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Donisha Barnes

Donisha Barnes earned a degree in Elementary Education from Johnson C. Smith University in 2011. She was recognized as Teacher of the Year in 2017 and First Year Teacher of the Year in 2011. She served on the Behavior Management Team for 3 years in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. In the Nash Rocky Mount School District, she has served as Leadership Chair for 2 years, Grade Level Chair and been a member of the School Improvement Team. Donisha is currently a 5th grade teacher at Benvenue Elementary School, where she has served as the Indistar Process Manager since 2015. Donisha can be reached at

Dawn Blankenship

Dawn Blankenship earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in British Literature along with a teaching certification from Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, WV. She earned her Master of Science Degree in Business Organizational Leadership from Siena Heights University in Adrian, MI. Dawn has been teaching for 20 years and has spent the past ten years teaching English and working as a curriculum coach for Johnston County Public Schools (JCPS) at West Johnston High School. She is a two time recipient of the Leading With the Heart Award from JCPS. Dawn currently teaches at Johnston County Early College Academy located in Smithfield, NC on Johnston Community College’s Campus. Dawn can be reached at

Derek Cobb

Derek Cobb earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Georgia. During his undergraduate years, Derek began his professional career working as an academic interventionist. He was brought to North Carolina when he joined the Teach For America corps in 2016. Over the past 3 years, Derek has taught 5th grade at Lakeforest Elementary in Pitt County and Parkwood Elementary in Durham County . He has also served as grade chair, SIT and leadership team member, PBIS chair, and behavior interventionist. Derek can be reached at

Taneeka Hanna

Taneeka attended Howard University and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development and a Master of Arts in Teaching. She began her teaching career as a third grade teacher in Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland. She was Social Studies chair and program coordinator for the STREAM Robotics Program. She is currently completing her AIG certification at Duke University. Taneeka is currently the 5th grade level chair at Eno Valley Elementary School, where she recently ranked in the top 25% based on EVASS growth in math. Taneeka can be reached at

Danielle Howard

Danielle Howard earned an undergraduate degree in sociology at North Carolina Central University and an early childhood education degree from Mount Olive University. She was selected as a top three finalist for Teacher of the Year 2019 at Eastway Elementary. Additionally, she was a member of the School Leadership Network team for Durham Public Schools, served as the grade level chair for two years, and was on the school improvement team. Danielle currently teaches first grade at Eastway Elementary in Durham, NC. Danielle can be reached at

Ryan Kulikowski

Ryan earned an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Winona State University in Minnesota where he received the President’s Award for Distinguished Service. He also earned a Master of Arts in Teaching from National-Louis University in Chicago, IL. Ryan has been a middle school social studies and humanities teacher for thirteen years. For nine years he taught overseas at the American International School-Kuwait, Shanghai American School, and the Anglo-American School of Moscow. He was involved with 1:1 laptop program implementation, standards-based assessment transitions, International Baccalaureate Middle Year Program training, and Common Core implementation. Ryan is currently teaching 7th Grade Social Studies at R.D. & Euzelle Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill where he is a member of the School Improvement Team and the AVID Site Team. Ryan can be reached at

Nerey Lane

Nerey Lane is originally from Panamá. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Kaplan University earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood Development. She also earned a Master of Education degree from Liberty University. She has North Carolina’s Early Childhood Credential (NCECC) and North Carolina’s Early Childhood Administration Credential (NCECAC). Nery taught Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten in private school settings and served as the Center Director at Gethsemane SDA Childcare Center (2013-2014). Later, She made the transition to teach World Language Spanish grades K-12. She also tutors many college students. She received the Teacher of the Month award (October 2016) while teaching World Language Spanish to the elementary and high school level at Word of God Christian Academy. Today, she is serving as a middle school World Language instructor at Wendell Middle School and is happy to be the first Spanish teacher to introduce the Hispanic Heritage celebration at Wendell Middle School. Nerey can be reached at

Emily Makay

Emily earned an undergraduate degree in Early Childhood Education from Pennsylvania State University. She began her career in education as a fifth grade teacher at Creedmoor Elementary School in Granville County. She participated in PBIS, 21st Century Instruction Technology, and Arts Integration trainings. Emily is the department chair of her grade level team as well as the data team chair. She also serves on the school leadership team and school improvement team. Emily is the fifth grade representative on the English Language Arts curriculum design team for her district. Emily can be reached at

Candice McCaskill

Candice earned her bachelor’s degree in Business Education from North Carolina A&T State University as a North Carolina Teaching Fellow. She has taught several Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes including Sports and Entertainment Marketing, Honors E-commerce and Career Management. Candice is currently serving as the Instructional Management Coordinator at Middle Creek High School. As coordinator, she oversees all CTE assessments and assists teachers as a coach and mentor. She is also the advisor for The National Achievers’ Society and serves on the Equity Team and Scholarship committee. Candice can be reached at

Marissa Smith

Marissa Smith graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and English and K-12 reading certification. She also earned a Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Phoenix. As a 19 year veteran educator, she has taught students in Wake, Winston Salem/Forsyth, and Durham County Schools. Marissa has worked as a classroom teacher, reading interventionist, literacy coach, and Instructional Resource Teacher. Marissa is currently serving as a Literacy Instructional Coach at Brentwood Elementary, where she also serves on the School Improvement Committee and the Instructional Leadership Team, is a mentor for beginning teachers, and is coordinator of school and community literacy initiatives. Marissa can be reached at