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2024 Keynote Sessions

Photo of Curtis Hill smiling and wearing a blue suit

Opening General Session

Wednesday, March 13, 5-6:30 pm

Keynote Presentation: The Culture of Belonging & Inclusion with Curtis Hill


Culture Of Belonging & Inclusion is a strategic initiative that maximizes people, profits, and productivity. On an organizational level, we tend to think conversations about inclusion will lead to disruption or difficulty. THE TRUTH IS: When inclusion is seen as a strategic initiative, it strengthens the foundation of your culture: YOUR PEOPLE. THIS RESULTS IN: Teams who are motivated and productive because they feel seen, heard, and valued, one in which your students can bring more of their full selves to the classroom. This is how you create A Culture of Belonging & Inclusion and a strategic roadmap to creating a successful school culture.

Strategist. educator. author. speaker. and trainer Curtis Hill brings audiences an empowering message of awareness. culture. and resilience, combined with a potent mix of skills honed from a lifetime of raw and well-crafted experiences.

Curtis grew up in Chicago, where he lived a life of crime and violence. After witnessing the murder of his best friend, he came face-to-face with the consequences of his actions and the suffering it was causing within his community.

Consequently, Curtis turned to education to springboard his street smarts into solid business acumen. After earning four degrees, including a Master of Arts in Teaching, an M.ED in Administration and Supervision; and he holds a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. Curtis now travels the globe working with corporations, associations, and organizations to Create A Culture Of Belonging™ to maximize people, profits and productivity. In addition his unique way of communicating complex issues like race and division with humor and humanity keeps audiences engaged with laughter while they learn.

Curtis considers himself a "recovering educator" who put in 15 years of hard the classroom. He has now left the classroom behind to teach the nation.

Darla Gundler and Dr. Zelphine Smith-Dixon at the opening general session panel of the 2023 convention.

Second General Session

Thursday, March 14, 4-5 pm

Keynote Presentation: Mental Health Panel Discussion


National school mental health experts will share strategies, resources, and evidence-based practices that will help develop, strengthen, and support mental health services and programs within our schools. Implementation of these supports will accelerate positive results for all children, youth, and staff within our schools. 


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Dr. Brittany Patterson

Dr. Patterson is an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and faculty member with the National Center for School Mental Health (NCSMH). She has worked in schools for over a decade in various capacities and has specialized in school-based mental health services in underserved communities since joining the faculty in 2016. Through experiences as a community-partnered school mental health clinician in Baltimore City Schools, Dr. Patterson has provided training for administrators, educators, school police officers, and student support staff on the impact of trauma on learning, secondary traumatic stress, and evidence-based mental health interventions for trauma-exposed youth. Currently, she is co-investigator of a randomized control trial project funded by Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) and responsible for project oversight, training development, and supervision of school-based mental health clinicians. Dr. Patterson has also collaborated across multiple federally- and state-funded grants focused on trauma-responsiveness, cultural responsiveness and equity, resilience, and evidence-based approaches to youth well-being including: HRSA-MCHB Collaborative Improvement and Innovation Networks on School Based Health Services (COIIN-SBHS); SAMHSA National Center for Safe and Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE); and Maryland’s Early Intervention Program for Psychosis (EIP). She has served as a technical assistance specialist to diverse local, state, and national school stakeholders including the U.S. Department of Education’s Promoting Student Resilience (PSR) and School Mental Health demonstration grantees. Dr. Patterson’s research, training, and technical assistance contributions center youth, family, and consumer voice in development and provision of high-quality well-being supports, services, and resources. 

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Celeste M. Malone, PhD, MS

Celeste M. Malone, PhD, MS, is an associate professor of school psychology at Howard University. She received her master’s degree in school counseling from Johns Hopkins University and her doctorate in school psychology from Temple University, and she completed a postdoctoral fellowship in child clinical and pediatric psychology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Celeste’s primary research interest relates to multicultural and diversity issues embedded in the training and practice of school psychology. Specifically, her work addresses the development of multicultural competence through education and training, diversification of the profession of school psychology, and the relationship between culturally responsive practice and pre-K–12 student outcomes. Related to her interest in professional issues in school psychology, Celeste has continuously held leadership positions in psychology professional associations and has been recognized for her ongoing leadership and commitment to social justice in psychology by presidential recognitions from NASP, the Maryland School Psychologists’ Association, and APA Division 16 School Psychology. Celeste served as the 2022–2023 NASP President and, notably, was the second person of color to ever serve in this role. 

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Mark D. Weist, PhD

Mark D. Weist received a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from VirginiaTech in 1991 after completing his internship at Duke University Medical Center, and is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of South Carolina (USC). In 1995, with colleagues from the University of Maryland, he established the National Center for School Mental Health, now in its 27th year of supporting this field (see He is also a partner on the National Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (see He has edited or developed 17 books and has published and presented widely in areas of mental health-education system partnerships, school behavioral health (SBH), trauma, violence and youth, evidence-based practice, cognitive behavioral therapy, supporting military families, and advancing policies that support children and youth at local, state, regional, national, and international levels of scale. With colleagues, he currently leads the Southeastern School Behavioral Health Community (see, and is leading or co-leading a number of federally funded studies on strategies to improve SBH effectiveness, impact and scaling up. 

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Kimberly Yanek, PhD, PCC-CPIC

Kimberly Yanek, PhD, PCC-CPIC is an Implementation Partner and TA Director  with the Center on PBIS and a subject matter expert for social emotional behavior for a national community of practice. She serves on the Center for PBIS MH/SEB/Wellness, Equity, Crisis Response & Recovery, and Classroom/Disability workgroups. She recently completed her Certified Professional Integrative Coaching degree through the International Coaching Federation Foundation. Kimberly works in partnership with organizations, communities, and individuals to support transformational change. Kimberly has published in the areas of evidence based social emotional behavioral supports, systems of wellness, systems alignment, positive classroom behavior supports, and supports for students with disabilities. Her career in education currently focuses on organizational change and adult learning and it began in the classroom as a special education teacher.


2023 Yes I Can Award Recipients

Yes I Can Awards

Friday, March 15, 4-5 pm


Each year at the CEC Convention & Expo, the Yes I Can Awards recognize 12 outstanding students with exceptionalities in six categories: Academics, Arts, School & Community Activities, Self-Advocacy, Technology, and Transition. Join us as CEC leaders interview this year's recipients and celebrate their incredible achievements.

Last Updated:  22 August, 2023

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