Cristina Pacione-Zayas, PhD, directs the vision for policy and leadership initiatives at Erikson Institute. She is charged with articulating and executing Erikson’s policy agenda to generate systemic solutions leading to equitable opportunities and positive outcomes for young children, families, and communities.
Dr. Pacione-Zayas is credited with establishing The Early Childhood Leadership Academy for Illinois leaders seeking learning experiences to enhance their capacity to inform early childhood policy. She also directs the Community Data Lab which equips local leaders with precise and accessible data on child well-being to inform systems coordination, resource allocation, and policy through the Early Development Instrument Pilot Project and Risk and Reach Project. Dr. Pacione-Zayas works closely with Erikson faculty and research scientists to identify opportunities for translating research into policy.
Her work is informed by over a decade of experience leading education policy and community education initiatives in Illinois’s Latinx communities. Previously, Dr. Pacione-Zayas led the Latino Policy Forum’s Education Department with a focus on improving education policy in the birth-to-third-grade continuum that will produce positive outcomes for Latinx and immigrant children. Her policy work at the Forum was bolstered by extensive experience implementing high-quality student-centered academic supports and initiatives to promote healthy and positive youth development in various Chicago communities. During her two years as the culture of calm coordinator for Roberto Clemente Community Academy, a public high school in Chicago, she cultivated a 29 percent reduction in serious disciplinary infractions. As the community schools director at Enlace Chicago, she managed a network of eight community schools in the Little Village neighborhood, representing more than 1,500 youths and 650 adults. She convened more than 50 partners to provide programming in academic intervention, arts and cultural enrichment, sports, summer youth employment, post-secondary and career exploration, and health and wellness, as well as adult education and family leadership development.
Dr. Pacione-Zayas was recently appointed to the Illinois State Board of Education as board secretary, co-chair for the Kindergarten Transition Advisory Committee of the P-20 and Early Learning Councils, the Educational Success Committee of Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker’s Transition Team, the Education Committee of Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot’s Transition Team, and Title V Needs Assessment Advisory Committee for the State’s federally-mandated Maternal and Child Health Services. She co-chairs The Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago, a non-profit organization of local Puerto Rican leaders who influence policy for the advancement of the Puerto Rican community. She also serves on the Governing Board of the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies and provides political commentary on WGN TV Chicago during election cycles.
She earned a doctorate degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in educational policy studies. She also holds a master of education degree in educational policy studies and dual bachelor of arts degrees in sociology and Spanish, also from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is native to Chicago and is a lifelong Logan Square resident with her husband and two children.