Who We Are

With decades of experience leading and crafting effective school cultures, our leaders are ready and excited to partner with you in blazing new paths and growth opportunities for your organization.

Cheryl Hibbeln | Founder and President

Cheryl Hibbeln is the Founder and President of IlluminatED Collective, a group of transformative educational consultants who partner with business, nonprofit, higher education and school districts to support strategic planning and change management in service of equitable outcomes for all. Cheryl spent over twenty years in the San Diego Unified School District where as a principal she was part of the successful transformation of a large urban high school into four award winning small schools, and as an executive director where she designed efforts to align the district graduation requirements to the UC entry course requirements, expanded the dual enrollment program with the colleges, and redesigned secondary master schedule efforts. Cheryl knows what it takes to lead diverse district teams to achieve challenging systemic efforts in service of equity.

In addition, Cheryl built impactful partnerships with business/industry, philanthropic, higher education, nonprofit and cross-district leaders to design transformative experiences for students across the city of San Diego.

See Cheryl’s Full Bio and Recent Projects.

Dr. Suzette Lovely | Senior Associate

Dr. Lovely has spent 38 years serving K-12 schools in every capacity from instructional aide to teacher to principal to central office administrator to Superintendent.

During her role as Superintendent in Carlsbad, California she spearheaded several efforts to support future ready teaching and learning including the implementation of a county-wide Career Pathways grant; transformation of school libraries into Makerspaces; formation of a tuition free dual enrollment partnership with the local community college; and leveraging the state standards, funding, and accountability system to ensure underserved students achieved at higher-than-expected levels of performance.

See Suzette’s Full Bio and and Recent Projects.

Dr. Shonda Huery Hardman | Collaborator

Shonda Huery Hardman has served students in urban school districts for the last twenty-five years.  She has served as principal, assistant principal and instructional coach. She also worked as Academic Superintendent in Boston and a Network Chief in Chicago where she coached, supervised, and supported principals.  Dr. Hardman most recently served as a Chief of Schools in Houston, TX where she was responsible for leading the work of two-hundred and eight-four schools.

Dr. Hardman received a master’s degree in Education Administration from Trinity College in the District of Columbia, followed by a master’s degree in Education Policy and Planning from Harvard University.  She completed her doctorate from Harvard University in 2010 where her research focused on understanding the behaviors of exemplary middle school teachers serving students in high-poverty middle schools.

See Shonda’s Full Bio

Maria Nichols | Collaborator

Maria Nichols is an educator with over thirty years of experience, ranging from elementary classroom teacher, literacy coach, administrator, grants writing and implementation, to her work as a national consultant and author. Maria’s passion is the development of thoughtful, student centered teaching and learning inside classrooms alive with purposeful talk.

Maria’s recent emphasis focuses on teacher’s growing ability to lead dynamic, student-centered learning. She advocates for predictable structures for developing comfort with the unpredictable nature of student inquiry, which is the focus of her newest publication, Building Bigger Ideas (Heinemann, 2019.)
See Maria’s Full Bio and and Recent Projects.

Suzanne O’Connell | Collaborator

With 40 years in public education as a teacher, director, principal, and deputy superintendent, Suzanne O’Connell brings a wealth of experience to the table surrounding curriculum and instruction, master facility planning, fiscal management, progress monitoring, and accountability audits. With a career spanning four states (Pennsylvania, Arizona, New Jersey, and California), Suzanne has overseen a variety of key functions including: teaching and learning; special education; budgets, bonds and finance; and construction management. Suzanne is a skilled capacity builder and team leader. Her strong interpersonal skills enable her to navigate diverse settings as a successful collaborator with educators, parents, city, state and county officials, business leaders, and outside interest groups.


Dr. Candy Plahy | Collaborator

Dr. Plahy spent 32 years in Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School (PYLUSD) District as a classroom teacher, administrator, Director of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction, Director of Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment, Assistant Superintendent of Executive Services, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, and Deputy Superintendent. Her advocacy for early childhood education along with the Transitional Kindergarten program she launched in PYLUSD has been recognized as a groundbreaking model by the California Department of Education.

Since retiring, Dr. Plahy has been called upon to serve in interim roles to assist Superintendents as they restructure their Educational Services team and transition new leadership into the department. Dr. Plahy completed her undergraduate and Master’s Degree work at Biola University, California State University, Fullerton, and Azusa Pacific University. She received her doctorate in Educational Leadership from California State University, Fullerton.


Dr. LaFaye Platter | Collaborator

Dr. LaFaye Platter has a passion for helping organizations function more effectively. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership, Dr. Platter’s work in the fields of education, finance, marketing, and commercial real estate has enabled her to develop a deep understanding of the political and cultural influences that affect the success of organizations. 

In 2017, Dr. Platter retired as the Deputy Superintendent of Human Resource in the Hemet Unified School District in Southern California. She is a highly sought-after speaker, facilitator, and coach that guides teams to analyze problems, think strategically, and develop plans that make life better for all stakeholders.

See LaFaye’s Full Bio and and Recent Projects.

Melissa Ericson | Collaborator

Melissa Erickson is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Alliance for Public Schools and holds an Ed.M in curriculum and Instruction from Boston University. Melissa began her career as a Fellow for the National Science Foundation working on programs designed to increase the enrollment of women and minority students in secondary STEM courses. As a military spouse for over 20 years, Melissa relocated a number of times and held numerous positions related to education and public schools. Prior to establishing the Alliance, Melissa spent 5 years as the Academic Specialist for the Florida Kinship Center working with students in Hillsborough County Public Schools and then served as the School Programs Specialist for Family First supervising chapters of the All Pro Dad and iMOM programs across the nation. Melissa is recognized nationally as an expert in parent and community engagement having worked with National PTA, the Council of State Governments and the National Council on Disabilities on the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Additionally, Melissa has been called upon by the US Department of Education to collaborate on staff professional development and community engagement work in Florida related to turnaround schools. Selected as the parent representative to serve on the CAEP Commission on Accreditation of Teacher Preparatory Programs she helped craft the standard on clinical partnerships and practice. Melissa has received numerous awards for her work in education including being named a 2011 “Champion of Change” by the White House, a 2014 “American Graduate Champion” by WEDU and a “Community Builder” by the FBI Citizen Academy and a Tampa Bay Lightning Community Hero

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