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 Re-imagination Officer
YWCA Metropolitan Chicago
Shelley Bromberek-Lambert currently serves as the chief re-imagination 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.