.  In addition, he works as a volunteer at his grandchildren’s school doing an after-school project and supports teachers at that building in their implementation of guided reading.  He is actively tweeting about his various literacy endeavors (@DoctorSam7).  Most recently he started a blog about literacy:  He is happy in his role as co-editor of Missouri ReaderMissouri Reader is entering its 41st year of publication, and the current issue is available at

Kate Booher is an early childhood educator with ten years of experience in the field. Kate earned her BS in Early Childhood Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, her MA in Early Childhood Education with an emphasis in Inclusive Education from Webster University, and is a multi-state certified teacher. She is currently a full-time PhD student in Curriculum and Instruction and Graduate Assistant at St. Louis University. Prior to beginning her PhD studies, she taught both pre-kindergarten and kindergarten in public and private educational settings. Kate has studied the Reggio Emilia Approach for most of her teaching career and attended an International Study Tour to the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, in 2012.  She has co-presented at both international and local conferences for experiential education and is actively involved with the Racial Equity Curriculum Partnership and Educators for Social Justice.

Allison Dudley is an Associate Professor in the Gleazer School of Education at Graceland University in Independence, MO. She has taught elementary students as a classroom teacher, as a Title I reading specialist, and as a Reading Recovery teacher. Currently she teaches literacy related courses to elementary education majors. Allison loves to read and is passionate about encouraging elementary students and their teachers to read children’s literature that will make a difference in their lives.

Barbara Flowers holds B.S. and M.A. degrees in Economics from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, as well as an M.A. in Economic Education from the University of Delaware.  After 18 years at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, most recently serving as center Director, Barbara joined the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, where she develops K-14 economic lessons and online programming. Barbara is a recipient of the Bessie B. Moore Service Award, which recognizes dedicated service to economic education and the Abbejean Kehler Technology Award for economic education. She recently served a three-year term on the National Association of Economic Educators’ executive committee and is president of the Missouri Jump$tart Coalition.

Sandra Hamar is an Associate Professor in the Education Department at Columbia College.  During her 13 years in higher education, this Sandra has been involved in areas of research focused on literacy, clinical model preparation, and diversity.  She is passionate about ensuring her graduates are globally minded. Sandra has developed an international partnership with a school in Jamaica where she travels with teacher candidates for an experience teaching in another culture. Her credentials include: Ed.D. Education Organizational Leadership: Effective School emphasis, Grand Canyon University, Phoenix, AZ; M.A. in Elementary Education, emphasis in science from University of Missouri St. Louis, MO; B.A. in Elementary Education from Graceland College, Lamoni, IA

Melinda Hammerschmidt’s love of reading and writing was fostered during summers spent on her grandparents’ farm in Center Ridge, Arkansas, where her grandmother turned her dining room into a lending library for the school system and the city, which she maintained until age 96.  Melinda graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a Bachelors of Science in Education, received her Masters in education form Drury University, is certified in special reading for Missouri, K-12, and gifted education K-12, and successfully defended her dissertation to obtain her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from Texas Tech University, graduating in December 2016.  Melinda has taught for sixteen years full time and 5 years part time as an extended learning teacher and tutor. Melinda currently is the first grade instructor at Greenwood Laboratory School in Springfield.

Kathy Heitmeyeis a career teacher whose classroom experience includes work in a grades 1-3 multi-age classroom and then as a kindergarten teacher.  She then taught Reading Recovery and served as a K-2 Title I teacher—totaling thirty years in public schools.  She is currently in her 11th year of work as a Trainer for the Missouri Reading Initiative, serving schools throughout Missouri, primarily in the St. Louis area.  Kathy graduated from Stephens College with a BA in Elementary Education and then from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a MED in Curriculum and Instruction, Reading Education.

Rachel Johnson and Lisa Swindell are the Kindergarten Teachers at Maries R-I School in Vienna, Missouri. This is Rachel’s 7th year teaching and Lisa’s 18th year in education.  Both ladies have worked together for the past 4 years and love to share their creativity with one another and their students. Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Swindell have developed quite the reputation at their school for their unique and inventive spirit day outfits, which both staff and students look forward to seeing throughout the year.  This year both teachers are implementing flexible seating options in their rooms, something that has never been done at their school. Both ladies are excited to be sharing their knowledge and experience with other educators at this year’s conference during their break out session.

