2016 Presenter Bios


Lisa Abramson

Evaluator, Inter-tribal Council of Michigan

Lisa Abramson, MPH, currently serves as an Evaluator for Maternal and Child Health Programs at the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan. These projects include the HRSA funded Healthy Start project and the ACF funded Tribal Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program. She also serves as the Program Director FYSB funded Tribal Personal Responsibility and Education Program. Ms. Abramson has 15 years of experience implementing and managing projects with tribal communities, including several community based research and population surveillance initiatives. She is extensively involved in the many aspects of community based research including planning, tool development and testing, training of field staff, fielding of instruments, and data management. Her graduate school course work at the University of Arizona included evaluation, epidemiology and statistics as well as a special focus on Health Education. Ms. Abramson is a member of the Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

Korbi Adams

Director of Education and School Programs, Childsplay

Korbi Adams is in her eighth season at Childsplay, where she directs all education work with teachers and students, and oversees the creation, management, and assessment of school programs and performances. Korbi is currently the Project Director of a U.S. Department of Education PDAE grant, working with teachers and researching the effects of drama on language development. During her time with Childsplay she has been the project manager for other major grants focused on job-embedded professional development for elementary and preschool teacher. Korbi has presented nationally including The Global Summit on Childhood, The American Alliance for Theatre Education, U.S. Department of Education AEMDD Arts in Education Annual Meeting, Oregon Children’s Theatre, Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, Dallas Children’s Theatre, Office of English Language Acquisition Services Arizona Conference, and Arizona Department of Education Mega Conference, and has current publications pending with Childhood Education and The International Journal of Education and the Arts.

Rita Aitken

Education and Advocacy Manager, Office for Children with Special Health Care Needs/Arizona Department of Health Services

Rita Aitken has been with the Office for Children with Special Health Care Needs, Bureau of Women’s and Children’s Health, Arizona Department of Health Services, for over eight years; first as a Parent Advisor and Leader, then moving into the Education and Advocacy Manager position she currently holds. Rita has developed and provided training and presentations for organizations, agencies and professional conferences regarding best practices around the provision of care for children with special health care needs and their families. She has worked with children and families both professionally and personally, in education, non-profit organizations and public health.

Joni Allen-Burbank

Preschool Teacher, Chinle Unified School District

Joni Allen-Burbank has been teaching on the Navajo Reservation for 18 years. She has taught in a variety of settings including Kindergarten, Junior High as a reading specialist, and now is teaching in preschool. Her experiences have been an asset in developing appropriate activies for the children on the Navajo Reservation. She has a B.S. degree in Elementary Ed., Master’s Degree in Bilingual Multicultural Ed and an Early Childhood Endorsement. Currently she is a participant in the Quality First Program.

Cindi Alva

Regional Sr. Director, First Things First

Cindi Alva is the Central East Regional Senior Director for First Things First. She supports the Cochise, Gila, Graham/Greenlee, Pinal and San Carlos Apache Regions. She has a Master’s Degree from Northern Arizona University in Early Childhood Education and has been involved in the field for 24 years. Cindi has previous experience working in rural communities of Arizona and has always encouraged collaborative relationships among early childhood programs in areas she has worked in. Before coming to First Things First, Cindi has been a private pre-school teacher, a child care provider and has managed Early Head Start and Healthy Families home visitation programs. She was also an original member of the FTF Graham/Greenlee Regional Partnership Council, where she served as Vice-Chair. Cindi has a strong desire to help children and families access the services they need and enjoys her work at First Things First.


Anubhav Bagley

Information Services Manager, Maricopa Association of Governments

Mr. Anubhav Bagley is the Information Services Manager at the Maricopa Association of Governments. He is responsible for regional socioeconomic datasets, geographic information systems, census activities, population projections and estimates, and the development and maintenance of regional land use models. Recently Mr. Bagley’s team has been leading the development of innovative online platforms for displaying demographic, land use and employer maps and analytics supporting economic development needs. Mr. Bagley also manages the Maricopa Association of Governments Information Center (MAGIC), established to provide the community with value-added information services and technical consulting. Mr. Bagley has extensive experience in geographic information systems (GIS), land use planning, socio-economic analysis and modeling, environmental impact analysis, and development and application of GIS-based mathematical models for site assessment and evaluation. Mr. Bagley has been with MAG in various roles for 15 years. Prior to joining MAG, Mr. Bagley worked as an environmental and transportation consultant with Science Applications International Corporation. Mr. Bagley has a Masters in Environmental Planning from Arizona State University.

