Meet the Board

President:  Monica Dempsey[email protected]Monica is a gifted program specialist with the Bartlett City Schools in Memphis. She has been teaching the gifted for 6 years. She has also taught K, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades in the same school. For several years, she stayed home to raise her three amazing kids, who are now 24, 21, and 19. Two of her children were in the gifted program, so she has had a heart for these special kids for many years. She has a BS from Freed Hardeman University to teach K-8 and eventually added certifications to teach preschool and the gifted. This is her 14th year to teach full time. She is an obsessed St. Louis Cardinals fan, along with loving the Memphis Tigers and Memphis Grizzlies. Her goal in life is to change the world one child at a time.

Past President:  LeAnn Simmerman[email protected]  LeAnn is honored to serve as a Teacher of the Gifted in Maury County Public Schools.  For the past 12 years, she has worked with gifted and twice exceptional students in all grade levels.  After graduating from East Tennessee State University with degrees in Special Education and History, she began her career as an elementary Resource Teacher in Johnson City Schools.  LeAnn previously served on the Students with Disabilities and Gifted Students Sub-committee for funding review and TN Board of Education Gifted Focus Group.  She earned an appointment to the national Discovery Education Network Leadership Council and is recognized as a LEGO Master Educator.  LeAnn and her family live in Middle Tennessee but hold strong ties and consider “home” to be East Tennessee.

​Past President- Dr. Kristy Mall[email protected]  Dr. Mall teaches middle school gifted students in Murfreesboro City.  She also teaches during the summers in Vanderbilt's Programs for Talented Youth.  She has taught for 28 years.  She is the SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) liaison for the southern region, and serves on the advocacy committee for the National Association for Gifted Children in addition to her work on the board. She presents nationwide at conferences about gifted and twice-exceptional students. She is the mother of two twice-exceptional children:  a daughter that is gifted with ADHD and a son that is gifted and has high functioning autism.  She is passionate about advocating for and working with gifted children and their families. 

Co-President Elect - Anna Cassalia, Williamson County Schools, ​[email protected]:  Anna Cassalia is a gifted educator and author dedicated to ensuring learning opportunities for all students to reach their highest potential. For the past 20 years, she has honed her craft in gifted education, writing curriculum, and presenting her work at both state and national conferences. Anna has authored multiple articles published in journals such as Gifted Child Quarterly, Teaching for High Potential, Creative Learning Today, and Tapestry of Knowledge.  Working with Emily Hollett, she has authored numerous units written for gifted learners, one of which was awarded the Curriculum Award from the Tennessee Association for the Gifted ("Views from the Zoo", 2021). Most recently, Anna and Emily have published a five-book series of Integrated Lessons in Higher Order Thinking Skills (Routledge, 2022), targeting gifted learners in the upper elementary grades. Anna is passionate about advancing excellent curriculum and services for all gifted students.

Co-President Elect - Emily Hollett, Williamson County Schools, ​[email protected]:  Emily Hollett is an award-winning gifted educator who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She has taught all elementary grades throughout her career and has been in gifted education since 2014. Working with Anna Cassalia, she has authored numerous units written for gifted learners, one of which was awarded a Curriculum Award from the Tennessee Association for the Gifted ("Views from the Zoo", 2021). Most recently, Emily and Anna have published a five-book series of Integrated Lessons in Higher Order Thinking Skills (Routledge, 2022), targeting gifted learners in the upper elementary grades. Emily and her husband are also the parents of gifted children, and Emily is passionate about advancing access to excellent curriculum and services for all gifted learners.

 Vice President, East - Dr. Daphne Odom, Knox County Schools, [email protected]:  Dr. Daphne Odom is in her 24th year with Knox County Schools. She has worked with Gifted and Talented as the Supervisor for 13 years. Currently, she is a Student Supports Supervisor which means she supervises directly with Special Education for Region 3 of Knox County Schools, 504 District-wide, Student Support Teams district-wide, Homebound District-wide, and the Elevate Program (a high school program for drug and alcohol recovery). Daphne teachers the Gifted Endorsement Program at Johnson University. She received her BA, MS, EdS and Phd all from the University of Tennessee. When she is not working or teaching, she is mom to 4 kiddos (19, 17, 14, and 12) and loves reading and watching really ridiculous reality TV.

 Vice President, Middle - Ashley Holmes[email protected] Ashley Biggs Holmes is passionate about providing high quality academic content for all students and eliminating barriers to identifying gifted students from historically underrepresented groups in gifted education.  In her free time, she enjoys writing and creating educational materials to challenge and engage students.  She enjoys coming up with new tasks and materials that will make her students smile, and creating rubrics to help students evaluate their own growth as creative and critical thinkers.  These hobbies began while Ashley attended Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College (M. Ed., 2016).  She completed her Master’s Capstone on gender equity in advanced STEM education.  Ashley has hosted numerous trainings supporting fellow district and school staff members in establishing fair screening and assessment practices for identifying gifted children.  She advocates to establish equitable, data-based strategies for finding and identifying historically underrepresented populations of gifted children (particularly students identifying as members of underrepresented minority groups, students with coexisting disabilities or impairments, and students from low-income backgrounds).  Ashley is honored to be a gifted educator in Tennessee and a member of the TAG Board, with the support of a community of expert educators who share a passion for advocating to maximize services and secure appropriate funding for gifted programming across the state.

