Team Biographies

Team Biographies

Biographies of Professional Staff

Senior Consultant/Team Leader Larry D. Simpson

Team Bios Mr. Simpson has lead efforts to eliminate the disproportionate identification of African Americans in special education. In his role as Administrator for Student Intervention and Support Services he has been a key figure in the district's equity work. During the four years before his retirement last June, Mr. Simpson was a diligent worker in Ann Arbor Public Schools' attempts to close the achievement gap and in it's efforts to implement a response to intervention process (the Achievement Team Process).

Prior to coming to Ann Arbor, Mr. Simpson was an administrator for and the Director of Special Education for the Flint Community Schools for twenty-five years, where he instituted a variety of innovative programs for struggling students. While in Flint, Mr. Simpson was the chairman the Special Education Advisory Committee for the Michigan State Board of Education. He also served as chairman of the Genesee Intermediate School Districts Special Education Director's Association.

Mr. Simpson is the president of the Michigan branch of the International Dyslexia Association, where he co-chaired the 2009 annual convention committee. He was also on the board of the Michigan Very Special Arts (VSA), which strives to promote the arts for students and artists with disabilities.

Mr. Simpson has worked as a visiting lecturer for the University of Michigan-Flint, where he taught several classes on inclusive practices in special education and was instrumental in the development of the university's learning disabilities approval program.

Mr. Simpson is a former fellow of the Institute for Educational Leadership. He holds a Master's degree from Michigan State University in elementary education with special education approval in work with children with emotional impairments. He completed all of the coursework in Curriculum and Instruction at Wayne State University (ABD). His current research interests include how gender and ethnicity impact teacher efficacy and reading achievement.

Senior Consultant/Team Leader Jonathan Stout, Ph.D.

Jonathan Stout, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Lock Haven University in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania and serves as the Chair of the Special Education Advisory Board to the Bureau of Indian Education. In his role on the board, he and the board assist the Secretary of the Interior in the performing his duties under the Individual with Disabilities Education Improvement Act by advising the Secretary on the needs of American Indian Children with disabilities. At Lock Haven University, Dr. Stout teaches courses on Intro to Exceptionalities, Multicultural Education, Manuel communication, Literacy and Student with Disabilities and Issues in Special Education Law.

Before earning his doctorate in Special Education from Pennsylvania State University, Dr. Stout served as a special education teacher at Cross Middle School and has worked with K-8 students and current and prospective teachers in a wide range of settings. He has expertise in mathematics education, literacy education Native American educational issues, and direct instruction for students with and without disabilities.

Senior Consultant Alice M Farling, Ed. D and MBA

Dr. Alice Farling is an international consultant, educator, and trainer. She holds a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Vanderbilt University as well as a master's degree in special education from Northern Illinois University and a MBA from the University of Chicago. She has also completed coursework at Northwestern University and the University of Florida and Harvard. Dr. Farling consults and leads workshops locally and internationally related to inclusive education as well as personal and professional leadership and living life passionately.

Dr. Farling is a past president of the board of the Division of International Special Education and Services (DISES) which is a division of the Council for Exceptional Children. Internationally, Alice has presented around the globe including Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, England, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. She participated in peace keeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo in the mid-nineties with the European Office of Security and Economic Cooperation. Dr. Farling has led workshops for the Office of Overseas Schools and has consulted with ministries of Education in Kuwait, Thailand, England, Bosnia, Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, and Tobago.

As a former Assistant Superintendent of the Department of Special Services in Fairfax County, Virginia Public Schools, Dr. Farling led the departments of special education, student services, and alternative school programs. She also led several major board of education initiatives that were outside the field of special education. Alice hosted a monthly public television show on Channel 21 for five years. The show, ¨Solving the Puzzle Together," was developed to share important information with parents and the community about the supports and services provided to students by the school system and to encourage dialogue and discussion of educational issues.

As an adjunct professor at George Mason University and the University of Virginia, Alice has taught graduate classes in special education and educational leadership. She has served on numerous boards and advisory committees dealing with special education, community involvement, youth issues, mental health and health care in DC, Virginia, and Illinois. Dr. Farling has participated on state level committees in Virginia and in Illinois and for United States Department of Education (US DOE). Alice was an invited speaker at the first "Global Special Education Summit" in Washington, DC and presented as an invited keynote at a Special Education Summit for school administrators and leaders at Hyoto University in Osaka, Japan and at Jaen University in Granada Spain.

Dr. Farling also leads profesional wellness and leadership retreats and has been a member of the faculty for the Aspiring Special Education Leadership Academy sponsored by George Mason University and the Virginia State Board of Education for the past eight years.

Consultant Toni Fuller Merfeld

Toni Fuller Merfeld is the Children's Mental Health Consultant for the Iowa Department of Education and shares her time at the Iowa DOE as Executive Director/Owner of Metro West Kids Learning Center (serving high functioning Autism/Asperger's students). She has been in the field of education for 32 years and has extensive experience working with students with learning and behavior challenges both in the classroom and as a consultant in the public and private sectors. She has been trained in Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and in structuring classrooms for students with Autism using the TEACHH model developed by the University of North Carolina. Her experience in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) teaching strategies provides students with the individualization of instruction necessary to create meaningful learning experiences in the classroom, home and community.

