Stacey DeWitt is the co-founder of CWK Network and Cordeus Media. For over two decades, she has used the power of storytelling to help improve the social and emotional issues that change the lives of children and families. CWK began by producing and syndicating documentaries and corresponding educational resources on social issues distributed through a network of local ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox television station affiliates reaching over 55 million households.
DeWitt produces award-winning documentaries that elevate the voices of courageous students, teachers, and families who are creating positive social change particularly in marginalized populations. She also oversees the development and distribution of evidence-based, digital educational resources to improve equity, social and emotional learning, and student mental health in the nation’s premiere school systems.
HOST – STACEY DEWITT
DeWitt’s purposeful drive to combine media and education for good is evident throughout her personal and professional life. She is an attorney and award winning journalist. During her legal career, DeWitt served as a deputy prosecutor working with disadvantaged children through the juvenile courts and family service agencies, where she developed a passion for helping educate families and communities about life changing issues. Prior to her legal career, DeWitt was a television anchor, producer and reporter for ABC, NBC, and PBS affiliates. As a broadcast journalist, she developed a deep understanding of the emotional power of storytelling through video and its impact on behavioral change.
DeWitt has produced more than 65 documentaries. She received the distinguished Outstanding Achievement Award by Women in Film/Atlanta and has won more than 40 awards for her work as a producer and executive producer, including Emmy® Awards, Parents’ Choice Awards, AiMe, Telly, Prism and Associated Press Awards.
Take our podcast with you everywhere! All new and previous episodes of Defining Us: America’s Classroom of the Heart and Mind are available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, and Podbean.
Episode 21: The Dignity Index and UNITE
Tami Pyfer is the Vice President of External Affairs for UNITE – a nonprofit organization that promotes national unity and solidarity across differences. Tami also serves as Chief of Staff to UNITE President and CEO, Tim Shriver, and is the Utah Project Lead for the Dignity Index initiative.
Before joining UNITE, Tami served as Education Policy Advisor to former Utah Governor Gary Herbert, where she was involved in state-level education policy development, coalition building, and stakeholder engagement. She held local and state elected office for 12 years, including 4 years on the Utah State Board of Education. Tami’s professional training is in Special Education and before her appointment to serve on the Governor’s executive team she worked at Utah State University, teaching coursework and supervising student teachers in the Special Education teacher preparation program. Tami and her husband Aaron are the parents of 5 children, and grandparents of 10.
Episode 20: Making Great Schools
For forty years, I was fortunate to lead the assessment, evaluation, and accountability departments of nine public school districts, including six of the largest in the nation – Washington, DC, Baltimore, St. Louis, Austin, Atlanta, and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA). In almost every instance, my position was relatively independent of the internal and external “politics.” As a result, I am not biased toward or against any particular theory, philosophy, or program. My only bias is to results.
Over the years, I have had a wide range of responsibilities including state and local test development, standards alignment, school improvement, information technology, and instructional technology. From 2014-2021, I supervised the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) Information Technology, Instructional Technology, Assessment, Research, Evaluation, and Data and Information divisions. Over that period, our teams were credited with restoring the integrity and public trust in the district’s assessment, accountability, and data and information systems after the cheating scandal of 2008. During the COVID pandemic, these outstanding teams were also responsible for enabling and supporting the high quality, virtual programs provided each day to over 50,000 students who were forced to receive their daily instruction at home.
Episode 19: YMCA’s Bold Vision for the Future
Suzanne McCormick is the 15th person and first woman to lead YMCA of the USA (Y-USA), the national resource office for the Y — a leading nonprofit committed to strengthening community through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Collectively, the nation’s YMCAs engage 11 million members — 4 million of whom are under the age of 18 — annually.
Suzanne became President and CEO of Y-USA in September 2021. She has 27 years of experience as a local and national executive leader in the nonprofit sector, most recently as U.S. President for United Way Worldwide and a member of its global management team. As President, Suzanne was responsible for helping the 1,100 United Ways across the U.S. build more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable communities. Under her leadership, the United Way tackled community challenges with innovative, equitable and systemic solutions. She also served as the executive sponsor of United Way’s Women United Global Leadership Council.
Episode 18: PRACTICAL NEUROPSYCHOLOGY
Doctor Nussbaum is board-certified in Clinical Psychology and Geropsychology with a specialization in Neuropsychology. He is a member of the National Health Register for Psychologists and a Fellow of the National Academy of Neuropsychology and American Academy of Clinical Psychology. He earned Phi-Beta Kappa and his Doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Arizona in 1991.
He is the Founder and President of Brain Health Center, Inc. that provides independent medical examinations, record reviews, and case management for those suffering neurological and neurobehavioral disorders. The Center also serves as the epicenter for Dr. Nussbaum’s Brain Health Lifestyle®, consultation business, and his Keynote presentations internationally.
