OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL: 2019 State of Michigan Education Conference

On January 16, 2019, hundreds of Michiganders joined together to put our students first. Through expert panels and conversations, we explored existing inequities in Michigan public education and how we can collaborate to overcome these challenges.


Event Videos



  • Amber Arellano, Executive Director, The Education Trust-Midwest

9:20 AM  – PANEL: “Our struggle is for genuine equality;” Opportunities and challenges around  an equitable public education in Michigan

  • Melody Arabo, Outreach Specialist, EdReports.org; former Michigan Teacher of the Year
  • David E. Meador, Vice  Chairman & Chief Administrative Officer, DTE Energy
  • Kristin Totten, Education Attorney, ACLU of Michigan
  • Chastity Pratt Dawsey, Bridge Magazine (Moderator)

10:05 AM – KEYNOTE

  • Curtis Lewis, Ph.D., Founder, Black Male Educators Alliance of Michigan (BMEA); Executive Director, Curriculum and Instruction, Detroit 90/90 (introduction)
  • John B. King, Jr, President & CEO, The Education Trust; fmr. U.S. Secretary of Education


  • John B. King, Jr, President & CEO, The Education Trust; fmr. U.S. Secretary of Education
  • Rochelle Riley, Columnist, Detroit Free Press (moderator)

10:55 AM – PANEL: “The fierce urgency of now;” Putting Michigan on the path toward overcoming inequities

  • John B. King, Jr, President & CEO, The Education Trust; fmr. U.S. Secretary of Education
  • Teresa Weatherall Neal, Superintendent of School, Grand Rapids Public Schools
  • Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent, Detroit Public Schools Community District
  • Rochelle Riley, Columnist, Detroit Free Press (moderator)


  • Amber Arellano, Executive Director, The Education Trust-Midwest
  • Alice G. Thompson, Chief Executive Officer, Black Family Development, Inc.


Melody Arabo

Melody Arabo is an Outreach Specialist for EdReports.org, developing partnerships with states, districts, and non-profits across the country to ensure students have access to high-quality instructional materials. Prior to this role, Melody was a Teacher Ambassador Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education and was honored to serve as the 2015 Michigan Teacher of the Year.

She is a proud graduate of Michigan State University and spent fifteen years teaching third grade in the Walled Lake School District. In addition to being a wife, mother of three, and author, Melody is a passionate advocate for bullying prevention, special education, teacher leadership, and all things education.

Amber Arellano

Amber Arellano oversees research and policy, public engagement, technical assistance and operations at The Education Trust-Midwest. Founded in 2010, today Ed Trust-Midwest is widely recognized as a leading voice for non-partisan data, research, and policy expertise about Michigan P-12 education. Under her leadership, Ed Trust-Midwest led the statewide coalition of more than 146 organizations committed to implementing college- and career-readiness for all students, and the cross-sector development of Michigan’s first statewide educator support and evaluation system which is credited with making Tennessee one of the leading education states in the U.S. today. In partnership with the Steelcase Foundation, Arellano also founded the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning to bring proven best practices from leading education states to Michigan’s high-poverty schools.  That work has blossomed into CETL schools becoming among Michigan’s fastest-improving, high-poverty schools for many subjects including third-grade reading.

Arellano started her career as a public high school teacher, and later became an award-winning education journalist known for her work on behalf of vulnerable students. In the policy sector, she has served in the executive office of Ireland’s former President Mary Robinson at the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN, and at the National Poverty Center where she focused on qualitative research work.  Arellano bleeds both blue and green:  she earned her Master of Public Policy at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy, and her Bachelor’s in secondary education from Michigan State University. She serves on the board of the Detroit Regional Chamber Foundation and the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy Alumni Board.

Chastity Pratt Dawsey

Chastity Pratt Dawsey covers urban affairs in the Detroit bureau of Bridge Magazine, a digital news publication produced by The Center for Michigan. She joined Bridge in 2013 after more than a decade of providing authoritative coverage of Detroit schools for the Detroit Free Press. Her award-winning reporting inspired the creation of a Detroit blight-reduction program and the firing and jailing of several school officials.

Her work also has appeared in USA Today and Essence Magazine. A native Detroiter, Chastity is a graduate  – and face-painting football fan – of the University of Michigan.

John B. King, Jr.

