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Empathetic Educators:

Interdisciplinary Narratives

Board/Team Members

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Carmela Fusciello Smith, Ed.D.

Southern CT State University, New Haven, CT

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Fay Brown, Ph.D.

Yale Child Study, New Haven, CT

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Jemel P Aguilar, Ph.D.

Southern CT State University, New Haven, CT


Gladys Labas, Ph.D.

Southern CT State University, New Haven, CT


Isalena Gilzene, M.S.W.

Goodwin University, CT

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Cynthia Savo, MA

Yale Child Study, New Haven, CT


Kayla Luciano, L.M.S.W.

K-12, Bridgeport, CT

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Dawn Fitzpatrick, Ed.D.

K-12, North Haven County, CT


Rebecca Nazario, Parent

New Haven County, CT


Christine Emmons, Ph.D.

Yale Child Study, New Haven, CT

Jaime Bissonnette, L.C.S.W.

K-12, New London County, CT

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Tony Cianchetti, L.C.S.W.

School Social Worker K-12, Hartford County, CT

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Carla LeMay, MA

K-12 Teacher, Hartford County, CT


Lenore Butler, MA

K-12 Teacher, Hartford County, CT

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Deborah Goodman-Forish, BMH, MS, CSP

School Psychologist K-12, New Haven County, CT


High School Parent

Middlesex County, CT


Todd Rofuth, Ph.D.

Southern CT State University, New Haven, CT


Lori Luciani, SYC

SPED Administrator K-12, New London County, CT


High School Student

Middlesex County, CT


Future Member

If you are interested in serving on the board, please send us an email:


Dr. Carmela Fusciello Smith is the Editor-in-Chief/Founder of Empathetic Educators: Interdisciplinary Narratives Journal. Dr. Smith is an Assistant Professor at Southern Connecticut State University. She has a Doctorate Degree in Educational Leadership and is also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has worked in a variety of settings as a School Administrator, Clinical Supervisor, and Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She provides educational consultation to parents/families, students, and districts. Dr. Smith is also the Chair of The School House Door Conference hosted at Southern Connecticut University. This conference provides professional development and continue education credits to educational professionals supporting students K-12 (recent School House Door Conference topics: anxiety, truancy, trauma informed schools and learning differences). Most recent conference filled up with over 200 educational professionals throughout CT attending.

Dr. Smith's current research is in the area of Anti-oppression in various educational settings, Learning Differences/Dyslexia and co-morbid disorders, Universal Design for Learning, Emotional Maltreatment-Abuse and Anti-Oppression Education. Through her research, Dr. Smith has found learning differences/dyslexia and co-morbid disorders are often misunderstood and has lead to emotional maltreatment-abuse by school professionals. Yet, students with learning differences/dyslexia are just as intelligent as their peers, in fact, many excel well beyond their peers in the areas of critical thinking, problem solving and creativity. Dr. Smith presents at conferences locally, nationally and internationally. She also provides workshops and professional development for schools, families and members of the community.

Dr. Smith

Dr. Fay E. Brown is an Associate Research Scientist at the Child Study Center at Yale University, serves as the Director of Child and Adolescent Development for the School Development Program in that Center. Dr. Brown has worked at the elementary, high school and college levels, teaching and counseling students. Her major focus in her current position is to help schools create and maintain developmentally appropriate conditions to ensure the holistic development of every child.


Dr. Brown has authored and co-authored journal articles about reading achievement of struggling elementary school students, and about the over-representation of African-American students in special education classes. She has also co-authored book chapters in such books as: Child by Child; Six Pathways to Healthy Development and Academic Success; and Dynamic Instructional Leadership to Support Student Learning and Development.

Dr. Brown has authored and co-authored journal articles about reading achievement of struggling elementary school students, and about the over-representation of African-American students in special education classes. She has also co-authored book chapters in such books as: Child by Child; Six Pathways to Healthy Development and Academic Success; and Dynamic Instructional Leadership to Support Student Learning and Development.


Dr. Brown has served as an educational consultant to individual schools, school districts, and various other groups, including parent groups and the educational task force of the United Church of Christ. She serves on a number of boards and committees, including Connecticut Employment and Training Commission’s (CETC) Adult Literacy Leadership Board; Scholastic’s National Advisory Committee; and Yale-Scholastic Collaborative for Child and Family Resilience. Dr. Brown is a motivational speaker, and in that capacity, delivers keynote addresses, and conducts workshops at local, national, and international conferences and other professional development events.

