Meet the Trainers
Each in this cadre of experts can provide leadership and solid educational techniques to those who wish to optimize their valuable professional development time locally within their own school communities.

National Experts Webinar Presenters

Barbara Luther has served as a site visitor for’s Schools of Character Program and was the Maryland School of Character Coordinator from 2006-2009. During her teaching career, her efforts were transformed after exposure to character education pedagogy. She subsequently chaired her own school’s steering committee which was recognized as a National School of Character. She is an award-winning special needs classroom teacher at elementary, middle and high school levels for many years.


Kathy BelandKathy Beland, M.Ed., is lead author of School-Connect, Optimizing the High School Experience, a curriculum that promotes social, emotional, and academic learning in grades 9-12 and the original author of the award-winning Second Step, A Violence-Prevention Curriculum series (grades pre-k through middle school), which is implemented in over 25,000 classrooms in the U.S. and Canada and in 26 countries. She also served as’s Program Director and is series editor of the Eleven Principles Sourcebook, How to Achieve Quality Character Education in K-12 Schools. In 2009, Kathy was honored with the Sanford N. McDonnell Lifetime Achievement Award in Character Education.


Richard BenjaminRichard Benjamin, Ph.D.’s senior consultant is a lifelong educator who has focused on school transformation through Character Development and Arts Integration. Richard has been working for for the past five years as a facilitator for climate and culture development in schools and school systems as well as being a frequent presenter at’s National Forum on character Education. Richard is a retired school superintendent, having served in Ann Arbor MI, Nashville TN, and Cobb County GA. He is an expert, in part, in leading High Yield Arts-Based and Hands-On Strategies for student engagement, deeper understanding, and self-expression. In Hong Kong and Guangzhou China, Richard is doing foundational work to engage educators in’s training with the Eleven Principles Sourcebook for integration of academic content and character development in a School Transformation process.


Chris Briggs-Hale serves the as a site visitor for the Schools of Character Program. Along with this work, he specializes in proven techniques that support whole school reform and staff development through character education tenets. Chris is a former associate with the Marzano Research Laboratory, served as a senior consultant at Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL), and a member of the National Board of Directors for Community of Caring in Washington, DC. He is also founder of Waterfall Learning, LLC. Chris’s first professional love is working directly with teachers and students. Chris has led and conducted professional development trainings and presentations on school improvement for administrators and educators at elementary, middle, and high school teachers as well as community groups in more than fifteen states. He received the 2004 Sally K. Lenhardt Professional Leadership Award from Lesley University and was named 2004 Community of Caring National Administrator of the Year. Chris believes effective classroom instruction combined with powerful personal relationships maximize achievement. He currently serves as a principal of Ute Pass Elementary School in Chipita Park, Colorado.


Phil Catania served as principal for 17 years as principal at Mount Rainier Elementary School in Maryland, a recognized National School of Character and a “Model Peace School.” For over 32 years, Phil served in varying capacities–as a classroom teacher, area teacher specialist, principal and as Director of Leadership Development. Presently, Phil is a national trainer at the Institute of Excellence & Ethics and maintains a strong commitment to help schools of all levels build relationships, establishing connections, and thus maximize performance and moral character. Phil has inspired schools and audiences in over 35 states and Canada for over a decade.

Dara Feldman_Dara Feldman, a National Board Certified Teacher, is the founder of The Heart of Education where she creates and delivers personal and professional development, transforming school culture and increasing student and staff performance. She is Director of Education, a Master Facilitator and a Board Member for The Virtues Project International.  In addition to 16 years as a classroom teacher, Dara has served in many leadership positions as well as being a Google Certified Teacher and an Apple Distinguished Educator. Dara was honored as Disney’s 2005 Outstanding Elementary Teacher of the Year.

