Leadership Advancement Program Coaches

Angela Ayers’ career has been woven around improving state, regional, and local government environmental policy. Her combined educational experience from Michigan State University’s Forestry Program and University of Michigan – Dearborn’s Masters of Public Policy Program fueled her love of the environment and dedication to public service. She is also dedicated to leadership development as a result of her experience as a participant in the Great Lakes Leadership Academy (Cohort 2009-2010) and of the State of Michigan Leadership Academy (2006). She engages in leadership development through the facilitation of two professional women’s leadership groups and as a coach for the Great Lakes Leadership Academy.

Angela currently serves in the Governor’s Office as a Special Advisor on the Environment, where she spearheads preventing the spread of invasive carp from entering the Great Lakes. She also focuses on the Governor’s Recycling Initiative and other critical natural resource issues, helping to bring solutions to complex problems for the common good of Michigan.

Prior to joining the Governor’s Office, Angela worked on regional and local government environmental policy for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. There she gained a deep understanding of local government issues and helped to facilitate dialogue around regional policy solutions.

She gained her foundation of government experience working for the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) leading the Emerald Ash Borer program. While working for MDA she developed relationships among federal, state and local agencies, nonprofit organizations, and the business sector in the environmental community and learned how to work with diverse partners for the common good.

Most importantly, Angela has a passion to assist others in growing their capabilities no matter where they are on the leadership spectrum. She currently facilitates two women’s leadership groups that discuss monthly goals, ideas, and thoughts around issues that impact their personal and professional lives. Angela lives in Bloomfield Township, MI with her husband Matt, and their two young daughters, Charlotte and Emmeline.

Jerry Jennings has been an elementary school teacher, principal, interim superintendent, deputy superintendent and superintendent in his 32-year public school career. Jerry has taught graduate courses related to educational leadership and undergraduate and graduate courses related to literacy development for Michigan State University for over three decades.  For nine years he served as the Assistant Director of Courageous Journey, a development opportunity for school superintendents sponsored by the Michigan Association of School Administrators. He has developed mentoring and coaching programs for Michigan superintendents.

For five years Jerry was a weekly blogger for Discovery Channel’s Admin Academy.  He is an accomplished group facilitator. He has helped diverse groups find a common focus and helped staffs and governance bodies to clarify and strengthen their service to the mission of the organization or coalition.

Jerry facilitates, speaks, writes and coaches around the areas of: Appreciative Inquiry, Adaptive Leadership, Challenging the Status Quo, Interdependent Thinking, Teaching and Learning, Technology, Globalization, Self-Development and Stewardship. 

Jerry is the co-author of The Power of the Social Brain: Teaching, Learning and Interdependent Thinking.  In Chapter 1 he tells the story of a journey of 8 GLLA participants thinking interdependently to bring significant change in rail transportation in Michigan.

He currently is an occasional blogger on his blog. http://jerryjennings.wordpress.com/

Jerry earned a Bachelors and a Master degree from Michigan State University and a Doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. His degrees are in Elementary Education, Reading Instruction and Educational Leadership. Jerry and Karen Jennings have been married forty three years and have three daughters and three grandchildren. He enjoys reading, spending time with Karen at plays, concerts and exploring together, gardening and yard work.

Valerie Smith has over 14 years’ experience facilitating small-group equity and social justice dialogues and conversations. She sets the stage for “safe” conversations across differences in race, class, gender, faith traditions, first language and others.  Her purpose:  to open eyes, ears and hearts of participants to the lived experiences of others and provide a path to value these differences, to create a more equitable future for all.  Valerie draws from her experiences as a K-12 public educator; from her work with MSU Extension, VISIONS Inc., as well as community organizing.  For the past 7 years she has focused on Health Equity: population health disparities and the inequity in the distribution of goods and services to certain populations.  Valerie has facilitated equity dialogues with employees of the Ingham County Health Department, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Faith and Youth groups, State Health Conferences, and community interest groups.  Valerie’s early work dealt with how systemic inequity impacts the K-12 achievement gap. 

Valerie had a 32-year career in K-12 public education: teaching general education and children with special needs; serving as both a middle school principal and as a district level Director of Instructional Services.  Valerie taught as an adjunct educator at Olivet College and Michigan State University. In the summer of 2011, Valerie opened the BCFI’s first Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School, located in Lansing, MI.

Valerie earned a BA (Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts), an MA (University of Denver, Certifications in Elementary Ed and Special Education K-12), a Reading Specialist Certification from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and an Education Administration K-12 Certification from Michigan State University.

Valerie’s community activism includes participation in the Michigan Power to Thrive and volunteering and advocacy through All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, MI, where she currently serves on the vestry and is a Lay Minister.  She is engaged in youth and health related service projects of the East Lansing Graduate Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., as well as community advocacy projects through ACTION of Greater Lansing, an interfaith group associated with Gamaliel of Michigan.  Valerie works with Edgewood Village Network Center, East Lansing, MI, supporting low-income families by working with the “scholars” program providing enrichment programs for their high achieving 6-12 grade students.



Great Lakes Fishery Trust W.K. Kellogg Foundation Michigan Farm Bureau GreenStone Farm Credit Services Corn Marketing

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