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Our Team

Greg Benner, Ph.D.
Professor, School of Education

Dr. Benner specializes in preventive approaches for meeting the academic and social/emotional needs of students, particularly those with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD). As a parent of four energetic kids, he has expertise in building the capacity of educators, mental health professionals, and parents to better understand and meet the needs of youth who are least understood and struggling most. He has consulted in hundreds of schools and facilities to build a sustainable, comprehensive multi-tiered system of support. He has a knack for collective impact—getting whole communities including families, child welfare, mental health, social and health services, and schools on the same page to meet needs of the whole child. In 2002, he was awarded the Wesley Becker Award for Outstanding Research. His book entitled Instructional Practices for Students with Behavioral Disorders: Strategies for Reading, Writing, and Math is part of the What Works for Special Needs Learners Series published by Guilford Press. He recently served as Principal Investigator on an Institute of Education Sciences-funded Goal 3 Efficacy Study. He currently serves as Associate Editor for Behavioral Disorders and Remedial and Special Education, and on the editorial review board for the Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders and the Journal of Behavioral Education. He has over 200 presentations and publications that reflect his ability to disseminate research findings and best practices to the field.



Jene Jones, MAT
Director of Whole Child Initiatives

Jene Jones joined the School of Education, Center for Strong Schools as the Director of Whole Child Initiatives October, 2017. Jene (pronounced ‘Jenna’) holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching from Willamette University, with both Elementary and Secondary endorsements.

Jene spent twenty years as a classroom teacher, serving students high school through pre-school. Much of her teaching career was in Tacoma, where she went on to be an Instructional Facilitator and Project Manager for the Instructional Technology and Curriculum and Instruction departments in Tacoma Public Schools. Jene’s passion is creating sustainable systems which support all our K12 students and staff.

Jene just completed five years of work at the Washington state level where she convened and managed a statewide coalition on education policy and funding. This coalition of 34 business, labor, non-profit, ethnic, K12, and Higher Education partners advocated together this past session to secure $513 million additional dollars for K12 Career Connected Learning, in order for our public system to meet the individual needs of today’s students. Jene is frequently requested to speak on the intersection between education and our Washington economy.

As the mother of two Tacoma Public School students, and as a teacher, Jene understands the value and necessity of incorporating Whole Child and Social Emotional Learning components into the classroom. While teaching Jene attended every training offered on Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), Social Emotional Learning (SEL), restorative practices, equity pedagogy, and trauma-sensitive practices. When the Tacoma Whole Child Initiative started in TPS in 2012 braiding all these tenants into one transformative initiative, Jene knew this was the missing piece to every child succeeding. It all boils down to relationships. Instinctively Jene had responded “Yes” to the question asked during her interview for her first position as a High School French Teacher: “Is it important that the students like you?” She remembers in the moment wondering if she gave the correct answer. Experience has taught her it is. Build community, build relationships, and you will grow strong students.

Jene brought her classroom experience to the district level to build systems of support. She then brought both the classroom and district systems work to the state level to advocate for equity on behalf of the 1.1 million K12 students in Washington State. This work allowed a deep dive into the policy and funding limits at the state level, because of our constitutional system of local control in our schools. Yes. Funding does come largely from the state. Implementing transformational change happens district by district. The Center for Strong Schools is doing this work. While CSS started the work in Tacoma Public Schools as the Tacoma Whole Child Initiative, CSS has now entered partnership with Leschi schools to begin the Leschi Whole Child Initiative, and CSS is also implementing a Shift 2: Out of School Time partnership through the Tacoma Social Emotional Learning Initiative (TSELI). As the Whole Child Initiatives expand, the need for organizational infrastructure does as well. Jene looks forward to bringing implementation leadership and oversight to the Center for Strong Schools.



Maryclaire Ellis, M.Ed.
Project Manager

As the daughter of two public school teachers, Maryclaire is no stranger to the education system. Throughout her time as an undergraduate at The University of Michigan, her six years teaching middle school in South King County, and her graduate studies at The University of Washington, Seattle, Maryclaire has sought to bridge research with classroom instructional practices by learning alongside her peers. Maryclaire’s research interests include how to improve conditions for teacher learning within and across schools to build teacher capacity as well as investigating how systems-level reforms impact teacher’s daily work. As a Project Manager at the Center for Strong Schools, Maryclaire primarily works to develop and manage the Literacy Study Group project and delivers tailored support to the Center’s other projects.

Carey J Kirkwood, M.Ed., NBCT
Implementation Coach

Carey began her career in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania after receiving a B.A. in Communication Science Linguistics from Temple University and a dual M.Ed. in Elementary Education and Reading from Arcadia University. Her goal is to connect students to their communities while empowering teachers to enhance their skills and practices of the teaching craft. Carey’s career path has taken her from Classroom Teacher to Instructional Coaching to District Early Literacy Coordinator and now to the University of Washington. Carey received her National Board Teacher Certification for Early Literacy in December of 2017.

Carey is dedicated to the notion that every child can learn. Every student should be able to celebrate their culture and identity to inspire their love of learning. Carey has years under her belt providing professional trainings and coaching to colleagues on topics ranging from Classroom Management, PBIS, Components of Literacy, Navigating Student Data, Planning Curriculum and Aligning Instruction.