Pre-Conference - Kids First National Conference


The pre-conference occurred from October 18-25, 2020 and featured pre-recorded sessions presented by world-renowned speakers addressing the critical issues being driven by the pandemic and its impact on children and everyone who works with them. Learn from innovative speakers such as Hollywood producer Phil Cooke and leading educational technology president & CEO John Baker of D2L, and many more! 

The pre-conference programing is now available on-demand at no cost to all.

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Pre-conference Schedule


John Baker

The State of Education


Dennis Robinson

Promo Video: FUBAR and COVID-19 Response: What To Do When Your Plan Sucks


Trent Grundemeyer, PhD.

Permission to Innovate


Frank Kros

Promo Video: Together but Different: Advanced Resilience Building Strategies for Social Distancing



Robert Jackson

Promo Video: Power of the Educator: Becoming Culturally Aware of Staff and Students


Jennifer Ozgur & Heidi Marlinghaus

Appreciative Inquiry and the Educational System


Shauna King

Promo Video: Don’t Lose HOPE: Fostering Resilience, Hope and Optimism in Ourselves and Our Students


Phil Cooke

How to Be a Rock Star Online


Hans & Jennifer Appel

Promo Video: Creating an Award Winning Culture


Nina Rees & Gary Kellner, PhD

Threats to Students and Education


Malverne School District Panel: Primary Presenter: Rachel Gross, Principal
Co-Presenters: Steven Gilhuley, Assistant Superintendent
& Meredyth Martini, Special Education Director

Promo Video: Mission Explore: Work Hard, Play Hard


Sundra Ryce

Living Your Incredible Life: Cultivating Leadership Wellness, Extraordinary Functioning, and Life Equilibrium for Executive Leaders


Andrew Ross, PhD. and Gary Kellner, PhD.

Changing How We Care for and Educate Children and Youth


Jenny Livelli

Promo Video: Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Child-Serving Organizations




Shauna King

What We Say Matters


Kelly Martin

Promo Video: Cross-System Impact: The Role of Community-Based Organizations in Education

Pre-conference Speakers

John Baker—President & CEO, D2L

President & CEO

John Baker is a strong believer in community involvement, John devotes both his personal and business efforts to supporting young entrepreneurs who are developing and applying technology to improve society worldwide. John is founder of D2L, a global software company that believes learning is the foundation upon   which all progress and achievement rests.

He was appointed to the Governing Council of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Member (Entrepreneurs’ Circle) of the Business   Council of Canada, Business Higher Education Roundtable, Past Chair of the Board of Communitech, and is a board member of Canada’s National Ballet School. John   was awarded the Meritorious Service Cross, the EY Entrepreneur of the Year (Ontario for Software and Technology), Young Alumni Achievement Medal from   University of Waterloo, and Intrepid Entrepreneur of the Year in Waterloo Region Hall of Fame.

John graduated from the University of Waterloo with an Honours B.A.Sc. in Systems Design Engineering, with First Class Honours and an option in Management Sciences.

Phil Cooke—CEO, Cooke Media Group

Cooke Media Group

Phil Cooke has produced TV and film programming in more than 60 countries around the world, and in the process, been shot at, survived two military coups, fallen out of a helicopter, and in Africa, been threatened with prison. And during that time – through his company Cooke Media Group in Los Angeles, California – he’s helped some of the largest faith and nonprofit organizations in the world use the media to tell their story in a changing, disrupted culture.

He’s lectured at universities like Yale, University of California at Berkeley, UCLA, and is currently a visiting professor at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In addition to writing his blog at, he’s contributed to The Huffington Post, Fast Company,,, and Phil is on the Advisory Board for The Salvation Army, a Board Member of Image Journal and The Hollywood Prayer Network and has been a long time member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and The Producers Guild of America in Hollywood. His philosophy? Get your ideas out there, and change the world in the process.

