Special Education Consultants | Team Biographies
Senior Consultant/Team Leader Larry D. Simpson
Mr. Simpson has lead efforts to eliminate the disproportionate identification of African Americans in special education. In his role as Administrator for Student Intervention and Support Services he has been a key figure in the district's equity work. During the four years before his retirement last June, Mr. Simpson was a diligent worker in Ann Arbor Public Schools' attempts to close the achievement gap and in it's efforts to implement a response to intervention process (the Achievement Team Process).
Prior to coming to Ann Arbor, Mr. Simpson was an administrator for and the Director of Special Education for the Flint Community Schools for twenty-five years, where he instituted a variety of innovative programs for struggling students. While in Flint, Mr. Simpson was the chairman the Special Education Advisory Committee for the Michigan State Board of Education. He also served as chairman of the Genesee Intermediate School Districts Special Education Director's Association.
Mr. Simpson is the president of the Michigan branch of the International Dyslexia Association, where he co-chaired the 2009 annual convention committee. He was also on the board of the Michigan Very Special Arts (VSA), which strives to promote the arts for students and artists with disabilities.
Mr. Simpson has worked as a visiting lecturer for the University of Michigan-Flint, where he taught several classes on inclusive practices in special education and was instrumental in the development of the university's learning disabilities approval program.
Mr. Simpson is a former fellow of the Institute for Educational Leadership. He holds a Master's degree from Michigan State University in elementary education with special education approval in work with children with emotional impairments. He completed all of the coursework in Curriculum and Instruction at Wayne State University (ABD). His current research interests include how gender and ethnicity impact teacher efficacy and reading achievement.
Senior Consultant/Team Leader Jonathan Stout, Ph.D
Jonathan Stout, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Lock Haven University in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania and serves as the Chair of the Special Education Advisory Board to the Bureau of Indian Education. In his role on the board, he and the board assist the Secretary of the Interior in the performing his duties under the Individual with Disabilities Education Improvement Act by advising the Secretary on the needs of American Indian Children with disabilities. At Lock Haven University, Dr. Stout teaches courses on Intro to Exceptionalities, Multicultural Education, Manuel communication, Literacy and Student with Disabilities and Issues in Special Education Law.
Before earning his doctorate in Special Education from Pennsylvania State University, Dr. Stout served as a special education teacher at Cross Middle School and has worked with K-8 students and current and prospective teachers in a wide range of settings. He has expertise in mathematics education, literacy education Native American educational issues, and direct instruction for students with and without disabilities.
Consultant Wallace Gunderson
Wallace "Wally" Gunderson has spent over 35 years in Public Education. He has served as a General Education Teacher, Special Education Teacher, Behavioral Consultant, Director of Special Education, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction and Education and Superintendent. Wally has certifications in general education, cognitive impaired, emotional impaired, learning disabilities, as well as Director of Special Education and General Education Administration.
As a teacher at Title I school in Mt. Pleasant, MI consisting of primarily Native American Children, Wally had an important learning experience regarding social expectations, the use of time and the effects of misunderstandings of mannerisms. This experience motivated him to start a career helping disadvantaged children.
While working within county educational systems, he promoted early intervention programs to remediate later learning disorders and in 2007 was recognized by the Michigan Association of School Administrators for leading efforts in reducing learning disabilities in Allegan County. In addition to his experiences as a teacher and school administrator, Wally has served as an adjunct professor at Valparaiso University, Purdue University, Indiana University, and Western Michigan University.
He has been a member of the Council for Exceptional Children- Indiana Regional President, Michigan Association of Special Education- Executive Board, and Council of Administrators of Special Education- Michigan State President. Wally has presented at State, National and International Conferences on original research and innovative educational programs. He has received numerous awards and recognitions but is most proud of recieving the Administrator of the Year Award for the State of Indiana, the Parents Choice Award in Allegan County, MI, and a Special Tribute signed by Governor Grandholm, Rep. Schuitmaker, Sen. George, Sen. Burkholz, and U.S. Rep. Upton.
