2022 Fall Conference Speaker Biographies


Rudy Bankston

Roderick “Rudy” Bankston is a committed educator, entrepreneur, Restorative Justice practitioner, and author. His powerful story describes his experience as a survivor of the school-to-prison pipeline and surfaces and explores intersecting themes of identity, justice, trauma and resiliency. Wrongly convicted and sentenced to life at 19 years old, Rudy spent 20 years in prison before winning back his freedom on appeal.

After his release from prison in 2015, Rudy began working for the Madison Metropolitan School District, first serving as a Community Liaison at Memorial High School. Soon after he  added a second position  at Restore, the district’s expulsion abeyance program. The following school year, he transitioned into a Central Office position as a Restorative Justice Coach. Since leaving MMSD in 2019, Rudy continues his work engaging Restorative Justice as a founding member of Small Fire, LLC, and founder of  i Am We Coaching & Mentoring, LLC. Most recently, Rudy founded i am We Global Village, a nonprofit organization. 

Rudy’s published works include a novel, Shed So Many Tears; two collections of Haiku, Snippets of Soul in Seventeen Syllables and Snippets of Soul, Too; and a book of poetry, Buried Alive


Renae W. Aldana 
Buelow, Vetter, Olson, Buikema and Vliet, LLC

With 25 years of experience, Renae represents public school districts in matters regarding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and related state law. She provides counsel in all areas of special education, throughout identification, evaluation, IEP, mediation and litigation processes. She has successfully represented school districts in hundreds of special education mediations, special education due process requests and hearings, Section 504 mediations and hearings, DPI and OCR investigations, and U.S. federal district court and 7th Circuit Court of Appeals cases. She previously served as a mediator, IEP facilitator and trainer for the Wisconsin Special Education Mediation System and as an adjunct professor of education law at the Marquette University Law School. She is a Wisconsin School Attorneys Association Past President and Board member and a frequent presenter at state and national conferences. 


John Forester
SAA Executive Director

John Forester, joined the SAA in January 2002. Prior to joining the SAA, he spent the majority of his professional career as the Director of Education and Development for the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX). He also served the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) as its Director of Business World, and then-Lieutenant Governor Scott McCallum as a staff assistant. A UW-Whitewater graduate trained as a social studies teacher, John also holds a Master of Arts degree in History from UW-Madison.


Mary S. Gerbig 
Buelow, Vetter, Olson, Buikema and Vliet, LLC

Mary Gerbig serves as counsel to numerous school districts throughout Wisconsin on general school law, special education, and labor and employment matters. The primary client base she serves includes school districts, Cooperative Educational Service Agencies (CESA) and other municipal employers. She has extensive experience with Wisconsin school districts and the correlating regulatory agencies. She has represented school districts in numerous student special education and discrimination hearings and mediations under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). 


Chrissy Hamiel
Atolles Law, s.c.

Chrissy Hamiel has dedicated her practice to assisting schools on all aspects of law surrounding education. As the proud daughter of public school educators, Chrissy has always had a passion for education which uniquely enhances her understanding of, and guidance provided to, schools. Chrissy counsels school districts on challenging legal matters involving students, educators, staff, administrators, and school boards, and has been a leader in providing creative and resourceful solutions to the most challenging issues facing schools today. Chrissy regularly works with clients to tackle the challenges that keep them up at night. On a daily basis, Chrissy advises school districts as to management and operational concerns and her skill set spans the spectrum of the challenges schools face under the current legal and political landscape. 


Beth Herman
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction


Molly Hermann
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

Molly Herrmann is an education consultant with the Wisconsin Department of Public Health.  She oversees a federal school mental health grant and serves as a resource for school staff, parents, and students with questions about supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning youth.  Molly brings over 20 years of experience as a health educator with a focus on prevention, harm reduction, and best practices.


Matthew LeBerge
Speaking About Autism, LLC

Matthew LaBerge is 25 years-old, lives independently and is employed at the Howard-Suamico School District as a Special Education Aide. He has earned an Associate Degree in Marketing with a Digital Marketing emphasis and a Technical Diploma in Website Design. He also has earned a Technical Certificate in Promotions & Event Management. Last summer, Matthew served as a Camp Counselor at Zac Brown's Camp Southern Ground in Georgia, an inclusive camp that serves students with diverse learning needs as well as typically-developing peers. Matthew is open about sharing his experiences in both education and employment with the hope that others may benefit from learning about how he adapts, adjusts and overcomes life’s challenges.


