Director, Early Learning Quality Improvement
Illinois Action for Children
Mark Barrett serves as the director of early learning quality improvement for Illinois Action for Children (IAFC). He is responsible for the oversight of early learning programs providing leadership, operational direction, training/technical assistance, staff management, grant writing, and fiscal management. Barrett successfully led IAFC through its first monitoring review by the Department of Health & Human Services and was instrumental in helping the program earn a Silver designation in the ExceleRate Circles of Quality.
Previously, he served as director of compliance and outreach for IAFC’s Family Resources Department. In this role, he provided oversight of compliance, ensured completion of contract deliverables, provided outreach, and customer service support. Barrett developed quality control processes and procedures to ensure timely and effective service delivery. He was the team lead for the technology and infrastructure redesign of the department’s customer call center.
Before his work with IAFC, Barrett was the director of child development programs at Ada. S. McKinley Community Service, where he managed a $5.5 M budget, managed a team of nine staff and ensured services complied with licensing and accrediting requirements. He also worked as a manager with CEDA, overseeing the operations of the mental health and disabilities programs and a clinical social worker for a Head Start program in Miami, Florida.
Barrett has 25 years of experience working with children and families and holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in social work.
Collaboration for Early Childhood
John Borrero is the executive director of the Collaboration for Early Childhood in Oak Park, Illinois. The Collaboration is a collective impact agency that works to strengthen the capacity of community systems to support families and children on their journey to Kindergarten.
Borrero came to the Collaboration for Early Childhood from the National Center on Early Childhood Health and Wellness at the American Academy of Pediatrics, where he was the manager of child care and education initiatives. Borrero oversaw educational content for a $34 million, five-year health education and resource development contract funded by the U.S. Administration for Children and Families (ACF). His leadership role on the national early childhood landscape came as a culmination of more than a decade of similar grant-based work serving children and families on behalf of ACF and its programs.
He held several national and regional leadership positions, including those with the Office of Head Start’s National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness, the National Head Start Family Literacy Center, and the Head Start Regional Training and Technical Assistance team for Region II (New York). His extensive experience in child development and early childhood curriculum led to his contributions to the field of teacher development as a trainer for the Child Development Associate (CDA) credentialing program and through several early childhood adjunct faculty positions, most recently at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, and at Bank Street College of Education in New York City. He received a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University and a master’s degree in education from Boston College.
Chief Reimagination Officer
YWCA Metropolitan Chicago
Shelley Bromberek-Lambert currently serves as the chief reimagination officer with the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago. She has spent over 30 years in the field of education, helping organizations solve complex problems by creating and implementing practical, effective strategies and processes that leverage their number one asset – their people. Prior to joining the YWCA, she was the chief operating officer for Knowledge Universe, overseeing operations across the United States and in India.
As a passionate education leader, Bromberek-Lambert is an active member of the National Afterschool Association, where she has served as the chairman of their board of directors. She is also involved at the local level as a member of the DuPage Federations Council of Leaders. She also sits on the corporate boards for Reflections Sciences and Right at School.
Her work in the field has been recognized with several awards, such as Richard Scofield Award for Exemplary Service and Leadership in the Afterschool Profession and Excellence In Leadership Initiatives, to name a few. She received a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Northern Illinois University.
Vice President of Programs
Kohl Children’s Museum of Greater Chicago
Stephanie Bynum is the vice president of programs at Kohl Children’s Museum of Greater Chicago, overseeing the Exhibits, Education and Visitor Experience departments. She has been involved with many key projects including the creation of a website resource for teachers, implementing The Project Approach, designing developmentally appropriate hands-on technology programming, and creating a pop-up museum program to serve northern Lake County, Illinois with a focus on the Waukegan, North Chicago and Round Lake communities.
Bynum has over 25 years of experience in early childhood teaching, program administration and adult education. Prior to working at Kohl Children’s Museum, she was the assistant dean of academic affairs at Erikson Institute, where she oversaw administration specialization, taught professional development and master-level courses, and was a member of the Institute’s assessment committee. She also taught at the College of Lake County and Kendall College.
Bynum earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education with pre-k through 3rd grade teacher certification from the University of Wisconsin-Stout and a master’s degree in child development from Erikson Institute.
Director of Assessment, City of Chicago
McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National Louis University
Melissa Casteel is currently the director of quality assessment in the City of Chicago for the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National Louis University. In this role, she provides oversight for the City of Chicago assessment contracts and promotes improving the quality of classroom practices across early childhood settings.
At the McCormick Center, Casteel previously served as a national reliability anchor for the Program Administration Scale (PAS) and the Business Administration Scale for Family Child Care (BAS), coordinating and facilitating national training on various early childhood leadership topics. She also served as state anchor for both the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale and the School-Age Care Environment Rating Scale, and as an Affiliate CLASS™ Trainer.
The daughter of a family child care provider, she started her career as a kindergarten teacher and has since served as adjunct faculty, director of an accredited early childhood program, and director of a public school administered Head Start program.
