Our 11th Annual Summer Leadership Institute

Join us for 3 interactive days with national experts in making schools and districts inclusive. Take away a multitude of practical ideas and inspiration to do this important and timely work.

When is it?

August 5-7, 2019 (additional time August 8–9 for graduate credit)

Where is it?

Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York.

Travel to Syracuse

  • Air – The local airport is Syracuse Hancock International Airport, 1000 Colonel Eileen Collins Boulevard. Most major airlines fly through Syracuse. For more information you can call the airport at 315-454-4330.
  • Train/Bus – The Syracuse Regional Transportation Center services AMTRAK train services, as well as Greyhound and Trailways bus services.
  • Taxi/Ride Share –  There are a number of taxi companies as well as UBER and Lyft available in Syracuse.

Reccomended Accommodations

Hotels within walking distance of the Syracuse University campus.


Registration Fees

  • $660 per person for individual registrations
  • $600 per person for teams of 3-9 people from the same district/organization
  • $475 per person for teams of 10-19 people from the same district/organization
  • $425 per person for teams of 20-29 people from the same district/organization
  • $375 per person for teams of 30+ people from the same district/organization
  • $100 for students taking the institute for graduate credit (see link for details)

Taking the institute for graduate credit →




Session Descriptions


Dr. Julie Causton & Dr. George Theoharis – A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats: Launching and Leading Inclusive Schools

Julie and George lead this engaging kick-off. You’ll leave inspired with ideas on how to help move your school and district in an increasingly inclusive direction.


Stephanie & Casey Traver – My Inclusive Journey

A 19 year old self-advocate, Stephanie will share the journey she has taken so far, to live her best, inclusive life. From her early years in elementary school through her new college program and a wide variety of extra-curricular activities, she will share the path she has taken and hopes to inspire others.


Dr. Julie Causton – Social Emotional and Trauma Informed Supports for Students with Challenging Behavior: Re-thinking Everything.

In this light-hearted session, we will take a serious look at social emotional and trauma informed learning – re-designing our schools, classrooms and thinking around those students who keeps us up at night. You will leave with many new ways to approach, support and love those amazing students!


Shelley Moore – The infrastructure of Inclusion: Creating blueprints of learning for all students

In this session we will look at what infrastructural supports can help classrooms and school teams to make inclusion shifts easier, by targeting design frameworks connected to supports, curriculum and design.


Walking the Talk Breakout Sessions…

…are led by school leaders who provide key steps/strategies they have used to create and maintain inclusive. This year we will feature them during breakout sessions. One is focused on high school, one on middle school and one on elementary school inclusion.


Briana Dickens – Life Lessons from my (Un)Special Education

In a series of funny but not-so-funny and very real stories, Brianna will use her knowledge of the school and special education system to critically reflect on her own experiences in school and the lessons to be learned.


Kani Krishnan, Kaushi Krishnan & Vindu Srinivasan – Arise and Be Free

Kani, Kashi and their mother Vindu will share their inclusive journey from K-12 into college including advocating for themselves, emotional freedom of moving into adulthood, and emotional support needed for the entire family.

Jonathan Mooney – Learning Outside the Lines-Empowering Students with Learning Differences

Learning disabilities (LD) and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) are profoundly paradoxical experiences. Often students with these academic and behavioral labels struggle profoundly in traditional settings. Yet emerging brain research suggests that many students labeled LD/ADHD have profound gifts for creative and visual thinking that go unrecognized in academic environments. As a result, many bright and gifted labeled students struggle with a devastating pattern of academic failure, learned helplessness, and low self-esteem. This presentation tackles this paradox head on. In this presentation, Jonathan clearly outlines the research that validates a reframing of LD/ADHD as not a set of deficits or disorders but in fact, as cognitive gifts. He speaks honestly, based on his personal and professional experience, about the systemic and cultural barriers to validating these unique learning styles. Most importantly, in this practical presentation, Jonathan empowers teachers and other education professionals with concrete strategies to build a positive self-understanding in labeled students.