Mike Mathews—Vice President of Technology & Innovation, Oral Roberts University

Vice President of Technology & Innovation
Oral Roberts University

Mike Mathews has served Oral Roberts University as Chief Information Officer and Vice President for Technology and Innovation. Mr. Mathews has successfully led a 2-year initiative to transform “Information Technology” toward “Innovation and Technology.” This transformation has allowed ORU to enjoy global attention through digitizing the entire campus experience. ORU has become the leader in wearable technology for students, robotic teleportation technology for global connections, and a campus wide deployment of augmented and virtually reality. The capstone of the two-year initiative was the design and deployment of a Global Learning Center to reach students around the world from their main campus in Tulsa, Ok.

Prior to joining ORU, Mr. Mathews invested eleven years as a Chief Information Officer, Business Development Officer, and VP of Academic Technology for Ellucian. Mr. Mathews has also invested his career in numerous industries including legal, manufacturing, and high-tech where he has learned seven ERP/SIS systems.

Mr. Mathews has been invited to the White House on two occasions for innovations in education. He is also the recipient of the 2012 White House Department of Education Innovation Award, 2013 Campus Technology Innovation Award for Student Systems, the 2015 Texas Star Award, and the 2016 EDUVENTURES Innovation Award. Mr. Mathews has been featured in numerous education periodicals, journals, and magazines for his innovation and commitment to students.

Mr. Mathews earned a master’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Dr. Andrew Ross—President & CEO, The Children's Guild Alliance

President & CEO
The Children’s Guild Alliance

Dr. Andrew Ross is the current President and CEO of The Children’s Guild Alliance. An innovator in serving children with emotional and behavioral problems. Andy has served as executive director of Family Services in Philadelphia; president and CEO of Children’s Square U.S.A. in Council Bluffs, Iowa; and director of residential services for Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau in Cleveland, Ohio.

He received both a master’s degree in social work and a Ph.D. in social welfare administration from Case Western Reserve University. He is licensed as a clinical practitioner in Maryland and is the author of numerous articles and co-authored two books pertaining to the treatment of emotionally troubled children and the management of organizations designed to serve disadvantaged children. He is also the cofounder of the Transformation Education field, has founded public charter/contract and special education schools in Maryland and D.C., and has established the first modern non-traditional apprenticeship services in Maryland.

Dr. Trent Grundmeyer—President, Grundmeyer Leader Services

Grundmeyer Leader Services

Trent is the founder of Grundmeyer Leader Search LLC. Prior to his tenure at Drake University serving as an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership he served as a high school principal at Hampton-Dumont and Indianola High School. Trent was recognized as 2013 Secondary Principal of the Year by the School Administrators of Iowa organization. He earned his doctorate degree in educational leadership at Iowa State University in 2013 and focuses much of his research around technology integration and leadership.

Trent has many connections around the state and Midwest which provides and advantages to the districts he serves through the recruiting and hiring process. Grundmeyer Leader Search continues to grow based on Trent’s integrity in the search process ensuring that the leader who gets hired is truly the best fit for the job.

Nina Rees—President & CEO, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

President & CEO
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Nina Rees is the president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the leading national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the charter school movement.

She regularly speaks as an authoritative voice for the charter school movement and an education policy expert on news outlets including Bloomberg, CNBC, C-SPAN, Fox News, and PBS’s NewsHour. Her articles and opinions have been published in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.
Prior to joining the National Alliance, Nina spent 25 years shaping education policy in the public and private sectors. She served as the first Deputy Under Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education. She was responsible for spearheading innovative federal programs and policies such as school choice, charter schools, and alternative routes to teacher certification and school leadership.
As Senior Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at Knowledge Universe, Nina guided the partnerships and expansion strategy for a leading global education company with investments in early childhood education, before- and after-school programs, and online instruction. In the 1990s, Nina was the Heritage Foundation’s senior education analyst and chief spokesperson on education. She began her career on Capitol Hill.

Rees serves on the board of directors of the PIE Network, the advisory committee of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and the advisory boards of Honored and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. She is a Pahara-Aspen Fellow and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network.

A native of Iran who immigrated to America at the age of 14, Nina earned her undergraduate degree at Virginia Tech and a master’s degree at George Mason University.