Casteel holds an Illinois Professional Educator License with General Administrative and Early Childhood Education endorsements and is currently pursuing a Learning Behavior Specialist endorsement. She received a doctorate in adult and continuing education from National Louis University, graduate degrees in early childhood leadership and advocacy and administration and supervision from NLU and a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education is from the University of Illinois.
Associate Director of Early Childhood
Sarah Collentine is the associate director of early childhood at Christopher House. She has worked at Christopher House for over nine years, starting as a teacher and then as a site director before moving into her current role.
Collentine holds a master’s degree in child development as well as an infant-toddler specialist certificate from Erikson Institute and a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Director of Excellence, Quality and Innovation
Kimberly Cothran is the director of excellence quality and innovation for Chicago Commons. There, she supports the educational approaches and practices of the early education program.
Cothran has worked in the field of early childhood education for more than 20 years. She is also a published author. Her articles titled, “Constructing an Image of the Teacher,” for Innovations an International Publication, and “Is your work your calling” for Exchange Magazine, focus on her various professional roles and experiences in the education and early childhood field.
She has several writings published, including the article “Constructing an Image of the Teacher,” illustrating her experiences as an educator inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach. She also wrote an article for Exchange Magazine entitled, “Is your work your calling,” an interview with Margie Carter that focuses on the role of the director. Each experience and position held has contributed to her knowledge, skills, commitment and passion for her work with children, families, and staff.
Cothran holds a master’s degree in education from National Louis University.
Director of Early Childhood Education
East Aurora District 131
Katie Cox is the director of early learning and educational grants for the East Aurora School District 131. She works closely with her team to provide equitable early learning experiences to nearly a thousand children from birth to age five. Her team prides itself on their motto, “work together, learn together,” which recognizes the value of having those in the school community be both teachers and learners.
She began her career serving as a school counselor in a primary school in a collar community of Chicago for nine years before becoming an administrator. As a director, Cox champions the inclusion of all learners and works to create opportunities for families to connect to their child’s school in a meaningful way. She has experience serving communities across the country, including focused work with immigrant families in rural Arizona.
Cox has received statewide recognition for her work in education. She holds a bachelor’s degree in recreation and park administration, a master’s degree in educational counseling, and a certificate of advanced study in educational leadership.
Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago Center for Childhood Resilience
Carmen Holley is a project manager for the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago’s Center for Childhood Resilience. There, she is involved in multiple projects, namely supporting the work of the School Mental Health Team. The School Mental Health Team provides on-site support and coaching to school and community partners.
Holley is a Tier II training coordinator, where she organizes and facilitates trainings and provides ongoing implementation support for school-based clinicians. As a licensed clinical social worker, Holley has over 15 years of experience providing trauma-informed intervention and mental health supports to children and adolescents. Additionally, she has several years of experience delivering clinical and case management services to students in school and residential settings, facilitating group interventions, and partnering with school leaders, staff and community members.
Holley received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Xavier University of Louisiana and a master’s degree in social service administration from the University of Chicago.
Director of Student Assessment
Chicago Public Schools
Peter Leonard is the director of student assessment at Chicago Public Schools (CPS). He is responsible for ensuring that all Chicago education stakeholders have accurate information about how well students are learning in CPS schools. This is accomplished through the management of policy, strategy, and implementation of national, state, and district assessments, including how to use assessment results for school improvement. Leonard has also contributed to state-level work through participation on the State Assessment Review Committee and the P-20 Council’s Committee on Data, Assessment and Accountability.
He is a board member and mentor for Horizons for Youth, an education non-profit that provides mentoring, tutoring, and community support to students on Chicago’s south and west sides.
Leonard is an alum of the Education Pioneers and University of Chicago Civic Leadership Academy fellowships. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree in learning sciences from Northwestern University.
Director of Grantee Support Services
The Ounce of Prevention Fund
Continuing her family’s legacy of service and advocacy in education, Diana McClarien is the director of grantee support services for The Ounce of Prevention Fund. In her role, she oversees the Early Head Start and Head Start grant, which supports community partner programs serving children 0-5 years and pregnant women. Her team focuses on building systems and developing processes that ensure successful implementation and oversight of Head Start.
McClarien joined The Ounce of Prevention Fund in 2010 as the education coordinator for Early Head Start and Head Start grantee support services, where she supported school readiness of children by providing guidance, technical assistance, mentoring, and training partner programs. Under her leadership in 2012, The Ounce of Prevention Fund started the Healthy Parents & Babies Program, which provides services to children ages 0-3 and doula services to pregnant women. She began her career as a child advocate at the Migrant Head Start Program in Cobden, Illinois and has more than 20 years of experience in early childhood serving as a child advocate specialist, Head Start teacher, home visitor, education coordinator, site director, program manager, and Head Start grantee director.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Southern Illinois University and a master’s degree in teaching, learning and assessment from National Louis University.
Director, Program Operations
Chicago Public Schools
Leslie McKinily is the director of program operations for the Office of Early Childhood at Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Prior to serving in this role, she was responsible for overseeing the Head Start program for the district. In addition, she has over 22 years working in various roles within early childhood education.
She is a UCLA Head Start Fellow and earned a bachelor’s degree from Delaware State University and a master’s degree from National Louis University. She is currently enrolled in a doctoral program focusing on educational leadership.