Consultant Vesna Candic
Ms. Vesna Candic OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist with many years of experience working with children. She has worked for the school systems in several different states. Vesna graduated from Baker College (Flint, Michigan) with Bachelor’s in Occupational Therapy. She also obtained a graduate certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders from the University of Central Florida. She is fluent in several languages.
Most recently she presented in Eastern Europe for teachers and therapists on best practice for Occupation Therapy in school settings. She presented her most recent experience at the Florida Council for Exceptional Children's State Conference in October,2010. She is a member of the Council for Exception Children, Division of International Special Education Services (DISES). Currently she resides in Orlando, Florida where she provides services for Orange County Public Schools.
Consultant Kelly Dunlap, Psy.S
Kelly Dunlap, Psy.S. is a Certified School Psychologist and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports consultant who currently works for the START (Statewide Autism Resources and Training) project, a Michigan Department of Education grant project. As part of the project, she provides training and consultation to school-based teams educating students with ASD.
Her areas of expertise include Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), team process, IEP development and implementation, data-based decision-making, systems change through coaching, appropriate use of paraprofessional support, and implementation of evidence-based practices for students with ASD. She also provides consultation to school-based teams involved in litigated issues relative to behavior, IEP implementation, and evidence-based practices.
Consultant Toni Fuller Merfeld
Toni Fuller Merfeld is the Children’s Mental Health Consultant for the Iowa Department of Education and shares her time at the Iowa DOE as Executive Director/Owner of Metro West Kids Learning Center (serving high functioning Autism/Asperger’s students). She has been in the field of education for 32 years and has extensive experience working with students with learning and behavior challenges both in the classroom and as a consultant in the public and private sectors. She has been trained in Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and in structuring classrooms for students with Autism using the TEACHH model developed by the University of North Carolina. Her experience in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) teaching strategies provides students with the individualization of instruction necessary to create meaningful learning experiences in the classroom, home and community.
In addition to her work at the Iowa DOE and Metro West Kids Learning Center, she is Co-facilitator of the Governor’s Council on Autism, Executive Board Secretary for the International Council for Exceptional Children's Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities (DADD) and past President, Iowa Council for Exceptional Children. She is a member of CEC's Divisions on Behavior Disorders and Administrators in Special Education, the Association of Positive Behavior Supports, National Autism Society, Iowa Autism Society and CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder). Toni is also a member of the advisory council for the National School Climate Center and the OASIS Program at Pace University serving young adults on the autism spectrum.
Toni’s most recent speaking engagements have included the National School Climate Center, Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, local autism charity events and local school district trainings.
Toni is a strong children’s advocate for safe, healthy, caring learning environments and provides leadership to national, state and local leaders encouraging pro-social culture/climate system changes.
Consultant Michael Kelly
Mike Kelly holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education (Special Education) and a Master’s Degree in School Administration (Special Education) Michael began a 27 year public education career delivering and providing for the special needs of challenged children. Entering the education field at the same time the Federal government enacted Public Law 94-142 as well as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 he was actively involved in the development of programs and services that would satisfy the new laws insuring needed assistance for challenged students. He has enjoyed preparing and mentoring new administrative interns and co-taught classes for new administrators in the areas of finance and administrative procedures which were presented in a “Professor and Practitioner” approach. His 32 year career included executive positions in several local school districts and two “Fortune 500” companies.
He developed from ground level, a nine school district K-12 program for Severely Emotionally Impaired students. He also developed a program to integrate Cognitively Impaired and Autistic students into general education settings where he developed sites and financial support for K-12 programs by training, arranging training for teachers and paraprofessionals and insuring comfortable student transitions into their home district. He actively involved himself in curriculum development for both the general and challenged population. Most recently he was a member of a team of administrators who were assigned to launch a multi-million dollar student information software for New York City Public Schools. (SESIS) Special Education Student Information System was developed to assure compliance in writing and developing Individual Educational Plans for challenged children.