Kristie FinkKristie Fink, an award-winning teacher and author is presently the secondary language arts and literacy specialist for Granite School District in Salt Lake City. She formerly served as the executive director of the Utah Coalition for Civic, Character and Service Learning and executive director of Community of Caring. Kristie was the first person in the nation to hold a full-time character education position in a state department of education (Utah). Kristie has served on’s board of directors and its executive board. She co-authored, with Linda McKay, “Making Character Education a Standard Part of Education” and her article, “Caring: At the Heart of an Educator’s Role” was featured in the 20th anniversary edition of “Best of Character,” by the Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character.

Mike GalvinMike Galvin has been a friend of and its mission for many years. Mike served as principal of Columbine Elementary School, in Woodland Park, Colorado, a 2000 National School of Character, recognized for including students with special needs, emphasizing student growth in personal and social responsibility, service learning, and setting up a system for evaluating school climate and culture. Mike has also served as a site visitor for’s Schools of Character program and has been a member of the NSOC Blue Ribbon Panel. Mike works with the Foundation for Character Development and helped initiate the Colorado State Schools of Character program. As an owner and school leadership consultant of Focused Leadership Solutions in Denver, he continues to assist schools and districts in improving academic achievement with special attention to the importance of performance character and a growth mindset.

Michael MorettaMichael Moretta has spent over 30 years as an educator and teen advocate.  He has been a teacher, a director of service learning, a director of diversity, a principal and a superintendent.  Michael brings a new and dynamic look at the importance of character education as it relates to student empowerment, student leadership, and school climate and community development.  He currently has his own educational consulting business located out of San Antonio Texas.

Linda Morris, Ed.D. understood the critical role character education plays in achieving academic success from her first day in a classroom. Over the next 30 years she continued to put this belief into practice until in 2005, as principal of a challenging elementary school of 1500 students, Cornelius Elementary was named both a National School of Character and a North Carolina Honor School of Excellence–the highest academic designation possible. She then served as Assistant Superintendent with the Charlotte Mecklenburg School System, one of the largest in the US, where she supervised the district’s character education department. During her career, Dr. Morris also taught graduate classes at Wake Forest University and UNC-G where she always stressed the importance of creating a positive and supportive school climate. As an educational consultant now, she continues to focus on character education in her work with and through her educational consulting firm Lead for Success.

Thomas Panter, a teacher for the past 18 years, is currently a middle school social studies teacher in GA and was named Teacher of the Year in 2005. He serves as Coordinator for Character Through Service Learning and works with the GA State Department of Education to incorporate both technology and the arts into content area study units. He has been a contributor to Time/Life Books, worked for Turner Network Television, and has been a columnist for Civil War Journal Magazine. Thomas enjoys presenting at conferences both locally and nationally.

Eileen Santiago was Principal of Thomas Edison, a K-5 elementary school in the high-needs, low-SES district of Port Chester NY, a community comprised mainly of immigrants. Under her leadership, the school staged an impressive turnaround, raising its ELA and mathematics test scores beyond the 80% passing mark. Dr. Santiago’s emphasis on teaching conflict resolution as part of the curriculum and her active outreach to the community played large roles in the school’s remarkable transformation. She began her teaching career as a bilingual/ESL teacher in New York City. She earned her doctorate in curriculum and teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University and completed the program in elementary education at Barnard College.

Clifton TaulbertClifton L. Taulbert, Founder of the Building Community Institute and Pulitzer-nominated author, as a K-12 Education Consultant, has been a guest professor for: The Principals Center at Harvard University, the American International Schools (K-12 schools) throughout Europe, Asia and Central America. He is also a recurring guest professor on Educational Leadership at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Currently he consults with School Districts of all sizes throughout the country and serves on the Educational Advisory Council.

Mr. Taulbert introduced his most recent book, Eight Habits of the Heart for Educators at Harvard University Graduate School of Education. The book became a national best seller within six months of publication and serves as a resource text when consulting with K-12 educators.

David B. Wangaard, Ed.D. has been applying his character education strategies in schools since 1984 and has been one of’s consultants for the Schools of Character Program since 1999. Since 1995, he has served as the director of The School for Ethical Education (SEE) in Milford, CT. He began SEE’s Youth: Ethics in Service service learning program in 1999. He is an adjunct instructor at the University of Bridgeport, has been a successful presenter at regional, national and international conferences in addition to authoring or co-authoring three texts in support of student character development. Prior to earning his doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Northern Colorado, David was a school principal in Alaska.

