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Keynote Speakers

Keynote: Debra Saunders-White, Ed.D., Chancellor, NCCU

Debra Saunders-White, Ed.D., began as the 11th chancellor of North Carolina Central University on June 1, 2013. She was selected by the Board of Governors of the multi-campus University of North Carolina on February 8, 2013.

Saunders-White started her tenure with the goal of “Eagle Excellence,” or “E-squared.” Her priorities for ensuring student success and academic excellence include: retaining and graduating students in four years; raising critical scholarship funds; and providing innovative academic instruction that prepares and trains students to work in the global marketplace. At NCCU, Saunders-White aims to create “techno-scholars,” or technology trendsetters and leaders who understand how technology intersects with all disciplines—from STEM to the liberal arts, social sciences, business, education, law and nursing.

Previously, Saunders-White served as acting assistant secretary for the Office of Postsecondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education. Saunders-White joined the Department of Education in May 2011 as the deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs. As acting assistant secretary, Saunders-White’s responsibilities included formulating federal postsecondary education policy to incorporate federal student aid, programs that address critical national needs in support of the department’s mission to increase access to quality postsecondary education, and programs that support international and foreign language education.

Prior to entering higher education administration, Saunders-White spent 15 years in the corporate sector at IBM. From 1994 to 1998, Saunders-White taught college-preparatory mathematics at St. George’s School in Newport, R.I. In 1999, she joined Hampton University as assistant provost for technology and she was promoted to the newly created post of vice president for technology and chief information officer in 2005.

Saunders-White left Hampton the following year to join the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) as vice chancellor for information technology systems. From 2007 to 2008, she also served concurrently as UNCW’s interim associate provost in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion and as chief diversity officer. A Hampton, Va., native, Saunders-White earned her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Virginia. She earned a master’s of business administration from The College of William & Mary and a doctorate in higher education administration from The George Washington University.

Saunders-White is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and a member of the Links Inc. She is the mother of two children, Elizabeth Paige and Cecil III.


Speaker: Dr. James G. Merrill, Superintendent, Wake County Public School System

Dr. James Merrill was named as the 9th Superintendent of the Wake County Public School System on June 18. Dr. Merrill has served as superintendent of the Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS), the third largest school division in Virginia, since 2006. As superintendent, he has spearheaded the creation and implementation of a strategic plan emphasizing 21st century skills that will define successful students in VBCPS.

Prior to his service in Virginia Beach, Dr. Merrill served six years as superintendent of the Alamance-Burlington School System. Previously, he spent 16 years in the Wake County Public School System, last serving as Associate Superintendent for Administration and Finance. He began his career in 1973 as an English teacher.

Dr. Merrill has earned numerous accolades and awards, including the 2005 North Carolina Superintendent of the Year award and the 2013 Virginia Superintendent of the Year honor. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro School of Education awarded him the Outstanding Achievement Award and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Education honored him with its Distinguished Leadership Award.

Dr. Merrill was a Morehead Scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill earning a bachelor’s degree in secondary English. He earned his master’s degree in education administration from Appalachian State University and his doctorate from UNC-Greensboro.


Speaker: Ray V. Spain, Superintendent, Warren County Schools

Ray Vaughan Spain was appointed by the Board of Education in August 2003 as superintendent of Warren County Schools (Warrenton, NC). Spain, a Virginia Beach native, began his career as a teacher’s aide in Halifax County, North Carolina. He served as a classroom teacher and as the coordinator for several education-related programs before becoming a principal.

His first principal position was Jackson Community School (Jackson, NC), where he organized an alternative high school for dropouts and at-risk students. Spain became principal of Bertie High School (Windsor, NC) in 1983. In 1991, the Bertie Board of Education appointed Dr. Spain Assistant Superintendent of administrative services and federal programs. In 1993, Dr. Spain moved to Kinston, North Carolina to join the Lenoir County Board of Education administrative staff as the Associate Superintendent. Dr. Spain accepted the superintendent position with Petersburg City Public Schools (VA) in July 2001.

Throughout his professional career, Dr. Spain has been an advocate of technology use in classroom instruction. As a school administrator, he has personally implemented a number of technology projects to enhance and improve administrative operations.

As Warren County Superintendent, he has worked with the School Board and administrative staff to provide students with a broad range of instructional courseware and to increase the number of computers available for student and staff use. He insists that teachers make use of technology to enhance learning and that the administrative staff use technology to increase productivity and efficiency.

In 2007, Warren County Schools implemented district-wide high school reform. From the previous one high school, two new schools have been developed with plans to implement two academies in the traditional high school. The district has developed a school choice model that allows students and parents to select one of three high schools.


Speaker: Dr. Timothy J. Farley, Superintendent, Granville County Schools

Dr. Timothy J. Farley, has been the Superintendent of Granville County Schools since July 1, 2007. Dr. Farley was named the 2010-2011 Central Carolina Superintendant of the Year, and was bestowed with this honor for a 2nd year in a row in 2011-2012. Since his arrival in Granville County, Dr. Farley has created many exciting new opportunities for our students to be engaged in their education; such as, the district’s first Early College high school, one-to-one laptop wireless laptop environment for students, the Suspend-to-School Program, an alternative school that provides special credit recovery options for students, an evening school, extensive online opportunities for struggling middle and high school students, and Granville Online for middle and high school students to engage in additional online study opportunities. During Dr. Farley’s tenure the percentage of student proficiency in End-of-Grade (EOG) test scores in grades 3-8 has increased 16.5 points in Math, and 11.8 points in Reading, and the dropout rate for Granville County Schools has decreased. In addition, the Graduation Rate has increased more than 20 percentage points since his arrival in Granville County Schools.

Under Dr. Farley’s leadership, the district was awarded The Innovator in Digital Learning Award in 2012 from the Governor of North Carolina, and the prestigious 2013 Magna Award from the National School Boards Association for the Granville Online Program.

Dr. Farley has served as a member of the Governor’s Juvenile Justice Planning Committee, is currently on the Advisory Board for Union Bank, member of Oxford Rotary Club and is active in the Knights of Columbus of St. James Catholic Church. Dr. Farley resides in Oxford with his wife and two children.