Consultant Ali Kobeissi
Ali Kobeissi has joined FYI-CSI as our Saudi Arabian Senior Consultant. He also serves as Vice President of Finance & Education Development Consultant at
Taleem-International Education Company–Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Mr. Kobeissi
has over 20 years of education leadership, reform, school improvement, accreditation, and management including school (American Diploma, International Baccalaureate-IB), and university setups and administration, school and fund accounting; auditing, budgeting, finance, human resources, taxation, ERP implementation experience (Accounting, Human Resources-HRMS, Student Information Systems-SIS, Teacher Management Systems-TMS, and Curriculum Management Systems-CMS).
Mr. Kobeissi has international experience in education. Before joining Taleem in the year 2009, he worked as a consultant for VP of administration and Finance for Gulf University of Science and Technology in West Mishref, Kuwait, and he was part of the planning team of King Abdullah University for Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. Before working in the Middle East, he worked for Davenport University in Michigan, USA, Dearborn Public Schools in Michigan, USA, and the American Institutional Management Services, Inc. in Michigan, USA, Kobeissi Accounting and Education Management Consulting, American Consultants for International Education, American Charter Education Services, and Kobeissi Associates.
Consultant Dr. Frances Paris
Dr. Paris, with 30 years of experience in the field of special education in Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Michigan, has worked with children and adults with various disabilities in a variety of settings including public schools, psychiatric units and a juvenile detention facility.
Throughout her career, her work focused on assisting staff, families and students to effectively support student behavior. Her recent efforts have been dedicated to dispute resolution and monitoring of special education service while providing technical assistance in the area of compliance to federal regulations and state rules related to special education.
She has taught graduate school classes at Michigan State and Oakland Universities. She has presented workshops at the local, state and national venues on a variety of topics throughout her award-winning career. Publications on behavior topics have appeared in journals such as Teaching Exceptional Children and Beyond Behavior. The Michigan Department of Education and Oakland Schools, a countywide educational service agency, have published her work.
Dr. Paris has been an officer of the Michigan Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) and co-chair for their Exceptional Children’s Week Poster Contest. Her memberships also include National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and American Psychological Association (APA).
Paris Educational Consultants LLC
Consultant James Paris
Jim Paris retired from the Michigan Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Early Intervention Services in July of 2007. He was the coordinator of the Program Accountability unit of the Office of Special Education and Early Intervention Services.
He received his Bachelors Degree from Alma College, his Masters Degree from Michigan State University and approval as a Supervisor of Special Education and Elementary and Secondary Education from Grand Valley State University. His career includes teaching students with disabilities and as a Supervisor of Special Education programs for Montcalm and Allegan ISDs. Recently he was a Michigan Fellow to the Educational Policy Fellowship Program, Institute for Educational Leadership.
He has at various times in his 40+ year career been associated with the Council for Exceptional Children, the Special Education Supervisors of Michigan, the Michigan Association of Administrators of Special Education, Michigan Special Olympics and many church and community volunteer organizations.
Paris Educational Consultants LLC
Consultant Kevin Quinlan
Kevin Quinlan holds an Education Specialist Degree (Ed.S.) in Educational Leadership from Saginaw Valley State University, a Master’s Degree (MSA) in Human Resources Management from Central Michigan University and a Bachelor’s Degree (BBA) in Economics from Northwood University.
Kevin has spent his career in education leading staff and developing special educational programs in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Cognitive Impairments in a variety of settings, ranging from urban to rural districts in Michigan. From 2012-2013, Kevin was employed by the Kodiak Island Borough School District in Alaska. During his employment, he lived and worked in a rural village outside of Kodiak and was responsible for an educational program that included both distance and onsite learning designed to reach Native Alaskan students.
Currently, Kevin is assigned as a Special Education Director at Pontiac Academy for Excellence (PAE) in Pontiac, Michigan. Kevin leads a team of professional special educators working on a major district turnaround project that includes: keeping the district in special education regulatory compliance, providing best practice training and consulting to PAE district staff in the area of co-teaching techniques and delivering solution based ideas on ways to increase overall student achievement district wide.