Presenter Bios

Meg Benedetto

Meg Benedetto has been the Assistant Principal of Primrose Elementary in the Somers Central School District since July 2016.  During her time at SCSD, she led the anti-bias work at the elementary level and was instrumental in her school’s recognition as a Gold Star No Place for Hate School, through the Anti-Defamation League.  She joined the Somers team after serving as the Assistant Principal of Dows Lane Elementary in Irvington, NY for three years.  Her teaching career started at Austin Road Elementary in Mahopac, NY where she taught third and fourth grades for seventeen years, including more than five years as an integrated co-teaching partner.  Meg attended Marist College as an undergraduate where she earned Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in addition to elementary and special education certifications.  She went on to earn a Master’s in Special Education from Western Connecticut State University. Later, she earned her Master of Education and her School District and Building Level certification through the Future School Leaders Academy at Bank Street College.

Dr. Neil Broxterman

Dr. Neil Broxterman has served the North Penn School District community for all 17 years of his educational career.  Prior to his current role as Special Education Supervisor for North Penn High School, a high school serving roughly 3,200 students,, Neil taught social studies at the middle school level, served as an assistant principal at the high school, and was the principal of A.M. Kulp Elementary School.   Neil received his bachelor’s degree from Lock Haven University in Secondary Education with concentrations in Spanish and Social Studies.  He later obtained his master’s degree from Wilkes University and his principal certification from Gwynedd Mercy University.  Most recently, Neil completed his doctoral degree in Educational Leadership at Immaculata University along with his letter of eligibility for superintendency. Throughout his career, Neil has enjoyed advocating and working with students with disabilities.  His passion for special education extends beyond his professional career as a parent of two children who are on the Autism spectrum.  It helps inform his decision-making and efforts to partner with parents in the education of their children.  He enjoys partnering with parents, staff, and most importantly, students in helping them learn and grow.

Dr. Joyce Carr

Dr. Joyce Carr began her career in education as a special education teacher 29 years ago. She spent 10 years teaching at the middle and high school level before moving into administration. Dr. Carr has been an assistant principal at the middle school level, an assistant supervisor for special education and CSE chairperson grades K-12. Ms. Carr is currently the Supervisor of Special Education in a district of 5,000 students. She received her B.S. in Special Education, M.S. in Health Education, district administrative degree and Doctorate in Special Education. Ms. Carr initiated inclusive reform in her district 4 years ago and has worked with staff, administration, community agencies and parents to make this paradigm shift in the service delivery for students with disabilities.

Ms. Suzanne Comstock

Ms. Suzanne Comstock has been an educator for 27 years. She began her educational career as a remedial reading teacher at both the high school and elementary level.  She spent 10 years as a general education classroom teacher at the elementary level before moving into the roles of instructional support and administrator.  Currently, Mrs. Comstock is in the role of Assistant Supervisor of Special Education and a district CSE chairperson.  She received her B.S. in Education from Mansfield University, M.S. in Literacy from Elmira College and Administrative degree from University of Scranton.  Mrs. Comstock has been an pivotal person regarding the implementation of inclusive educational opportunities for students with disabilities in the Elmira City School District.  Ms. Comstock also provides professional learning opportunities for staff in the district regarding best inclusive practices and strategies.

Julie Causton, Ph.D.

Julie Causton, Ph.D. is the founder and CEO of Inclusive Schooling, author of six books and over forty articles on inclusive schooling. She works with administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals and families across the country to help them promote and improve inclusive practices. Her dynamic presentations focus on engaging ways to educate all students within the context of general education. Julie has spent the past 20 years studying best practices for inclusive education.  She was a Professor teaching future educators in the Inclusive and Special Education Program at Syracuse University and before that taught elementary, middle and high school special education.  She knows firsthand how inclusion leads to better outcomes for all students. She lives in Manlius, NY with her two awesome children.