Amanda Bahe

Research Technician, University of Arizona/Southwest Institute for Research on Women

Amanda Bahe (Diné), is of the Near the Mountain People clan (Dzilt’aadí Kinyaa’áanii), born for the Zuni-Red Running into the Water clan (Naaneesht’ézhi Táchii’nii). Her maternal grandfather is of the Salt People Clan (‘Áshiihí) and her paternal grandfather is of the Start of the Red Streak People clan (Deeshchii’nii). She is originally from Chinle, Ariz. and is a recent graduate of the UA with a BS in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences with a minor in American Indian Studies. Amanda is a Research Technician on SIROW’s Project LAUNCH and Expansion teams. She has worked at the Native American Research and Training Center, the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center, and the Bio5 Institute at the UA, where her research has focused on disparities in health and educational outreach within Indigenous communities.

Elizabeth Barrett

Early Literacy Outreach Specialist, Phoenix Public Library

Elizabeth Barrett is an Early Literacy Specialist with Phoenix Public Library. As part of the Early Literacy Outreach Team she has presented hundreds of early literacy storytimes and parent/caregiver workshops under a grant funded by First Things First. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Spiritual Studies from Ohio Wesleyan University and a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Kent State University. She is passionate about engaging, educating and empowering adults caring for children 0-5 about the importance of early literacy that they may in turn do the same for their children. She loves to incorporate the fun of sign language and puppetry in this process.

LaToya Beatty

Regional Director, San Carlos Apache, First Things First

LaToya Beatty is a Regional Director for First Things First with a flair for building and strengthening tribal communities using coordination efforts. Beatty has successfully used the San Carlos Apache Early Childhood Health and Development Collaborative to partner with the Read On San Carlos Apache Tribe initiative in her region thus increasing collaborative membership and coordination. Beatty holds a Certificate of Graduation in Healthy Native Community Fellowship Leadership Training from the Indian Health Services National Health Promotion/Disease Prevention Initiative. The Fellowship was the beginning of a life-long journey to create healthy community change using experience, new tools and practices to nurture leadership actions at multiple levels. Beatty also has a Level 2: Advanced Leadership Program certificate from The Boys & Girls Clubs of America and The University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Beatty will bring her knowledge of Tribal Communities, help mobilize your community for positive change, and energize and deepen your leadership skills.

Mark Becker

Associate Director for Arizona PBS, Arizona PBS

Mark Becker is the Associate Director for Arizona PBS – Education Outreach. Mark conducts educator professional development throughout the state of Arizona. He specializes in professional development models, adult learning theory and technology integration. He has recently taken on the role of Director, Arizona Early Childhood Workforce Registry where he leads a statewide team implementing the Arizona Early Childhood Workforce Registry and the First Things First College Scholarship Program. Mark has also worked on statewide grants specializing in coaching and mentoring. Prior to this, Mark was a public school educator and administrator for over 13 years where he taught elementary, was involved with professional development and where he helped to lead two different elementary schools. Mark holds a B.A. from Arizona State University and a M.A. from Northern Arizona University.

Kendrea Begay

Research Program Supervisor, Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health

Kendrea, a member of the Navajo Nation, is a Research Program Supervisor at the Center for American Indian Health in Chinle, Arizona. She received a BA in Native American Studies and Studio Art from Dartmouth College in 2012. Since 2013, Kendrea has helped to support the Center’s Together on Diabetes Program Initiative, a pilot lifestyle intervention addressing type 2 diabetes among youth ages 10-19 and their families. She has also coordinated local efforts to assist with “Yeigo”, an obesity prevention initiative led by Chinle Service Unit Indian Health Service in partnership with the Center. Kendrea is also a Senior Trainer and Affiliate Liaison for Family Spirit, a home-visiting program designed to reduce health disparities related to maternal and child health in American Indian families. Kendrea co-facilitates weeklong trainings to certify home visitors to implement the program in their communities. She also manages the Quarterly Affiliate Reports and training procedures.

