Jennifer Alexander
Program Director of Early Learning Programs
Metropolitan Family Services
[email protected]

I would like to be better versed on ways to approach issues with lobbyists, aligning initiatives with the platforms of elected officials, and ways to partner with decision makers in order to better influence policies that inevitably impact the children and families.”

Jennifer has served in the field of early childhood education for more than 22 years. She is currently the program director of early learning programs for Metropolitan Family Services where, for more than 10 years, she has led a team of passionate early childhood educators and manages contracts for the Chicago Public Schools and the Department of Family and Support Services. Her career began as a lead teacher for a family-owned daycare center on the south side of Chicago. She also worked as an education coordinator, mentoring and coaching teachers, and later went on to become a classroom teacher for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Jennifer worked for CPS for more than seven years as the grade level chairperson, local school council teacher representative, CPS union delegate and was nominated as a DRIVE (Delivering Results through Innovation and Visionary Education) award recipient. She holds a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Chicago State University and two a master degrees in early childhood education from Governor’s State University and in educational leadership from Northeastern Illinois University. Additionally, Jennifer serves as a member of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Daycare Licensing Council and sits at various tables throughout the community. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother, and balances it all with her love of traveling and drive to learn new things.


Sonja Anthony
Vice President of Performance and Quality Improvement
[email protected]

If we can provide more support for children at the micro system, that layer of the environment closest to the child, we can have a greater impact on the other outer systems.”

Sonja Anthony is the vice president of performance and quality improvement and early childhood programs at ChildServ, a nonprofit in Chicago providing services for more than 100 years. Previously held positions within her four years at ChildServ include director of quality improvement and program supervisor for community based early childhood programs. She has worked in administration for various nonprofit organizations in the early childhood division as well as for state and federal programs, including Early Head Start, Head Start, Prevention Initiative, CCAP, FCCH, Early Intervention, Home Visiting and DCFS spanning the past 19 years. During this time, she has also participated in numerous advocacy committees and research studies. Sonja obtained her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Chicago State University and her master’s degree in early childhood from Roosevelt University. She also holds the Type 04 teaching certification with a special education endorsement and has held the developmental therapist credential through the early intervention system of Illinois and has completed coursework towards the infant studies advanced certificate from Erikson Institute.


Missy Carpenter
Senior Manager, Education
United Way of Metropolitan Chicago
[email protected]

I hope to influence our organization’s advocacy efforts to focus more strongly and more specifically on issues of equity and access in early learning in the region.”

Missy is a passionate advocate for public education and social justice. In her current role as senior manager of education, she leads United Way of Metro Chicago’s strategy and evaluation of investments in early education and youth development. Missy earned her master’s degree in education at the University of Washington and has a background in building and connecting community systems in support of children, youth and families. Her career has focused on growing parent-teacher collaboration, strengthening school-community partnerships, increasing access to resources for immigrant families, and supporting the development of restorative justice practices. Previously, she led the development of a Community Schools initiative in Evanston and Skokie, including the implementation of an innovative parent-organizing model. She served on the inaugural planning committee for Evanston Cradle to Career—a community-wide collaboration to improve equity for all of Evanston’s youth. A native of Northern California, Missy is now a proud Chicagoan and supporter of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. She is bilingual in English and Spanish and loves to travel the world. She and her partner Paul are parents of a beautiful toddler and she is never happier than when she’s dancing and goofing off with her family.


Tiffany DeRocco
Executive Director
United Way of Kankakee & Iroquois Counties
[email protected]

It is my end goal to ensure that every child enters school ready to succeed, and then expound upon that potential throughout the remainder of their educational career.”

Tiffany is deeply committed to impacting her local community and its residents. She is the executive director for United Way of Kankakee and Iroquois Counties, serving an area where she grew up her whole life. It has provided her with a profound way to connect to her roots and the place she still calls home. Tiffany serves as a Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce ambassador, as a board member of both the Kiwanis Club of Kankakee and the Kankakee River Valley Community Foundation, and as a committee member for the Volunteer Recognition luncheon. She also was a recipient of the Kankakee County’s 40 Under Forty Awards. She graduated in 2011 from Olivet Nazarene University with a degree in corporate communications and a minor in business. She lives in Bradley, Illinois with her doting husband, Joshua DeRocco, and their two dogs, Doc and Gracie.


Rosalinda Espinosa-Nava
Child Development Center Site Director
Gads Hill Center
[email protected]

I want to be a productive leader with the goal of influencing policy leaders to support early childhood programs .”

Rosalinda continues her family’s legacy in education through her work as site manager at Gads Hill Center. She is originally from Puebla, Mexico and has several family members who are teachers and principals in her hometown. Her work with children in early childhood education keeps her inspired and she believes that every child can reach their full potential. She has more than 10 years of experience in the field and has served as a Head Start classroom teacher, Head Start home visitor and education supervisor. Rosalinda holds a bachelor’s degree in arts and sciences from Northeastern University and a master’s degree in teaching early childhood education from National Louis-University. She also obtained the Illinois Director Credential and completed a Lead, Learn and Excel leadership cohort at the Ounce of Prevention Fund.