Mitchell LaBerge
Speaking About Autism, LLC

Mitchell LaBerge is 25 years-old and works for both Lodge Kohler and the Green Bay Packers. Mitchell and his wife, Tayler, were married on July 9, 2022 and are enjoying their time together as newlyweds. Mitchell has earned an Associate Degree in Marketing with a Digital Marketing emphasis and Technical Certificates in Promotions & Event Management as well as Hotel Management. Mitchell discusses how perseverance and a positive mindset have allowed him to work through medical and other challenges that have been experienced throughout his life.  


Alana M. Leffler
Buelow, Vetter, Olson, Buikema and Vliet, LLC

Alana’s practice focuses primarily on advising public and private schools in the areas of general school law, special education law, and labor and employment law. She counsels clients on topics such as: student discipline; student bullying and harassment; Title IX; open meetings; public records; school board policies; special education mediation and due process; employee misconduct investigations; sexual harassment; employee discipline and dismissal; and issues arising under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act. Alana regularly presents on topics related to general school law, special education law, and labor and employment law. She has collaborated with public and private schools to train school staff regarding legal requirements and best practices. In addition, she has co-taught graduate-level school law courses/seminars at Alverno College and the Milwaukee School of Engineering, and she has guest lectured at the Marquette University Law School’s Education Law course. 


Tess O’Brien-Heinzen
Boardman and Clark, LLP

Tess is a partner in the School Law Practice Group and provides legal consultation to school districts, charter schools, and postsecondary institutions in a broad range of areas including special education and disability law, policy development, student-related issues, and corporate organization. In addition, Tess is a frequent speaker and provides consultation on the issue of food allergies and the law. Tess is also a member of the Litigation Practice Group, providing litigation support in federal, state, and administrative actions, and she co-chairs the Nonprofit Practice Group, assisting small nonprofits with organization and governance issues.


Kylie M. Owens
Atolles Law, s.c. 

Kylie Owens’ unique background provides her with a distinct set of knowledge and experience to best serve Wisconsin School Districts and other public entities. Kylie began her career as a public- school teacher in 2011 at Wahlquist Junior High School in Utah, which provides education to over 1,100 students. This school was part of Weber School District, which employs over 1,600 teachers. Kylie’s successful teaching career ended in 2017 after she decided to attend law school to better serve schools and student from a legal perspective. Before joining Attolles Law, s.c., Kylie worked at a predominant insurance defense firm in Milwaukee where she was a litigator in both state and federal forums. She has extensive experience in the litigation process along with great experience in the negotiation process and alternative forms of dispute resolution. Regarding alternative dispute resolution, Kylie received a certificate from Marquette University Law School in that area and is always working towards the goal of resolving legal conflicts outside of the courtroom in ways that benefit her clients.


Tim Peerenboom
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

Tim obtained a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with an emphasis in Child and Youth Care from The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in 2002 and went on to earn a Master’s degree in School Psychology from UW Stout in 2003.  He later went on to earn a master’s degree in educational Leadership from Cardinal Stritch University in 2009.  Prior to joining the DPI in August 2019, Tim has had the privilege of serving children, families and communities in a wide variety of roles, locations and settings. During his 18 year career, he has served as a School Psychologist, Autism Specialist and Director of Special Education and Pupil Services.  He has experience working with children aged 3-21 in a variety of public education service models including traditional public schools, a Project Based Learning charter school and even a Montessori school.  He has served in urban, rural and suburban school districts spanning from Portland, OR to Washington, D.C.  Now that he has returned home to Wisconsin, Tim enjoys spending time with friends and family, especially his wife and two children.


Dee Pettack
SAA Executive Director

Dee Pettack joined SAA as the new Executive Director in July after most recently serving at the Department of Public Instruction as a Senior Policy Advisor to the State Superintendent through three administrations. She also served as a member of Governor Evers’s transition team. Prior to her work at the Department, Dee served as the Chief of Staff to Senator Luther Olsen, providing policy guidance on education issues and the state budget. Dee is a proud graduate of Green Lake Public Schools and Ripon College; she currently resides in Sun Prairie with her husband and two children.


Marge Resan
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

Marge Resan is a School Administration Consultant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.  She has worked for the department since 2007. Her work focuses on special education legal compliance issues. Marge is the lead consultant for the state IDEA complaint process. Marge was a special education teacher in the Madison Metropolitan School District for several years where she taught many students with disabilities in classroom, community, and vocational settings.  She holds a law degree from the University of Wisconsin and has worked as an attorney in the areas of disability and elder law.