John B. King Jr. is the president and CEO of The Education Trust, a national nonprofit organization that seeks to identify and close opportunity and achievement gaps, from preschool through college. King served in President Barack Obama’s cabinet as the 10th U.S. Secretary of Education. In tapping him to lead the U.S. Department of Education, President Obama called King “an exceptionally talented educator,” citing his commitment to “preparing every child for success” and his lifelong dedication to education as a teacher, principal, and leader of schools and school systems.

Before becoming education secretary, King carried out the duties of the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education, overseeing all policies and programs related to P-12 education, English learners, special education, and innovation. In this role, King also oversaw the agency’s operations. King joined the department following his tenure as the first African American and Puerto Rican to serve as New York State Education Commissioner.

King began his career in education as a high school social studies teacher in Puerto Rico and Boston, Mass., and as a middle school principal.

King’s life story is an extraordinary testament to the transformative power of education. Both of King’s parents were career New York City public school educators, whose example serves as an enduring inspiration. Both of King’s parents passed away from illness by the time he was 12 years old. He credits New York City public school teachers — particularly educators at P.S. 276 in Canarsie and Mark Twain Junior High School in Coney Island — for saving his life by providing him with rich and engaging educational experiences and by giving him hope for the future.

King holds a Bachelor of Arts in government from Harvard University, a J.D. from Yale Law School, as well as a Master of Arts in the teaching of social studies and a doctorate in education from Teachers College at Columbia University. King serves as a visiting professor at the University of Maryland’s College of Education and is a member of several boards, including those for The Century Foundation, The Robin Hood Foundation, Teach Plus, and the American Museum of Natural History. He also serves on several advisory boards, including Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative, the Rework America Task Force, the GOOD+ Foundation’s Fatherhood Leadership Council, and the National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement at the University of California.

King lives in Silver Spring, Md., with his wife (a former kindergarten and first-grade teacher) and his two daughters, who attend local public schools.You can follow King on Twitter via @JohnBKing.

Curtis Lewis

Dr. Curtis Lewis is an accomplished school leader and urban educator and Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Culture for Detroit 90/90’s 10 school network.  In 2015, he had a vision to galvanize his educational accomplishments, years of experience, and network of educators.  These three “legs of the stool” have been used to marshal in a new organization with the primary goal to recruit, retain, and develop black male educators. As a result of the need and skill gap, The Network: Black Male Educators Alliance of Michigan was established.  Its overarching goal is to dismantle the institutional impediments to diversity within the educational profession, thereby improving the educational experiences of urban youth.

Dr. Lewis earned his Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, and Doctoral degree in Curriculum, Teaching and Education Policy – all from Michigan State University.

Dr. Lewis taught for several years as a 5th grade teacher, middle school math teacher, and an alternative education teacher at the secondary level for the Lansing Public School District. While in graduate school, he taught a myriad of courses at Michigan State University, coordinated an intervention program for first-time youth offenders, and was director of a mentoring program for young males of color. Additionally, he has served as a visiting instructor at the University of Michigan and as a Student Services Specialist with the Lansing School District.

After years of teaching, Dr. Lewis set his sights on impacting education at the administrative and collegiate levels. He was the founding principal of Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School and the turnaround principal for Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies. Prior to his leadership at the Henry Ford Academies, he was Manager of Teacher Leadership Development for Teach for America for which he received the Core Value Team award for his unwavering commitment to effectively developing young educators. In 2013, Dr. Lewis was recognized in the Michigan Chronicle 40 Under 40 cohort of rising young leaders in Metro Detroit.

David E. Meador

David E. Meador is vice chairman and chief administrative officer of DTE Energy (NYSE: DTE), a Detroit-based diversified energy company involved in the development and management of energy-related businesses and services nationwide. DTE Energy’s operating units include an electric utility serving 2.2 million customers in Southeastern Michigan and a natural gas utility serving 1.3 million customers in Michigan. The DTE Energy portfolio also includes non-utility energy businesses focused on power and industrial projects, natural gas pipelines, gathering and storage, and energy marketing and trading. As one of Michigan’s leading corporate citizens, DTE Energy is a force for growth and prosperity in the 450 Michigan communities it serves in a variety of ways, including philanthropy, volunteerism and economic progress.