Mary Ann Biermeier

Director, Professional Development Pinnacle Presbyterian Preschool

Mary Ann Biermeier is Director of Professional Development at Pinnacle Presbyterian Preschool, a NAEYC accredited learning community. She is Director of the INSPIRE Early Childhood Leadership Series providing educator workshops in the Reggio Emilia approach. She began her teaching career in education in 2000 after a 20 year career in computer software design and development. She currently serves on the board of directors for Arizona's VSAEYC as Vice President of Professional Development. She has also served as board chair for Communities in Schools of Arizona and All Star Kids Tutoring, both Arizona non-profits serving children at risk. Mary Ann Biermeier holds a M.Ed. with distinction Northern Arizona University and a B.A. University of Minnesota. With 12 years classroom experience and over five years of working directly with teachers, Mary Ann shares the Reggio Emilia Approach – progressive education in practice - with engaging stories and inspirations.

Dr. Robin Blitz

Director, Developmental Pediatrics, Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children's Hospital

Robin K Blitz, MD, is a board-certified developmental-behavioral pediatrician and is the Director of Developmental Pediatrics at Barrow Neurological Institute of Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Dr. Blitz earned her medical degree from The Ohio State University – College of Medicine and completed her pediatric residency at Children’s National Medical Center, in Washington, DC, followed by a fellowship in Developmental - Behavioral Pediatrics at the University of Maryland. Dr. Blitz is Clinical Associate Professor in Pediatrics at the University of Arizona, College Of Medicine.

Jacqueline Busen

Clinical Assistant Professor, Arizona State University

Jacqueline Busen, Au.D., is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Arizona State University. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her Doctorate of Audiology degree from Rush University in Chicago, Illinois. She moved to Arizona in 2011. Dr. Busen has experience with ages spanning from neonatal infants through the geriatric population. Her primary area of interest within audiology deals with the diagnosis and management of severe to profound hearing loss. More specifically, she enjoys helping cochlear implant recipients learn to hear with their implant. She teaches Amplification I to first year doctoral students and Cochlear Implants to second year doctoral students in addition to seeing patients in the Speech and Hearing Clinic.


Samantha Cary

Infant/Toddler Mentor, Southwest Human Development

Samantha Cary is currently an Infant/Toddler Mentor for the Early Learning Matters Infant/Toddler Training Program at Southwest Human Development. Samantha also supports infant/toddler teachers by introducing unique classroom experiences, focusing on studying children through documentation and reflecting on children’s competencies. Samantha has extensive classroom work as an Early Childhood Specialist with a concentration in toddler care. Samantha also has served as a peer mentor predominantly for other toddler teachers.

Maureen Casey

Professional Development Coordinator, Department of Economic Security/Arizona Early Intervention Program

Maureen Casey, M.A., is the Professional Development Coordinator for the Department of Economic Security's Arizona Early Intervention Program (AzEIP). Maureen has been involved in the field of disabilities for two decades, and is a nationally recognized trainer, presenting often on children with disabilities and their families and using data to improve outcomes. Maureen is passionate about supporting families to develop a strong vision for their child’s future, by assisting professionals to use participatory help-giving practices.

Yara M. Castro, B.S.

Maternal Child Health Manager, Mariposa Community Health Center

Yara Castro currently serves as Maternal Child Health Manager in Santa Cruz County, Arizona. This work includes guiding a team of Community Health Workers to service the community. She has over a decade of experience working in prevention and intervention home visiting programs, in the capacity of both Home Visitor and Program Director. Her experience consists of working closely with the child welfare system in prevention/reunification home visiting services. Yara also has experience and training for home visitation in early childhood, where her area of focus was outreach and assessment. As a Crisis Evaluator she obtained knowledge in behavioral health, and substance abuse. Yara’s experience also consists of directing home visiting collaboration efforts throughout Southeastern Arizona. Yara holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Family Studies and Human Development from the University of Arizona, and is fluent in English and Spanish.

