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Research Team

The following school leaders participated in the inquiry trip to Helsinki, Finland March 23-30, 2013.

In Network Participants

Jennifer Botzojoms, Vermont

Jennifer serves as the Assistant Superintendent for Chittenden East Supervisory Union in northern Vermont.  Current work emphasizes building internal school structures and expertise to improve curriculum and instruction through the use of data teams, subject groups and content specialists. She facilitates creating a vision for and the writing, teaching and assessing of common curricula and technology standards.  She also supervises district professional development including lesson studies and literacy and numeracy teacher-leader residencies.

During a recently completed seven year tenure as a secondary school principal, Ms. Botzojorns improved student learning and school culture with results at or near the top on state metrics.  Initiatives included curriculum teams, shared leadership, data based changes, student led transition and orientation programs, all school advisory groups, a one-to-one initiative, all school service days, evening adult education classes, and capital improvements.  She believes that an inclusive, vibrant, empowering school culture promotes success for all students.  Ms. Botzojorns began her professional career in independent boarding schools first as a Latin and English teacher then as as a counselor, dorm parent, admissions/development director, and school dean.  During her eight years in private schools she instituted programs, doubled enrollment, and initiated fundraising campaigns.  She then moved to public secondary schools and taught mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry) for seven years.

Before attending the University of Pennsylvania for her doctoral studies, Ms. Botzojorns received her bachelor’s degree in government from Dartmouth College, Masters degree in educational leadership from the University of Vermont. Contact Jennifer on Twitter at @jencesuvt or by email at jennifer.botzojorns@cesuvt.org.

Susan L. Feibelman, North Carolina

Susan was born in Little Rock, Arkansas and raised in Dallas, at 17 and set off to explore the Pacific Northwest, entering Lewis and Clark College, where she earned a degree in history.  Having early on decided to be a teacher and wanting to combine her interest in Native American history and culture with education, following college she served as a VISTA Volunteer on the Navajo Reservation, working with Headstart and offering adult education classes. After earning a Masters in Social Studies Education from Stanford University, she returned to her native Texas, where she began her career in the Dallas Independent School District as a high school social studies teacher. Over the next 17 years Susan worked for the school district in a variety of roles, which included Curriculum Specialist, Principal of the Talented and Gifted Magnet High School, and Director of Gifted Education.  From 1996-2011, Susan was the Head of the Upper School at Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, New York, where she guided the high school through a period of unprecedented growth and programmatic innovations.  While at Packer Susan was known for regularly leading trips around the globe to expand her students’ understanding of how and where learning occurs.  As a result of her travels she has developed an ongoing professional relationship with students and teachers in two townships schools on the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

Currently she is completing her doctoral studies at the University of Pennsylvania and is working on a dissertation that examines the gendered nature of leadership in independent schools. She joined the Greensboro Day School community as the Upper School Director in July 2012. Contact Susan on Twitter at @siouxfei or by email at feibelman.susan27@gmail.com

Michael Johanek, New York

Mike is a Senior Fellow at the Graduate School of Education (GSE), University of Pennsylvania, where he is also Director of the Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership; Co-Director of the Inter-American Educational Leadership Network; founding Director of the Penn Educational Leadership Simulations (PELS) Program; and affiliated faculty for the International Educational Development Program. He teaches as Profesor Invitado Internacional at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

Before coming to Penn in the spring of 2007, he served as Vice President of Professional Services for Teachscape, a for-profit blended technology services company, where he managed all service engagements nationally. He is the former Executive Director for K-12 Professional Development, The College Board, where he managed programs supporting over 500,000 middle and high school teachers, college faculty, coordinators, and administrators, including those involved in the Advanced Placement Program. He founded, developed, and managed a program development and operations department with responsibilities including new product development, in-person training, web services, electronic and print publications, regional office operational support, marketing and research. A former high school teacher in Cleveland, New York, and Lima, Peru, he taught in and managed the Fellows in Teaching Program and Urban Fellow Program at Teachers College, Columbia University prior to joining the College Board.

Dr. Johanek currently serves on the board of Research for Action, a non-profit organization engaged in education research and evaluation, on the Advisory Group for the Inter-American Teacher Education Network (AGITEN), Organization of American States, and on the Advisory Council of the Penn Center for Educational Leadership. Prior to serving as a reviewer for the U.S. Department of Education in the 2010 and 2012 Race to the Top competitions, he served on the department’s Working Group for Postsecondary Linkage Efforts to Improve College Readiness and on the independent Annenberg Commission on Public Schools for their Institutions of Democracy Project. He served as co-PI and advisor in several National Science Foundation-funded professional development research projects, on the National Education Advisory Board for the French & Indian War 250th Anniversary Commemoration, and on the Organization of American Historians-Advanced Placement Joint Advisory Board on Teaching the U.S. History Survey. He served on the Alumni Council at Teachers College, Columbia University, and on the Board of Trustees of The Concord Review. He has recently served as a peer reviewer for AERA, UCEA, Educational Researcher, Theory and Research in Education, Journal of School Leadership, the History of Education Society, and the Fondo de Investigaciones Educativas (PREAL). He has occasionally taught at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education and consulted for school districts. Contact Mike on Twitter at @MikeJohanek or by email at johanek@upenn.edu.

