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The Virginia Middle School Association is an alliance of schools and individuals advocating academic excellence in a supportive and equitable learning environment responsive to the diverse interest, talents, accomplishments and needs of young adolescents.

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Board of Directors

Dr. Elizabeth Sanders

Principal, St. Clare Walker Middle School
Middlesex County Public Schools

Dr. Sanders is the principal at St. Clare Walker Middle School in Middlesex County. Her teaching career began in 2009 as a middle school language arts teacher. She later became an elementary school principal. After, two years at the elementary level, she returned to middle school where her passion lies. 

Dr. Sanders completed her Bachelor's degree and Master's degree in teaching at James Madison University and received a Master's degree in Educational Leadership at William and Mary. She earned her Doctorate of Education from VCU in 2022. She lives in Lancaster County with her husband and son. 

Mychael Willon

Mychael has been involved with public education for most of his adult life.  Teaching in Charles County and Howard County, Maryland, before moving into administration in Frederick County, Maryland.

He has risen through the ranks from an assistant principal there, to a principal, coordinator and director in Wichita, Kansas. He went on to serve as an assistant superintendent in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and then taking on the role of superintendent in Owego, New York. He then worked in the New York City School system, as a Local Instructional Superintendent and other roles, before moving to Texas to work with a company helping students that had dropped out of high school, earn diplomas. 

Since retiring, he continues to advocate for children by working with the PTA, the Military Family Advisory Network and serving on various committees in the school district. He and his husband have two boys. They reside in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Dr. Sandy Frederick
Past President

Assistant Professor of Education
Emory & Henry College

Dr. Frederick is originally from Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and earned her Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education Social Studies from Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama.  She began her teaching career in an urban school division in Austin, Texas, and taught middle school history for three years before moving to Virginia. 

In 2005 Dr. Frederick earned her Master’s in Education in School Administration from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University.  During this time she also began teaching middle school social studies in Washington County, VA.  In 2014, she moved into school administration as a middle school assistant principal. 

Dr. Frederick earned her Doctorate of Education from East Tennessee State University in 2019 in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Analysis.  In 2018, Dr. Frederick joined the Education Department faculty and currently teaches Human Growth and Development, Assessing for Learning, Practicum in Education, and Student Teaching Seminar.  Dr. Frederick also services as the Director of the Neff Center for Teacher Education, Education Department Chair, and CAEP Lead. 

Dr. Susan Proffitt
Director, Region I-A

Principal, Holman Middle School
Henrico County Public Schools

Dr. Susan Proffitt is currently the Principal of Holman Middle School in Henrico County Public Schools. Dr. Proffitt has served previously as a middle school associate principal, middle school assistant principal, and high school mathematics teacher.

Dr. Proffitt is a graduate of the University of Richmond, BA Mathematics, and Virginia Commonwealth University, M.Ed. Administration and Supervision and Ph. D. Educational Leadership.

Courtney Swartz
Director, Region I-B

Principal, Powhatan Middle School
Powhatan County Public Schools

Gary Skeen
Director, Region II-A

Virtual Partnership Specialist
Hampton City Public Schools

Mr. Gary Skeen is in his 12th year as a Virginia educator. He has held the position of Director of Bands across parts of Southwestern Virginia and Virginia Beach. His bands received numerous awards over the years, including Virginia Honor Band honors at Virginia High School in Bristol, VA as well as Blue Ribbon School of Music awards at both Virginia High and Plaza Middle School in Virginia Beach. He is an active adjudicator in music throughout Virginia and North Carolina, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Educational Leadership from Old Dominion University.

This is Mr. Skeen's first year with Hampton City Schools, serving as the Virtual Partnership Specialist and Family Support Specialist for the new FLEx program, both housed in the Department of Innovation and Professional Learning.

Sara Mendez
Director, Region II-B

Assistant Principal, Plaza Middle School

Sara Mendez is an educator with a 19-year career in the field of education. Currently serving as an Assistant Principal at College Park Elementary School in Virginia Beach, Ms. Mendez brings a wealth of experience and expertise to her role.

Ms. Mendez's administrative journey has seen her excel in various leadership positions. She spent four years as an Assistant Principal at Plaza Middle School, an esteemed International Baccalaureate MYP institution, followed by a year of dedicated service at Bayside Middle School. Prior to transitioning into administration, Ms. Mendez contributed significantly as a classroom educator. She taught English to 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade students for eight years, and for an additional five years, she guided 1st and 2nd graders in Suffolk Public Schools. Her dedication to nurturing young minds and fostering academic growth has been unwavering.