Vice President, Learning and Evaluation
YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago
Ashley Nazarak is the vice president of learning and evaluation with the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. In this role, she is tasked with cultivating high-quality, evidence-based programming and elevating the quality of programming across the YMCA by combining evidence-based best practices with an innovative approach to youth-centered learning.
In addition, she leads the implementation of the Early Learning YQ Initiative, in which the YMCA aims to be an early learning “network of excellence” where culturally appropriate practices build enduring academic and social-emotional learning skills for all children within its reach. This initiative is a feature of the YMCA’s anti-bias literacy approach, which combines language and literacy best practices with anti-bias education principles and practices.
Nazarak holds a bachelor’s degree in child development from the University of Kansas, School of Applied Behavioral Sciences and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration.
Associate Director of Early Childhood Programs
Noel Norris is currently serving as associate director of early childhood programs at ChildServ. Her responsibilities include providing support to home visitors who plan and implement home-based activities for families with limited economic resources, building and maintaining collaborative relationships with other community agencies serving families, and evaluating program fidelity to meet the needs of stakeholders.
She worked for ChildServ for five years as an Early Childhood Home-Visiting Supervisor prior to her current role. Norris has previous experience teaching infants, primary and intermediate students, and has held various leadership roles in State Pre-K programs in Tennessee and Georgia.
Noel received her bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and her master’s degree in early childhood leadership and advocacy from National Louis University.
Executive Director of Early Childhood
Rockford Public School District
Kimberly Nelson is the executive director of early childhood for Rockford Public Schools. Years in early intervention, special education, and early childhood, she has been committed to providing access and excellence in education through instructional leadership, community collaborations, advocacy, resource development, and professional learning.
Nelson serves on the REL Midwest Governing Board and is a member of the Midwest Early Childhood Education Research Alliance. She co-chairs the Illinois Multi-Tiered Systems of Support Committee and the Alignment Rockford Healthy Starts Team.
A graduate of Northern Illinois University and St. Xavier University, she has a bachelor’s degree in education with endorsements and approvals in early childhood, elementary, and special education, and a master’s degrees in educational leadership and education and teacher leadership.
Nina Smith is the executive director for LEAP. During her tenure, Smith has played an instrumental role in building the organization’s suite of evidence-based curricula, programming, and learning tools for speech-language development. In addition to her efforts delivering the Language for Scholars curriculum in schools and community organizations across Chicago, Smith was instrumental in the construction and dissemination of LEAP’s nationally-recognized Beginning with Babble app. Under her leadership, she guided the organization to victory in the Social Venture Partners Chicago Fast Pitch Competition for social entrepreneurs in 2018.
Before becoming LEAP’s executive director, Smith served as program staff for LEAP and worked as a speech-language pathologist in the Chicago Public Schools, forging close relationships with the parents, students and teachers at Ariel Community Academy and John Fiske Elementary, Woodlawn Community Elementary, Martha Ruggles Elementary and Joshua D. Kershaw Elementary Schools.
Nina is an alumnus of the Surge Institute Fellowship program for emerging educators of color. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders, and master’s degrees in speech-language pathology and learning disabilities from Northwestern University.
Director, Academic Programs and Enrichment
Big Shoulders Fund
Eliza Bryant is passionate and committed to ensuring that every child, regardless of their background, has access to a quality education.
Bryant is the director of academic programs and enrichment for Big Shoulders Fund, an independent charitable organization that supports Chicago Catholic schools serving low-income communities. She oversees nearly 40 initiatives that increase school capacity for growth. In this role, she has worked in partnership with Erikson Institute to generate and implement programming for early childhood teachers, classroom aides, and their principals to build a strong vision for teaching and learning in and across their classrooms. She is particularly interested in deepening her understanding of specific early childhood policies and the intersections between policy and context.
Previously, she was a first- and second-grade teacher in Chicago Public Schools. Bryant went on to become a full-time instructional coach, focusing on helping teachers increase confidence and capacity around mathematics at all grade levels. This work expanded her perspective on education across different sectors – public, charter, private and religious – and helped her to re-envision her philosophies on educational access.
She holds her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Chicago, and a master’s degree from the University of Chicago’s Urban Teacher Education Program
Early Childhood Staff Attorney
Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law
Verónica Cortez will use her early childhood knowledge gained from the program to advance initiatives that help young children through her work at the Sargent Shriver National Center.
Cortez is the early childhood staff attorney at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. She previously worked at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund where she conducted advocacy work in the areas of voting rights and education and litigated in the areas of employment and immigrant rights. During law school, she externed for Judge Virginia M. Kendall (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois) and served as the Public Interest Law Institute intern at the Chicago Legal Clinic’s Pilsen office.
Cortez received a bachelor’s degree in international relations and Hispanic studies from Brown University and a J.D. from Chicago-Kent College of Law. She is a founding member of Mujeres Latinas en Accion’s Young Professionals Advisory Council, and currently serves as a mentor to Cristo Rey Jesuit High School alumni, Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois law students and students in the Ford Next Generation Learning network.