Verone Kennedy, New York

Verone’s formal career in education began in 1987 as a paraprofessional in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Two years later Verone began his tenure as an elementary school teacher in the neighboring Bedford Stuyvesant/Fort Greene communities. There he developed a sound understanding of curriculum and instruction as a practitioner embracing a deep seeded belief that effective (comprehensive and sustainable) teaching and learning must be firmly rooted in relational practices engaging a broad and committed community of stakeholders. After completing his graduate studies at Sarah Lawrence College (Art of Teaching Program 2000), Verone was nominated by his local Superintendent to serve as a U.F.T. Teacher Center Specialist. This position launched Verone’s transition from a facilitator of student learning to one supporting and developing teachers.

Verone assumed his first Principalship as the instructional leader of Middle School 584.  Success there catapulted him to the position of Network Leader, serving as one of 7 Chief Academic Officers in the D.O.E.’s Community Learning Support Organization. In his new leadership role, Verone led a team of educational specialists in providing academic and administrative support to twenty-two NYC Middle and High Schools. In light of his team’s effective/innovative work, Verone was promoted to Coordinator of Middle School Initiatives for the New York City Department of Education where he served under the Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning. After the completion of his D.O.E. central office tenure, Verone accepted an invitation from National Heritage Academies to establish and develop the Riverton Street Charter School which one in a network of 72 Charter Schools. The school has been recognized and acknowledged as one of the NYC Department of Education’s exceptional learning communities ranking in the 90th percentile of all elementary schools.

Verone considers himself a “learner” and believes that learning is an act best performed collaboratively yet is sparked by an insatiable appetite to improve his ability to understand, perform and ultimately serve. During his study Verone intends to deepen his understanding of the methodologies and practices existent in high performing communities of learning. Ultimately, he seeks to apply both his previous and most recent experiences to innovatively rethink schooling asserting a particular focus on culture, curriculum and communication. Contact Verone on Twitter at @VeroneKennedy or by email at 89.vkennedy@gmail.com.

Joe Mazza (Trip organizer), Pennsylvania

Joe currently serves as lead learner of Knapp Elementary School in a 13,000 student K-12 school district located in the northwest suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.   A tech-savvy and child-centered learner, Mazza has gained experience serving as a third grade teacher, a bilingual elementary administrator, middle school vice-principal and now principal at a highly diverse K-6 building.  In each school setting, he has worked to integrate technology to compliment school-based efforts in community building, language arts and student voice.

Mazza began his schooling at The Pennsylvania State University and earned degrees in Elementary Education & Spanish.  He then attended National Louis University in Chicago, Illinois to earn his Master’s in Educational Leadership and Supervision.  He’s spent time living in both Spain and Mexico as part of past study abroad opportunities to hone his speaking, listening and writing skills.

As a doctoral learner at the University of Pennsylvania, he’s in the final stages of a dissertation study on how school principals are using social media tools to communicate and build relationships between home and school. His case study analysis dissects three northeast schools and how school leaders are using today’s technology tools to compliment face to face, two-way communication in their family engagement efforts.

Joe is a connected educator, harnessing a global PLN on Twitter. He has spoken at various schools and conferences around the world including a recent session in Toronto, Canada entitled “The Social Media Principal.”  Each Wednesday night he facilitates the #PTchat (Parent-Teacher Chat) focused on providing educators and parents opportunities to work collaboratively and transparently on 21st century family engagement strategies. His blog, eFACE Today, aims to share innovative family engagement ideas for school leaders, teachers and parents. Contact Joe on Twitter at @Joe_Mazza or by email at pennedtech@gmail.com

Martha Richmond, New Jersey

Marti is a native Bostonian and a product of public school education.  Professionally, her career has been one of contrasts.  She has taught preschool through university.  As a school psychologist, she has worked in an inner city at risk clinic, and run a learning center at the Lawrenceville School, one of the most selective boarding high schools in the Unites States. Before Lawrenceville, Marti’s high school work included setting up a store front high school and drug program in Providence, RI.  She has worked as a therapist in the counseling center at SUNY, College at Purchase and taught in the psychology and women’s studies departments. She has also taught courses at Cornell University and Northeastern University. Following a move to New Jersey, she worked at the American Boy Choir School, an independent middle school, and at Princeton University as the director of experiential education and assistant director of the premedical program.  At the Lawrenceville School, she has taught, been an assistant housemaster, overseen the early warning system, a program to close the achievement gap, served as an instructional leader, worked with University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives’ to foster student action research projects and coordinated the educational support program. She earned the School’s Ritter Award for her work with students and has an endowed chair named in her honor.

Dr. Richmond earned a B.S and an M.Ed in Counseling at Boston University. She completed coursework for an Ed.D at Teachers College, Columbia University where she earned an M.A.. After earning certification as a school psychologist at Rider University, Dr. Richmond earned her Ed.D at University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education where her dissertation investigated gender, race and class based patterns in student feedback using a relational lens and earned distinction.