Vice President, West- Jennifer Van Wijk, Bartlett City Schools, [email protected]  Jennifer van Wijk is a gifted program specialist with the Bartlett City Schools in Memphis. She has been teaching elementary gifted for 13 years in Tennessee. Prior to that, she taught gifted middle school (6th and 8th grade) for 8 years in California. Jennifer earned her B.A. in Liberal Studies, with a major emphasis in English and a minor emphasis in education, from the University of California, Riverside. Upon completing her degree, she attended UCR for a graduate year, earning two teaching credentials. She is certified to teach pre-K through 12th grade, with a specialty in English. She trained in gifted education during her time in CA. Jennifer currently lives in Collierville, TN with her husband and family. Her daughter and step-daughter are both seniors in high school, and will be heading off to college in the fall of 2023! 

Secretary-Stephanie Higgs, Williamson County Schools, [email protected]:  Stephanie Higgs is a passionate, energetic, and engaging educator whose colleagues describe as radiating contagious joy. She has devoted her entire professional life to education, teaching in two of Tennessee’s three grand divisions. Stephanie earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she then taught for six years at a museum magnet school and helped students achieve up to three years’ growth in reading in a single year.  After relocating to Middle Tennessee, Stephanie became a fourth-grade teacher, which had been her dream since she was a fourth grader herself! In 2019, Stephanie became a gifted educator and differentiation coach for Williamson County Schools, where the staff quickly named her their Teacher of the Year before being named a region-level semi-finalist for Tennessee Teacher of the Year. Soon after, Stephanie was honored with the TAG (Tennessee Association for the Gifted) Horizon Award, which is given to a gifted educator demonstrating promise and leadership in the field. Later, Stephanie was named the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) Teacher of the Year. Stephanie recently graduated with an additional graduate degree from Tennessee State University in Instructional Leadership.  Stephanie knows that learning is not bound by the front and back of a textbook or the four walls of the classroom, so she offers engaging, enriching units filled with hands-on opportunities and community outreach to her students daily. Her primary focus is maximum impact on student achievement. Stephanie has presented professional development at the school, district, state, national, and world conference levels. Her dynamic approach to empowering educators, with a focus on solutions to daily classroom obstacles, has helped her reach many teachers who impact countless lives. Stephanie currently divides her time between daily gifted instruction and coaching teachers to enrich and extend learning to meet the needs of their diverse learners. Her fellow Crockett teachers know that Stephanie thinks she has the best job in the building!

 ​Dr. Heather Knox, Murfreesboro City Schools[email protected]Dr. Heather Knox is the Lead Gifted Specialist for Murfreesboro City Schools.  She has been in education for 10 years and has been teaching gifted students for over 7 years either in the role of Gifted Specialist or as a Gifted Cluster Teacher in 4th and 5th grades.  Prior to teaching, Dr. Knox was a CPA for 12 years in the field of State and Local Taxes (SALT) at companies such as HCA Healthcare & Ernst & Young.  She has two children Donavon, who is a senior at Freed-Hardeman University, and Dylan, who is a Sophomore in high school, and is happily married to her husband Jimmy. Dr. Knox's goal is to help gifted learners to become self-aware of their abilities and skills so they can reach whatever goals they have in life!
Parent Liaison - Alli Finney, [email protected] :  Alli Finney is a former first grade teacher with a long-time passion for gifted education. When her son was born, she began the full-time job of finding creative outlets suitable for his busy mind. In 2012, Alli joined and later became President of Williamson County Gifted Support (WillCoGS) with a mission of supporting, educating, and empowering gifted students and their families. Working as TAG’s Parent Liaison has been a rewarding natural extension of that local work. Along with her husband and son, Alli enjoys traveling and learning about different places, people, and cultures.

Advocacy - Dr. Megan Parker Peters, Lipscomb University, ​[email protected]:  Dr. Megan Parker Peters is the Associate Dean, an Associate Professor, and the Director of Accreditation and Research of the College of Education Lipscomb University. She is a licensed psychologist and licensed school psychologist who has earned the designation as a Nationally Certified School Psychologist. Dr. Parker Peters specializes in researching and assessing gifted and twice-exceptional learners. She is the co-recipient of the 2016 Hollingworth award for excellence in research publications in gifted education and the 2017 recipient of the Jo Patterson Award for her contribution to gifted education in the state of Tennessee. She is the co-author of Teaching Tenacity, Resilience, and a Drive for Excellence, which was awarded the 2019 TAGT Legacy award. She is also the immediate past-president of the Tennessee Association for Independent Liberal Arts Colleges of Teacher Education. Dr. Parker Peters has published articles related to the social emotional needs of gifted learners. She also serves on the board of the Tennessee Association for the Gifted and has served the editorial boards of the National Association for Gifted Children’s publications, Teaching for High Potential and Parenting for High Potential.

 

Advocacy - Dr. Amber Ash Gailbreath, ​[email protected]:  Dr. Amber Ash Gailbreath is an Assistant Principal at Walter J. Baird Middle School.  She has a background in working with high level learners in Honors and Advanced Placement courses as both a teacher and administrator.   Dr. Gailbreath works closely with her district leadership team in meeting the needs of all students, but it utilized frequently in regards to the districts’ gifted and high achieving students.  Dr. Gailbreath is also the parent of a gifted student and serves as a liaison and mentor for parents of gifted students.  Her daughter is now 12, and over the course of her daughters life she has done a significant amount of research concerning the social and emotional needs of gifted students.  Dr. Gailbreath’s post-graduate work centers around Andragogy and Adult Learning.  She also has a microcredential in Gifted Learning.