Director of Early Childhood
“I see the reality of early childhood policy and funding allocations on a daily basis.”
Catherine Enright serves as the director of early childhood programs at ChildServ since May 2015. Before that, she was ChildServ’s health coordinator. For two years, Enright worked as a home visitor with families from low-income households on Chicago’s west and south sides, as well as, southern Cook County and Lake County.
She attended undergrad at UW-Madison, majoring in political science with a minor in religious studies and African studies. She also has a master’s in public health from Tulane University. She studied abroad in Kenya, interning at an orphanage run by the Hari Krisna in Kisumu. Enright also worked with a local hunger-prevention project and the Obama campaign before a two-year service assignment with the Peace Corps where she was stationed in Mtakataka, Malawi as a community health volunteer.
Chief Information Officer
Illinois Action for Children
“As an educator at the college level (having spent the last fifteen years teaching at UIC), education remains near to my heart at the adult level; this is also the case at the other end of the spectrum where the impact may very well be felt the most.”
Jeffrey Gawel is currently the chief information officer at Illinois Action for Children, a non‐profit organization dedicated to promoting the quality and accessibility of child care and early child education through early learning, resource and referral programs, and public policy and advocacy work. In this capacity, he oversees the operations and strategic growth of the organization’s technology and data infrastructure.
Since 2003, Gawel has also been an adjunct lecturer in the University of Illinois at Chicago Master of Public Administration program, and since 2017, has been the program’s director of data and performance improvement initiatives. He also owns JMG Consulting, providing technology and data services and solutions for government and non‐profit organizations.
Previously, he was the workforce information systems implementation director at Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago, a non‐profit research and policy center focused on improving the well‐being of children, families, and their communities. He oversaw the implementation of technology solutions aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of workforce services delivery in Cook County. He also served as the director of information technology at Chapin Hall, overseeing the information technology operations of the organization, including the management of various IT‐related projects. Prior to joining Chapin Hall in May 2011, he oversaw technology operations as the senior director of information and technology services and held other leadership positions at the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority, a municipal corporation which owns the McCormick Place convention center and historic Navy Pier in Chicago, Ill.
Gawel received his master of public administration degree from the University of Illinois Chicago in 1998. He also earned his project management professional certification in 2003 and became a certified scrum master in 2010.
Linda A. Green-Terrell
Prevention Initiative 0-3 Director
Pembroke Early Education Program
“I am firm believer in the power of education, and eager to expand research on the effects of poverty on brain development.”
Linda Green-Terrell currently serves as the prevention initiative 0-3 director at the Pembroke Early Education Program/ Pembroke Community Consolidated School District #259. She brings a wealth of early childhood experience working in a variety of roles across the education sector.
She has served on many levels of organizational leadership, including as a site director at St. Martin De Porres Day Care, Metro Kindergarten Commission, a Child Development Associate training advisor for National Association for the Education of Young Children, and a state-level presenter for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and No Child Left Behind. She was also featured on the NBC Nightly News “Giving Works” segment.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in applied science human resource and a master’s in business administration from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill.
Manager, Child Care Assistance Program Support Services
Illinois Action for Children
“My personal mission in life is to exemplify to our youth that no matter what barriers they face, they can achieve whatever they set their mind to.”
Wannetta Kinsey currently serves as the manager of Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) Support Services at Illinois Action for Children, ensuring that parents who are not able to afford childcare services receive quality care from providers who are enrolled in the CCAP program. In this role, she establishes detailed organizational procedures that allow staff to serve families and child care providers in the most efficient and effective manner possible. With more than a decade of experience serving the early childhood community, Kinsey is committed to ensuring children and families have access to high-quality education and care regardless of their race, background, or socioeconomic status.
She received her bachelors in psychology from Roosevelt University and her master of business administration from North Park University.
Sherri L. Moore
Statewide Program Director- IB3 Title IV-E Waiver and Early Childhood Court Teams
Department of Children & Family Services/University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign School of Social Work
Sherri L. Moore’s experience designing, leading and managing innovative initiatives is driven by her passion to serve and build the capacity of those who, in turn, serve children and families.
She currently serves as the program director for the Illinois Early Childhood Court Team Initiative and the Birth through Three Title IV-E Waiver Demonstration Project. Within this role, she promotes the practice of child well-being, and administers programs that aim to increase the awareness among those who work with mistreated infants and toddlers about the impact of trauma and adversity on very young children.
Moore has served in the field of child welfare for more than 25 years. During the past 10 years, she has served in various program management roles, where she provided administrative oversight to developmentally focused parent training programs and evidence-based interventions as a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign employee for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
Prior to that, Moore developed curriculum for the Illinois Model of Supervisory Practice and led the development and implementation of a field-coaching program aimed at enhancing the capacity of the child welfare workforce. She began her career as a caseworker at Ada. S. McKinley Community Services. She also worked as an education coordinator, program supervisor and a director of specialized foster care.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master of social work degree from Chicago State University.
Rodrigo Paredes Ceballos
Director of Family Engagement
“As I continue to work with whole families, more often than not, we are faced with various challenges when attempting to better support them. Policies have such a grave impact on all of our day-to-day lives that it is vital that we stay abreast of what, how, why and when they are created and implemented.”
