Theme & Focus

The conference theme and focuses come from YOU.

Tell us what you need most in our annual Needs Assessment – and we’ll invite presenters and structure a program that best reflects what you need right now.

2023 Conference Theme

Literacy Unleashed”

With this theme, we explored what could truly be possible for Texas adults and families, when literacy providers focus on innovation and creativity.

Why this theme?

During planning, members of the conference committee discussed the changes forced upon us all by the pandemic. One of the committee members remarked that it would be excellent if the literacy field could continue to build upon the innovation, flexibility, and “make it happen” spirit we all took on, during times when we had little choice.

2023 Focuses

In the 2022-23 Needs Assessment, your highest-priority topics were:

  • How to help adult students whose literacy is at the lowest levels
  • Techniques for effective conversation classes (ESOL)
  • Effective community collaboration and partnerships
  • Integrating workplace skills and technology into lessons
  • Using data, effective program evaluation

We prioritized these topics when putting together this year’s conference program, inviting special guest presenters, and selecting sessions from our Request for Proposals.

2023 Guest Speakers

Cumings Smith, Felicia

Felicia C. Smith, Ed.D.
President & CEO
National Center for Families Learning (NCFL)

Keynote Speaker – Tuesday, August 1
“Centering Families in a Fast-changing Education and Workforce Landscape”

We find ourselves at new crossroads as artificial intelligence, AI, and its rapidly popular tools like ChatGPT are grazing our classroom doors. Recently, Education Week asked leading AI experts to forecast how classrooms will be impacted by artificial intelligence. Predictions and insights are emanating from such experts here in Texas. Peter Stone, Executive Director of Sony AI and professor of Computer Science at the University of Texas in Austin, postulated that “We shouldn’t be educating our students to do a particular job.” Stone conjectures that learners will need new skills, ones that he coins as AI literacy, to use the new AI tools as they become available because “ChatGPT is one specific type of AI, and learners need a broad exposure to the field of AI.”

When we consider the state of rapidly changing technology alongside what we know is a pervasive need for bolstering adult literacy in the U.S., we all need to have an appetite for urgency. In the Organization of Economic Co-operation’s recently released report, Equity in Education, highlighting data collected in 2021, fewer than 10% of all adults had participated in formal and/or informal education training in the previous four weeks. We need to open ourselves to collaboration and learning to marry the needs of struggling adults with the exponentially shifting reality of workforce demands.

The work of the National Center for Families Learning is focused on improving educational and workforce attainment by purposefully engaging alongside families and their communities to create positive and transformational generational change. As the organization’s second-ever president, Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith is leading this national work with a driving purpose of creating equity for families furthest from opportunities. She is leading change at a demanding pace and with an incredible sense of urgency. Her remarks will bring visibility to current inequities in adult literacy and learning and how we might collaborate and leverage emerging technologies to address access, opportunities, and needs across communities.

A lifelong educator and national thought leader for teaching and learning, Dr. Felicia C. Smith brings decades of valuable experience to advance NCFL’s mission of working to eradicate poverty through education solutions for families. Having served in a variety of leadership roles in P-12, higher education, nonprofit, and philanthropy, her career has allowed her to experience leading systems and develop a unique vantage point of a learner’s educational trajectory from preschool to adulthood. Smith holds an Ed.D. in education leadership and administration from the University of Kentucky, and an M.A. in elementary education with an emphasis on K-12 literacy development and B.S. in elementary education from the University of Louisville.

Follow Dr. Felicia C. Smith on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Mahalia Baldini

Mahalia Baldini
AEL State Director
Texas Workforce Commission

Opening Speaker – Tuesday, August 1:
“The State of the State in Adult Education”

What’s new in Adult Education and Literacy across Texas? What role do community-based organizations play in meeting the literacy challenges of the state?

Mahalia Baldini was named the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Adult Education and Literacy (AEL) State Director in September 2020 after serving as the program’s supervisor for over six years. She earned her B.A in Journalism from the University of Kentucky and her Master’s in Education from Texas State University. Mrs. Baldini has spent the last fifteen years integrating workforce and economic development with educational solutions that center on outcomes for low and middle skill workers. She believes in and values a system that supports equitable education and learning opportunities that focus on an individual’s academic preparedness and advancement as well as the social and emotional intelligence needed to contribute to a positive work culture aligned to employer needs.

Echelberger, Andrea

Andrea Echelberger
Low Literacy Specialist

Special Guest Breakout Session Presenter

Andrea Echelberger is a literacy instructor at the Robbinsdale Adult Academic Program. She has worked in the field of adult education as a teacher and trainer for over 18 years, specializing in literacy level instruction, pronunciation, and learner-centered instruction.

Previously, Andrea worked as the ESL Training Coordinator for Literacy Minnesota, where she developed professional development workshops and instructional materials for English language teachers and volunteers. Andrea served as an EL Fellow and EL Specialist with the US State Department in SE Asia, and has developed materials and delivered presentations for TESOL and COABE, as well as a wide variety of state and national conferences.

She is currently serving as Past President on the international board of LESLLA, an organization that focuses on adult emergent readers. Andrea holds a M.A. in Teaching ESL from Hamline University and a MN ABE Teaching License from the University of Minnesota.

Pennington, Crystal

Crystal Pennington
Marketing Director
Refugee Language Project

Special Guest Breakout Session Presenter

Crystal Pennington (she/her) is the Marketing Director for Refugee Language Project. She and her husband, Dr. Ryan Pennington, spent nearly a decade in Papua New Guinea with SIL International doing linguistic analysis and alphabet development with the Ma Manda language group. In 2017 they started Refugee Language Project, a non-profit in Amarillo, Texas that exists to see refugees flourish by removing language barriers, building leaders, and cultivating community.

She holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies from Dallas Baptist University and a Certificate in Applied Linguistics from Dallas International University. She currently lives in Amarillo with her husband and three children.

Rivas-Jones, Kristina

Kristina Rivas-Jones
Education and Career Coordinator 
100 Families

Special Guest Breakout Session Presenter

Kristina Rivas-Jones’s career includes two decades of experience in higher education, marketing, and healthcare, as well as success as a small business owner. The Texarkana native is finishing up a master’s degree in human sciences with a focus on human development and family studies at Stephen F. Austin University. For her thesis, she is researching the sustainability of the 100 Families program that helps families move from crisis to career. She will use this research to inform her practice as the coordinator of the 100 Families Alliance in both Bowie and Miller Counties.

Kristina holds a bachelor’s degree in nuclear medicine from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She graduated from Texas High School and is married to Parker who is also an educator. They have three children, and the Jones family lives in Texarkana.

Walker, Jenny

Dr. Jenny Walker
Executive Director,
Literacy Council of Bowie and Miller Counties

Special Guest Breakout Session Presenter

Jenny Walker has worked in education for more than 20 years in all levels including elementary, secondary, and adult/higher education. She recently graduated with a doctorate in education leadership from Texas A&M University – Texarkana, where she focused her research on emancipatory leadership, functional literacy, and collective impact.

Walker specializes in the education of adult learners from low-socioeconomic families. She also holds a master’s degree in education administration from A&M and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of North Texas.

Don't forget your conference swag!

Caps, t-shirts in multiple styles, mugs, travel mugs, stationery, and more… all available in the Literacy Texas online store. All profits support literacy in Texas AND you can rep the literacy cause in style!

Browse the whole store here, or click on the images below to see the 2023 Annual Conference collection.

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