FaKelia Guyton
Program Director
DuPage Federation on Human Services Reform
[email protected]

I want to be a stronger leader that uses data-based decision-making to shape and influence policy.”

FaKelia serves in a capacity that helps build and shape birth to five early childhood community systems and policy. She is program director of DuPage Early Childhood Collaboration at DuPage Federation on Human Services Reform and has 14 years of experience. Three frameworks guide her work: family support principles, diversity-Informed infant mental health tenets and trauma-informed practice. She began as a Head Start classroom teacher to trainer and went on to administration and program management. She has supported the families of young children in both Latino and African-American communities in Chicago, including Garfield Park, Austin, Aurora and Evanston. In 2009, she developed and incorporated Project Single Moms and Empowered Single Parents. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business management and a master’s degree in public policy from National-Louis University. She plans to pursue the infant mental health certificate at Erikson Institute.


Carisa Hurley
Director of Programs
One Hope United
[email protected]

I would like to influence issues around child care subsidy and school readiness, and the understanding of childhood trauma and how it affects children’s behavior in early childhood programs.”

As an early childhood professional, Carisa is committed to making sure that children receive a high quality education that will result in a great start for their future. She is director of programs at One Hope United where she oversees three early childhood programs, each with a capacity of at least 200 children. She is motivated and energized by developing early childhood professionals and teaches early childhood classes as an adjunct faculty member at Prairie State College. In her 23 years of experience working with children and families, she has served in various capacities including vice president of early childhood, director, family support supervisor and teacher. She holds a bachelor’s degree in child and family services from Southern Illinois at University at Carbondale and a master’s degree in education from Erikson Institute/Loyola University.


Safiyah Jackson
Education Program Officer
Robert R. McCormick Foundation
[email protected]

I’m eager to gain the knowledge, skills, tools, and networks required to make policy systems work on behalf of the most vulnerable children.”

Safiyah brings a decade of early childhood experience, working in a variety of roles across the education sector. From museum education, to pre-kindergarten through grade 3 school-based education, to higher education teacher and leader prep, she is dedicated to advancing positive outcomes for children birth through early elementary. Currently, she is the education program officer at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. She was the director of training at National Louis University’s McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership and managed a portfolio of leadership academies for early childhood leaders. In her role, she developed partnerships to expand capacity of the early childhood workforce. Prior to that, Safiyah was the director of learning programs at Shedd Aquarium where she led the development and implementation of an early science learning program. Her experience leading and managing a wide range of organizational growth initiatives, nonprofit board activities, and pro bono consulting projects is rooted in her passion for learning organizations. Safiyah obtained an MBA (marketing) from Florida A&M University and M.Ed. (both early childhood administration and educational psychology) from National Louis University. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in educational psychology.


Andrew Krugly
Vice President of Education and Program Operations
Chicago Commons
[email protected]

I want the ability to advocate on a national level for children and families, and I hope that my new found skills and knowledge will help me further the mission and goals of the agency for which I work.”

Andrew oversees operations, curriculum and staff training for Chicago Commons’ early education and adult education/family engagement programs. His past roles include serving as the director of education at the Ounce of Prevention Fund for the Educare Learning Network, and serving as a successful elementary school principal for more than 17 years. Andrew has been a vanguard in behavioral and academic reform, leading sustained implementation of systemic change that includes: an increased focus on student/teacher interactions in early childhood, the integration of a Spanish immersion program, the shift in the special education service delivery model to one of inclusion, and the implementation of Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) and Response to Intervention (RTI). As a nationally recognized presenter and consultant, he has spoken around the country on the use of data for continuous quality improvement. He has a master’s degree in educational administration and supervision and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education both from the University of Illinois, and is a past recipient of Kohl International Teaching Award.


Cindy La
Early Head Start Program Director
The Salvation Army
[email protected]

My goal is to ensure I have all the tools and knowledge to lead the community.”

Cindy is currently the early head start program director for The Salvation Army Child Care Programs. Her commitment to serving children and families is clearly reflected in her 10 years in the early childhood field. She has worked as a behavioral play therapist, supporting families through family engagement; and in communities through Chicago Public Schools Child Parent Centers. She holds a master’s degree in child development and specialization in infancy from Erikson Institute and a bachelor’s degree in education from California Polytechnic University of Pomona.


Carolyn Newberry Schwartz
Executive Director
Collaboration for Early Childhood
[email protected]

Participation in the fellowship program will enable me to create models for local policies that build on state efforts to support high quality early learning programs.”

