Systems Leaders Spotlight Panel Kick-off Event

Wednesday, March 14, 5:00-7:30 p.m.

Urban Ecology Center, Washington Park Branch, 1859 N. 40th Street, Milwaukee, WI 53208


Don’t miss this unique opportunity to hear from some of our nation’s most respected and experienced systems leaders. In this panel discussion, each leader will speak candidly about challenges in their work; their vision for success; and the role systems thinking plays in working toward that success.

Following the panel discussion, there will be an audience question-and-answer session. Come prepared to discuss what’s on your mind regarding education, student success, leadership and more!

Food and drinks will be served.

Meet the Panel!


Panel Moderator: Sheri Marlin

Chief Learning Officer

Waters Foundation 

Sheri Marlin, M.Ed. writes, speaks and collaborates with others to apply systems thinking in real-world contexts. She has taught preschool through graduate school and has worked as a building principal and district curriculum specialist. Sheri finds tremendous satisfaction in facilitating teams of people as they develop shared vision and achieve desired results. By providing resources and sparking curiosity, Sheri keeps learning at the center of everything she does. She believes that when people understand and apply the tools and Habits of systems thinking, they are more likely to engage in meaningful, life-long learning and innovation. Sheri is co-author of The Habit-Forming Guide to Becoming a Systems Thinker.

Tonya Adair

Chief Innovation and Information Officer

Milwaukee Public Schools

Appointed the Chief Innovation and Information Officer for Milwaukee Public Schools in July of 2015, Tonya Adair leads four major district departments including School Transformation, Organizational Development, Innovation, and Technology. With equity at the forefront and using research to drive innovation, her work focuses on implementation of programs and practices geared towards leading efforts to improve achievement for all students. She is particularly passionate about improving student outcomes for traditionally underserved populations and focuses on assuring equitable opportunities for all.

Successful initiatives under her leadership include: establishment of Turnaround Arts Milwaukee in partnership with The Kennedy Center and Turnaround Arts National; implementation and expansion of Telepresence used to increase advanced placement course options to students across the district; expansion of Community Schools; implementation of One-to-One Chromebook initiative for all high schools; implementation of the district’s Equity agenda; development of the district’s first Principal Playbook; and the institution of Milwaukee Public School University (MPS-U), a partnership with higher education institutions offering additional certifications in reading and mathematics for current teachers.

As a member of the Strive Together Leadership Network in partnership with Milwaukee Succeeds, Ms. Adair consistently uses systems thinking tools to engage others and create opportunities to accelerate progress to proof points.

Ms. Adair is a career educator with more than twenty-five years of experience. She has served as a teacher, curriculum coordinator, assistant principal, and high school principal leading efforts that transformed school cultures, increased parent and community engagement, and improved outcomes for students overall. Her post-secondary achievements include: a Bachelors in Elementary Education (Grambling State University); a Masters in Education Administration and Instructional Leadership (Alverno College); and certification in Human Resource Management. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Language and Literacy Education (Cardinal Stritch University). She has received numerous recognitions and awards and serves on several boards and professional committees at local and state levels.


Steve Holmes


Sunnyside Unified School District

As superintendent of the Sunnyside Unified School District, Steve Holmes serves as the top administrator in Southern Arizona’s second largest school district. Steve is an accomplished educator with over 21 years of successful service in public education. As an educational leader, he has a proven ability to manage and implement large-scale systemic efforts through strong and strategic collaborations with administrators, teachers, and staff. Steve is committed to the transformation of schools to ensure all students are college and career ready.

During his first year as superintendent, the Sunnyside District established Vision 2020: A 5-year Strategic Plan and opened Gallego Intermediate 4-8 Fine Arts Magnet School. Steve worked collaboratively with the Governing Board and central staff to develop strategies to engage the community and redesign central office support to serve school sites in implementing the core areas outlined in Vision 2020.

Prior to becoming superintendent, Steve served as the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction in Sunnyside. In this role, Steve was a key architect in the District’s one-to-one laptop initiative, in which he worked to achieve equity of access to technology for all students.

A champion for equity, Steve has built a reputation for his strong advocacy of equitable services for English Language Learners. He has had multiple opportunities to provide clarity and insight to national education audiences. Steve was a facilitator on an educational panel for the National Congressional Hispanic Caucus Conference, where he spoke on policy implications for English Language Learners in relation to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Steve has also served as the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction in Arizona’s second largest district, the Tucson Unified School District. While in this position, he brought multiple stakeholders together to participate in visioning processes. This included facilitating a sub-committee of over fifty community members, teacher leaders, administrators, and parents in the development of annual goals and strategies to support that district’s teaching and learning vision in the areas of curriculum, instruction, professional development, data, and assessment.

