About Our Team

About Our Team

Our Team

The EdPractices team is a diverse collaborative group of education experts representing general, special, and ESL/bilingual education. Together, we have expertise with students and teachers from kindergarten to college as classroom teachers, school administrators, curriculum developers, researchers, university faculty, social workers, and clinical psychologists. Team members are available for support throughout the school year and summer, face-to-face or virtually.

Shannon O’Brien, M.S.Ed.

Co-Founder and Team Member

Specialties: Literacy, Educational Leadership, High Ability, Classroom Environment, New Teacher Support, Early Learning

Shannon O’Brien has worked in public and higher education for 29 years. She has served in schools as elementary/middle school teacher, principal, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, university supervisor, professor, and consultant. 

She taught college courses at Purdue University Northwest in classroom environment/social emotional learning, literacy, and leadership. She is highly skilled in educational leadership, blended learning, literacy, and teacher preparation. Shannon has extensive experience supporting beginning educators as a teacher, administrator and university faculty member. She was Elementary Coordinator, Future Educator Development Leader, and part of numerous service groups in The School of Education and Counseling. 

She led area schools as High Ability Coordinator, English Learner Coordinator, grant writer, RTI/MTSS implementation and early learning initiatives.

Rita Brusca-Vega, Ed.D.

Co-Founder and Team Member

Specialties: UDL & differentiated instruction; Serving English learners with IEPs, Co-teaching models and strategies, Evidence-based instructional practices, Instructional support in the classroom

Dr. Rita Brusca-Vega, Professor Emeritus at Purdue University Northwest, began her teaching career serving K-12 students with mild and intense special education needs. She has worked as an inclusion consultant in addition to having over 30 years in higher education. Rita is a frequent presenter on special education issues, a successful grant writer, and has directed multiple federally-funded projects ranging from preparing bilingual and ESL teachers and paraprofessionals to become special educators (during her time at Northeastern Illinois University) to serving students with intense needs and co-teaching in science classrooms. She is past chair and active member of the Illinois State Board of Education’s Joint Subcommittee on Bilingual Special Education. Rita is also on the Board of NAETISL where she advocates for the use of qualified interpreters for special education. Rita has recently written about UDL in the text, Universal Access Through Inclusive Instructional Design: International Perspectives on UDL.

Stephanie Winborn, M.Ed.

Specialities: Guided reading/balanced literacy, Social/emotional Learning, Team building, RtI reading and math, PLC (Professional Learning Communities), Positive behavior systems

Team Member. Stephanie Winborn holds degrees in education from Indiana University and Purdue University. She has 28 years of experience in the field of education as a classroom teacher, a school administrator, and a university supervisor of student teachers. During her career to date, she has led organizations to higher levels of achievement through her knowledge of best practices, and her creation of effective professional development to initiate change. Stephanie has a strong belief in teamwork, and an unwavering love of students.

Diana Underwood. Ph.D.

Specialities: K-8 inquiry mathematics practices, Classroom discourse, Realistic mathematics education Instruction, Math coaching for teachers

Team Member. Dr. Diana Underwood, Associate Professor of Mathematics Education at Purdue University Northwest, is a well-known and sought-after mathematics consultant in the region. Known for her interactive and engaging approach to math education, she has designed and taught mathematics professional development and Summer Inquiry Math institutes for K-9th grade teachers, conducted inquiry math demo-lessons with children and their teachers in grades 1-8, and created engaging math lessons using “Realistic Mathematics Education” instructional design theory. Diana is currently producing videos on early number concepts for K to beginning 2nd grade teachers.

Tom Mihail, Ph.D.

Specialities: ALL aspects of diversity, Social justice, Multicultural education, Positive behavioral intervention & supports, Classroom management & ABA, Special education, Supported inclusive education, Family partnership

Team Member. Dr. Tom Mihail’s 50-year career has included ten years as a teacher, seven years as the Executive Director and Family Counselor of an early childhood special education school, and 33 years as a professor of diversity and special education at Saint Louis University; Washington University; Maryville College; Eastern Illinois University; and Purdue University Northwest, where he holds the rank of Professor Emeritus. Tom was inducted into the Indiana Association of Teacher Educators Hall of Fame in 2018. He received the Hammond (IN) Mayor’s Commission on Disabilities Award (1999), the Purdue University Calumet Outstanding Teacher Award (1997), and the Illinois Department of Human Services Inservice Leadership Award for Team Development and Peer Training (1993). He received his doctorate from Saint Louis University, master’s from Indiana University at South Bend, and bachelor’s from Indiana University in Bloomington.

An advocate for people with special needs, their families, and service providers, Tom has made over 300 local, state, regional, and international presentations; produced over 100 educational videos; and authored over 20 publications. He is a consultant to schools, agencies, and parent organizations, and maintains websites devoted to social justice, multicultural education, diversity, and supported inclusive education (Multiculural Education Embracing & Teaching Diversity). Tom firmly believes that “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) and that “one child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world” (Malala Yousafzai).

Jane Montes, Ph.D.

Specialities: Equitable instruction for Long-Term English Learners (LTEL), Comprehensible language, literacy, content, and instruction (aligned to CCSS & WIDA ELD Standards), Translanguaging, Supporting bilingual and ESL teachers in the classroom

Team Member. Dr. Jane Montes believes in an equal education opportunity for all English learners and that multilingual learners’ languages and cultures are valuable resources to be leveraged for schooling and classroom life. Her career spans 42-years that include teaching in a K-8 Migrant Education Program,12 years as a university professor in bilingual/multicultural education at Northeastern Illinois University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, several years in both public and Chicago Public School Options school administration including as the Director of English Learner Program Services in a K-8 district; and most recently as a Lead ESL Teacher at an urban alternative high school. She has served as an elected executive board member of the Illinois Association for Multilingual Multicultural Education for over 15 years.

Jane received her doctorate in Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign where she also worked at the Center of the Study of Reading. Since retiring from university teaching in 2011, she has provided consulting services to school districts and agencies seeking to provide equitable program services for English learners including those with special needs. Jane has also served as an expert EL peer reviewer for state school improvement grants and for the federal ESEA Flexibility grant.

Flavio Vega, Ph.D., Psy.D.

Specialities: Stress management for teachers and parents, Working with diverse student populations,  Social-emotional learning for diverse students.

Team Member. Dr. Flavio Vega is a bilingual (Spanish-English) clinical psychologist and former university educator and administrator. He holds doctoral degrees in higher education administration (University of Minnesota) and in clinical psychology (Illinois School of Professional Psychology). He is also a former American Council of Education Fellow, Office of the Chancellor at UCLA, and former Postdoctoral Fellow at Michigan State University, Institute for Research on Teaching. Dr. Vega’s many life experiences, including as a child of a migrant farm working family, a Spanish-language speaker in English-only schools, a Viet Nam era veteran, and a non-traditional college student, have influenced his vocational choices and practices. He has focused much of his professional work on issues of equity in schools, supporting students from diverse racial/ethnic and language backgrounds in the transition from high school to college, and treating mental health problems of children and adults. He has also worked extensively with preservice and inservice teachers on diversity and multicultural issues and has designed human relations training programs as a university professor. In the latter part of his career, Dr. Vega transitioned to a career in clinical psychology and has worked with adults in managing stress in personal and work settings and assisting them in creating and maintaining healthy life-styles.