Kim Chappelear

Court Team Coordinator, Mohave County Superior Court

Kim Chappelear graduated with her Master of Arts in Investigative Techniques from the City University of New York at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in February of 2009. Prior to obtaining her Master’s degree, she received her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with a minor in Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany in May 2007. Kim worked for the State of Arizona Department of Child Safety from March 2010 through August 2013 as a case manager for children and families involved in child abuse and neglect reports. In August of 2013 Kim began her role as the Mohave County Superior Court Team Coordinator. Kim has become endorsed as a Family Specialist through the ITMHCA. Kim continues to set up and attend trainings to keep up with the most up to date evidenced-based practices to promote health, safety, permanency and education to our most vulnerable population.

Sandi Cimino

Certified Trainer, SFPF

Sandi Cimino serves families, and the professionals who help them, by assisting them in identifying and building on strengths to provide protection for their children against risk and adversity. She does this through training, teaching, writing and coaching. Sandi has a background in early childhood education, educational administration and a passion for assisting parents in experiencing less stress and more joy in their families. Sandi is a Certified Trainer in the Strengthening Families™ Protective Factors Framework as well as a Love & Logic™ facilitator. She develops and delivers parenting classes on a variety of topics and blogs about foundational living and change and transition. Most importantly, Sandi is the proud parent of two children.

Gennivie Clamor

Birth to Five Site Supervisor, Maricopa Head Start Zero to Five

I have worked with several position in Head Start and had worked for 28 years. My current position is a Birth to Five Site supervisor. I have a degree in Bachelor of Science in Child Psychology. I am a Toddler CLASS certified observer and a Certified trainer for the Program for Infant Toddler care (PITC) for Learning and Development and Culture, Family and Providers. I am a strong advocate for providing children with engaging and meaningful experiences and enjoys observing children grow. I am experienced in supporting teachers to be efficient caregivers that provide the high quality care that support the needs of the toddlers.

Terri Clark

Arizona Literacy Director, Read On Arizona

Ms. Clark is the Arizona Literacy Director and responsible for leading collaborative statewide efforts in early literacy. Read On Arizona, a public/private partnership of agencies, philanthropic organizations, and community stakeholders committed to creating an effective continuum of supports to improve language and literacy outcomes for Arizona’s children from birth through age eight.

Sean Connolly

Commander, City of Phoenix Police Department

Sean Patrick Connolly was born and raised in Arizona and has served 24 years with the Phoenix Police Department. Sean earned his undergraduate degree in Psychology from the University of Arizona and his graduate degree in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University. Sean is a Fellow of Georgetown Universities, McCourt School of Public Policy. He possesses a School-Justice Partnership Certificate from Georgetown University’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform. Sean has been the recipient of numerous department awards and commendations throughout his career to include the, Distinguished Service Award, Community Based Policing Award, Police Chief’s Unit Award, and Supervisor of the Year Award.

Debbie Curley

Assistant Area Agent, Debbie Curley

Debbie Curley is an Area Extension Agent at University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Pima County. She administers the Family Engagement Program which provides free seminars for parents and caregivers of children aged 0-5 throughout Pima County. Seminar topics range from child brain development to behavior management. She also provides strategic planning for the Family Resource Center Program in Santa Cruz County. Also in Santa Cruz County she serves as a steering committee for Birth to Five Partners, a community coalition designed to enhance services for families aged 0-5 throughout the County. Debbie has a Master’s Degree in Public Health with a concentration in Maternal and Child Health from the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.


Audra Damron

Preschool teacher, Tolleson Elementary School District #17

Audra Damron am currently a preschool teacher in my sixth year of teaching, currently at a Quality First Highest Quality preschool program in Tolleson Elementary School District. She is the 2014 Rodel Exemplary Teacher of Early Childhood and a current National Board Certified Teacher candidate.Audra has an amazingly supportive family, including her husband, and two children, daughter Madison who is 12 and son Nicklas who is 7.

Clair Danielson

Center Manager, Child Parent Centers - Head Start

Clarisse (Clair) Danielson is the Center Director for Rio Rico Head Start. Clair graduated in 2003 from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor of Science in Family Studies and Human Development with an emphasis on Child Development. Clair has had over 15 years of experience working with children and families in various capacities in the field of social services. Clair has advocated for children and families in the fields of early education, mental health and well-being and counseling. Working with children is a lifelong passion and will continue to drive Clair to continue in the field of Early Childhood Education, health and wellness for every child and every family.