Ruth Desiderio

Ruth Desiderio, Supervisor of Special Education, has worked in North Penn School District since 1998.  She began in the district with a combined position as both a Learning Support teacher and an Instructional Support teacher at the elementary level.  She became a Supervisor of Special Education in 2010.  Ruth earned her bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Gettysburg College.  She then earned her master’s degree and certification in Elementary and Special Education from LaSalle University, and continued on to obtain her Supervisor of Special Education certificate from Penn State University.  Ruth has also taught several courses as an adjunct professor at LaSalle University, and has supervised graduate students as they pursued certification through LaSalle’s summer inclusion practicum.  In her current role, Ruth shares supervisory responsibility in programming for students with IEPs at North Penn High School, including the District’s “Post-12” program.  Ruth also oversees the district’s team of Behavior Specialists, who work closely with school teams to facilitate the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classes, provide district-wide trainings to build the capacity of staff to understand and respond to behaviors, and conduct crisis intervention and response trainings.

Brianna Dickens

is an autistic self-advocate and currently a PhD student in special education and disability studies at Syracuse University. Brianna has a masters degree in special education and bachelors degree and teaching certification in elementary education. She is currently a research assistant at the Institute on Communication and Inclusion which researches and supports typing to communicate. As someone with her own neurodivergent and alternative communication journey, her research and work focuses on exposing the possibilities when different ways of being are centered in schools, in the community, and in research.

Jackie Giammarco

Jackie Giammarco has served the North Penn School District for nearly 14 years in varied capacities.   Jackie studied Special Education, Elementary Education and American Studies at LaSalle University, and earned her Master of Science in Reading from Gwynedd Mercy University. She also acquired certifications as Reading Specialist and Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction.  Jackie served as a special education teacher and reading specialist for ten years at North Penn High School.   During that time, Jackie obtained her credentials in multiple reading systems including Wilson Reading, Just Words, and Lindamood Bell: Visualizing and Verbalizing.   In 2015, Jackie became the district’s first inclusion facilitator, supporting inclusive practices across our elementary and secondary buildings.  In this role, she provided job-embedded coaching and professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators to meet the needs of all students.  Jackie supported the expansion and implementation of the inclusion facilitator role across the district.  She also co-led the revamping of her district’s new teacher induction program to provide multi-layers of professional development and support for new teachers, ensuring a strong foundation for new teachers in inclusive practices. At the beginning of this school year, Jackie transitioned to the role of learning coach and has  supported district priorities including, cultural proficiency, mental health and Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports.   In November 2018, Jackie published an article for ASCD Express in an issue dedicated to “STEM for Social Justice.” Most recently, she transitioned to the role of Curriculum Supervisor for Professional Learning and is excited to continue to support the professional learning of teachers, administrators, and staff.

Kanishk Krishnan

I am a freshman  at Onondaga Community College. I am really excited about participating at this leadership conference as it means a lot to me to share my experiences with the educators. My ability to communicate has changed my life from nothingness to one of completeness. I am quite happy with my life and I am able to express my intelligence to the fullest possible extent. The best part is getting regular education which has been an unexpressed dream of mine for so many years. Philosophy is my passion and Physics interests me greatly. I love writing poems too. My transition from high school to college has been quite arduous as fear of losing the familiar and losing the support of family as I transition into adulthood had made me quite bogged down and overwhelmed to the point of disrupting my quality of life and my family’s too. I am slowly coming out of this fear and want to share this part of my journey to help the educators and parents understand, anticipate,  and come up with creative solutions.

Kaushik Krishnan

I am a freshman at Onondaga Community College. I hope to graduate and start a small gluten free bakery someday. Making clay art and cooking are my hobbies. I am participating in this leadership conference to share how my ability to communicate has changed my life. My whole life has changed as if I am reborn and no words can describe how wonderful it has been. It has turned my life around 180° from an automated robotic existence under the influence of OCDs getting worse every day, to being able to express my true thoughts and be an equal partner in communication. I am able to advocate for my needs and wants and able to educate my peers and professors that autism may have affected my ability to express like others however, it can’t take away my expression and who I am. There are so many like me who haven’t found their voice yet and I would like to extend a plea to all of you to help those who need a voice to find it by whatever means necessary. Let us all unite together and pave a path for the success of students of all abilities.