Dr. Brown

Dr Gladys Barbosa Labas is the newly appointed  Director of Equity and Language leading CSDE’s her work is to provide districts with the programmatic support required to best meet the academic and Social Emotional needs of students who are English Learners (EL) so they have greater opportunities for success both in school and life. She is Associate Professor in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Department at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) and an officer of SCSU’s American Association of University Professors


 Dr. Labas co-authored the state’s 1978 Bilingual Law, making Connecticut the third state in the U.S. to have such a law, which she also revised in 2015 to better provide English language learners with equal access to curriculum. She also built professional development plans on bilingual and English as Second Language (ESL) programs, effective first and second language instruction, teachers’ learning communities, and family engagement/involvement practices.

Dr. Labas’ five decades of experience includes 30 years serving as a teacher and administrator in urban districts including Meriden, Hartford, and New Britain Public Schools.. She has additional background in higher education at University of Hartford and UConn as an Adjunct Professor specializing in the areas of Leadership and Policy, ESL, Bilingual Education, and Special Education. Dr. Labas’ research, publications, and teaching focus on teacher education, leadership, literacy, bilingual program development and implementation, and discourse analysis of bilinguals. She is actively in involved with Connecticut Association of Schools on High School Reform and is the co-chair of the Achievement Task Force for English Language Learners.


More on Dr. Labas’ professional background:

  • Meriden Public Schools (1975-present): Consultant; Associate Superintendent; Principal and Associative Principal; District Supervisor of all Grants Program; Special Education Teacher K-12; Bilingual Teacher.

  • Hartford Public Schools: Bilingual Teacher K-5.

  • New Britain Public Schools: Consultant K-12; Bilingual Teacher K-3.

  • UConn: Adjunct Professor in the specialization of English as Second Language, Bilingual Education, Special Education and Leadership and Policy.

  • Holds the following certifications in Connecticut: Bilingual, English as Second Language, Special Education, Spanish (6-12) and Intermediate Administrator and Supervisor.

  • Journal Reviewer: Journal of Latinos and Education and American Education Research Association; multiple publications on educational leadership and effective teaching and leading with focus on equity and diversity.

  • Connecticut Association of School (2003-present); Coaching for School Leaders.

  • Recipient of multiple recognition and leadership awards, including: Connecticut Association of Latinos Administrators and Superintendents award for Service to the Latino Community; SCSU Outstanding Leadership and Service Award; Connecticut Association of Schools’ Principal of the Year; Milken National Leadership Award.

Dr. Labas

Dr. Dawn Fitzpatrick received a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology from Iona College in 1991. She returned to Iona in 1995 earning a Master’s in Science of Teaching with a focus on early childhood education. While serving as a prekindergarten classroom teacher, Dr. Fitzpatrick won acceptance into the grant funded Library Connections Program, a multi-year program that builds and revitalizes inner-city elementary school libraries, and in 2005 shifted her role from classroom teacher to library teacher. Dr. Fitzpatrick returned to St. John’s University earning her Master’s Degree in Library Information Science in 2007. Dr. Fitzpatrick most recently earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership from Southern Connecticut State University in 2019 for her research on magnet school leadership styles. Currently serving as a Library Media Specialist, she assists with administrator duties in a Connecticut magnet school. Dr. Fitzpatrick is firm believer in team leadership and building strong relationships with her students, staff, and families.

Dr. Fitzpatrick

Ms. Isalena Gilzene is a Program Director, Assistant Professor, and Internship Coordinator of Human Services at Goodwin University, located in East Hartford CT. She is also an adjunct faculty of 8 years in the Early Childhood Program at Capital Community College, located in Hartford CT. Ms. Gilzene earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, Criminology focus, from Eastern Connecticut State University, and went on to earn a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Connecticut.

Ms. Gilzene oversees full-time faculty and adjuncts who teach in the human services program. She collaborates with colleagues on curriculum revisions, course building, and programmatic assessments. With over 14 years of social work practice experience, and 8 years of teaching in higher education, Ms. Gilzene has attained a wealth of knowledge and skills that drives her philosophy on life-long learning social justice, and providing support to students with differential learning needs. In doing so, she integrates her knowledge and skills by helping students in the program find internship practicums that open doors for employment within the field.

Ms. Gilzene has a strong work ethic and is driven to help improve the lives of others. She is a firm believer in the notion that “team work makes the dream work!” Some of her most appreciated attributes include; an open mind, analytical skills, bridging empathy when addressing social problems, promoting cultural sensitivity, is solution-focused, and likes to have fun while getting the job done!