Sarah Johnson is a Reading Specialist for Grades K-5 at Trautwein Elementary School in St. Louis County.  She received her Bachelor and Master’s Degrees in Education from Missouri State University.  Sarah completed Reading Recovery Teacher Leader and Comprehensive Intervention Model (CIM) training at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  In addition to teaching students each day, Sarah coordinates the OASIS tutoring program in her school and facilitates a literacy study group for her colleagues.  Sarah has taught for over 30 years in Missouri schools.  She has experience as a preschool teacher, primary classroom teacher, elementary reading specialist, Reading Recovery Teacher and Teacher Leader, and college instructor.  Sarah has presented over 30 breakout sessions at local, state, and national literacy conferences.  Her current areas of interest include effective reading and writing instruction for primary students and comprehension strategy instruction.  She is an active member of the International Literacy Association and the National Council of Teachers of English.  In her spare time, Sarah enjoys traveling, taking long walks, playing golf, and reading.

William Kerns, presently an assistant professor in the College of Education at Harris-Stowe State University, worked as a reading teacher, reading specialist, English teacher, and curriculum specialist prior to entering higher education as a university professor. His university teaching specialties are in the areas of Secondary English Language Arts Education, Middle and Secondary Social Studies, literacy/reading, diversity, and curriculum and instruction.  His research specializations are in the areas of curriculum and instruction, literacy, and the fostering as well as assessment of reflective thinking among undergraduate teacher candidates. Dr. Kerns has presented in a variety of professional organizations including National Council of Teachers of English, Conference on English Leadership, International Literacy Association, the Assembly for Advanced Perspectives on Learning, National Professional Development Schools, South Carolina Association of Teacher Educators, University of Central Florida Literacy Symposium, and the International Association for the Study of Play.

ClauDean Kizart 2

Dr. ClauDean Kizart is a native of Chicago, and has worked in the field of education for over 21 years.  She is an alumna of Harris-Stowe State University, St. Louis University, and Lindenwood University.  Currently she works for the St. Louis Regional Professional Development Center (RPDC) housed at Education Plus, where she supports the Missouri Model District (MMD) through coaching and facilitating a variety of professional development workshops including equity, literacy, data based decision making (DBDM), diversity, and inclusion. With the support of mentors and other professionals, she has made her passion her vocation…Education!

As a former literacy consultant for the Missouri Reading Initiative, Dr. Kizart facilitated professional development for schools across Missouri focused on balanced/comprehensive literacy for a diverse population of administrators, instructional coaches, and teachers.   She is the mother of two “wiz kids” who also loves gardening, knitting, and reading.

Shelli Lee is from Lafayette County C-I School District in Higginsville, Missouri, where she has taught for the last 25 years as a special education teacher, including teaching students with learning disabilities as well as early childhood and early childhood special ed. She currently teaches early childhood, serving children of all capabilities, ages 3-6.  As well, she works for Project Construct, training teachers in constructivist practices.  Shelli is passionate about literacy and sharing quality children’s literature with her co-workers, students, and families.  In the 2007-2008 school year Shelli was a finalist for Missouri State Teacher of the Year–but most importantly, received the World’s Greatest Teacher award from her students and their families.

Shelli Lee

Jessica Leonard

Jessica Leonard is an assistant professor in the School of Education at Saint Louis University.  She has been working in the field of education for approximately 18 years.  She received her Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and her Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction focusing on tablet technology in early childhood.   Prior to joining as a full-time faculty member at Saint Louis University, she was a first grade teacher at two private schools in the Saint Louis region and a preschool teacher at a private early childhood center.

Claudia McVicker, or “Dr. McV,” as her students call her, taught Kindergarten through second grade for fifteen years before becoming a professor.  Most of that time was for the Garden City, Kansas schools in western Kansas.  The last three years, she taught a multi-age PreK-2 classroom in a two-room schoolhouse west of Jetmore, Kansas, near her husband’s wheat farm.  She has taught at K-State, Ball State, and Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.  Normally, Claudia teaches undergraduate and graduate literacy education courses for elementary and secondary pre-service teachers.  Her current position is at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, where she is completing an investigation of “Plugged and Unplugged” reading with elementary school students in the Kansas City Metropolitan area.  She is also finishing up a comparative study of U.S. and British literacy practices with a school near Liverpool, England, where she took her students for summer study abroad.  This past year, she has been collaborating with the William Jewell College Biology and Botany professors to integrate early literacy with the Aquaponics Lab they set up in KCMO school district’s Primativa Garcia Elementary School.

Claudia McVickers

After performing over 1000 home visits as a parent educator for St. Louis Public Schools, Linda Mitchell had an idea: she realized that parents and caregivers need access to books as much as children do. She created the Imitate Reading Initiative to encourage parents to read for themselves to model reading for their children. Linda shares a message targeted mainly to parents of children from birth to five about harnessing the power of imitation to boost reading achievement. Her Initiative promotes book drives for adults and focuses on parent engagement through the Five Pillars of Family Literacy, evidence-based statements about literacy curated from multi-disciplinary experts. 


