Elinor Ross CDF Freedom School
Our Program Leaders
Janet Kesterson Isbell, Executive Director
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Dr. Isbell is serving her fourth year as executive director of the Elinor Ross CDF Freedom School and has completed four years of Children’s Defense Fund national training for Freedom School. She is a professor in the Tennessee Tech College of Education, where she teaches graduate courses in literacy and research. She chairs the literacy concentration of the Exceptional Learning PhD program and is an associate editor for The Journal of Multicultural Affairs.
Isbell has taught high school English and also has a background in journalism as a newspaper reporter and wire service editor. She holds a Ph.D. in exceptional learning from Tennessee Tech, a master’s in secondary education from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, and a bachelor’s in journalism from Tennessee Tech. She has two children, two grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
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Amber Spears, Program Director
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Dr. Spears is an associate professor of literacy methods in the College of Education at Tennessee Tech University. For 5 years, Dr. Spears has directed summer programming for children in Putnam County. In 2017, 2018, and 2019, she led Putnam County’s Ready to be Ready summer literacy camp, then began her service as the Elinor Ross CDF Freedom School project director in 2019. Dr. Spears has worked with children, families, and communities to provide high-quality experiences for children during the summer months when school is not in session.
Spears is a former elementary school teacher and is licensed in Tennessee in K–8 elementary education, PK–3 early childhood education, and PK–12 reading specialist. She holds a PhD in exceptional learning, an EdS in early childhood education, a master’s in curriculum and instruction, and a bachelor’s in elementary education. She serves on the Advisory Board for the Literacy Association of Tennessee and was the 2018 recipient of the Literacy Professor of the Year award. In 2021, she received the Walter Helms Literacy Leadership Award for the Literacy Association of Tennessee.