Early Childhood Leaders Named as 2019-2020 Barbara Bowman Leadership Fellows

Erikson believes building the capacity of early childhood leaders can create transformational change at the policy and systems level that results in racial equity for children, families, and communities. The Barbara Bowman Leadership Fellows Program, now in its fourth year, bridges the early childhood knowledge of leaders in the field with tools for assessing public policy levers, and hands-on application that leads to action.

Sixteen professionals working in the early childhood sector were selected to take part in the 10-month fellowship, which begins October 11, 2019. The program is designed to enrich the perspective and enhance the capacity of diverse child advocates who are committed to advancing racial equity through early childhood policy. Fellows gain insight on the policy-making process and best practices to recommend changes that will benefit young children and their families.

“From day one, we were encouraged to think about what our policy would look like, and question the deficits in quality, access, and/or equity that affect early childhood and families,” said 2018-2019 fellow, Oriana Wilson, head teacher and site director at Edwards Center for Young Learners.

Fellows have access to a cadre of respected and experienced leaders in the field who guide them as they research a current early childhood issue and develop a policy memo outlining their recommended changes. This published policy memo can be taken to the floors of the Capitol, boardrooms, and public hearings. Access to field experts and the synergy built among one another during the program expands the fellows’ network and generates spaces for future collaborations on policy and systems change.

“This program builds a fellow’s knowledge and skills, then asks them to go one step further and take action. We’ve seen some remarkable transformations from fellows who participate in the program,” said Penny Smith, associate director of the Early Childhood Leadership Academy.

Recently, Senator Kimberly Lightford asked a fellow to help draft legislation on special education. Another fellow, since completing the program, has moved from a role in direct services to a position within the state government in an effort to support the needs of children statewide through policy and systems change. Others have created models to change eligibility considerations for state-wide subsidy programs that have been adopted by the state.

The program was named in honor of Barbara Taylor Bowman, who co-founded Erikson alongside Maria Piers and Lorraine Wallach. Barbara’s legacy as an education activist, policy adviser, and early childhood practitioner matches the characteristics of individuals this program aims to attract. It is one of three leadership programs offered through Erikson’s Early Childhood Leadership Academy, a signature initiative that provides knowledgeable leaders with dynamic, cohort-learning experiences to enhance their capacity to influence early childhood policy.

The 2019-2020 Barbara Bowman Leadership Fellows are:


  • Mark Barrett
    Director, Early Learning Quality Improvement
    Illinois Action for Children
  • John Borrero
    Executive Director
    Collaboration for Early Childhood
  • Shelley Bromberek-Lambert
    Chief Re-imagination Officer
    YWCA Metropolitan Chicago
  • Stephanie Bynum
    Vice President of Programs
    Kohl Children’s Museum of Greater Chicago
  • Melissa Casteel
    Director of Assessment, City of Chicago
    McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National Louis University
  • Sarah Collentine
    Associate Director of Early Childhood
    Christopher House
  • Kimberly Cothran
    Director of Excellence, Quality and Innovation
    Chicago Commons
  • Katie Cox
    Director of Early Childhood Education
    East Aurora District 131
  • Carmen Holley
    Project Manager
    Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago Center for Childhood Resilience
  • Peter Leonard
    Director of Student Assessment
    Chicago Public Schools
  • Diana McClarien
    Director of Grantee Support Services
    The Ounce of Prevention Fund
  • Leslie McKinily
    Director, Program Operations
    Chicago Public Schools
  • Ashley Nazarak
    Vice President, Learning and Evaluation
    YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago
  • Noel Norris
    Associate Director of Early Childhood Programs
  • Kimberly Nelson
    Executive Director of Early Childhood
    Rockford Public School District
  • Nina Smith
    Executive Director