CEO Rick Smith Welcomes New Board Leadership

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December 2016

Although we are already busy planning for next year’s conference in Atlanta, I’d like to pause for a moment to thank you for your continued support and contributions over the past year. To those of you who presented, exhibited, sponsored, and attended our 2016 conference in Orlando, thank you for making it a success. I enjoyed meeting so many of you—it was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect, learn new things, and have some fun too!

Part of my time at the conference was spent meeting with the IDA Board of Directors. This year’s meeting was very productive as we continue to move forward with urgency toward our Destiny. Of course, one reality of moving forward is change—and part of that is saying goodbye to board members rotating off the board and welcoming new board members as they come aboard.

One of the biggest changes is that Hal Malchow has resigned from the board for personal reasons. Although we are saddened by the recent news of the challenges faced by Hal and his family, we are so grateful for the important work he completed during his tenure as chair. His passion and leadership were instrumental in getting us to where we are today. The initiatives launched during his term will continue to move IDA closer to our Destiny.

Jennifer Topple, M.S., CCC/SLP, has been elected by the Delegate Assembly as the new Chair of the IDA Board of Directors. Ms. Topple has been on the Board of Directors and has served as Chair of the Branch Council Executive Committee (BCEC) and as President of the Georgia Branch. She is the Director of Assistive and Instructional Technology at The Howard School, a K–12 school for students with language-based learning differences in Atlanta, Georgia. Ms. Topple has been a speech-language pathologist in both hospital and school settings for more than sixteen years with a focus on language-learning disabilities and assistive technology. She has presented and held workshops on the topic of assistive technology both locally and internationally. Ms. Topple holds an M.S. in Speech and Hearing Sciences from the University of New Mexico and a B.A. in Public Relations from Auburn University.

The BCEC appointed Mary Jo O’Neill, M.Ed., to fulfill the remainder of Ms. Topple’s term as Chair of the BCEC. Ms. O’Neill has also served as President of the Northern Ohio Branch. She is the Founder and Director of Creating an Equal Playing Field—an independent practice that helps families of children with dyslexia and other learning differences discover valuable resources and programs available in their schools and in their community. Ms. O’Neill works closely with McCarthy Lebit’s Education practice team to add value to and provide support for their clients. In the past, she has worked as an outreach education coordinator with Lawrence School. Ms. O’Neill has taught in both public and private schools, including the Julie Billiart School. She also initiated and developed the administrative function of the Academic Support Center at Notre Dame College. Ms. O’Neill earned her Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education at Vermont College of Norwich University and her master’s degree in Mild/Moderate Learning Disabilities at Cleveland State University. She is a licensed intervention specialist.

Six other IDA Board members, Sandra BermanCarolyn Blackwood, Howard KurmanBen Shifrin, M.Ed., John Mayo-Smith,  and Larry D. Simpson, M.Ed., have rotated off or resigned from the IDA Board.

Stephanie Al Otaiba, Ph.D., has joined the IDA Board. Dr. Al Otaiba is Professor of Teaching and Learning in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development at Southern Methodist University. Previously, she was an Associate Professor at the Florida State University (FSU) and was on faculty at the Florida Center for Reading Research. Dr. Al Otaiba received her Ph.D. in 2000 in Human Development from Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, and prior to that, she was a special educator for more than a decade in the United Arab Emirates. She enjoys teaching graduate courses in literacy, special education, assessment, response to intervention, and mentoring doctoral students. Dr. Al Otaiba has served on review panels for grants for the Institute of Education Science and has reviewed for the Office of Special Education Programs. She was recently elected the Vice President of the Division for Learning Disabilities of the Council for Exceptional Children. She is an Associate editor of Education Researcher and the Elementary School Journal and also serves on numerous editorial boards for scholarly journals in the field of education. Dr. Al Otaiba has consulted nationally and internationally related to early literacy intervention and assessment.

We would also like to express our sincerest gratitude to Ben and Carolyn for their many years of service and commitment to IDA as board members and in the many other capacities in which they have served and will continue to contribute to our mission.



Rick Smith, CEO

IDA Chief Executive Officer, Rick Smith

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