Our professional and compassionate staff is commitment to serving the clients and families who seek out the services of the Rhode Island Advocacy for Children. We believe that our services must be a match for the needs of your child and for your family. We believe that our involvement with you and your child is a partnership and that dedicated focus and attention to the needs of the child, must be exhibited by both the advocate and the parent or caregiver.
Our Board represents a cross-section of our community and each member has passion for children and unlocking their potential by removing obstacles for them within the educational system. Our Board work hard to ensure the long-term sustainability of our Organization. We passionately ensure that all funds raised by the Rhode Island Advocacy for Children go directly affect those in need.
Meet the people that make our Organization so special!
These are the people that work day-in and day-out to assist you in advocating for your child at school.
FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Joanna has been advocating for her child, as well as for many parents in the public and private schools. She is passionate about ensuring children's rights. Her early career ranged from working as a Paralegal, a Sate-Certified Arbitrator and at age 26 launched her first of two successful companies. Former President of Middlesex Chapter of New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners, a Board Member of the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Hospital Foundation, a Vice President of the Regional Business Chamber of Commerce, and many other charitable organizations that she assisted in accomplishing their missions. A former New Jersey Legislator, she was the prime author of Megan's Law, the Sexual Predators Registration Act. Megan's Law quickly became a model for sexual predator legislation across the country. Joanna has also worked tirelessly on many domestic violence and child protection policies and served as a past Chair of the NJ Juvenile Justice Commission. Another cornerstone piece of legislation she authored is the DIG SAFE program enacted across the nation. Joanna was Past President of Decoding Dyslexia Rhode Island and worked closely with Legislators in 2016 to enact the new Dyslexia law in RI, requiring screening, identification, remediation and teacher training. She is a Member of the RI Special Legislative Commission to Assess & Make Recommendations on the Educational Needs of Children with Dyslexia and/or other Reading Disabilities and a Board Member of East Bay Communication Action Program (EBCAP) in the East Bay of Rhode Island. Joanna attended William and Mary Law School's Special Education Advocacy Program in 2015. Joanna works vigorously to bring awareness to the many struggles parents of children with special needs/profound disabilities face in our schools and in the community at large. She lives in Wakefield, RI with her husband, Peter and son who attends The Gow School, a language based learning school near Buffalo, NY. She has two grown daughters; one a special education teacher and another a marine scientist who has traveled the world.
Amber Champlin brings extensive knowledge of Early Childhood Development and the Early Intervention Program as a mom of seven children, four of whom have special needs. She was the New England Head Start Parent Representative to the National Head Start Association advocating for at-risk families and their children in early/special education. As a representative of New England Head Start, Amber has traveled and attended conferences/workshops throughout the country and lobbied in Washington, D.C. A passionate and dedicated professional, she mentors high school teens, young and inexperienced parents, inner city and disadvantaged teens. Amber completed the Special Education Advocacy Training at William and Mary Law School in 2016 along with many other specialized training in educational advocacy. Amber is an artist and musician and believes that the creative arts are a vital component in helping children.
Peter Scocchi is a father of a special needs child and ardent supporter of children's civil rights. He is originally from New Jersey with a BA in Finance from Rutgers University in New Jersey. He began his career as a Financial Advisor and moved on to become the Chief Financial Officer at Fortis Corporation from 1986 to 2001. Always with an entrepreneurial spirit, he managed several small businesses and real estate investment properties before moving to Rhode Island in 2006.
BOARD MEMBER AND SECRETARY
David Ahlborn is an educator committed to disability justice. He graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Brown University in 1988 and received an M.A. in 1995 in English from Boston University, where he was a Presidential Fellow and graduate assistant teacher. He discovered his passion for teaching students with specific language-based learning differences at Landmark School, where he taught from 1988-90 and 1995-99. He returned to Providence in 1999 to take the position of sixth grade homeroom lead teacher at the Hamilton School at Wheeler, a school-within-a-school for students with dyslexia, ADHD, and language vulnerabilities. He designed and implemented exemplary curriculum based in the principles of Orton-Gillingham. During his tenure, he also served as English Department Head from 2002-2009. In 2008, he started the Hamilton Alumni Support Program, an academic support and advisory program for students who matriculate to Wheeler’s academically rigorous upper school from Hamilton. He is also on the Executive Board of the Rhode Island Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. He is passionate about leveraging academic technology to improve outcomes for all students, and he is dedicated to creating alternative academic pathways for students with diverse needs. He is married, has two grown children, and lives with his wife, also a teacher, and three cats at the Randall-Winsor Farm in Providence.