Isalena Gilzene

Ms. Cynthia R. Savo is a member of the Professional Development Team of the Comer School Development Program at the Yale Child Study Center, the child psychiatry department of the Yale School of Medicine. She consults to school teams with a focus on maximizing the effectiveness of student support services to address the needs of individual students, as well as global school issues such as chronic absenteeism, climate and culture, and wellness.


She has a B.S. in Psychology from Georgetown University and an M.A. in Counseling and Community Services from Fairfield University.

Cynthia Salvo

Ms. Kayla Luciano is a Licensed Master Social Worker. She earned her Master’s in Social Work from Southern Connecticut State University and her Bachelors in Social Work from Providence College. Ms. Luciano has worked with children and adolescents in the K-12 school settings, currently focusing on supporting high school students. She provides individual/ group counseling, crisis management, behavior intervention and oversees the school’s student government. In her role as a school social worker, Ms. Luciano ensures the school's mission of social justice is visible through anti-racism/anti-oppressive action steps with students. Students take an active role with social justice within their school and community. Ms. Luciano supports students in all areas especially in developing student voice and advocacy.

Kayla Luciano

Ms. Rebecca Nazario

Dr. Christine Emmons is Assistant Clinical Professor at the Yale University, Child Study Center; prior to which she was Associate Research Scientist at the Child Study Center and Director of Program Evaluation with the Yale School Development Program. She received her B.A. from the University of the West Indies, her M.L.S. from the University of Western Ontario and her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Connecticut in 1993. Dr. Emmons was an elementary teacher and later a librarian in her native Grenada. 

As Director of Program Evaluation, Dr. Emmons was responsible for the design and management of the SDP’s research and evaluation program, particularly in the districts involved in systemic reform. Her duties included the development and review of instruments to measure the SDP implementation and outcomes. 

Her primary interests include the impact of children's home, school, and community social environments on their self-worth, self-management, self-determination, empowerment, and success. Dr. Emmons studies social environments and how they affect who and what children become.

Dr. Emmons

Ms. Jaime Bissonnette

Ms. Lori Luciani

Mr. Anthony P. Cianchetti, LCSW, is a School Social Worker for the Wolcott Public School District and is the Assistant Director of Summer Studies.  With over twenty years of experience in the school social work field, Anthony has promoted and supported students’ academic and social success by providing specialized services.  Most recently, he has help to attain the CT Networks of Care for School Systems Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Promotion Grant for the Wolcott School District and is a QPR Suicide Prevention Trainer.  With his work on suicide prevention, Mr. Cianchetti has also helped to develop board of education policy that encompasses suicide prevention and postvention. 


Mr. Cianchetti is a member of the Steering Committee for the Connecticut Alliance of School Social Workers (CASSW) which serves to promote the educational and professional growth of members.  CASSW’s mission is also to ensure that the highest standards of practice are upheld as well as to advocate for members and work to impact legislation that will improve the delivery of school social work services and enhance the education of all children.  As a Treasurer for the Citizens Against Substance Abuse Coalition, Mr. Cianchetti also strives to reduce substance abuse and promote wellness in Wolcott through collaboration, education, awareness and community action. Anthony holds a BA in psychology from CCSU as well as an MSW and Sixth Year Educational Leadership degree from SCSU.

Anthony Cianchetti

Ms. Carla LeMay is a 6th grade English teacher at Gideon Welles School in Glastonbury, CT.  She supports her students’ academic and social emotional needs through focusing on the power of mindsets culled from the school district’s goal of fostering The New 3Rs: Resilience, Resolve and Relationships. Carla  has taught for 25 years, and for 13 of those years she taught history as well as English.This dual certification, combined with her love of young adult literature and Masters Degree in Learning & Thinking, has enabled her to incorporate mindfulness practices into the classroom setting.  Her hobbies include traveling, cooking , golfing, biking and boating. She is co authoring a blog with her sister who is also an educator. They have recently been awarded a fellowship from Fund For Teachers . During the Summer of 2021, they will be participating in the Creativity Workshop in Florence, Italy  to supplement writing workshop units and provide students with strategies to generate ideas, cultivate memories and harness curiosity through mindfulness practice.