Rodrigo Paredes Ceballos is currently working as the Chicago Commons family engagement director where he oversees Two-Generation and Family Hub programming. He is a social worker and civic engagement strategist with extensive international experience working with different local and national organizations, social movements and groups in South and North America. He has pioneered and implemented programs in areas of family engagement, adult education, community development, social justice and human rights. In his time in Chicago, Paredes Ceballos has worked on forging innovative approaches in the areas of housing, education, immigration, community development and coaching in diverse neighborhoods around the city.
He has a bachelor’s degree in social work from Insituto Profesional Diego Portales in Concepciόn, Chile.
Senior Manager of Strategic Engagement
YWCA Metropolitan Chicago
“My personal passion and current charge is around access and equity for all children in high-quality education programs, increasing trauma-informed practices in early education, supporting highly qualified, adequately compensated and a diversified workforce in early care and education.”
Marianne Pokorny currently serves as a senior manager of strategic engagement at the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, where she is committed to securing access to high-quality early education for all children. Her passion for social justice is was what led her to the YWCA to pursue developing an equitable early education system.
In her role, she has served as a community systems development coach, which led her to develop cross-sector partnerships to create an early care and education framework in her communities. She focuses on community systems in order to build connections between early education, home visiting, school systems, parents and community partners.
Pokorny holds positions of leadership on several early childhood collaborations and serves on the board of directors at Hinsdale Community Service. Her career began as a teacher and advocate for inclusion for children with severe developmental delays at MarkLund Children’s Home. Throughout her career she held many roles including supervising and serving in birth-to-three home visiting programs funded through the Illinois State Board of Education in DuPage County, and as a recruitment and retention manager at the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago’s Child Care Resource and Referral program.
Her current passion and focus are building a trauma-informed workforce to support early education programs and infusing trauma-informed practices in all facets of programs that impact children and families. She values building, fostering and sustaining relationships, realizing that relationships are at the heart of community organizing and sustainable change. Pokorny holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Benedictine University and a master’s degree in counseling from Concordia University. She also holds a Type 73 school counseling certification.
Staff Counsel and Director of PreK-K Transitions Program
Business & Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI)
“I am someone who thinks deeply about how to change laws and systems to make our country and this world a more equitable place, and always return to education and early childhood education, in particular, as the foundation to building a strong community and society.”
Emily Powers is a staff attorney and policy advisor at Business & Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI) in the Education & Early Learning and Justice Reform programs. She manages the PreK-Kindergarten Transitions Program in Altgeld-Riverdale, which brings together 18 PreK and K teachers from six different schools and childcare centers to improve the transition that children make into kindergarten. The program includes monthly teacher meetings, after-school events for families, and group field trips for PreK/K students and their caregivers to learn through play. Powers also launched a unique partnership with the Juvenile Protective Association, which provides classroom coaching, family workshops, and group reflection to help teachers develop trauma-sensitive classrooms.
Powers graduated cum laude from Northwestern University School of Law in 2015, where she externed with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the City of Chicago Law Department, the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Inspector General’s Office, and Equip for Equality, where she specialized in special education law. Prior to law school, she worked in U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s “War Room” press office and spent three years as a Truman-Albright Fellow with D.C. Public Schools, where she helped launch a citywide early intervention campaign to raise community awareness about developmental milestones and implement a comprehensive developmental screening initiative.
She also graduated summa cum laude from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Honors College in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in English and political science and a thesis in playwriting. She was named Nevada Regents’ Scholar and named one of 60 Truman Scholars in the country.
Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Project Director
Illinois Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development
Lesley Schwartz believes the ability to influence policy can advance your effectiveness as a leader and, ultimately, improve the lives of vulnerable children and families in Illinois.
Schwartz has been the manager of program evaluation and research for Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) in the Illinois Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development since 2012. She is a licensed clinical social worker with a graduated administrative history.
She has experience in the development of prevention and early intervention programs, research, credentialing, database development, public education campaigns, and direct service. Over the past 13 years, in her roles as a program coordinator, supervisor, manager and director, she has worked to build collaborations to provide seamless community services between home visiting, infant mental health, domestic violence, and substance abuse.
She holds a bachelor of science in social work and a master’s degree in social work from Illinois State University.
Senior Director of Programs
Karina Slaughter’s true desire is to impact the hearts and minds of young children through early learning program operation and advocacy.
Slaughter is currently senior director of programs at Chicago Commons. In this role, she oversees the four core early education centers and 11 community partner programs, serving over 940 children 0-5 years of age and 67 school-age students. She was formerly director of programs in Early Learning and Child Development for One Hope United, supervising program operations of the organization’s child development centers in the northern region.
She joined One Hope United as child development director for Bridgeport Child Development Center II in 2013. In this role, she led the center in providing programming that supported the unique needs of dual-language learners, strengthening early math practices through participation in Erikson Institute’s Early Math Collaborative and embedding Everyday Mathematics for preschoolers. Under Slaughter’s leadership the center was the first in the organization to achieve ExceleRate Illinois’ Gold Circle of Quality and to participate in NAEYC’s school-age accreditation pilot program. Prior to that, she was director for a privately-owned child care center where she supervised all aspects required to open and operate a brand new center-based program. She worked for five years as a marketing and business management professional before beginning her work in early learning in 2009.