Kevin is a member of the Michigan Association for Administrators of Special Education (MAASE), the Council of Exceptional Children (CEC) and the Special Education Administrators of Oakland County (SEAOC).
Consultant Rachel Wannarka, Ph.D.
Rachel Wannarka, Ph.D. is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota and is also a high school reading and special education teacher in a juvenile correctional facility. She has previously served on the faculty of the University of Michigan's School of Education in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and in the Department of Special Education at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Dr. Wannarka's areas of expertise include literacy instruction for at-risk or struggling older readers, urban education, and equity and culturally responsive education. Before earning her doctorate in Special Education focusing on adolescent literacy, Dr. Wannarka was a middle- and high-school English teacher in high-needs urban schools.
Consultant Janis Weckstein
With close to 30 years experience in public education, Janis Weckstein has worked in various regions around the State of Michigan, K-12, in both general education classrooms and special education programs . For the last 14 years Jan has been a special education administrator at both the Intermediate and local district level having started as a Special Education Supervisor and most currently as Director of Compliance for a five county Intermediate School District.
In addition, Jan’s vast experiences include several years as a human resource director. Jan is also currently an adjunct professor for Grand Valley State University teaching master level courses in the areas of Foundations of Special Education, Transition Services and Hot Topics in the Field of Special Education.
Jan is an active member and current President-Elect of the Michigan Association of Administrators of Special Education (MAASE) and a Past-President of the Michigan Council for Exceptional Children (MCEC). She has participated on various committees and projects with the Michigan Department of Education, currently on a committee that is updating state policy and standards for professional development for all Michigan educators. She is also co-chairperson of a MAASE project, Creating Agreement, working with the IDEA Partnership to develop a cross agency collaboration to create agreement using a problem solving process, helping families, schools and service provider’s work effectively together.
Jan received her Bachelor Degree from Eastern Michigan University, and Masters Degrees from both Michigan State University and Grand Valley State University.
Consultant Mark Zager
After graduating from The Detroit Institute of Technology, Mr. Zager became employed in the law enforcement field with a major urban Sheriff’s department. While serving with the Sheriff’s Department he became experienced in all facets of law enforcement especially in 911 emergency responding. He received many meritorious citations.
After eight years with the department, Mr. Zager moved on and became employed with a major urban school district serving initially as the Transportation Director then moving into the Business Services department as the Assistant Auxiliary Services Director, Associate Director of Business Services and Director of Security and Risk Management which oversaw six other departments.
Mr. Zager has received certificates in Incident Command Systems, National Incident management Systems, Emergency response and Crisis Management Training, Environmental Health and Safety Law, Employee Relations Law among others. Mr. Zager was named Risk Manager of the year in 2001 and has been instrumental in obtaining and implementing of two $350,000 grants for school security. After his retirement in 2007, Mr. Zager still actively serves as a consultant and presently serves as Board Chair for a major insurance and risk pool.
Consultant Paul Zinni
Paul Zinni has been employed by the Avon Public Schools as the Director of Pupil Services since the summer of 2001. Prior to that, he spent 14 years as both a special educator and administrator for the City of Taunton’s Public School System. From March of 1994 through August 2001 he served as the Title I Director and Early Childhood Principal for the Taunton School Department.
Paul earned his Bachelor of Science degree in elementary and special education, a Masters degree in general education, a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in school administration and has completed all course work toward a Doctorate of Education in educational leadership in children and youth studies with a concentration in curriculum. He anticipates completing his dissertation and thesis on his doctorate in May 2014.
He also teaches in the Special Education Departments of Stonehill College, Bridgewater State University and Lesley University. He has worked as a consultant for the Massachusetts Department of Education and still conducts workshops on their behalf. Presently he serves in leadership role at both the state and national level for the Council for Exceptional Children and the National Association of Federal Education Program Administrators.
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