Growing up with an illiterate grandmother drove Linda’s passion to help others become literate. Formerly a teacher, she has spent many volunteer hours tutoring children and adults in reading. She founded the Metro East Literacy Project in 2010 to promote reading to adults and children by providing access to books, libraries, and quality reading experiences. Linda also wrote two children’s books with her husband, entitled Love Me Always: A Photographic Celebration of Children Growing Up and How Are You Today? A Photographic Celebration of Children’s Emotions. Linda received her Bachelor’s in Journalism and Masters in Education degrees from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

Lindsey Mueller and Kerri Stith have a total of 19 years’ experience teaching second grade, third grade and Title One reading.  They have both completed their Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Missouri-Columbia.  This year, they decided to share their love of education by starting their own Facebook/Instagram page called Resource Queens. They are passionate about sharing resources and creating inspiration with other teachers.

During her 50 years in education, Tamara Rhomberg has taught all levels from three and four year olds to graduate reading students at Webster University in St. Louis.  She served as a reading specialist for ten years at Kellison Elementary in the Rockwood School District before going on to become the district’s K-5 Language Art Coordinator and then the K-5 Reading Intervention Coordinator and Title I Coordinator for 13 years. After retiring from education, she served as a National Literacy Consultant for Zaner-Bloser, traveling across the country delivering educational professional development.  Tamara currently serves as a Director on the Rockwood School District Board of Education and is an adjunct professor at Webster University in the graduate school of education.

Tamara graduated from Southeast Missouri University and completed her graduate work at Maryville University.  She holds a lifetime special reading certification in Missouri and an elementary administration certification from Lindenwood University. Tamara is an active member of the local, state, and international reading associations and is currently the Missouri Literacy Association treasurer.

Professional presentations include International Literacy Association (National, State, Local), Council for Exceptional Children (International, National, Local), and numerous other language arts conferences. In 2012, she received the Missouri Literacy Award from the Missouri Council of Reading.

Elise Tierney is the Founder and Executive Director of Ready To Learn.  She was the kid in 3rd grade who couldn’t read, but a teacher changed her life, and now her organization serves the children of St. Louis, so they will feel the power that books and learning can bring to their lives.

Ready To Learn (RTL) provides free books to St. Louis area underprivileged children.  RTL provides a minimum of six free books each year to every student.  They currently serve 11 schools and served approximately 3,900 students during the 2017-2018 school year.   Since their inception in 2011, they have distributed over 220,000 free books to children in the St. Louis area, many who don’t have books of their own.

Elise says, “This is what I want people to know about me:  I am an ordinary person who has lived an extraordinary life.  Service towards others and my community is what gets me excited and gets me out of bed when I am tired.  I want everyone to know that one person can make a difference in the lives of others.  I did not always believe this, but I have seen it happen with my own eyes.  You just have to mean it when you say, ‘I’m here.  How can I help?’  It doesn’t get any better than that in my book(s). Pun intended.”

Sarah Valter is currently the district Literacy Coach in the Lindbergh School District in St. Louis.  She has been teaching for 15 years and has worked with all grade levels, K-5, as both a classroom teacher and Mentor through the MU Teaching Fellowship Program. Sarah received her EdD in Teacher Leadership and her Master’s Degree in Reading from Maryville University and is National Board Certified in Literacy. When she is not promoting literacy in schools,

Sarah loves spending time with her own children and reading. Sarah presents regularly at local and state conferences and is passionate about authentic reading and writing instruction.

Betty Porter Walls, a native St. Louisan, is a career educator with successful experience at all levels of education–elementary, secondary, undergraduate and graduate.  Now an associate professor in the College of Education at Harris-Stowe State University (HSSU), she believes that education is a civil right and that every student must have qualified and effective classroom teachers and school administrators to achieve at highest levels.  A noted consultant/presenter, she has presented at previous Early Learning and Write to Learn Conferences in Missouri, nationally for the International Literacy/Reading Association (ILA), National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and other organizations and consults with school districts nationally and in Missouri.  Dr. Walls has received numerous honors and awards, including “Outstanding University Educator” from the Governor of Missouri, “ Educator of the Year’ from HSSU and induction into its “Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame,” “Outstanding Literacy Instructor” by the Missouri State Council of the International Literacy/Reading Association, “High Flyer Award” from the University of Missouri – Columbia, “People Making a World of Difference” from B’Nai B’rith, and “Salute to Excellence in Education” from the Louis American Newspaper.

Betty Walls 2016