Slaughter graduated with honors from Hampton University with a bachelor of science in marketing in 2004. In 2007, she graduated from the Joseph School of Business in Forest Park, Ill., with an entrepreneurial program certificate. She placed among the top 4% of her class and was recognized as a Joseph Scholar. In 2010, she graduated from Erikson Institute with a master of science in child development and specialization in administration.
Vice President for Programs
“One way I think we can gain traction in building thriving early childhood systems in DuPage County is to become more skilled at educating local elementary school leaders, whose primary focus is not early childhood, about the importance and long-term impact of engaging in this arena.”
Barbara Szczepaniak works for the DuPage Foundation where she provides oversight for all of the Foundation grant programs. She works with the Foundation’s board of trustees, grant committee and staff to develop and implement initiatives aimed at raising the quality of life for DuPage residents. She is also responsible for building and maintaining effective partnerships with the community’s nonprofits and works closely with Foundation donor-advisors in an effort to connect them to organizations and programs that align with their philanthropic interests.
Szczepaniak previously served as executive director of the Elmhurst School District 205 Foundation for Educational Excellence for 11 years. She managed a grant program and worked collaboratively with the program committee, board and others to achieve development and grantmaking activities, increase visibility throughout Elmhurst, foster strategic partnerships and ensure its overall success.
In addition to her not-for-profit background, she possesses several years of experience in the human resources field. She serves on several county-wide boards including the DuPage Federation on Human Services Reform, DuPage Homeless Continuum of Care as a member of the leadership and grants funding committees, DuPage Workforce Investment Board, and Impact DuPage as a member of the steering committee.
Szczepaniak holds a bachelor of science degree in speech communications and a minor in public relations from Illinois State University. She is the recipient of the 2012 West Suburban Philanthropic Network Grantmaker of the Year Award and Suburban Life Magazine’s 2016 Woman of Distinction Award. She is a life-long resident of DuPage County.
The Answer Inc.
Debra Vines knows too well and understands the importance of advocacy, community involvement, partnership and giving. She also knows just how important it is to sincerely give selflessly in order to promote and create change in the lives of persons with Autism and other disabilities. Her greatest accomplishment has been to watch the families that she has aided reach milestones that were once told to them as unobtainable.
Vines is founder and executive director of The Answer Inc., an organization she established in 2007 in response to her own experience as a mother with a son diagnosed with Autism. The organization assists parents and caregivers in navigating through the systems of social services and academic institutions by providing: case management/referral services, recreation, and resources for families with individuals who have Autism or other developmental disorders.
Under her leadership, The Answer Inc. has developed evidence-based programs such as the Spectrum University Tutoring Program and Music N Me, which have made significant changes in the lives of students.
Vines is the recipient of serval awards including: Women’s Black Expo Phenomenal Woman Vanguard of Health Award, Arc of Illinois Leadership Award, the AKA Sorority and the Delta Sigma Theta Community Leader Awards, The Fred Hampton Scholarship Award”, Women Ambassadors of Christ Award, Women’s Treatment Center Rising Star Award, Proviso Community Crisis Committee Award and the Hillside Commission Dr. Martin Luther King Dream Award. She is the host of The Answer Inc. Show, and serves on the Senator Kimberly A. Lightford’s’ Women Committee, as well as, the boards of Bellwood Chamber of Commerce and Targeting Autism.
Head Teacher/Site Director
Edwards Center for Young Learners
“I wish to gain [from the Barbara Bowman Leadership Fellows program] a greater understanding of early childhood and the effects on culturally and academically diverse students and their families.”
Since 2009, Oriana Wilson has served as the head teacher for the Edwards Center for Young Learners in Chicago Public Schools. Under her leadership, her team received the Award of Excellence for Linguistically and Culturally Appropriate Practices in ExceleRate Illinois in 2016.
She began her career as a kindergarten teacher and then she transitioned to teaching middle school. After 12 years in the classroom, she joined the administrative team at Edwards School as the bilingual specialist in a self-contained bilingual classroom.
As a passionate teacher and learner of languages, she became one of 25 U.S. teachers selected to participate in the Nanjing Foreign Language School Teacher Exchange Program for a six-week ESL study in Nanjing, China. She has taught English as a Second Language at City Colleges of Chicago, and in her years at Chicago Public Schools. Wilson received a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Illinois at Chicago and dual master degrees from Chicago State University in bilingual/bicultural education and educational administration, receiving the Outstanding Academic Achievement Award in Literacy. She was born and raised in Roseland on the Southside of Chicago.
Community Systems Policy Director
Illinois Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development
“I constantly strive to make sure that the community voice is present or represented when working with other systems-level stakeholders.”
Julia Zhu serves as the community systems policy director in the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development. Most recently, Zhu was the early childhood programs analyst at Children’s Home + Aid, and also interned with the Ounce of Prevention’s Illinois policy team.
