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From the Field: The Intersecting Roles of Community and Educational Leaders

Panel Moderator

Val Brown

Val Brown is a professional development facilitator for a national non-profit. Her role primarily includes designing, facilitating and evaluating anti-bias professional development for educators across the country.

In December 2016, Val founded #ClearTheAir. #ClearTheAir is a body of educators who believe that community, learning, and dialogue are essential to personal and professional growth. Val believes education is a vehicle for social change and encourages educators to engage in public discourse about critical topics because it allows them to learn with and from others.

For 14 years prior to joining her current organization, Val worked in the public K-12 education and higher education sector as a teacher, instructional coach, district administrator and professional learning specialist. Her other professional interests include instructional coaching, teacher leadership and educator pathways.

Val received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Florida and holds an M.Ed. from Florida Atlantic University and an M.A. from the University of Central Florida in Multicultural Education and Education Leadership, respectively. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in Curriculum, Teaching, and Teacher Education at the University of Florida. Support from the good folks at the Center for Teaching Quality and #EduColor were influential in her finding her voice.

She is also a wife and mother. You can read about her family’s antics on Twitter.


Rajni Shankar-­Brown

Dr. Rajni Shankar-Brown is among the most prominent educational scholars in social justice and education in the United States and internationally. She is an Associate Professor and the Jessie Ball duPont Endowed Chair of Social Justice Education at Stetson University. She serves on the Executive Board of Directors for the National Coalition for the Homeless and is the Co-Chair of Equity and Social Justice for the International Society for Teacher Education and Information Technology. She is also the Executive Director of the Poverty and Homelessness Conference and the Co-Director of Acts of Kindness and Justice.

She serves on advisory and editorial boards at international, national, state and local levels. She is committed to advancing equity and educational excellence, particularly for diverse students living in poverty and experiencing homelessness. She has presented and facilitated workshops around the globe, and published in leading journals and books. Her first collection of poetry Tuluminous will be released this fall and has been praised by Presidential Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco as “a marvelous and meaningful testimony of the power of language to heal and transform.” Additionally, her book Bending the Arc: Equity-Focused Practices for Educational Leaders is being published by Information Age Press and expected to come out in December 2020, along with additional book projects including publications with Norton.

She remains committed to promoting educational equity through collaborative partnerships and she actively advocates for the cultivation of mindful self-care practices in education. Her work focuses on civic engagement, equity and ecojustice, contemplative practices, compassion fatigue, human rights and peace advocacy, multimodal arts integration, intercultural understanding and global citizenship. She is a recipient of the Engaged Scholar Award by the Campus Compact and the Transformative Leadership and Equity Award by Volusia County Schools. She was awarded a Summer Scholar Fellowship by the National Humanities Center and recently was selected as the Educator of the Year by the Florida Chapter of PDK International. In addition to being a dedicated teacher-scholar, Dr. Shankar-Brown is also a passionate mother, artist, and social activist.


Byron Durias

Byron Durias is an experienced Principal with a demonstrated history of successfully working in middle and high school education. His work passions include the recruitment, retention, and mentorship of Black Male educators as well as, access and opportunity for students of color. Byron is a 2017 ASCD Emerging Leader, Bryan Dassler Leadership Academy Fellow, a member of the School Educational Leadership Enhancement Committee Taskforce (SELECT) for the Florida Department of Education, and recently admitted to Leadership Florida Education Class 5.

He is the creator of #BMEsTalk (Black Male Educators Talk), a digital platform, with 3000 followers, whose mission is to create space for Black Male Educators to connect and share their perspective on the profession. Byron is a national conference presenter and workshop facilitator. Byron is currently the Principal of Sanford Middle School Magnet. Byron holds a Bachelor of Arts Education in English Literature, from Florida State University, as well as a Master’s, and Education Specialist in Educational Leadership. Also a former chef, Byron lives with his wife, Kayla, and their three children, Sydney, Cori, and Anderson in Mount Dora, FL.

Ian Siljestrom


Ian Siljestrom

Ian Siljestrom is the Safe and Healthy Schools Associate Director for Equality Florida whom is currently supporting 20 of our school districts in Florida to have the requisite training and resources to take full ownership over the needs of LGBTQ youth. He is responsible for fighting the extensive risk factors, which disproportionately affect our LGBTQ youth in school including: bullying, homelessness, self-harm, substance abuse, and HIV transmission. He has been working directly with school districts to assist in the implementation of professional development and comprehensive best practices to ensure the empowerment of all students’ identities.


Lucia Valdivia-Sanchez

Lucia Valdivia-Sanchez has twenty-two years of experience designing, developing and implementing academic programs with emphasis on serving English Language Learners and migrant and seasonal Farmworker youth access to higher education. Ms. Valdivia-Sanchez has received national and international awards for her leadership promoting academic excellence, empowering parents and delivering culturally sensitive educational resources and services in Putnam County and northeast Florida. She is also considered an expert and train the trainer in the National Institute of Adult Education (INEA) model for Plazas Comunitarias, the State of Florida Farmworker Career Development Eligibility Team, and currently serves as an appointed council to the Institute of Mexicans Abroad for the Consulate of Mexico in Orlando. Ms. Valdivia-Sanchez is a presenter and panelist at national and state conferences always focusing on best and effective practices serving the Migrant and Seasonal farmworker population. She has also made presentations at the Binational Migrant Education Program Forum in Mexico and the Mexican Secretary of Education.

She has received the Florida Migrant Person of the year award in 2003, Estéén Honorable Mention in 2012, and the Ohtli Award in 2013, this is the highest award bestowed by the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs outside of Mexico. Originally, from Mexico she brings a wealth of both personal and professional knowledge to her community. She completed her basic education in her Native México, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Saint Leo University and a Summer Residence at the Universidad of Cadiz in Spain. Ms. Valdivia-Sanchez also serves on the following board of directors: CareerSource Region 8, the Florida Non-Profit Housing, Azalea Health, South Putnam Christian Service Center, and is member of the Crescent City Rotary Club.

Currently, she is part of a team of community members designing and implementing a Full-Service Community Center where adults can access ESL and Civics classes embedded with civic lessons and knowledge about their rights, the overarching goal is to teach English and empower our community to advocate for themselves by becoming informed citizens.