all pre-conference sessions are half-day sessions on Wednesday, November 3, 8:30 - 11:30 AM

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Session 1- Unlocking Climate & Culture  (Culture and Climate)
Steve Boller

Developing an environment rooted in respect and values.  We all want a positive climate and culture, but what does that mean? What is the difference between climate and culture and how do we move it forward? In this session, Steve will share…

  • The difference between Climate & Culture (so you know where to focus your energy).
  • The two types of culture in an organization (...yes, there are two).
  • How to identify and strengthen common values throughout the school (because not everyone has the same values).
  • Ideas to improve relationships throughout the school

Steve Bollar, a.k.a. Stand Tall Steve, is an educational thought leader, former Superintendent of Schools, principal, author and a school culture and motivation expert.  He is known for his quick wit, creative thought, and humorous personality. 

Steve is the author of the leadership book Stand Tall Leadership, school culture book Ideas, Ideas, Ideas! and is a contributing author in the book School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying One Classroom at a Time.

Steve openly shares his knowledge, experiences and creativity with others. He currently speaks to students, staff and communities throughout the world about how to think differently about schools, education, and life.


Session 2 -Strategies To Discussing Race in Schools and Combatting Racism (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI))
Derek Francis

In the wake of recent racial incidents in our country, educators find themselves looking for strategies to have conversations about race with students. In this session we will learn age appropriate strategies for talking about race with kids and building their racial identity. We will also explore strategies to support students after a major racial incident.

- Learn strategies for talking about race with students
- Examine barriers to addressing race and racism in counseling
- Gain understanding of how racism impacts students, families and communities.
- Learn strategies to lead proactive lessons addressing race and combatting racism

Derek Francis is a passionate school counselor with years of experience focusing on a proactive, equity based and proactive approach.  He currently serves as the Manager of Counseling Services for Minneapolis Public Schools.  Derek specializes in helping students and staff build trusting cross cultural relationships and has presented at state and national conferences.   Recently, Derek lead a webinar for over 25,000 counselors and educators on “Proactive School Counseling After a Major Racial Incident.”   Some of Derek’s published work includes contributions to Contemporary Case Studies in School Counseling, published blog “This Is Not A Fire Drill – Supporting students after George Floyd” and July/August publication articles for American School Counselors Association and American School Board Journal.  Derek was quoted in a recent Time Magazine article titled “You Can’t Be Silent, Brace for Presidential Election.”  Spending time with his daughter and traveling are Derek’s favorite hobbies.  Derek also serves on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Team for ASCA and as a professional Development Specialist for Hatching Results.


Session 3 - Legal and Ethics
Brian Smith, Harben, Hartley & Hawkins 

School counselors often find themselves in the center of a variety of issues with potential legal ramifications.  This session will cover many of those topics, including mandated reporting, enrollment and withdrawal, FERPA, privacy and confidentiality, liability, and continuing issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Brian Smith obtained his J.D. Degree from the University of Georgia Law School in 2004.  He served on the Editorial Board and as Senior Articles editor of the Journal of Intellectual Property Law while at UGA Law School.

Brian joined the firm presently known as Harben, Hartley & Hawkins in 2004.  Since 1980, the firm has represented public school systems throughout the state, presently serving approximately 120 of the 180 school districts in the state in some capacity.  Additionally, the firm serves as general counsel to the Georgia School Boards Association and as legal advisor to the Georgia School Superintendents Association, the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders and other professional educational leadership groups throughout the state. 

Brian is a member of the State Bar of Georgia, the Supreme Court of Georgia, Georgia Court of Appeals, and the Northern and Middle federal district courts in the state of Georgia.

He is a member of the National Council of School Attorneys and the Georgia Council of School Attorneys, and has presented to school districts and educational associations across the state on various legal issues.


Session 4 -The Bridge Away From Burnout (Mental Health)
Dr. Melisa Marsh

Do you feel like you might be experiencing burnout? Most of us experience burnout at some point or another. When we do, we are desperate for a way through it. This session will help you as a school counselor, educator, administrator, etc. to understand the process of working through stressors and away from burnout. You will leave the session with a better understanding of what causes burnout, what it does to our bodies, and how we can create a bridge away from burnout.

Melisa Marsh, Ph.D. currently serves as the Supervisor of School Counseling, Advisement, and Crisis Response for the Cobb County school district in Marietta, GA., where she coordinates the development and supervision of school counseling, student advisement, crisis response, and Hospital Homebound programs. She has 17 years of experience in ļ¬lling the roles of Georgia State High School Counselor, Supervisor of Counseling, and School Counseling and Advisement Consultant. Melisa received her Ph.D. in Counseling Education and Personnel Services and her Specialist Degree in School Counseling from the University of Georgia. She received her Advanced Masters in School Counseling Program from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Marsh is also the author of two books in the 15-Minute Focus series: Suicide: Prevention, Intervention, and Postvention and Depression: Signs and Strategies for Counselors, Educators, and Parents. Missy lives in the Atlanta Metro area with her husband and puppy. In her spare time she enjoys traveling, yoga, cycling, running, hiking, and spending as much time outdoors as possible.


Session 5 - Stereotypes, Stigmas, Stories and Restorative Practices (Social Emotional Learning (SEL))
Dr. Veneschia Bryant

Stereotypes and Stigmas have become so commonplace in society and these beliefs and practices find their way inside the hallways, classrooms, and spaces within and around schools. What might happen if a school community chooses to intentionally shift from preconceived ideas and problematic thinking to sharing stories, perspectives, and contextual clarity? This session will provide an active learning experience for participants to investigate this type of shift through the lens of Restorative Practices, as a culture changer for creating and sustaining a positive, nurturing, and highly functional school culture and climate.

Dr. Veneschia Bryant is a native of Atlanta, Georgia and graduate of Atlanta Public Schools (APS), and therefore is committed to serving the APS community. Her pillars of support are her faith, family, and friends and with these systems securely in place, she capitalizes on every moment as being full of potential, promise, and possibilities. Currently serving as a Social Emotional Learning Coordinator, she believes in the words of Dr. James Comer, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” It is everyone’s responsibility to find the potential, promise, and possibilities within our students: reach them before we teach them, know them as we grow them, and connect before we try to correct them. As a result, we all play a valuable role in the lives of the students in APS and we are all a piece of the puzzle they build throughout their lives. Each person with a role on a student’s journey must ask themselves daily, “What value is my puzzle piece adding to this life in this part of their journey, and what value is being added to my life?”