Christiana Dart

T'ai Chi/Qigong Instructor, Ginkgo Tree Arts

Christiana Dart is a certified Easy T’ai Chi/Qigong Instructor, storyteller, and educator. She has developed a wide range of custom curriculum for small groups of children ages preschool – high school, being mindful of the learning styles and developmental needs of the students. She has also created movement programs tailored to the individual’s sensory needs to promote optimal self- regulation and attention (attentiveness). Christiana has been practicing the Asian martial and healing arts since 2000, focusing on breathing techniques and alignment for optimal movement, balance and stress reduction. She has taught movement and mindfulness to people of all shapes and sizes ranging in ages from 3 to 94. She believes that no one is too old or too young to start living mindfully. She currently teaches for Mohammed Ali Parkinson Center and Native Connections.

Katrina DeVinny

Program Coordinator - Specialist Pinal Region, First Things First

Katrina is an Arizona native who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from Northern Arizona University. She has worked for First Things First as a Program Coordination Specialist for almost five years. In her time with First Things First, Katrina established three early childhood coalitions that focused on health care, family support and early care and education. In July of 2014, the coordination work of the three coalitions had merged and grown so much that the groups combined efforts into one coalition. The Pinal Early Childhood Coalition meets bi-monthly with subcommittees in the three original focus areas, all under Katrina’s leadership and facilitation. Last September Katrina earned her certification as a Certified Professional Facilitator from the International Association of Facilitators. She now extends her work in the Pinal region to facilitate processes and meetings for other coalitions and collaborative groups. Katrina has also partnered with Strong Families for three years in a row to bring a day of professional development to the workers and agencies providing early childhood services in the Pinal Region.

Donna D'Hoostelaere

President, Parenting to the MAX

Donna D’Hoostelaere is a career Montessori teacher and founded of Aldea Montessori in Phoenix in 2001. Her passion for helping parents make parenting fun has led her to present workshops at national events and produce a series of popular videos on YouTube. She works one-on-one with families who are struggling and has taught parenting education workshops for over 20 years. Donna has an AMI Primary Montessori diploma, a Masters degree in Education, is a certified trainer in the Nurtured Heart Approach and is a trained facilitator with NuParent.


Erin Eccleston

VP, Outreach and Mobilization

Expect More Arizona Erin Eccleston is the Vice President of Outreach and Mobilization for Expect More Arizona. In this role, she leads the organization’s community outreach and volunteer engagement strategy, provides direction to a team of regional community mobilizers, and develops statewide and regional partnerships to advance a shared vision for a world-class education in Arizona. Eccleston has nearly fifteen years of experience in developing and running national outreach programs to engage voters and mobilize volunteers for issue advocacy groups in states across the country, including Arizona. Her expertise is in creating and implementing strategic public mobilization efforts, with a specific focus on staff development and volunteer management.

Leah Eckley

Senior Program Manager, Southwest Human Development

Leah Eckley, LMSW, is a Senior Program Manager for Smart Support, at Southwest Human Development. Prior to her work with Smart Support, Leah worked at Child & Family Resources as a developmental specialist/service coordinator with their early intervention program and later as the director of the Child Care Resource and Referral Program. Leah started out in the field as a family child care provider and then worked in several centers as an infant/toddler teacher and also as a school age coordinator. Leah earned a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Alaska and Master of Social Work from Arizona State University. She also earned an Infant/Toddler Mental Health Clinical Certificate from the Harris Institute at SWHD.

Dr. Billie Enz

Consultant, New Directions Institute

Dr. Billie Enz was the founding director for Educare Arizona and a professor emeritus in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University where she taught courses in emergent literacy and helped to develop the online master’s in early childhood education. Upon her retirement, Dr. Enz had served as an administrator in the college for twenty years as Director of Field Experiences, Division Director for Curriculum and Instruction, and as Associate Dean for Teacher Education. Currently, she is a educational consultant for Grand Canyon University and New Directions Institute. Dr Enz is the past president of the Family Literacy and the Literacy Development in Young Children a special interest group for the International Reading Association. She is also a member of the Commission of Early Literacy for the International Reading Association. She currently serves as a Board member for Gompers Habilitation Center.