See more here.
Episode 17: Letting Educators Take the Lead
Scott Lee has held a wide variety of roles including teaching, school leadership, residential treatment program administration, curriculum design and school-level consulting. He currently directs curriculum design at the CWK Network and is the producer/host of The Thoughtful Teacher Podcast. His classroom teaching experience includes urban and rural public schools, a residential alternative school and a non-public school for students with language-based learning disabilities. His leadership roles include being a high school principal and a residential alternative school director. His dissertation focused on social emotional learning and teacher practices for students with emotional and behavioral disorders within school-wide positive behavioral support (SWPBS) systems. He has authored/co-authored articles published in peer-reviewed journals including Reclaiming Children and Youth and Children and Schools. He provides consulting services with schools to improve social emotional learning techniques, support academics, curriculum design, effective data use, and develop professional educator practice. When not working, he and his wife, Sara, spend time sailing, camping, hiking, and traveling.
Episode 16: The Power of Inclusion
Dr. Patrick Jean-Pierre is the Principal of Paige Elementary in the Schenectady City School District. Dr. Jean-Pierre has years of combined experience in urban educational settings, which includes public schools, charter schools and universities. His range of professional experiences in the field of education includes teaching, counseling and leadership development, as well as organizational consulting that fosters systemic change. Patrick served as the former Assistant District Director of Diversity, Recruitment and Retention at the Schenectady City School District and additionally has held positions as Deputy Assistant Director, Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the University at Albany and Director of New York State Technical Assistance Center on Disproportionality at Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at New York University. Patrick taught at the Andries Hudde in Brooklyn, NY and while at Rutgers University, he served as a Senior Consultant to the NJ Department of Education and developed programs for students from vulnerable populations for the Rutgers Somerset project. This week, Patrick talks to host, Stacey DeWitt, about how we can foster systemic change on a new level. With a plethora of experience and the knowledge to inspire change, Patrick breaks down the importance of looking at everything you do with diversity, equity, and inclusion in mind.
Episode 15: Leading with Equity
Alison Yoshimoto-Towery is Chief Academic Officer of Los Angeles Unified, leading instructional strategies for almost 500,000 students in one of the nation’s largest and most diverse school districts. She oversees preschool to adult education, including specialized programs for English learners, Standard English learners, Gifted learners, Academic counseling, guiding post-secondary success, advanced placement programs, linked learning and career technical education are a few of the programs within the Division of Instruction. Most important to Alison is leading from an equity lens and rethinking how “business as usual” is done to meet the needs of those students and communities traditionally underserved by public education.Alison has served Los Angeles Unified for more than 25 years as a teacher, principal, director, and top administrator. She is a fierce advocate of high expectations for all students and believes it is up to educators to find a way to reach every child.The great-granddaughter of Japanese American migrant farmworkers, Alison learned the values of hard work and perseverance during her childhood in Boyle Heights and Monterey Park. Through her family’s experience, she understands the importance of ensuring all students feel proud of their heritage and is dedicated to providing them with opportunities that celebrate biculturalism and bilingualism.
Episode 14: Defining Our Responsibilities to Students with Needs
Since October 2020, Troy has served as a Director of Special Education for Frederick County Public Schools in Frederick, Maryland. Troy has worked with individuals with disabilities for over 15 years and began teaching special education at the age of nineteen in Austin, Texas. To continue his advocacy for individuals with disabilities, specifically individuals with autism and behavior disorders, Troy earned his Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) through Texas State University. In addition to teaching in the public school system, Troy has supported Special Education initiatives in multiple school districts (both urban and suburban in TX, GA, and now MD) as a Behavior Analyst, Autism Supervisor, and Assistant Director of Special Education. These positions have allowed Troy to partner with district and school leaders to create systemic initiatives to deploy evidence-based practices in the areas of behavior, mental health, and academics. This has resulted in narrowing achievement gaps, increasing graduation rates, and addressing the disproportionate representation of marginalized groups in special education. Troy can be reached at TroyDKeller@gmail.com
Episode 13: Laboratory of Life
Joshua has worked and volunteered in the nonprofit industry for more than 25 years. He led the implementation of the 211 service throughout Utah, has served as Director of Services for the Utah Food Bank, as Vice President of United Way of Northern Utah, CEO of United Way of Frederick County, Maryland and as President & CEO of 211 Maryland. Today Joshua works as the Director of 211 at United Way Worldwide.Joshua has served on multiple boards including the Frederick County Healthcare Coalition, Catholic Community Services, West Valley City’s Cultural Arts Foundation, Murray City Arts Council, the Utah State Commission on Volunteers, Salt Lake Community College Thayne Center for Service & Learning, and as board president for both the Utah Nonprofits Association and Maryland Nonprofits Association.Today he is a Commissioner on the Maryland Governor’s Commission on Service & Volunteerism and is a Trustee for the Ausherman Family Foundation. Joshua has a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Weber State University.