Vidyul Krishnan

I am a mother of three children, of whom two are on the spectrum, twins. Yes, MOTHER is the only identity I feel like I have, as all other roles dissolved into this one mega role. It has been a long, arduous journey to get to where we are now, however there has been plenty of exhilarating moments and experiences too. It has been my greatest honor to be able to help my children to get where they are now and move further beyond. Being a part of this Leadership Conference is a great opportunity for me to share our journey from my perspective and may be we can find ways to make this journey less arduous for others. Life is all about balance. When we lose it, no matter what we achieve, it may not be worth it. I found out that every member of a special needs family needs mental, emotional and moral support. It can be through our friends network, extended family support, or societal support. We shall never feel guilty for taking the time to rejuvenate. It is the key for continued support for our children.

Jonathan Mooney

is a writer and learning activist who did not learn to read until he was 12 years old. He is a graduate of Brown University’s class of 2000 and holds an honors degree in English Literature.   Jonathan has spent his entire professional career as a social entrepreneur developing organizations, programs, and initiatives to improve the lives of marginalized groups. In 1997, as an undergraduate at Brown University, Jonathan co-founded Project Eye-To-Eye, a non-profit advocacy organization for students with learning differences.  As the founding president and Executive Director, Jonathan grew the organization from an undergraduate project conceived in his dorm room into a national organization, which currently has 38 chapters in 20 states working with over 10,000 parents, educators, and students.

With the publication of Learning Outside The Lines (now in its 18th printing) when he was 23, Jonathan has established himself as one of the foremost leaders in the neurodiversity and learning revolution. His second book, The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal was published in the spring of 2007 to outstanding reviews in The New York Times Book Review, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and many other national publications. Jonathan’s work has been widely recognized for its innovation and social impact. In 1999, Jonathan was selected as a Harry S. Truman Scholar for Public Service. In 2000, Jonathan was selected as a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship. In 2002, the LD Access Foundation recognized his work for students with disabilities with the Golden Advocacy award.

Jonathan is a highly sought after speaker on neurodiversity, education reform, the learning revolution, and creating college and career pathways for at risk youth. He has lectured in 43 states and three countries. He has been featured and quoted in/on The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, USA Today, HBO, NPR, ABC News, New York Magazine, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe.

Michael McSheehan

is a project director with the Institute on Disability/UCED. Michael currently serves as the Coordinator of Technical Assistance for the School-wide Integrated Framework for Transformation (SWIFT) Center, established in 2012, which is a a national K-8 technical assistance center that builds school capacity to provide academic and behavioral support to improve outcomes for all students through equity-based inclusion. Michael was a developer, researcher, and author of The Beyond Access Model, which has been used successfully by schools across the United States to promote membership in general education classrooms, participation in general education instruction, and learning of general education curriculum by students with significant disabilities. Michael consults with various state education agencies and is nationally recognized for his presentations at conferences and exceptional skills in working with teams to solve challenging problems within school-wide improvement and reform efforts

Dr. Jenna Mancini Rufo

Dr. Jenna Mancini Rufo is the Assistant Superintendent for North Penn School District, a school system serving roughly 13,000 students in suburban Philadelphia.  Dr. Rufo began in the district in 2008 as a special education supervisor, then transitioned to Director of Special Education and Student Services in 2014 before assuming her current position.  In her role as Special Education Director, Dr. Rufo led the transformation of special education services in North Penn from one consisting mostly of self-contained programs to an inclusive service delivery model.  Dr. Rufo began her career as a special education teacher and inclusion facilitator, and later served as a planning and policy specialist for the Massachusetts Department of Education.  She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary and Special Education from Cabrini College,  a Masters in Educational Administration, Planning and Social Policy from Harvard University, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Immaculata University.