Steve is an alumnus of the Sunnyside District and often shares his perspective through the eyes of one who attended and experienced Sunnyside schools. He draws upon these experiences when engaging students, teachers and school leaders, to promote a deeper focus on creating classrooms that emphasize high expectations and student agency. As he enters his second year as superintendent, there is much excitement among staff and the community because of his insight on instructional practice and his strategies for building a culture of high academic achievement in Sunnyside.

Tracy Benson


Waters Foundation

As a leader, author and innovator in the fields of systems thinking and organizational learning, Tracy Benson, Ed.D. brings extensive practitioner experience to her organization’s education and corporate work. As an educator, she has taught at elementary and secondary levels and has been a school principal and district level instructional coach and evaluator. In addition to K-12 experience, Tracy has served as an adjunct professor in both undergraduate and graduate university programs for teachers and administrators. She has been a contributing author to several books and most recently is co-author of the Habit-forming Guide to Becoming a Systems Thinker.

Tracy leads a national team of exceptional educators who skillfully make systems thinking concepts and tools accessible to real-world, practical applications. From the classroom to the boardroom, her capacity building and coaching sessions engage, motivate and inspire people wanting to make positive differences in their thinking, learning and leading.

Beth Heller

Senior Director of Education and Strategic Planning

Urban Ecology Center, Milwaukee

Beth Heller, Senior Director of Education and Strategic Planning at the Urban Ecology Center, has dedicated the past 17 of her 22 years in education to the growth of urban environmental education programs in Milwaukee, WI. Starting from a single classroom in a double-wide trailer, hosting 6000 nature-based field trips annually, she now directs education and activities at the Urban Ecology Center’s three branches and two state-of-the-art green buildings that provide more than 200,000 learning opportunities for people of all ages each year. Programs created and run by Beth include the Neighborhood Environmental Education Project for 63 urban schools, a job training program for high school students, and an intergenerational research program where adults and children participate in undergraduate and graduate field research projects led by over 20 colleges, universities and institutions.

Immediately after achieving her bachelor degree in biology and education, she taught high school biology. She then went on to lead Elderhostel environmental education programs in New York, rehabilitate wildlife and open a day care center in New Mexico, all before returning to her hometown of Milwaukee. While at the Urban Ecology Center, Beth received her MBA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, was awarded the 2009 Business Journal 40 under 40 Award for community leadership in Milwaukee, the 2008 Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History Award, the Blanch Hornbeck Award for Nature Education and the 2004 Educator of the Year Award from Wisconsin’s Conservation Congress.

Tim Ehlinger, PhD

WC Kohler Director in Sustainable Peacebuilding

University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Tim is the W.C. Kohler Director and co-founder of the Master of Sustainable Peacebuilding. He received his doctoral training as an evolutionary ecologist from the Kellogg Biological Station of Michigan State University where his research has explored the complex behavioral and physiological mechanisms that contribute to the ability of populations and communities to adapt to disturbance and changing environments.

With an ever-increasing focus on restoration ecology, he studies risk-response relationships between natural and anthropogenic stressors and their impacts on the integrity and resilience of social-ecological systems. His laboratory employs methodologies such as risk propagation and artificial neural networks to examine human – environmental interactions and the implications of policy interventions on ecosystem services, conflict and environmental health. He is associate professor of Systems Ecology in the College of Nursing and Center for Global Health Equity.

Felice Beal

Principal at Thurston Woods

Milwaukee Public Schools

For more than 22 years, Felice Beal has devoted her life to educating the youth of Milwaukee. Beal served as a teacher for eight years, an Assistant Principal for six years, and is currently in her ninth year as principal. The main aspects of her work are to proactively and strategically lead so that every facet within the school is enhanced and developed to be at its best for all students.

Early in her administrative career, Beal established a Community School initiative as principal of Auer Avenue School. Currently, Beal leads the Systems Thinking model for Milwaukee Public Schools at Thurston Woods Campus. Under her leadership, students and teachers engage in collaborative opportunities that promote a growth mindset and connections to a broader context of thinking. Students are empowered to defend their thinking through use of Systems Thinking tools, strategies and Habits. This change in perspective allows students to collaborate and broaden their realm of understanding by acknowledging connections and interdependencies among systems.

As principal, the most satisfying part of her work is knowing that she can be instrumental in transforming and establishing innovative ideas that make a positive difference in the lives of children, staff and the community.