Episode 12: Talking About Race
Marybeth Gasman is the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Endowed Chair in Education, a Distinguished Professor, and the Associate Dean for Research in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University. She also serves as the Executive Director of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Leadership, Equity & Justice and as the Executive Director of the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions. Marybeth’s areas of expertise include the history of American higher education, Minority Serving Institutions (with an emphasis on Historically Black Colleges and Universities), racism and diversity, fundraising and philanthropy, and higher education leadership. She is the author or editor of 30 books, including Educating a Diverse Nation(Harvard University Press, 2015 with Clif Conrad),Envisioning Black Colleges(Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007),Making Black Scientists(Harvard University Press, 2019 with Thai-HuyNguyen), and her forthcoming book Doing the Right Thing: How to End Systemic Racism in Faculty Hiring (Princeton University, 2022). Marybeth has written over 250 peer-reviewed articles, scholarly essays, and book chapters, has penned over 450 opinion articles for the nation’s newspapers and magazines and is ranked by Education Week as one of the most influential education scholars in the nation. Join Stacey DeWitt as she explores with Marybeth their respective roles in the work of disrupting inequities, challenges faced, and why conscious conversations on race are critical to building a better future for everyone.
Episode 11: Art, Media, and Transformative Education
Tammy Garnes is the Vice President of Education & Understanding at ARRAY, overseeing education and social impact projects including ARRAY Crew. Garnes’ previous experience includes being a communications executive in the public education sector and a film producer in the entertainment industry. A graduate of the Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern California, Garnes is a former producer whose credits include: Roots – Celebrating 25 Years, Dancing in September, and Biker Boyz. Join Tammy and Stacey Dewitt as they discuss media, education, and outreach. She and Stacey go deep into several projects from ARRAY as well as discuss our upcoming flagship documentary Children at the Crossroads of Change and how these resources can be used to develop change in your community.
Episode 10: Cultivating Courageous Conversations
For several years, Paul Forbes was at the forefront of providing support for students, especially students of color, in our nation’s largest school system, New York City Public Schools. He is the former Executive Director for the NYC Department of Education Office of Equity and Access and today continues his service to students and educators as the founder of Leading with Hearts and Minds, an entity dedicated to the necessary inner “work behind the work”. As a native New Yorker who still lives in Brooklyn, Paul has dedicated his professional life to serving students and families from historically underrepresented neighborhood communities. With nearly three decades of experience as an educator, he understands how schools are a key place where a lasting and positive difference can be made in a young person’s life. Listen in as Paul has a follow-up conversation with Stacey DeWitt on the initial concept of Defining US and the evolution of their work together as they engaged in Critically Conscious Conversations. A model for us all!
Episode 9: Being a Flowing River
Born and raised by his mother and grandmother in the Florence-Graham neighborhood of Los Angeles, Darion Allen is a young Black man with a strong sense of self and unwavering respect for all cultures. From a young age he developed a “by any means necessary” mentality that helped him overcome the perils of his environment that continues to motivate him as a filmmaker.Currently Darion is in his fourth year of undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he is pursuing a B.S. in Personal Finance, B.S. in Communication Arts, Certificate in Digital Studies, and Certificate in Digital Cinema Production. In addition to his academics, he serves as the Talk Director and host of a radio talk show with WSUM 91.7 FM Madison Student Radio.With a goal to become a prominent figure in contemporary Hollywood cinema, he is dedicated to writing and directing films that encapsulate the essence of the Black experience and contribute to the ongoing efforts to develop a holistic image of Blackness in film. In addition, he plans on serving Black and Brown communities by designing film curriculum to instill the fundamentals of filmmaking in the next generation of visionaries. By focusing on creating authentic depictions of Black culture, he hopes to bring people closer to understanding what it truly means to be Black in this world.
Episode 8: United In Our Experiences
Molly Henricks is the Coordinator of School Safety and Risk Prevention at the San Mateo County Office of Education. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist with over 17 years of experience working with youth, has been a Case Manager for youth with issues surrounding substance use and the foster care system, and was a high school crisis counselor. Molly has managed countywide homeless youth programs, crisis services and an early psychosis program. In her current role, she provides professional development and support to educators on topics of trauma, mental health, crisis response, student violence and school safety. Join Stacey DeWitt as she and Molly take a deep dive into the trauma and stress that is prevalent in so many of our students today. With years of experience and a personal obligation to get the work done, Molly knows that we must address issues holistically, including supports for the whole family, if we want to achieve lasting positive change.