Beyond Dr. Rufo’s work for North Penn School District, she has spoken at both national and regional events on issues of educational equity and inclusion.  Dr. Rufo was a featured presenter at The Atlantic’s Education Summit, the National Principals Conference,  the Pennsylvania Education for All Coalition, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Literacy Conference.  She was also a previous presenter at the Syracuse SLI.  Dr. Rufo was inspired to enter the field of education by one of her siblings who has severe and multiple disabilities. She views education as her calling and is passionate about ensuring quality programs for ALL students.

Ms. Heather Sackett

Ms. Heather Sackett is currently a co-teacher in the English Department at Broadway Academy, for the Elmira City School District.  During her 26 years of teaching experiences, Heather has worked to collaborate learning that engages students, staff, families and community.  Her experiences range from Early Intervention, self-contained classrooms, to consultant teaching at the elementary level.  She graduated with her special education degree from Lock Haven University.  She completed her Master’s in reading from Mansfield University.  At Broadway Academy, Heather has taken an active role in transforming the school community into an Inclusive school.  She is the advisor of “I am Norm” club, assisting colleagues with modifications to curriculum, directing para-professionals in the classroom to help promote student independence, and helping to guide professional learning community planning time with special education colleagues.  Working within an Inclusive school community at Elmira City School District has been very rewarding for her and has fulfilled her professional desire.

Ms. Megan Schoppe

Megan Schoppe is currently the Special Education Department Chair at North Penn High School, a school with approximately 3,100 students in grades 10 through 12.  She has been with North Penn since starting her career in special education 23 years ago. In addition to her department chair duties, Megan also teaches a course titled Graduation Mentorship.  This course is designed for students where graduation may be in jeopardy and works to increase opportunities for at risk students within the special education program.  As a member of North Penn’s School Improvement Team, Megan was an integral part of creating a culture which holds high expectations for students with disabilities.  In her leadership role, she works closely with staff to support students in reaching those expectations.  Megan holds a Special Education degree from Bloomsburg University and a Master’s degree in Education from Gratz College. Megan is certified as a special education teacher and reading specialist. Throughout her career, Megan has held the belief that all students are entitled to the same opportunities in school, careers and in life. This passion has driven her work as a leader in Special Education.

George Theoharis, Ph.D.

George Theoharis, Ph.D., is a Professor in Educational Leadership and Inclusive Elementary Education at Syracuse University. He has extensive field experience in public education as a principal and teacher. He previously served as Department Chair of Teaching and Leadership and Associate Dean for Urban Education Partnerships at Syracuse University. In the Urban Education capacity, he acted as the university liaison to the Say Yes to Education collaboration and directed the urban education initiatives. He also previously served as the Director of Field Relations and was responsible for engaging the School of Education at Syracuse with schools and districts in New York State. George teaches classes in educational leadership and elementary/early childhood teacher education. He coordinates the Inclusive Early Childhood and Special Education undergraduate program. His interests, research, and work with K-12 schools focuses on issues of equity, justice, diversity, inclusion, leadership, and school reform. George has 6 books and many many articles. George’s work bridges the worlds of K-12 schools and higher education.  As such, he writes for public audiences in outlets such as:  The School Administrator, Educational Leadership (online), The Principal, The Washington Post, and The Root, The Syracuse Post-Standard, as well as writing for academic journals such as Teachers College Record, Educational Administration Quarterly, Urban Education, Journal of Special Education Leadership, etc. He co-runs a summer institute for school leaders focusing on issues of disability, equity and inclusion. He consults with leaders, schools, and districts around issues of leadership, equity, diversity and inclusive reform around the United States and Canada. His Ph.D. is in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. George grew up in Wisconsin in an activist family committed to making a more just world. Currently, he lives in Fayetteville, NY with his 2 awesome children and his parents.

Interested in next year’s Summer Leadership Institute?

Questions?? Contact sli@inclusiveschooling.com