Regional and State Coaches, Trainers and Facilitators

Dr. Phil BrownPhilip Brown, PhD, is a Fellow of the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers University and managed the character education program for the New Jersey Department of Education, which established a formal relationship with beginning in 1993.  He founded and directed the Center for Social and Character Development at Rutgers as principal investigator for U.S. Department of Education grants. The Center piloted the State Schools of Character program for and trained hundreds of school districts using the 11 Principles training process, a number of which have since become NSOCs.  He created and serves on the board of  the New Jersey Alliance for Social, Emotional and Character Development, and is a member of the National School Climate Council.  International work includes serving on the boards of the International Child Abuse Prevention Program and the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies Network and representing in training and consultation with the Singapore Ministry of Education. With colleagues from Fordham and Marshall Universities he is co-editor of the Handbook of Prosocial Education, to be published in October 2012 by Rowman & Littlefield.

Eileen DachnowiczEileen Dachnowicz served as the project coordinator for the Center for Social and Character Development (CSCD) at Rutgers University and works as a trainer, site visitor and writer. The retired supervisor of academic affairs at Cranford HS (2004 NSOC), received Channel 7’s “Above & Beyond” Inspiring Educator award, the NJ Governor’s Award in Language Arts, and “The Outstanding English Educator” award by the NJ Council of Teachers of English. She is profiled in Len Marrella’s In Search of Ethics: Conversations with Men and Women of Character.

Gwen Pongracz Gwen Pongracz received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Secondary Education from Kutztown University with a double major of social studies and Spanish. She later received her Master of Education Degree from Kutztown University and a certificate as a reading specialist. Gwen is a certified character education trainer for and is also one of their evaluators for their Schools of Character Program. Most recently, Gwen has become a publisher for Kidsville News, a fun, family newspaper and educational resource that can be used by children, teachers and parents to develop reading skills, promote literacy, instill a love of learning and help build good character. The newspaper was granted the Parents’ Choice Approved Award in 2008 and 2012 and will be free to elementary school students in Lehigh County, PA.

Greater Northwest Certified Coaches and Facilitators
(for the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana)

Heather Knight, a certified trainer and facilitator, is also a certified life and leadership coach. She reigns from the greater Northwest serving the states of WA, OR, MT, ID and WY. As president and founder of Leadership Innovations Team (LIT), she brings a wealth of experience as a public school teacher and principal as she heads a team of distinguished educators and certified coaches who provide executive leadership and instructional coaching to K-12 educators. She is an active member of many professional organizations and is an adjunct professor for Portland State University. Heather authored “Essential Secrets to Coaching Success • Knowing What Works and Doing It Right” and “A Practical Guide to Effective Teams.” Heather fully understands the challenges educators face as they negotiate today’s often difficult educational landscape. She states, “With those challenges also come opportunities,” My goal is to help educators not only succeed but thrive professionally–even in difficult times.”


Patty Toombs, a 30 year+ veteran in the field of education as teacher, principal, adjunct university teacher and national consultant/trainer is a passionate supporter and advocate for research-based best practices in character development and social emotional learning. She receives consistently strong praise for her ability to lead and support educators at all K-12 levels. As Director of Education for the Giraffe Heroes Project, she worked with youth leaders nationally to implement service-learning models. Now as a nationally certified trainer, her passion is reignited to offer The 11 Principles of Effective Character Education open-ended framework for comprehensive character education development. Patty continues to be highly sought after for her engaging delivery and inspiring training.


Kansas State Certified Coaches and Facilitators

Mary Getto, a consultant for Keystone Learning Services in Northeast Kansas brings many years of teaching and curriculum and instruction experience. Mary believe that young educators need encouragement and support; so therefore, especially enjoys mentoring young educators and student teachers. She encourages, facilitates, and leads new curriculum leaders in her presentations at many professional organizations including: Kansas Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development Leadership Academies, Kansas Learning First Alliance, Kansas Association of School Boards, and the Kansas Transportation Safety Convention and others and is President Emeritus of the United School Administrators of Kansas. Mary’s passion is to assist educators in the development of Character Education initiatives at the building and district levels. Mary states, “Helping students not only get smarter but become better people is what our schools should be about.”


