2017 PDS National Conference

Dr. Stephen W. Hefner began his professional career as a high school teacher in his home state of Missouri. His teaching career took a brief detour upon his being drafted into the Army in December of 1970. After completing his military commitment, he earned his Master's Degree at the University of South Carolina, where he later earned his doctorate. 

He joined Lexington-Richland Five on January 3, 2011.  Prior to this appointment, he served as superintendent of nearby Richland School District Two for 16 years, where he was responsible for many innovative programs including the creation of multiple magnet centers and programs, choice options for parents and students, full-day kindergarten, service learning, expanded arts offerings and many technology initiatives. 

Dr. Hefner has received numerous honors. In 1995, he received the "Friend of Gifted Education" Award from the SC Consortium for Gifted/Talented Education.  In 1997, he was named Educator of the Year by the SC Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development. In 2002, he was named 

Stephen Hefner

An original Freedom Writer whose story is told in part in the 2007 hit movie, Freedom Writers, Manny Scott has energized over a million students, educators, and leaders worldwide with his authentic, inspiring messages of hope. He is the speaker of choice for schools, conferences, conventions, and banquets.


By age 16, Manny felt his story was over:
His father was incarcerated, he missed 60-90 days of school annually from 4th to 9th grade, he dropped out of school at age 14, he lived in 26 places by age 16, and his best friend was brutally murdered. Sensing that the end of his life was near, Manny sat down on a park bench.


Then, a man—a complete stranger—took a risk, and sat down beside Manny. That man helped him see that his story could change, that his future could be better than his past. “Just because you live in the “hood,” the “hood” doesn’t have to live in you.” “You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control your response.” “You can become the father you never had, and the man you’ve never met.” “You can create a future better than your past.”


make the necessary changes to help all children meet and exceed rigorous academic standards. He is truly one of America's most respected new voices in education.

Prior to starting his career in education, Dr. Hodge distinguished himself in the service of our country with the 7th Infantry Division of the United States Army. He is known as a master teacher and staff developer.

Dr. Hodge's career has been defined by assisting students and teachers overcome obstacles and achieve goals. He has served as an inspirational speaker across the United States and has been a guest lecturer at Christopher Newport University, Hampton University, North Carolina A&T State University and George Washington University. Dr. Hodge is a trained facilitator for the (SREB) Leadership Initiative Modules “Leading Assessment and Instruction” and “Creating a High Performance Learning Culture”, and a trained assessor and facilitator in the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) “Developing the 21st Century Principal” program.

Featured Speakers

Manny Scott turned the page that day on a park bench. He returned to school with a new attitude and purpose, and ended up in the back of Erin Gruwell’s English class-—a group now known worldwide as the Freedom Writers, portrayed in the 2007 hit MTV movie.

In his journal, Manny began writing, and dreaming about, new, more fulfilling chapters in his life—chapters filled with healing, hope, perseverance, and possibility.

Superintendent of the Year by the SC Association of School Administrators. He was honored as "Distinguished Citizen of the Year" in 2003 by the local Boy Scouts of America organization. In 2005, he received three national awards for his leadership in technology education. He was one of 16 superintendents to receive the President's Technology Award from the American Association of School Administrators, one of 10 superintendents to be named as a Tech-Savvy Superintendent by eSchool News and one of four superintendents to be named Leader of the Year by Technology and Learning magazine. In 2009, Dr. Hefner received the Order of the Palmetto, the highest civilian honor in the state of South Carolina.

Manny Scott

John Hodge

Dr. John W. Hodge is president and co-founder of Urban Learning and Leadership Center (ULLC), an organization focused on student achievement and reduction of the achievement gap. He has served as a reading teacher, English teacher, AVID teacher, Assistant Principal and Associate Director of AVID Center Eastern Division. He served as Director of An Achievable Dream Academy, an inner city school that piloted many of the interventions used by Urban Learning and Leadership Center. An Achievable Dream Academy is a high performing, high poverty school that has received numerous national awards.

John received his Bachelor of Science degree from North Carolina A&T State University where he graduated with honors. He later received his Master of Arts degree from Chapman University. John completed his academic and professional preparation by earning a Doctor of Education degree from Virginia Tech where he conducted extensive research on factors that contribute to the academic success and/or failure of impoverished children. What sets Dr. John W. Hodge apart in the field of education is his well-documented ability to put research and theory into everyday practice in rural, urban and suburban schools. Dr. Hodge has helped educators in elementary, middle and high schools