Meador oversees information technology, procurement, fleet, facilities, corporate communications as well as government, corporate & public affairs and the company’s philanthropic giving.

Meador joined DTE Energy in 1997 as vice president and controller. In addition to controller, Meador previously served as senior vice president, treasurer and chief financial officer of DTE Energy.  In December 2013, the board of directors elected Meador to his current position.  Prior to joining DTE Energy, he served in a variety of financial and accounting positions at Chrysler Corporation for 14 years, and was an auditor with Coopers & Lybrand.

Meador earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master of business administration degree from Wayne State University.  He is a Certified Public Accountant and member of the MACPA, AICPA and FEI.

Meador was appointed to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation Executive Committee by Governor Rick Snyder in 2014 and is an executive committee member of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation.  He was named 2008 CFO of the Year for Large Public Companies by Crain’s Detroit Business.  He is co-chair of Mayor Duggan’s Detroit Workforce Development Board and is involved in various community and civic activities, chairing the Board of Trustees of the Autism Alliance of Michigan which he co-founded, the Hudson-Webber Foundation, Downtown Detroit Partnership, and Business Leaders for Michigan.  Meador serves on the Michigan Humane Society Executive Committee as Vice Chair, the Wayne State University Foundation Board and is an Emeritus Director of the Detroit Institute of Arts.  He is also a Director of Amerisure Companies, one of the nation’s leading providers of commercial insurance.

Teresa Weatherall Neal

Teresa Weatherall Neal has worked for GRPS for 42 years. She started out as a student worker as a teenager. She has worked in numerous capacities throughout the district. Just prior to her appointment to Superintendent, she worked as the Assistant Superintendent of Community and Student Affairs for seven years.

She has a love for both the students of Grand Rapids and the city itself. She, herself, is a product of Grand Rapids. She comes from a large family with deep roots in the City. She is proud of her education in GRPS and a graduate of Creston High School.

After starting a family, she continued her education and earned an Associate of Arts Degree from Grand Rapids Community College, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Public Administration from Grand Valley State University, and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Western Michigan University. She is also a graduate of the Michigan Leadership Institute’s Superintendent Leadership Academy. Superintendent Neal continuously grows her knowledge by seeking out, and encouraging her staff to seek out, the latest research in education and education reform. She truly believes that education is the greatest the key to any success.

In her non-stop quest to help children and remove barriers to learning, she has been instrumental in developing and implementing some of the programs and support services we still utilize as wrap around support for students in need.

Teresa believes in order to close the achievement gap it will take the collective community.

Rochelle Riley

Rochelle Riley, who always works with two phones, is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, where she is a leading voice for children, education, competent government and race. She is author of “The Burden: African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery” (Wayne State University Press, 2018). She also is a co-founder of Letters to Black Girls,  project that grew from a single presentation to a national mission to pass words of encouragement from black women to girls. She makes frequent television and radio appearances, including on National Public Radio and MSNBC and Fox2. She has won numerous national, state and local honors, including a National Headliner Award for local column writing.

Her debut column for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal called on the city of Louisville to build a museum to honor native son Muhammad Ali. It helped spur an $80 million to build the Muhammad Ali Center, which now sits on the Ohio River. Her columns on the text message scandal that led to the imprisonment of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick were part of the Free Press’ 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning entry for local news.

She received the 2017 Eugene C. Pulliam Editorial Fellowship from the Society of Professional Journalists and the 2017 Ida B. Wells Award from the National Association of Black Journalists for her outstanding efforts to make newsrooms and news coverage more accurately reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. And she has received the Will Rogers Award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists for community service. Rochelle is a global traveler who has been to 28 countries and counting. She was a 2007-2008 Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan, where she studied online communities and film. And she was a 2016 inductee into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame.

Alice G. Thompson

Since 1994, Alice G. Thompson has served as the Chief Executive Officer of Black Family Development, Inc. (BFDI)

When reflecting on her advocacy history, Alice indicates that since the 1970’s, she has been laser focused on, “Being a part of the solution, and not part of the problem.” She admits that her activism in the 70’s helped to shape a solid foundation and philosophy about her role in making a difference in not only the lives of others, but the communities in which they live. As an active member of the National Association of Black Social Workers since the 1970’s and a member of the NAACP, Alice frames her work within the context of advocacy for racial equity, diversity, inclusion, and economic, political and social justice.