Gary Kellner, PhD—Chief Mission Advancement Officer, The Children’s Guild Alliance
Chief Mission Advancement Officer
The Children’s Guild Alliance

Gary Kellner is the Chief Mission Advancement Officer for The Children’s Guild Alliance, a position that oversees all fundraising functions of the organization, including the National Children’s Guild Fund and the Mission Advancement department. 

Kellner excels at team building and management and has had a rich and multi-faceted 40-year career that includes experience in politics, administration of higher education, graduate level teaching, public relations, institutional fundraising, and event planning. He has led the fundraising efforts for capital campaigns for charitable and educational institutions.

Kellner ran and won a seat on the board of education as a progressive candidate in Springfield, Mo. He was a prime mover and strategist in passing three tax initiatives for the Springfield School District. During his six year tenure, he served as legislative liaison for the school district. Additionally, Kellner has been involved in leadership at an international level, working on a variety of social and political projects from Ukraine to Jamaica.

Dr. Sundra Ryce—President, Ryce Development LLC

Ryce Development LLC

Dr. Sundra Ryce is the President of a corporate consulting firm and real estate development firm based in the U.S. Dr. Sundra Ryce’s real estate development and construction company specializes in commercial and residential development, and construction management.

Known as a ‘Leader to Leaders, Dr. Sundra Ryce is also a motivational speaker and business consultant who shares her business acumen and success strategies worldwide. Dr. Ryce is currently celebrating 24 years of corporate leadership.

Dr. Ryce received a Master’s Degree in Education from Medaille College, Buffalo, New York, and a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership from Pepperdine University, Los Angeles, California.

Jennifer Ozgur—Co-founder, SEL Solutions

SEL Solutions

Jennifer has been working with students, parents, and schools since 2000.   Using her vast experience as an educator and her training in effective engagement techniques, Jennifer choreographs learning opportunities which result in deep, rapid, and sustainable transformational change.   Her ultimate purpose is to empower parents, educators, and other influential adults so that they may take a proactive approach toward raising confident and well-adjusted young people. Jennifer’s strengths shine when leveraging her analytical skills while consulting with professionals who want to develop programming that supports SEL initiatives.  Jennifer’s intuitive and empathic abilities allow for a culture of psychological safety to emerge that empowers people to discover their superpowers, and her creativity invites an element of play into any experience. Jennifer has spoken and facilitated all over the country, including: San Jose’s Parenting Empowerment Program;  the School District of Philadelphia’s parenting series, Maryland’s state-wide Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) conference; Cleveland’s Flourishing Leadership Institute, Baltimore’s National At Risk Education Network (NAREN), and Washington, D.C. Phi Delta Kappa’s (PDK) Educator’s Rising national conference.


Heidi Marlinghaus—Co-founder, SEL Solutions

SEL Solutions

Heidi Marlinghaus taught multiple grade levels and was in the classroom for twelve years. She became a teacher because she wanted to help children grow up to have tools they needed to be more successful both emotionally and intellectually in life. Naturally, she was interested in and focused on EQ and Social / Emotional Learning (SEL) as part of her teaching practices. Later in her career she began studying and practicing Mindfulness. She learned how to teach this practice to adults as well as children. In addition to Mindfulness and her extensive knowledge or SEL, Heidi sought training in the ToolBox SEL program. She joined the SEL Task Force at her school so that she could help bring SEL to her school community and help enhance the culture and climate. She was also part of community presentations at her school, spoke at the public library for their Wellness series and presented to staff for professional development. Outside of work, Heidi is a mom to two wonderful children and they live together with her husband (and their cat) in Silicon Valley. It is here that her passion for SEL is fueled as she watches her children grow. Heidi continues learning about child development and social development to enhance her work skills and to be the best mom she can be. In 2019, Heidi decided it was time to leave the classroom with the hope of reaching more schools and ultimately more children. Today, she works as an SEL consultant/ coach and co-founder of SEL Solutions.




Register Now

The pre-conference is free.

If you attended the conference, no need to register, as the pre-conference on-demand sessions are in the conference portal.