Carolyn is passionate about building connections between families, schools and social service organizations in order to develop strong communities where children thrive. Her long history of developing educational programs in communities includes serving on the Oak Park Elementary Schools, District 97, Board of Education for eight years where she helped launch Oak Park’s Collaboration for Early Childhood. She currently serves as the Collaboration’s first executive director and is working to significantly increase operating revenue. Her aim is to secure an innovative, intergovernmental partnership between three Oak Park jurisdictions that would establish an integrated system of high quality early childhood programs and services for the area. Carolyn balances her work with her love for the outdoors as well as cooking and entertaining family and friends. She lives in Oak Park with her husband David and has three adult children: Will who is working on his masters in elementary special education with a bilingual endorsement at University of Illinois at Chicago; Nat who is a scribe at a medical clinic in Oak Park; and Sylvie who attends college in Montreal.


Karen Ross-Williams
Director of Early Childhood & Youth Development
Christopher House
[email protected]

I believe that focusing on closing the education gap by preparing all children regardless of socio economic backgrounds provides them a head start and evens out the playing field..”

Having more than two decades working for Christopher House, Karen has a proven track record of high-expectations, high standards, data driven outcomes and the ability to develop and inspire leaders—earning her Employee of the Year in 2013. She currently oversees the early childhood education, after-school and youth leadership programs at Christopher House. Previously she served as site director for its Uptown location and oversaw the NAEYC accreditation and the QRS: 4-Star Award from the State of Illinois, making it the second childcare facility in the city of Chicago, and one of seven in the entire state of Illinois, to earn four stars. Karen is on the Truman College advisory board where she also serves as adjunct faculty in the early childhood education department. She holds a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and two master’s degrees one in human performance improvement training and development and the other in early childhood administration. Her certifications include: Illinois Director Credential Level 3, Gateways; Infant Toddler Credential Level 5, Gateways; Christopher House Emerging Leaders Cohort, 2013; and Certified CLASS observer, Teachstone.


Felicia Starks Turner
Senior Director of Administrative Services
Oak Park Elementary School District 97
[email protected]

I would now like to learn how to do more for our families and community and maximize the impact of our early childhood programs .”

Felicia wholeheartedly believes classrooms should be safe havens where children can make mistakes and be given the opportunity to learn and grow from them. For her, establishing a growth mindset—developing your abilities through dedication and hard work—is key to the success of our schools and the families we serve. She is currently the senior director of administrative services for the Oak Park Elementary School District in Suburban Cook County. In this role, she leads the PreSchool for All program for the district and works with the Early Childhood Collaboration. She has served in the district since 1995 as an assistant principal, principal, and several key positions as a district administrator. Felicia began her teaching career in Peoria Public Schools District 150 as a fifth grade teacher at Trewyn Middle School and then as the lead teacher and Even Start site supervisor at Washington Irving Elementary School. She was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois and received bother her bachelor and master degrees from Bradley University and her Ed.D. at Nova Southeastern University. She is also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.


Marcela Sweeney

School Director
Educare West DuPage
[email protected]

I hope to use the knowledge gained to strongly advocate for quality dual language programs in the state and also to close the salary gap that exists for early childhood professionals .”

Marcela has nearly 18 years of experience in working with financially disadvantaged and racially and ethnically diverse families. She works as a school director for Educare West DuPage in West Chicago, which is a dual language early childhood school that braids federal, state and private dollars to offer quality education to prevent the achievement gap. Before Educare, she had worked with the Office of Head Start’s Training and Technical Assistance Center for the State of Illinois, supporting Head Start and Early Head Start programs. She holds a master’s degree in early childhood education with early childhood licensure and bilingual education. Marcela is the mother of three active little girls and is currently pursuing her infant specialist certificate at Erikson Institute.


Natalie Vesga

Senior Associate of Education Programs
Latino Policy Forum
[email protected]

I hope to develop the confidence and skills to effectively navigate and work within the policy system in congruence with communities and schools, so that policies that affect families will be representative of the families’ and schools’ needs .”

At Latino Policy Forum, Natalie works to enhance the capacity of community-based organizations and school districts by helping them implement and sustain ongoing immigrant parent engagement through the Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors program. Under her purview, the programming has expanded outside of Chicago to include Aurora, Berwyn, Cicero, Joliet, Rockford, and West Chicago. She provides master training, technical assistance, and evaluation tools to more than 100 organizations and 20 schools who implement the program—reaching more than 2,000 families in Illinois. The metro Chicago model also connects Abriendo Puertas parents with opportunities to talk with legislators to promote access and increased funding for quality early childhood education programs. In addition, Natalie works to engage parents as critical stakeholders to inform state education plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act. She also supports organizational working groups to provide specific recommendations to early childhood education and parent engagement opportunities. She earned her master’s degree in social work from the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from DePaul University.