Carla Ruscito

Ms. Lenore Butler has been a teacher at the elementary level for Southington Public Schools since 1999. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education at SCSU, a Master’s Degree in Reading at CCSU, and a 6th Year Degree in Educational Leadership at the University of Bridgeport. She always has students’ academic and social-emotional needs at the forefront of her practice. Some career highlights include running her school’s participation in the STEPS program. STEPS is Southington’s Town-Wide Effort to Promote Success. Each month she organizes all-school meetings to promote asset building classrooms by highlighting an asset of the month. The assets of the month are based on the Search Institutes 40 Developmental Assets for youth. She works alongside a group of selected student leaders and parents to help foster the school community’s sense of respect, resiliency and resolve through interactive activities and presentations. She also mentors student teachers and novice teachers via the TEAM process.


At the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, she was trained in The RULER Program. The RULER program benefits young learners who may not have the effective skills and vocabulary to explain or regulate their emotions. The Ruler Program, when properly implemented, also lends itself to increased student achievement and development. Lastly, she is a certified pet therapy handler through Pet Partners. Her therapy dog will be on-site at her school in the upcoming school year. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and co-authoring a blog,, with her sister who is also an educator. The Jot Sisters have recently been awarded a fellowship from Fund For Teachers. During the Summer of 2021 they will be participating in the Creativity Workshop in Florence, Italy, to supplement writing workshop units and provide students with strategies to generate ideas, cultivate memories and harness curiosity through mindfulness practice.

Lenora Butler

Ms. Deborah Goodman-Forish received her Bachelor’s in Mental Health from Southern Connecticut State University with a Minor in Theatre. She went on to earn her Master of Science and Sixth Year in School Psychology with Certification from SCSU. For more than 14 years, she has worked in urban and more recently suburban districts in New Haven County. She has served as part of a pilot program which was an alternate to suspension at the high school level in Hamden that focused on mental health. Ms. Goodman-Forish has helped to develop several programs in her current district to reduce disciplinary referrals across multiple schools and grade levels. She helped create a behavioral learning program at the middle school level as well. Ms. Goodman-Forish also served on the Kindergarten Readiness Committee for that focused on an integrated community and school approach. While a part of that committee, she served as a community liaison and a behavioral support for daycare and preschool providers as well as in homes. Ms. Goodman-Forish is currently serving on committees to improve behavioral and mental health supports both at the school and district level. She is also serving on the Citizens Against Substance Abuse (CASA) Committee as part of a pilot program at the elementary school level.


Ms. Goodman-Forish loves to use theatre to develop rapport with students in play centered group or individual therapy. She enjoys analyzing behavior and psychoeducational evaluations to draw connections to skills and real-world examples for staff, students, and parents. She loves to be part of collaborative teams who love research!

Deborah Goddman-Forish


Dr. Todd W. Rofuth has been Chairperson of the Social Work Department for 20 years. He has taught at both the graduate and undergraduate levels including many courses in management, leadership, research, social welfare policy, ethnic realities and the thesis clinical practicum seminar. Prior to working in academia he served in appointed leadership/management positions in Maryland and Pennsylvania state government, serving as the Director of Maryland’s Welfare to Work Initiatives, as Director of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare Office of Client Rights and as a Special Assistant to the Secretary of Public Welfare in Pennsylvania.


Dr. Rofuth also worked as a policy analyst in the Office of the Administrator of the General Services Administration in President Carter’s Administration redesigning procurement regulations to provide greater opportunities to women and people of color. While in the doctoral program at Penn he worked as a Senior Research Associate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School studying the Impact of Economic Development on Job Creation for Low-Income Populations. He has presented at over 50 international, national conferences and state conferences and workshops. He recently co-authored a textbook -  Leadership and Management in Social Work: A competency based approach (Springer Publishing, 2019). Dr. Rofuth has obtained over 60 grants in a variety of areas including child welfare, drug courts, community housing, Ryan White, child care and welfare reform. He is active in the New Haven community currently serving as the Secretary on the Boards of GATHER New Haven, the New Haven Occupational Industrial Corporation and the New Haven Lawn Club.

Dr. Rofuth

Dr. Jemel P. Aguilar is an Associate Professor at Southern Connecticut State University and a clinical social worker in private practice. Dr. Aguilar has written extensively on health and mental health in prominent social work journals such as Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, Social Work Research, Qualitative Social Work, and Journal of HIV & Social Services. Dr. Aguilar also co-authored a book titled Human Behavior in the Social Environment: An anti-oppressive reader and is actively involved in research on chronic diseases such as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Dr. Aguilar teaches clinical social work with children and families, human behavior, research methods, and social work practice. Dr. Aguilar also reviews for several journals and mentors people in academic writing and teaching.

Dr. Aguilar
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