Ms. Mendez's commitment to educational excellence is further underscored by her academic achievements. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and Family Studies from James Madison University, a Master's Degree in Education from Old Dominion University, and an Educational Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from VA Tech.

Residing in Chesapeake, VA, Ms. Mendez is the proud mother of two children, aged 10 and 14, and has been happily married for 17 years. Her family also includes two canine companions.

LeShante Knight
Director, Region III

Director of Educator Leadership Development

Shante’ Knight is a career educator who has served as an elementary and middle school teacher, award-winning principal, and district leader, prior to joining the ASCD team as their Director of Educator Leadership Development. 

She is a proven school culture and academic transformation strategist who specializes in leadership development and ed innovation.

Prior to transitioning to corporate leadership, Mrs. Knight led underperforming schools and helped them realize double-digit gains in student performance through strategic leadership.  She has an appreciation for the challenges that students in marginalized communities face and seeing education as the gateway to a fulfilled life, her goal now is to support educators with tools they need to teach and lead happily. 

Mrs. Knight received her undergraduate degree from HBCU, Bowie State University in MD and her Master's degree in Education Administration from Trinity College in Wash, DC. She currently resides in Midlothian, VA with her husband and their two boys.

Dr. Sheila Steen
Director, Region IV-A

Middle School Division Instructional Facilitator
Loudoun County Public Schools

Dr. Sheila Steen’s career in education spans approximately 25 years, with 20 of those years serving at the middle school level.  She is presently a Middle School Division Instructional Facilitator for Loudoun County Public Schools.  Her previous work experience includes Special Education teacher, Special Education department chair, and mentor leader.  Immediately prior to becoming an Instructional Facilitator, she served as a middle school Dean for several years.  

Dr. Steen earned her Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree from the College of William and Mary.  She earned her Doctorate in Educational Administration and Policy Studies from The George Washington University.  Dr. Steen is dedicated to middle school level education and is committed to supporting school communities in providing rich, engaging learning experiences for all students.

Kanika Dorsey
Director, Region IV-B

Principal, Potomac Shores Middle School
Prince William County Public Schools

Ms. Dorsey, a 15 year veteran of public education, has worked in New York State, VA, D.C., and MD public schools.  In addition to teaching English Language Arts (ELA) at the middle school level, she has served as a literacy coach, testing coordinator, and resource teacher.  Ms. Dorsey worked at the MD Department of Education as an ELA Specialist where she helped school districts develop formative assessments and written lessons for grades 7 and 8. She also served as the ELA Specialist on the Maryland Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) team. 

Ms. Dorsey is a graduate of Lehman College in the Bronx, NY where she earned an undergraduate degree in English.  She earned a Master of Secondary Education degree from Bowie State University and is currently working on her Ph.D. at Notre Dame of Maryland University.

Emily Holloway
Director, Region V

Principal, Elkton Middle School
Rockingham County Public Schools

Emily Holloway has been in education for 20 years, 17 of those years have been within middle schools as a teacher or administrator. She attended and received her Bachelor Degree from Bridgewater College and then her Master of Science in Educational Leadership and Supervision from Shenandoah University. Currently, Emily is pursuing her PhD in Education and Leadership from Liberty University. As a middle school teacher, she taught Reading and Language Arts as well as Career and Technical Education (Family and Consumer Sciences). Emily's love of education has always been middle school and enjoying the awkward times of middle school with her students. 

Her career as an administrator started as assistant principal of Elkton Middle School in 2009 and then spent five years as Principal of the Alternative Education School in Rockingham County. Recently in 2018, Emily returned to Elkton Middle School as Principal. Emily has a true passion for middle school students and helping them navigate their path to being lifelong learners and successful participants in society. 

Fiona Hill
Director, Region VI

Principal, Cave Spring Middle School
Roanoke County Public Schools

Jason Matlock
Director, Region VII

Principal, Damascus Middle School
Washington County Public Schools

Dr. Adrian Chatman
Director, Region VIII

Secondary Reading Instructional Coach
Greensville County Public Schools

Judith Painter
Teacher Representative

Teacher, Andrew Lewis Middle School
Salem City Schools

Judith Painter is starting her 32nd year in education at the middle and high school levels.  She is currently teaching 8th grade students in World Geography and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) at Andrew Lewis Middle School in Salem, Virginia. 

Judith is always looking for strategies to help her students develop empathy for other cultures and the natural world.  She is passionate about supporting her students' growth as individuals and within the global community.

Kyle McLaughlin
Teacher Representative

Teacher, Lake Ridge Middle School
Prince William County Public Schools

Kyle McLaughlin is starting his 4th year in education at the middle level. Currently, he is teaching 8th grade Physical Science at Lake Ridge Middle school in Woodbridge, VA. He also serves as the department head for science and the Robotics sponsor at his school.