She was previously a community coordinator with FIRST 5 California, an early childhood initiative that emphasizes early care and education for children prenatal through age 5 and their families to optimize early childhood development and reduce childhood poverty. Zhu engaged in community outreach to parents and new families in underserved communities. She held an associate teacher permit and has experience in both infant/toddler and preschool classrooms. She received her master’s in public policy and bachelor’s degrees from the University of Chicago.
Director of Early Learning
City of Chicago, Office of the Mayor
“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 director of early learning for the City of Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Previously, she was 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.
Vice President of Performance and Quality Improvement
“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.
Director of Volunteer Engagement
“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. She was formerly the senior manager of education, leading 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.
United Way of Kankakee & Iroquois Counties
“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.
Child Development Center Site Director
Gads Hill Center
“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.
DuPage Federation on Human Services Reform
“ 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.
Director of Early Childhood
Illinois State Board of Education
“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 currently director of early childhood at the Illinois State Board of Education. Previously, she was director of programs at One Hope United where she oversaw 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.
Early Childhood Systems Director
North Carolina Partnership for Children
“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. Previously, she was 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.
Vice President of Education and Program Operations
“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.
Director of Education
Asian Human Services Inc.
“My goal is to ensure I have all the tools and knowledge to lead the community.”
Cindy is currently the director of education at Asian Human Services. Formerly, she worked for The Salvation Army Child Care Programs as early head start program director. 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
“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 was formerly the Collaboration’s first executive director and helped secure intergovernmental partnerships 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 the University of Illinois at Chicago; Nat who is a scribe at a medical clinic in Oak Park; and Sylvie who attends college in Montreal.
Director of Early Childhood and Youth Development
“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
“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.
Director of Programs and Workforce
“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.”
Natalie is currently at PODER as director of programs and workforce. Previously she was senior associate for education programs at Latino Policy Forum where she worked 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 expanded outside of Chicago to include Aurora, Berwyn, Cicero, Joliet, Rockford, and West Chicago. She provided 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, she also engaged parents as critical stakeholders to inform state education plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act. She supported 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.
“Through this fellowship, I want to understand more about what programs and policies would be most beneficial to children and families, both at the neighborhood level and within the context of a larger population.”
Bessie Alcantara has nearly 10 years of experience serving economically disadvantaged families in racially and ethnically diverse communities in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Throughout her career, she has been instrumental in designing and evaluating evidenced-based program models, many of which have been taken to scale both locally and nationally. She has spearheaded evaluation efforts that have led to various designations and awards, and she has remained ahead of the trends to diversify funding streams, build internal development capacity, and build financially sustainable programs. Her expertise includes research, program design, evaluation, professional development, data collection and analysis, and staff leadership development. She has a master’s degree in social work from Loyola University Chicago.
“I would like to develop policy that results in integrated services for youth and families — including health and nutrition, early childhood educational programming, and parent education. These services are crucial for families and children from birth through the early primary years, particularly in underserved communities.”
Angela Brito’s extensive experience in early childhood education spans three states and 15 years. Working in five different schools in Madison, Brooklyn, and Chicago exposed her to a variety of families and other educators, as well as the perspectives they brought to her classrooms. As a result, she developed a deep appreciation for the issues impacting early childhood education. She has worked as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, and school administrator, and co-interim principal at Blaine Elementary School, one of the Chicago Public Schools. In her previous role, she managed teacher development and led supports for academic interventions. She holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Wisconsin, a master’s degree in reading education from Concordia University, and an education specialist degree in administration and supervision from National-Louis University. In 2012, she achieved National Board Certification as a middle childhood generalist.
Tiffany R. Carter
Director of Education and Child Development Services
Children’s Home + Aid Society of Illinois
“My mission has always been to improve early education and the quality of life for children and families.”
Tiffany R. Carter is currently the director of education and child development services at Children’s Home + Aid, and has always had a special love for children that has led her to work in educational settings since 1997. Throughout her career, she has used her leadership skills to help children and families reach their fullest potential. While attending graduate school, she ran the day-to-day operations of Tabernacle Child Development Center in her native Detroit. She moved to Chicago in 2003, with the goal of working in urban neighborhoods to improve early education and the quality of life for children and families. She served as director of an inclusive child care center with Jewish Children’s Bureau and program director at Olive-Harvey Child Development Center. She was previously the site manager for Children’s Home and Aid in Chicago’s West Englewood neighborhood. She holds a bachelor’s degree in child development and hospice education from Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan, and a master’s degree in educational administration with a focus in leadership and curriculum development from Marygrove College in Detroit.
“Throughout my career in early childhood education, I’ve always sought to build a strong community of parents, teachers, and children.”
Over the course of two decades in early childhood education, Talina Carter Bowie has worked as a teacher, director, and coordinator — always following her belief that education should be inclusive of all children and maintain a philosophy of intentional teaching practices. In her role as early childhood director of programs and operations for Chicago Youth Centers, she works to ensure that the organization’s early childhood programs provide high quality experiences in communities across Chicago. As a leader, she is deeply committed to serving those who in turn serve families and children, while maintaining program compliance and standards in this important work. She has a master’s degree in social work and a bachelor’s degree in sociology, both from Chicago State University.