Eva Shaw
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

Eva Shaw is a special education consultant at the Wisconsin DPI. Her role focuses on work related to social and emotional learning for students with IEPs, autism, emotional behavioral disabilities, functional behavioral assessment, positive behavioral interventions and supports, and alternatives to exclusionary practices. She has worked in the field of special education for over 25 years, and has had the privilege to serve children, families, and schools in several states and in a wide variety of roles.


Sheila Thobani
Buelow, Vetter, Olson, Buikema and Vliet, LLC

Sheila’s practice focuses on general school law, special education law, and employment law. She counsels public and private schools on topics such as: IDEA complaints and due process hearings; IEP and 504 Plan issues; bullying, harassment, and discrimination complaints and investigations; student discipline; School Board Policies; employee and student handbooks; employment contracts; employee discipline; compliance with the Public Records Law and Open Meetings Law; and staff training. 

Prior to joining Buelow Vetter, Sheila was an Assistant City Attorney for the City of Milwaukee, where she served as General Counsel for Milwaukee Public Schools. She advised the District in areas such as litigation, special education, employment contracts, and negotiations with the Office for Civil Rights. She also advised various city departments (including the Milwaukee Police Department and the Department of Neighborhood Services) and represented them in State and Municipal Court and before city tribunals. 


Sara Totten
DeForest Area School District

Dr. Sara Totten is currently the Director of Student Services for the DeForest Area School District. She earned her doctorate in educational leadership at Edgewood College in Madison studying principal perspectives of disproportionate placement of Black/African American students in special education programs. Sara earned her Master’s degree in School Psychology, studying the prevalence of psychopharmacology use in preschool populations. She has co-authored articles appearing in the Journal of the American Academy of Special Education Professionals, International Journal of Special Education, and the Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment. She has also blogged for RethinkEd. Sara has served as president for the Wisconsin Council for Administrators of Special Services (WCASS) and as one of the state representatives for the Council of Administrators of Special Education (CASE) national organization. She also serves on the Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance (SAA). In addition to her role as director, Sara has taught a number of courses for Lakeland University’s Master Counseling program.


Emily R. Turzinski 
Buelow, Vetter, Olson, Buikema and Vliet, LLC

Emily’s practice focuses primarily on advising public and private schools in the areas of general school law, special education law, and labor and employment law. She counsels clients on topics such as: employee and student handbooks; school board policies; student discipline; student bullying and harassment; Title IX; open meetings; public records; special education due process; sexual harassment; employee discipline and dismissal; and issues arising under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act. 


Barbara Van Haren
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

Barbara Van Haren is the current interim Assistant State Superintendent for the Division for Libraries and Technology and the former Assistant State Superintendent of the Division for Learning Support and  State Director of Special Education at Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction  (DPI). Barb has worked at the district, regional and state levels, as well as in higher education bringing rural, suburban and urban experiences. Most recently, her work at DPI included serving as a State Superintendent Cabinet member and the oversight of the Special Education and Student Services Prevention and Wellness teams, along with the State Schools for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing and Blind/Visually Impaired. She has served as the Director of Special Education and Pupil Services and Regional Special Education Network Director at Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) #1 in the Milwaukee area. In the past, Barb has served as an Assistant Superintendent of Pupil Services for the Howard-Suamico School District, as an Assistant Professor of Special Education at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, specializing in special education leadership and as a special educator and leader in her home town of Oconto Falls. Barb continues to teach as an Adjunct Faculty in the area of Special Education at Carroll University.  Barb is a lifelong resident of Wisconsin, attending Wisconsin public schools and the UW system, completing her doctorate in educational administration from UW Madison. She has served as the past president for Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services (WCASS), The ARC Fox Cities and was a board member for the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE).


Chad Wade
Renning, Lewis and Lacy, s.c.

Chad’s practice is focused on working with school and higher education clients, as well as public and private employers in labor and employment relations issues. Chad regularly works with school district clients on governmental issues, employment relations matters, and education law issues, including pupil special education and disability accommodation matters. Chad is also experienced with public records, open meetings, and other issues that concern school district’s responsibilities as governmental bodies. Chad also provides counsel in a variety of labor and employment matters, including legal compliance and defense of employers under the FLSA, FMLA, NLRA, and employment discrimination laws. He also has experience drafting and implementing a wide range of employment policies from his time as in-house counsel for a Wisconsin municipality. Chad’s primary client base consists of private employers, public school districts, and Wisconsin municipalities.