Kyle is always striving to give his students hands-on lab activities to help explore the worlds of chemistry and physics, as well as instilling high expectations for all that enter his classroom.

JJ Green
At-Large Representative

Assistant Principal, Marion Middle School
Smyth County Public Schools

Staff and Non-Voting Board Members

Barbara Nichols
Executive Director

Retired, Director of Middle School Education
Loudon County Public Schools

Barbara Nichols is retired from public education in Virginia after 34 years of service. She served as a classroom teacher and building administrator at the high school level for 16 years. The remaining time in her career was at the division level, serving as a Secondary Supervisor, Director of Middle School Education and Interim Assistant Superintendent of Instruction with Loudoun County Public Schools in Northern Virginia.

A past president of VMSA, Barbara became Executive Director in 2018.

Katie Johnson
Associate Director

Principal, Belmont Ridge Middle School
Loudon County Public Schools

Katie Johnson is starting her eighteenth year in education and most importantly, her fourteenth year in the middle level.  In addition to teaching United States History and Government and Civics at both the high school and middle school levels, Mrs. Johnson has served as a middle school department chair, middle school dean, middle school assistant principal, and currently serves as the proud principal of Belmont Ridge Middle School in Leesburg, Virginia. 

Mrs. Johnson is a graduate of the State University of New York at Binghamton.  She earned her Master of Science in Education at Hofstra University and her administrative certificate at George Mason University.  Mrs. Johnson understands and values the transformative years of middle school and embraces the education of the whole child.  Focusing her leadership on cultivating deeper learning experiences for adolescents in a safe, supportive learning environment is truly a passion for Mrs. Johnson.  She looks forward to serving the members of VSMA as the associate director.

Dr. Ken Nicely
Board Advisor/AMLE Liaison

Roanoke County Public Schools

Dr. Ken Nicely first joined Roanoke County Public Schools in 1993 as a teacher at Cave Spring High School.  In 2002, he was named an assistant principal at Hidden Valley Middle School and became principal at HVMS in 2006.  Dr. Nicely moved to central office in 2012 as the Director of Secondary Instruction & Technology and became the Director of Administration in 2016. In Spring 2018, Dr. Nicely became Assistant Superintendent of Administration and then, on August 9, 2018, the School Board named Dr. Nicely as superintendent following the retirement of his predecessor. 

Dr. Nicely holds a Bachelor’s degree from the College of William & Mary, a Master’s degree from the University of Virginia and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Virginia Tech.

Dr. Nicely serves on the local boards for Virginia Western Community College and United Way of Roanoke Valley, as well as the Cohen Career Center at William & Mary. He has taught as adjunct professor at Virginia Tech, Radford University, and Hollins University. He has served as president of Virginia Middle School Association, chairman of the Virginia School Consortium for Learning, and trustee for the international Association for Middle Level Education. He is the recipient of the 2019 Virginia ASCD Leadership Award, the 2012 Ted Sizer Dissertation Award from National Association of Secondary School Principals, and 2001 Virginia Excellence in K-12 Teaching Award from the Foreign Language Association of Virginia. He and his wife are the proud parents of three children who graduated from Roanoke County Public Schools.

Logan Childress
Technology Advisor

Emerging Technology Specialist
Bristol Virginia Public Schools

Logan Childress, an accomplished music educator and producer turned Emerging Technology Specialist, is known for his exceptional work in introducing innovative technologies and computer science initiatives in the education sector. In this role, he built two state-of-the-art virtual reality labs, which were instrumental in helping Bristol Virginia Public Schools win one of twelve “Top Schools and Universities” designations in Virginia.

Childress has been recognized for his outstanding work in educational technology, including being named the 2022 Virginia Society for Technology Education’s “Outstanding Technology Coach of the Year” and serving as a Virginia School Board Association "Hot Topic" Conference Panelist. He has also collaborated with Virginia state lawmakers to introduce legislation promoting the growth and adoption of modern, groundbreaking technologies in public education.

In 2019, Childress helped pilot the implementation of esports for the Virginia High School League and currently leads the CodeVirginia Computer Science Ready Initiative for Bristol Virginia Public Schools. Under his leadership, the school system is on track to be among the first middle school and high schools in the state of Virginia to be labeled “CS Ready.”