BOARD MEMEBER/ IT AND COMMUNICATION
Mr. Santiago has over a decade of experience working as a teacher, trainer, and facilitator, across a range of industries. He is a subject matter expert (SME) on utilization of blended environments to establish informational and cultural contact zones, and designing community learning networks (CLN). He has applied his skills to content development for educational programs, documentaries, cultural leadership applications, workshops and trainings, and social change projects as a digital literacy advocate. Mr. Santiago's goal is to create works that bring about conversation, raise awareness, and share experiences of those who have struggled to be heard. Mr. Santiago was the President of Santiago, Inc., which had become one of the largest emerging Community Learning Networks (CLN) seeking to encourage a participatory culture on a global scale. Mr. Santiago has a Masters in Psychology, and is A.B.D. for a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology.
SANFORD (SANDY) PLISKIM ED D
Sanford (Sandy) Pliskin, Ed D, has extensive experience promoting the development of children, supporting parents/caregivers, and collaborating with professionals. Dr. Pliskin taught for 12 years as a classroom teacher with children ranging from three months to ten years of age, worked as an Early Intervention educator/counseling psychologist for five years, and has taught college courses in education, psychology, and human services for over 15 years. Dr. Pliskin has also served as a consultant to early childhood and family child care programs, a music therapist, a child and family clinician, a parenting educator, and a supervisor and a trainer of early childhood educators and family advocates. Dr. Pliskin’s work has taken him to public and private schools, early learning centers, mental health clinics, and Head Start programs in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. In addition, he worked as a community organizer with people with disabilities, campaigning for their civil rights. Dr. Pliskin has a B.A. in Psychology from Clark University, an M.A. in Early Childhood: Counseling and Child Development from Boston College, and received his Ed D in Child and Youth Studies from Nova Southeastern University in 2008. He is currently a validated pre-k CLASS observer.
RETIRED SPECIAL EDUCATOR
Carol Khalsa holds an MS in special education from Central CT State University and an MAT from Rhode Island College in elementary education. As a math teacher for special needs students at the Holyoke Street School, an alternative high school, she helped write IEPs and attended IEP meetings. In this setting, Carol also helped write curriculums as well as plan behavior management strategies. She also has experience in the classroom as a substitute teacher, at grade levels kindergarten through high school, regular and special needs classes, in both rural and urban settings. As a tutor for regular, special needs, and ESL students, Carol has experienced the need for tailoring curriculums and reassessing teaching strategies first hand. Carol is a Board Member of Plan Rhode Island, an organization helping families of special needs family members.
SPECIAL NEEDS CHAMPION
Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Brandy moved to Rhode Island in 2011. She lives in Wakefield along with her husband and three children, ages 5 through 17, two of which have special needs. Two of her children are currently being home schooled after being taken out of the public school system. Having children in various school environments gives her an diverse view on public education. She has over 10 years of experience navigating the school and special education systems in two states advocating for her own children allowing her to be acutely aware of the struggles parents often have in obtaining services for their child. . Brandy's dream is to help as many families as possible, allowing us to empower parents so that they may advocate for their children.
Rhode Island Advocacy for Children is pleased to welcome Mary Lou to our team!
MARY LOY KENNEDY ROSSI, M. ED.
Senior Educational Advocate
Mary Lou Kennedy Rossi is a retired Elementary School Principal, Special Educator, and General Education Classroom Teacher. Mary Lou is the parent of five children and step-children and a grandson with special needs. Ms. Rossi earned her Bachelor of Science from the University of Rhode Island in Elementary Education and Social Sciences, Master of Arts from Rhode Island College in Special Education, and post-graduate certification in Educational Leadership from the Principal Residency. Currently, in addition to to her advocacy work, Mary Lou is a Professor at the University of Rhode Island: College of Education teaching behavior management course, seminar class and mentoring beginning teachers in their elementary student teaching and practicum placements.
With a steadfast belief that all children deserve the best education possible in the least restrictive environment, Mary Lou has advocated for all students throughout her thirty year career with exceptional clear and consistent communication skills. Developing family engagement initiatives, focusing on social/emotional learning, and improving executive function skills have been highlights to her work and identity within the educational community. Her mantra remains the same “Parents are a child’s first and most influential teacher… Seize the opportunity!”