Episode 7: Bringing Voice to the Frontline
Defining Us is centered around change for the good and we welcome the voices of Cindy Simpson and Chris Purdy, both of whom work diligently for positive change. Cindy has more than 35-years of experience working in social welfare, youth homelessness, and mental health systems. She is a published author with articles on subjects such as adolescent substance abuse and behavior management and has helped develop guidelines that enable LBGTQ youth to feel valued and accepted. Currently, Cindy serves as the Deputy Director for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services.Chris, who has worked as a teacher and district-level student support professional, is the Director of Veterans for American Ideals and Outreach at Human Rights First. He is a member of the Truman National Security Project and serves on the Welcome Council for Welcome.US.Through their varied experiences, Chris and Cindy can provide a unique perspective into issues that affect youth and families today, including immigration, the needs for our refugee population, and the escalated mental health challenges that affect so many in our world today.
Episode 6: The Critical Nature of Us
Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz is an award-winning associate professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. Developing her passion for education at an early age in the South Bronx, Dr. Sealey-Ruiz’s current research focuses on racial literacy in teacher education, Black girl literacies, and Black and Latinx male high school students. Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz is now one of the most sought after voices in professional development focused on race and culturally responsive education. We invite you to join the conversation as she and Stacey DeWitt hold little back when discussing the current debates that are playing out in our schools and communities. Can we learn from past mistakes on behalf of current and future generations of students? As Dr. Sealey-Ruiz says, “It goes beyond our own children, it’s the children that come after us.”To learn more about the body of work by Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, we invite you to visit her DU page here .
Episode 5: The Narratives of Us
For several years, Paul Forbes was at the forefront of providing support for students, especially students of color, in our nation’s largest school system, New York City Public Schools. He is the former Executive Director for the NYC Department of Education Office of Equity and Access and today continues his service to students and educators as the founder of Leading with Hearts and Minds, an entity dedicated to the necessary inner “work behind the work”. As a native New Yorker who still lives in Brooklyn, Paul has dedicated his professional life to serving students and families from historically underrepresented neighborhood communities. With nearly three decades of experience as an educator, he understands how schools are a key place where a lasting and positive difference can be made in a young person’s life. Listen in as Paul discusses his journey and how he sees the state of education today. We invite you to listen and learn more about The Narratives of Us. You won’t want to miss it!
Episode 4: Breaking the Mold
Listen in as Dr. Tim Gadson, Superintendent of Salt Lake City Schools, shares his thoughts on the school system issues that prevent students from realizing their fullest potential. Dr. Gadson, first Black Superintendent in the state of Utah, brings a wisdom and drive that help him avoid the many distractions currently facing American public-school educators. With a decades-spanning career in education, Tim has served at both the school and district levels and was most recently the Associate Superintendent of High Schools with Anoka-Hennepin Schools in Anoka, Minnesota. Holding nothing back, Dr. Gadson breaks down “how he sees it” and highlights the work that needs to happen on behalf of every child.
Episode 3: Creating a Better World for Everyone
We are thrilled to be joined by Terra Tadlock-Smith, creator and host of the podcast Normal with Autism. Terra works with children, adolescents and adults presenting with a range of emotional and behavioral problems. Terra’s areas of counseling and treatment include but are not limited to anxiety, depression, relational issues, communication, and ADHD. Terra is also a special needs mom and understands the unique challenges faced by special needs families. Terra gives a very personal, in-depth look into children with autism and how we, as a society, can be the driving force behind the necessary change our world must undergo to ensure everyone is accepted and understood. WIth over 15 years of professional experience and a lifetime of personal experience, Terra knows what needs to be done and how we can create a better world for everyone.
Episode 2: A Crisis of US
Tim Shriver is a social leader, educator, activist, film producer, and business entrepreneur. He earned his undergraduate degree from Yale University, a master’s degree from Catholic University, and a doctorate in education from the University of Connecticut. As chairman of the Special Olympics, he serves more than four million athletes in over 180 countries and is focused on inclusion and acceptance around the world. He also co-founded and currently chairs the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the leading research organization in the United States in the field of social and emotional learning.
Episode 1: Pain, Power and Joy of Young Men of Color
Students of color are now the majority of our nation’s youth. George Patterson provides an up close and personal look into what it means to be a young person of color in America today. He describes the pain these young people often feel, the trauma they experience, and school programs that are helping them transform the pain into power and leadership. As Senior Director of New York City Department of Education’s My Brother’s Keeper, Patterson brings a deep understanding of our nation’s largest school system coupled with a compassionate connection to the students he supports in order to teach us all how we can advance equity for the next generation and help these students as they prepare to lead us into the future. Learn more at nycmbk.com
“For the future of our great country we can all live without anger, without evil, without being spirit killers.”
– George Patterson, Senior Director My Brother’s Keeper