Childress’ work has been showcased in local media and recognized by national publications such as the U.S. News and World Report, the Houston Chronicle, and The Washington Post. He currently serves as the Technology Advisor for the Virginia Middle School Association Board of Directors and continues to champion the use of emerging technologies to enrich learning experiences for everyone across the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Dr. Mark L’Esperance
Middle Level Leadership Liaison

Dean, College of Education
James Madison University

Dr. Mark L’Esperance was named professor and dean of James Madison University’s College of Education, effective July 1, 2019. L’Esperance previously was professor and chair of the Department of Elementary Education and Middle Grades Education at East Carolina University, where he was also the lead faculty administrator for the East Carolina University Community School. L’Esperance joined the faculty at ECU in 1998 and has presented and published extensively at the state, national and international levels. L’Esperance has worked with public-school systems in coaching hundreds of administrators related to strategic planning and instructional leadership.

L’Esperance’s vision for JMU is to build upon an already strong foundation. It is his belief that the College of Education will embrace a culture of significance, empowered by a collective sense of purpose based on clearly defined mission, vision and goals. This vision aligns directly with JMU’s commitment to engagement. L’Esperance also hopes to elevate recognition of the college to a national level—highlighting the impact it has on both innovation and best practices in educator preparation, military science and through civic and community engagement.

L’Esperance’s graduate studies included doctoral work at Indiana University and earning a Ph.D. in 1998 from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. He is a native of Lynn, Massachusetts, and enjoys spending time with his wife of 32 years, Pam, along with their three adult children and their families. In his free time, he enjoys reading, weightlifting and watching college sports.

Dr. Nancy Deutsch
Co-Liaison for Higher Education

Linda K. Bunker Professor of Education
University of Virginia School of Education

Nancy Deutsch is the director of Youth-Nex, the UVA Center to Promote Effective Youth Development at the School of Education and Human Development. She is a Professor of Research, Statistics & Evaluation and Applied Developmental Science and is also affiliated with EHD's Youth & Social Innovation (YSI) Program. Deutsch's research examines the socio-ecological contexts of adolescent development, particularly issues related to identity. She has focused on the role of after-school programs and relationships with important adults, and is especially interested in the process of adolescent learning and development as it unfolds within local environments for better understanding about how to create settings that better support youth, especially those at risk due to economic or sociocultural factors.

She received her BA from Vassar College and completed her Ph.D. in Human Development and Social Policy at Northwestern University. In 2017 Deutsch became editor of the Journal of Adolescent Research. She had been an Associate Editor of that publication. She also sits on the editorial board for Qualitative Psychology and the Research Advisory Board for the National Mentoring Resource Center (NMRC).

Dr. Abbie Gillespie
Co-Liaison for Higher Education

Director of Strategy and Engagement
University of Virginia School of Education

Abby Gillespie is Director of Strategy and Engagement for the University of Virginia Youth-Nex Center to Promote Effective Youth Development. In this role, Abby focuses on building and strengthening networks and partnerships, driving key initiatives and special projects to accelerate Youth-Nex’s impact, and enhancing organizational capacity. One area of focus for Abby is the Reimagining Middle School initiative. By designing, implementing, and evaluating developmentally supportive, research-based educational innovations, the initiative’s aim is to dramatically improve learning experiences and outcomes for all young adolescents in the middle grades.

Abby has spent much of her career working to improve education, often in the capacity of supporting organizations to launch something new, strategically grow, and deepen and strengthen impact in support of young people. Her professional background includes classroom teaching, advocacy and policy, education and healthcare consulting, and nonprofit management and programming. Abby earned a Master of Education from Pace University and bachelor’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Jamie Soltis
Schools to Watch Co-Director

Assistant Superintendent
Salem City Public Schools

Mike Riley
Schools to Watch Co-Director

Brendon Albon
VDOE Representative

Director, Office of STEM & Innovation
Virginia Department of Education

Brendon Albon served as a mathematics and PE teacher in his native South Africa, before moving to Lynchburg, where he taught mathematics for seven years and served as a Math Specialist for two years. After that, he worked as an Instructional Supervisor overseeing multiple subject areas. During these years, he acquired his masters and doctoral degrees from Lynchburg College.

For two and half years, he served as the Executive Director of the Appomattox Regional Governor's School in Petersburg, VA.  Since March 1, 2021 he has worked at the Virginia Department of Education as the Director of STEM & Innovation.  

Tim Keenan

Principal, Beville Middle School
Prince William County Public Schools

Tim Keenan is in his 26th year in education with the past 23 years spent at the middle school level and all of which have been spent in Prince William County. He received his undergraduate degree from Virginia Tech and taught Civics and Economics during his middle school teaching career.

He earned Masters in Education degrees from George Mason University in Curriculum and Instruction as well as Administration and Supervision.  For the past 12 years he has been an administrator in Prince William County, currently serving as principal of Beville Middle since 2012.

Sedriana Willis
Publications Co-Coordinator

James Madison University

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