Since serving as CEO of BFDI, Alice has led the organization to strategically focus on the mission of the organization, advance programming, continuous quality improvement, expand areas of CARF accreditation, while increasing the organization’s budget from $1.3 million dollars in 1994, to as high as $29 million dollars in 2007.

Alice completed the Harvard Business School Strategic Perspective in Nonprofit Management, and is a graduate of Leadership Detroit Class of XXV. Alice is a graduate of Wayne State University (WSU), where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work and Master’s Degree in Social Work Administration. She later served for 10 years as Adjunct Professor in the School of Social Work. In 1992 and 2007, she was the recipient of the “Social Worker Alumna of the Year Award”, among many other recognitions. She presently serves as Chair of the WSU School of Social Work Board of Visitors, and Third Vice President of the Detroit Branch of the NAACP. Alice serves on many Boards, with a focus on education, workforce development, community engagement, social justice, equity, and other quality of life issues, including the revitalization of communities in the City of Detroit.

Kristin Rinehart Totten

Kristin Rinehart Totten–ACLU of Michigan, Education Attorney, Flint, MI.  Her work includes:

  • Representing the children of Flint in the Eastern District Court, in a Federal class action to have their educational needs met in the wake of the Flint Water Crisis. https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/michigan/flint-water-crisis/2018/04/12/flint-kids-lead-screening/33761965/
  • Coordinating the advocacy efforts of the ACLU of Michigan, the Education Law Center of New Jersey and the International Law Firm of White and Case in New York, to advance systemic change within the Flint Community School District, the Genesee Intermediate School District, and the Michigan Department of Education.
  • Working with Education Attorneys and Advocates to advance an equitable education system in Michigan and to stem the school to prison pipeline of children who have been adversely impacted by lead, poverty, environmental injustice and systemic racism.

Prior to joining the ACLU of Michigan, Kristin represented children in education and child welfare proceedings through her private law practice in Southwest Michigan.  She has worked at the Children’s Law Center in Washington D.C. where she represented children in the child welfare system and advocated for them in every system they were involved with as their Guardian ad Litem.  Her most formative years as a new lawyer were as a staff Attorney at New Haven Legal Assistance in Connecticut where she advocated for the poor in Housing Court and children with disabilities being assigned to her for representation in Juvenile Court who were being denied access to education.

Nikolai Vitti

Dr. Nikolai Vitti was appointed as Superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District on May 23, 2017. During Dr. Vitti’s first year, he immediately worked closely with the Detroit Board of Education by implementing a 100 day plan to evaluate, build a leadership team and begin the task of serving children and families of Detroit under a newly elected board for the first time in almost 15 years. Upon initial evaluation, the process of crafting and implementing a new strategic plan to build a foundation of processes and systems that are designed to improve the district, stabilize and increase enrollment and teacher recruitment, and raise student achievement are underway. Blueprint 2020, DPSCD’s Strategic Plan, provides the pathway, oversight and commitment made by Dr. Vitti, Board of Education, and all staff and faculty of the district.

Before arriving in Detroit, Dr. Vitti led Duval County Public Schools (DCPS), the 20th largest school district in the nation with approximately 130,000 enrolled students in 200 schools, and a fiscal budget of $1.7 billion. During his four and a half years at DCPS, the district ranked among the first to fourth highest performing urban districts in the nation on the National Assessment for Education Progress. In addition, the district’s graduation rates increased from 67 percent in 2012 to 78.8 percent in 2016, surpassing all Florida urban districts in African-American graduation rates. Under Dr. Vitti’s tenure, DCPS has been recognized for its expansion of the arts, foreign languages, innovative school programming, and mental health and progressive discipline strategies. Dr. Vitti also successfully secured more than $40 million in local philanthropy to transform the district’s historically lowest performing schools with a focus on human capital and technology infusion.

Dr. Vitti was previously chief academic officer of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, assistant superintendent for the Miami-Dade district and deputy chancellor at the Florida Department of Education. He also served children as a principal, dean of students, and teacher. He received a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in education from Wake Forest University. He also holds a master’s degree and a doctorate in education from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.


Thank you to the generous sponsors that made Opportunity for All: 2019 State of Michigan Education Conference possible:


For future sponsorship opportunities, please contact Sara Brintnall at [email protected]