Lucy Gomez Feliciano
Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicagoland at Lurie Children’s Hospital
“As a community organizer working at the grassroots level, I bring a non-traditional perspective to the early childhood education field. I also bring nine years of experience working to address childhood obesity.”
Lucy was previously the director of early learning and health for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association in Chicago, where she helped to develop a framework for how a community can work together to help children and their families be better prepared for kindergarten. Prior, she was dedicated to child obesity prevention work. She served as project director of the Chicago “Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities” Partnership, which aimed to improve access to and increase healthy food options in parks, and managed a five-year partnership, Active Living by Design, focused on improving the built environment in Logan Square to support walking and bicycling. She also is a founding member of Northwestern University’s Alliance for Research in Chicagoland Communities, a steering committee promoting Community-based Participatory Research, and serves as commissioner on the Illinois Latino Family Commission. She holds a bachelor’s degree in urban planning from the University of Illinois-Chicago.
“Change doesn’t happen overnight, and the best decisions are made when stakeholders with diverse perspectives collaborate.”
The daughter of a lifelong educator and recipient of early intervention services herself for a visual impairment, Kate Haffner found her calling in early childhood education. She began her teaching career at the community-based organization Casa Central and, while working there, she earned her master’s degree in early childhood education from Dominican University. She is was most recently in the position of director of early childhood education development at Teach For America-Chicago, where she coached early childhood teachers and designed professional development trainings.
“I’m always looking for opportunities to collaborate across a broad range of systems and sectors to support quality early care and education and to promote children’s mental health and social emotional development.”
Throughout her career, Roselyn Harris has served in both policy and direct service roles, and regardless of her position, she always works for the benefit of children and families. In her current role with the state of Illinois, she defines Child Care Assistance Program policies and exercises critical oversight of program communication and resource management. She has served as part of the core team for the Work Support Strategies Project, a national- and state-level initiative focused on streamlining and aligning social services to increase families’ access to the full range of benefits as they move along the path to self-sufficiency. In addition, she has more than 15 years of clinical experience working in the field of mental health providing direct counseling and early intervention consultant services. She is a licensed professional counselor in Illinois, and she holds bachelor’s degree in psychology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Roosevelt University.
“As an advocate for quality education opportunities for all students, I want to deepen my understanding of the public and private resources available that can help improve access and equity.”
Working with the Big Shoulders Fund, Rebecca Lindsay-Ryan uses her education background and nonprofit management experience to help improve communities and prepare students for lifelong success. For nine years, she has overseen significant growth of the fund’s academic programs in order to increase access to high-quality, developmentally appropriate education. Her work impacts thousands of Chicago children enrolled in the fund’s preschool and kindergarten programs, many of whom come from low-income backgrounds. Previously, she was an educator at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School and Francis W. Parker School. She has bachelor’s degrees in history and secondary education and a master’s degree in nonprofit management from DePaul University.
“My strong belief in additive bilingual programs stems both from my work experience and my upbringing as an English language learner.”
Juanita A. Rodriguez has a long history with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), beginning with her own education. Growing up in the predominantly Mexican-American community of Pilsen, she was enrolled in a bilingual program in her neighborhood school. As an adult, she began her career as a bilingual educator for CPS in 1995, and has served the district as an expert on bilingual special education in various administrative positions. Currently, she is an instructional manager in the Office of Language and Cultural Education at CPS, collaborating with staff to develop guides and rubrics that articulate clear criteria for high-quality language education programs for English learners and using criteria to support implementation of consistent practice across the district. She supports the development and implementation of appropriate instructional programs and approaches for English learners that adhere to federal, state, and local policy and education initiatives.
“To effectively implement change, we must partner with families and allow them to have a voice and advocate for themselves.”
Marquinta Thomas is passionate about educating parents of young children on the importance of positive early learning experiences. For nearly a decade, her work has focused on ensuring that families are connected with resources to help them overcome challenges associated with poverty, specifically barriers to accessing quality education and community resources. She has worked in various positions in Chicago that focused on family and community engagement, parent leadership, family advocacy, infant and toddler education, and family literacy. In her previous role with Illinois Action for Children, she managed teams that provide referrals to quality early learning programming and consumer education for families. She also has worked to influence and implement changes that ensure adequate resources are available and that barriers that prevent families from accessing them are eliminated. She holds a master’s degree in early childhood education and a bachelor’s degree in psychology/child and family studies, both from Roosevelt University.
“I’ve worked in almost every facet of Illinois’ Child Care Assistance Programs for 15 years, and I want to continue my growth in the early childhood field, particularly in regard to policy and advocacy.”
Chris Tokarski is interested in using policy to remove barriers that prevent eligible families from easily accessing child care assistance and other public benefits. Formerly, as director of policy and practice management in the Family Resources Department of Illinois Action for Children, he managed the organization’s work of administering the state of Illinois’ Child Care Assistance Program in Cook County. In March 2016, the program helped 34,000 families in Cook County pay for child care. In his 15 years with the organization, he has held many roles, from front-line work with families to quality assurance. His wife, Kelly, is a school librarian for pre-kindergarten through second grade, and he has two children. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in business communication from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.