Meet the Speakers and Organizers

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Robert W. RuncieRobert W. Runcie, Superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, nation’s 6th largest school district including Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Florida 2016 Superintendent of the Year.



Patricia (Tish) Jennings, M.Ed., Ph.D.,  Associate Professor at the Curry School of Education and Human Development at the University of Virginia, is an internationally recognized leader in the fields of social and emotional learning and mindfulness in education.

A teacher and teacher trainer by background, she is now a member of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Fostering Healthy Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Development among Children and Youth, and has authored numerous peer-reviewed studies on student engagement, classroom management, and teacher well-being.

Her research places a specific emphasis on teacher stress and how it impacts the social and emotional context of the classroom. Dr. Jennings led the team that developed CARE, a mindfulness-based professional development program shown to significantly improve teacher well-being, classroom interactions and student engagement in the largest randomized controlled trial of a mindfulness-based intervention designed specifically to address teacher occupational stress. Dr. Jennings spent more than 22 years as a teacher, school director and teacher educator.

She is the author of numerous peer-reviewed articles and books including:

    • Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom
    • The Trauma-Sensitive Classroom: Building Resilience with Compassionate Teaching
    • Mindfulness in the PreK-5 Classroom: Building Resilience with Compassionate Teaching (Forthcoming from W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., August 2019)
    • The Mindful School: Transforming School Culture through Mindfulness and Compassion (Forthcoming from Guilford Press, July 2019)

Hon. Steven Leifman, Judge for the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida National leader of community-based mental health programs and criminal justice.Judge Steven Leifman is an Associate Administrative Judge for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida in Miami Dade County and Chair of the Board of the South Florida Behavioral Health Network. He has been at the forefront of a national movement to decriminalize mental illness which puts defendants with mental illness into community-based treatment. He has worked with law enforcement on programs to recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness and how and where to take people in crisis rather than arresting them. Soon Judge Leifman will be opening a state-of-the-art Mental Health Diversion facility that will include short-term housing, a crisis unit, rehab areas, and a courtroom near the UM Medical Campus.

“We have the largest percentage of people with serious mental illness of any urban area in the U.S. Because Florida is 49th per capita in mental health funding, very few of these individuals were getting access to care and many, many were ending up in the criminal justice system with… nonviolent-type offenses.” Judge Steven Leifman

Judge Leifman’s resolve to bring Miami-Dade’s mental health treatment in line with modern science has not only improved conditions for the mentally ill in the criminal justice system, but made the county an example for impactful reform across the country. With initiatives such as the Criminal Mental Health Project, Leifman has helped Miami-Dade assemble the resources to reduce arrests and recidivism in addition to providing mental health care more effectively. Judge Leifman is an advocate of Mindfulness-Based Interventions.

Judson Brewer, M.D., Ph.D., psychiatrist, neuroscientist, internationally known expert in behavior and mindfulness training for addictions, researches mindfulness approaches that effectively help quell cravings of all kinds. Dr. Brewer has developed novel treatments to help individuals with substance abuse and eating disorders. He is the Director of Research and Innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center. He is a thought leader in the “science of self-mastery,” having combined nearly 20 years of experience with mindfulness and scientific research therein. He is also a research affiliate at MIT and an expert in mindfulness mechanisms, habit change, and anxiety.

Additionally, his work bridges basic and clinical sciences through translational research that includes design, testing, and implementation of digital therapeutics in real-world settings. His work has been featured on 60 Minutes, at (4th most viewed talk of 2016) in documentaries, books and news outlets across the world. He is the author of The Craving Mind: from cigarettes to smartphones to love, why we get hooked and how we can break bad habits (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017).


Valerie York-ZimmermanValerie York-Zimmerman founded Miami Mindfulness and has taught the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program to adults in Miami since 1998. In 2002, she developed Inner Journey ~ MBSR integrating some elements of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) with MBSR.

In 2011 Valerie and her husband Leonard A. Zimmerman, M.D., launched Mindful Kids Miami, a 501(c)(3) non-profit to teach mindfulness-based practices, skills, and activities to “all” children Pre-K through 12 in Miami-Dade.  In 2015 she and Miami-Dade County Public Schools Professional Development agreed to collaborate in a Pilot Program entitled “Inner Journey ~ Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (IJ~MBSR) Program for Public School Educators” which Valerie taught district-wide throughout the school year.

The pilot’s success resulted in M-DCPS’ continued approval of the MBSR Program for teachers and counselors and the implementation of the Mindful Teachers Training Program (MTTP) which Valerie created in 2012 to train educators how teach age-appropriate, experiential mindfulness to children of all ages.

Valerie is certified to teach MBSR by the Oasis Institute at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. She is now affiliated with the UCSD Mindfulness-Based Professional Training Institute (MBPTI) at the Center for Mindfulness in the University of California at San Diego.

She currently teaches the MBSR Program and Mindfulness-Based Professional Development Workshops.  For professionals seeking to become Certified MBSR Teachers with the UCSD MBPTI, she teaches the 8-Week MBSR Practicum in Miami, and serves as a Mentor mentoring new teachers-in-training as they begin to teach.

Gus Castellanos M.D. Gus Castellanos, M.D.  attended the University of Miami for undergraduate and Medical School receiving his M.D. degree in 1980. He practiced Neurology in Palm Beach County until 2006.

Gus began practicing mindfulness in 1998 and teaching in 2009. He is certified to teach MBSR by the University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society. Gus is a contributor and trainer with the UM NeuroScience (Jha) Lab’s M.B.A.T. program.  He currently teaches at a variety of facilities throughout South Florida including the UM School of Medicine, Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, FIU College of Medicine, UMindfulness, Mindful Kids Miami, and the Sari Center for Integrative Cancer Care.  Gus has participated in research on mindfulness with UM and with the FIU College of Medicine.

He has trained thousands of participants in his mindfulness classes and workshops for the general public. He has led classes and workshops for specific populations including: hospice leadership, nurses, physicians, medical students, Army soldiers, firefighters, paramedics, M-DCPS teachers, and behavioral health specialists, to name a few. He is the mindfulness co-facilitator at South Bay Correctional Facility. He has facilitated a bi-monthly mindfulness session at a local prison since 2011, lectures widely, and writes a bi-monthly Mindfulness Newsletter.  Gus serves on Palm Health Foundation’s Brain Health Advisory Council and “Train The Brain Initiative.” 


    • Mindful Kids Miami
    • Knellee Bisram, AHAM
    • Nova Southeastern University


    • Nancy Cliff, Esq.
    • Robertson Adams