Jara Wilson is a sought-after coach and facilitator in the state of Kansas. She excels in motivating and encouraging teachers as well as students to discover and build their leadership skills and confidence. After spending time teaching Leadership classes in middle School classrooms, Jara began her work as a Consultant in 2007. and became a 11 Principles of Effective Character Education trainer in 2009. She has presented to thousands of people from all over the United States and several foreign countries. Jara earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from Sterling College and her Masters Degree in Educational Leadership from Fort Hays State University.

Noalee McDonald-Augustine is in her 13th year as an Educational Consultant in Northwest Kansas and specializes in Character Education and Bullying. She is trained in’s Eleven Principles of Effective Character Education, Power2Achieve Curriculum, CHARACTER COUNTS!, Life Skills, the Kansas Bullying Prevention Program, Ruby Payne’s “A Framework for Understanding Poverty”, Conscious Discipline, Brain Gym, the Prudential Youth Leadership Institute, and Critical Incident Stress Management: Group Crisis Intervention. She is currently on the writing team for the Social, Emotional, and Character Development standards development team for the state of Kansas. She also manages the Smoky Hill Low and High Ropes Adventure Program. She conducts staff, student, and parent workshops on character education, bullying, student violence, poverty, under-resourced learners, building relationships, behavior management, discipline strategies, internal motivation, generational differences, service learning, adventure education, experiential learning, physical education, and crisis intervention. Noalee has a BA in Mathematics, a BA in Sociology with an emphasis in Criminal Justice, and her master’s work is in Physical Education with an emphasis in Adapted Populations.

Susan Johnson is a certified facilitator and coach for the 11 Principles of Effective Character Education and presently serves as Greenbush’s Educational Consultant at Southeast Kansas Education Service Center. Earlier, she worked for twenty-four years as a high school and middle school counselor. The importance of character education has always been an integral part of her professional life with students and faculty. She presently serves as the chair of the Kansas School Counselor Association, the Southeast Kansas Counseling Association, and the Kansas Career Development Association as well as the Labette and Cherokee County Juvenile Corrections Advisory Board.

New York Certified Trainer

Bonnie Misch is the retired principal of Millard Hawk Primary School, a 2004 NSOC finalist and 2006 NSOC award winner. She is currently a Certified Trainer and Assistant Coordinator, SSOC at the Academy for Character Education at the Sage Colleges in Troy, NY.


Wisconsin Certified Trainer

Elaine Gehring from Wisconsin has spent her professional life in education – as a classroom teacher at a variety of grade levels, as an elementary school principal, as a high school curriculum director, as a K-12 instructional coach, and as a certified trainer. In her trainings on the Eleven Principles of Effective Character Education, Elaine incorporates exemplary models from award-winning schools, experiences from the participants themselves as well as relevant examples from her own school experiences in each of these roles.

Social-Emotional and Character Development (SECD) Facilitator

Ed Dunkelblau, Ph.D has worked with on several multi-year social, emotional, and character development initiatives while simultaneously working with hundreds of schools and districts to establish effective and sustainable character education, social emotional learning and anti-bullying programs. He has served on the Blue Ribbon Panel for the selection of National Schools of Character. Ed is an expert facilitator, sought-after speaker and is the director of the Institute for Emotionally Intelligent Learning. Ed has been honored as the Alumni of the Year award at Columbia University Teachers College and the Outstanding Alumnus award from the University of Kansas School of Education. He is also the recipient of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor’s Lifetime achievement award. His work has been featured in the NY Times, Chicago Tribune, USA Weekend, Saturday Evening Post, Jet Magazine, NPR and CNN.

If you would like to find out more information about professional trainings, contact Tamra Nast at