In addition to her work at the Iowa DOE and Metro West Kids Learning Center, she is Co-facilitator of the Governor's Council on Autism, Executive Board Secretary for the International Council for Exceptional Children's Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities (DADD) and past President, Iowa Council for Exceptional Children. She is a member of CEC's Divisions on Behavior Disorders and Administrators in Special Education, the Association of Positive Behavior Supports, National Autism Society, Iowa Autism Society and CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder). Toni is also a member of the advisory council for the National School Climate Center and the OASIS Program at Pace University serving young adults on the autism spectrum.

Toni's most recent speaking engagements have included the National School Climate Center, Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, local autism charity events and local school district trainings.

Toni is a strong children's advocate for safe, healthy, caring learning environments and provides leadership to national, state and local leaders encouraging pro-social culture/climate system changes.

Consultant Dr. Frances Paris

Dr. Paris, with 30 years of experience in the field of special education in Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Michigan, has worked with children and adults with various disabilities in a variety of settings including public schools, psychiatric units and a juvenile detention facility.

Throughout her career, her work focused on assisting staff, families and students to effectively support student behavior. Her recent efforts have been dedicated to dispute resolution and monitoring of special education service while providing technical assistance in the area of compliance to federal regulations and state rules related to special education.

She has taught graduate school classes at Michigan State and Oakland Universities. She has presented workshops at the local, state and national venues on a variety of topics throughout her award-winning career. Publications on behavior topics have appeared in journals such as Teaching Exceptional Children and Beyond Behavior. The Michigan Department of Education and Oakland Schools, a countywide educational service agency, have published her work.

Dr. Paris has been an officer of the Michigan Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) and co-chair for their Exceptional Children's Week Poster Contest. Her memberships also include National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and American Psychological Association (APA).

Consultant James Paris

Jim Paris retired from the Michigan Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Early Intervention Services in July of 2007. He was the coordinator of the Program Accountability unit of the Office of Special Education and Early Intervention Services.

He received his Bachelor's Degree from Alma College, his Master's Degree from Michigan State University and approval as a Supervisor of Special Education and Elementary and Secondary Education from Grand Valley State University. His career includes teaching students with disabilities and as a Supervisor of Special Education programs for Montcalm and Allegan ISDs. Recently he was a Michigan Fellow to the Educational Policy Fellowship Program, Institute for Educational Leadership.

He has at various times in his 40+ year career been associated with the Council for Exceptional Children, the Special Education Supervisors of Michigan, the Michigan Association of Administrators of Special Education, Michigan Special Olympics and many church and community volunteer organizations.

Consultant Rachel Wannarka, Ph.D.

Rachel Wannarka, Ph.D. is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota and is also a high school reading and special education teacher in a juvenile correctional facility. She has previously served on the faculty of the University of Michigan's School of Education in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and in the Department of Special Education at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Dr. Wannarka's areas of expertise include literacy instruction for at-risk or struggling older readers, urban education, and equity and culturally responsive education. Before earning her doctorate in Special Education focusing on adolescent literacy, Dr. Wannarka was a middle- and high-school English teacher in high-needs urban schools.

Consultant Janis Weckstein

With over to 30 years' experience in public education, Janis Weckstein has worked in various regions around the State of Michigan, K-12, in both general education classrooms and special education programs. Currently she is serving as the Assistant Director of Special Education for the State of Michigan. For the prior 14 years Jan served as a special education administrator at both the Intermediate and local district level having started as a Special Education Supervisor and most currently as Director of Compliance for a five county Intermediate School District.

In addition, Jan's vast experiences include several years as a human resource director. Jan is also currently an adjunct professor for Grand Valley State University teaching master level courses in the areas of Foundations of Special Education, Transition Services and Hot Topics in the Field of Special Education.

Jan is an active member and a Past-President of the Michigan Association of Administrators of Special Education (MAASE) and a Past-President of the Michigan Council for Exceptional Children (MCEC). She has participated on various committees and projects with the Michigan Department of Education, currently on a committee that is updating state policy and standards for professional development for all Michigan educators. She is also co-chairperson of a MAASE project, Creating Agreement, working with the IDEA Partnership to develop a cross agency collaboration to create agreement using a problem-solving process, helping families, schools and service provider's work effectively together. Jan received her Bachelor's Degree from Eastern Michigan University, and Master's Degrees from both Michigan State University and Grand Valley State University.

Consultant Paul Zinni

Paul Zinni has been employed by the Avon Public Schools as the Director of Pupil Services since the summer of 2001. Prior to that, he spent 14 years as both a special educator and administrator for the City of Taunton's Public-School System. From March of 1994 through August 2001 he served as the Title I Director and Early Childhood Principal for the Taunton School Department.

Paul earned his Bachelor of Science degree in elementary and special education, a Master's degree in general education, a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in school administration and has completed all course work toward a Doctorate of Education in educational leadership in children and youth studies with a concentration in curriculum. He anticipates completing his dissertation and thesis on his doctorate in May 2014.

He also teaches in the Special Education Departments of Stonehill College, Bridgewater State University and Lesley University. He has worked as a consultant for the Massachusetts Department of Education and still conducts workshops on their behalf. Presently he serves in leadership role at both the state and national level for the Council for Exceptional Children and the National Association of Federal Education Program Administrators.