The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Leadership Team


A headshot photo of Donna LeCourt smilingDonna LeCourt, Site Director

Donna LeCourt is a Professor in the English department where she specializes in critical writing pedagogy, questions of difference, and technology. Her most recent work looks at how we can teach writing for public and civic interaction in social media spaces. She began her career at an alternative high school in Boston and then did her Ph.D. at Ohio State University. She was on the faculty at Colorado State University for almost ten years before joining the UMass faculty in 2002. She is a past site director who recently returned to the position.

As Site Director, Donna is responsible for overall site management and coordination, budget, grants, development, university relations, and support for other members of the leadership team.


Jane Baer-Leighton, Professional Development Coordinator (through 2022)

Jane Baer-Leighton has been a WMWP teacher-consultant since 2003 and also served as a co-director. She taught English and Argumentation and Debate at Amherst Regional High School for 35 years.

As PD Coordinator, Jane is responsible for contracting and organizing professional development programs with school districts and other sponsors and for coaching and supporting the teacher-consultants who lead these programs.


A head shot of Bruce Penniman smiling at the cameraBruce M. Penniman, Certificate in the Teaching of Writing Coordinator

Bruce M. Penniman, Ed.D., has been a WMWP teacher-consultant since 1994 and has served as co-director and site director. He taught English and journalism in the Amherst Regional Schools for 36 years and is currently co-advisor to the Sene-Gambian Scholars exchange program there. He was the 1999 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and is the author of Building the English Classroom: Foundations, Support, Success (NCTE, 2009).

As Certificate Coordinator, Bruce is responsible for planning and monitoring certificate program courses and candidates’ progress.



Chelsea Pacheco smiles at the camera.Chelsea Pacheco, Co-Director for Teacher Programs (through 2024)

Chelsea Pacheco began with the WMWP for the Summer Institute of 2013. Since then she has taught high-school ELA in Springfield, MA, Hartford, CT, and most recently East Windsor, CT. She is working towards a second Master’s degree and in the process is focused on improving her practice by learning more about and applying anti-racist pedagogy. 

As Co-Director for Teacher Programs, Chelsea is responsible for planning and implementing the annual Best Practices conference, Spring Symposium, and other summer or school-year teacher programs.


A headshot photo of Sam Briggs smilingSam Briggs, Co-Director for Outreach and SLI (through 2022)

Sam Briggs is an English teacher and theatre director at Tantasqua Regional High School in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. She has been involved with the Western Mass Writing Project throughout her professional career, and is working towards her Masters degree.

As Co-Director for Outreach, Sam is responsible for publishing the WMWP newsletter, coordinating the Daily Hampshire Gazette Chalktalk columns written by teacher-consultants, and establishing WMWP’s social media presence. As Co-Directors for the Summer Leadership Institute, Sam and Alicia are responsible for the planning, recruitment, implementation, and evaluation of SLI and the school-year follow-up.



A headshot photo of Alicia López smilingAlicia López, Co-Director for SLI (through 2023)

Alicia López is an ELL teacher at Amherst Regional Middle School. Her 27 years in the classroom span 2 states and 3 subjects (French, Spanish, ESL). She is a doctoral student in the College of Education at UMass, Amherst, and a lecturer in the ESL Licensure program in the Professional and Graduate Education program at Mount Holyoke College. Alicia is the co-author with Sonia Nieto of the book Teaching, A Life’s Work: A Mother-Daughter Dialogue. She has been reflecting on her teaching through her blog, Maestra Teacher, since 2014. Alicia has been a Teacher Consultant with the WMWP since 2008. She is excited to be back as co-director of the SLI this summer!

As Co-Directors for the Summer Leadership Institute, Alicia and Sam are responsible for the planning, recruitment, implementation, and evaluation of SLI and the school-year follow-up.


Kathy Dunn smiles at the camera.Kathy Dunn, Co-Director for Language, Culture, and Diversity​ (through 2023)

Kathy Dunn has been a Writing Specialist and Creative Writing teacher in elementary and high schools in Holyoke and Amherst across 25 years. Currently a licensed PD provider, she engages teachers in writing as a pathway to identity, voice, and connection for all students.  

As Co-Director for Learning, Culture, and Diversity, Kathy is responsible for assisting program leaders in integrating insights and practices from language, diversity, and culture theory and research. She also supports and further develops programs focused on ELL, Special Education, Multicultural Education, and Social Justice.


If you are interested in working with any of the co-directors, please email

Executive Board

In addition to the Leadership Team, the WMWP Executive Board includes the following members:

UMass College of Humanities and Fine Arts Liaison: Donna LeCourt
UMass Department of English Liaison: Rebecca Lorimer Leonard
UMass College of Education Liaisons: Ysaaca AxelrodKeisha Green, and Denise Ives
Westfield State University Liaison: Jen DiGrazia
Springfield Public Schools Liaison: Declan O'Connor
Holyoke Public Schools Liaison: Laura Espinoza Mufson
Retired Teachers Liaison: Joanne Wisniewski