In addition to presenting workshops at the Island School in the Bahamas, People of Color Conference in Houston, TX, The Association of Independent Schools in Hawaii, The Schools of Medicine at Penn, Jefferson and Columbia University, Dr. Richmond has presented numerous workshops at the Lawrenceville School. She has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the United States Department of Education.

Marti has been actively involved in Lawrenceville’s global initiative as well as in the school’s multicultural and diversity work. She has travelled to 43 countries including a four month backpacking walkabout in East Africa and student led community service and course-related trips to Tanzania, India, China, and Korea.  Contact Martha at on Twitter at @mrichm11 or by email at mrichmond@lawrenceville.org.

Brandon Wiley, New York

Brandon is the Director of Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network (ISSN).  The ISSN is a national network of design-driven schools that are achieving success in attaining their core mission: to develop college-ready, globally competent high school graduates. The network currently includes over 30 elementary and secondary schools in urban, suburban and rural communities across the United States.

Prior to joining Asia Society, Brandon served as the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for the West Seneca Central School District, a suburb of Buffalo, New York.

He also served as the Director of Staff Development and Social Studies (K-12) for the District prior to his promotion to Assistant Superintendent.  During his tenure in West Seneca, he was involved in leading an initiative to align the district curriculum (K- 12) through a curriculum mapping process.  Ongoing work in the area of curriculum, assessment and quality instruction led to significant improvement in student achievement on state and local standardized testing.  Between 2004 and 2010, the district saw their school district rank in Western New York, as determined by the Business First publication, improve from # 29 to # 13 out of 98 districts.  Highlights of the work done in West Seneca were included as a case study in the book Using Curriculum Mapping & Assessment Data to Improve Learning (Kallick & Colosimo, 2009).

Brandon began his career in education as a classroom teacher and has taught at the elementary, middle, and collegiate level.  He is a sought out speaker at the local, state and national level on a variety of topics, including globalizing schools, school transformation and reform, curriculum mapping, and district/school strategic planning.  He is also a regular contributor to the Global Learning blog on Education Week’s website. In an attempt to stay connected to working with students, he serves on the Board of Trustees for People to People International (PTPI).  Brandon has led over a half dozen humanitarian programs for students in the United States and to countries such as Cuba, Russia, Egypt, Australia, Poland, Costa Rica and Morocco.

Before joining the University of Pennsylvania for doctoral studies, Brandon earned a B.S. (Elementary Education w/ middle school endorsement), M.S. (Curriculum and Instruction) and CAS (Educational Administration) all at the State University of New York at Fredonia.  Contact Brandon via Twitter @bwileyone or by email at brandonwiley1@gmail.com

Out of Network Participants

Paul Solarz, Illinois

Paul is a fifth-grade teacher at Westgate Elementary School in Arlington Heights, Illinois, completing his 14th year of teaching.  Paul graduated from Winona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education in 1998.  He completed his master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Illinois State University in 2003.  In 2010, Paul became National Board Certified and used that experience as a springboard for incorporating 21st Century skills into his instruction.

He believes strongly in a Project-Based Learning approach to teaching, while incorporating skills and subjects in engaging ways that create authentic learning experiences.  His social studies curriculum is taught through self-created simulations where students become members of a community that lived during the time period we are studying.  His science curriculum is hands-on and inquiry-based, which enables students to experience the learning rather than just reading about it.

Paul uses his classroom website as a main hub for his students and parents, and also for teachers and administrators around the world.  He and his students blog on a regular basis and post ideas, photos, and videos of the things happening in the classroom as well as a daily photo journalContact Paul on Twitter at @PaulSolarz or by email at psolarz@sd25.org.

Kavan K. Yee, Washington, D.C.

Kavan is a teacher leader at the Lowell School in Washington, D.C. He serves as a Science Curriculum Headshot2Coordinator and Advisory Program Chairperson.  Originally from Yorktown Heights, New York, Kavan graduated with degrees in both Biology and Education from North Park University in Chicago, Illinois.

Before entering public education, Kavan spent a year teaching aquatic science at the John G. Shedd Aquarium. There, he developed his passion for marine biology and spent time teaching kindergartners the various adaptations of fish and led high school students to the Bahamas to learn about marine taxonomy and morphology.

For 12 years, Kavan taught 7th grade biology and 8th grade physical science at the Carleton W. Washburne School in Winnetka, Illinois.  During his tenure, he has been a district and school-wide leader of progressive ideologies and a practitioner of the responsive classroom. He also researched differentiated instruction/assessment, chaired a committee on social-emotional learning, and helped lead the reevaluation and restructuring of the school’s 80 year-old advisory program. Contact Kavan on Twitter at @KavanYee or by email at kyee@lowellschool.org.


  1. cthebean says:

    I would have loved to be on this team. Last Fall I traveled the US,visited schools, and talked to educators and students about what kinds of school experiences matter to them. I learned that most people, no matter teacher or student, seek a community where they are known and valued for their contributions as well as supported through the hard parts. It sounds like the Finland model was actually born in the USA. John Dewey’s democratic philosophy of education trumps Trump. Ha.
    I look forward to reading more. Thanks .

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  4. Awesome things here. I am very happy to peer your article.
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