Connie Espinoza

Senior Program Director, Child & Family Resources, Inc.

Connie has over 20 years of experience working with young children. She has worked in various positions in the field of early childhood education including as an Education Specialist at the Tucson Children's Museum, a Family Childcare Provider and as Early Headstart Family Educator. She has worked at Child and Family Resources with the Arizona Infant Toddler Institute for over 10 years providing professional development to child care professionals. She currently serves as Senior Director for both the Arizona Infant Toddler Institute and the Arizona Self-Study Project. She is fully certified in both the Program for Infant Toddler Care and Beginning Together. Connie has a Master’s Degree in Education from Northern Arizona University. She has previously served on the board of her local NAEYC affiliate and currently sits on the First Things First Pima South Regional Partnership Council as the Chair and Educator Representative. She has presented at various State and local conferences as well as at NAEYC's inaugural "Grandes Comienzos, Futuros Brillantes" initiative in 2014.

Geoff Esposito

Director of Policy and Programs, Expect More Arizona

Geoff Esposito is the Director of Policy and Programs for Expect More Arizona. He leads the organization’s policy analysis, develops and implements strategies to move people and partners to take action, and creates content and tools to educate various audiences on issues related to Expect More Arizona’s advocacy priorities. He also plays a key role in engaging partners to become involved and provides ongoing support to the coalitions that Expect More Arizona leads. Esposito has nearly a decade of experience in politics and government relations. He was most recently a governmental relations analyst at the Arizona School Boards Association, where he assisted with varied legislative efforts, ranging from educating school board members to serving as an advocate at the state legislature.

Silvia Esqueda

National Trainer, Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors

Silvia Esqueda is a bilingual/bicultural, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has worked with families and Promotoras Comunitarias for more than 20 years. Presently, Silvia Esqueda is a national trainer and consultant for Abriendo Puertas and the Department of Mental Health Services. Silvia Esqueda was the director for Hathaway Family Resource Center, adjunct professor for Pacific Oaks, and writer of health topics that have been incorporated into Promotoras Comunitarias’ curriculums. Silvia Esqueda, an immigrant from Mexico graduated from California State University Los Angeles with a Bachelor Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling, a Masters Degree and a Marriage and Family Therapist licensed.


Marilyn Feliciano

Early Literacy Outreach Specialist, Phoenix Public Library, Cholla Branch

Marilyn Feliciano is an Early Literacy Outreach Specialist with Phoenix Public Library. A five-year veteran of the team, she has presented many storytimes and parent/caregiver workshops and plans to continue in the pursuit of helping parents and caregivers give the children in their care as many tools as possible to be ready to enter school and succeed. Marilyn has a Bachelor of Science degree in Education from Dr. Martin Luther College. She has 20+ years’ experience as a primary grade teacher. An avid reader, Marilyn also enjoys counted cross-stitch, quilting and playing piano and organ. She brings humor and animation to her storytimes with clever voices and fluid sign language.

Kelly Fenderson-Gonzales

Center Director, lil' paws Learning Center

Kelly Fenderson-Gonzales has worked in early childhood education since 2002, starting as an assistant teacher in a twos classroom. For the last ten years, Kelly has directed early childhood programs, presently directing at a NAEYC accredited Bright Horizons in North Phoenix. In addition, Kelly is adjunct faculty at Paradise Valley Community College. She has a Bachelor's in Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis on Public Administration and a Master's in Early Childhood Education with an emphasis on Educational Leadership, both from Northern Arizona University.

Cheryl Foster

Independent Consultant, Education/Leadership Consultant

Cheryl L. Foster, Education/Leadership Consultant, specializes in early childhood leadership and strategic planning services. She serves statewide clients and facilitates collaborative solutions to early childhood system building efforts. Cheryl is a member of the East Maricopa Regional Partnership Council and the Arizona Early Childhood Alliance (BUILD Arizona) Steering Committee. She is a Past President of the Arizona Association for the Education of Young Children and served on the Governing Board of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Other professional roles at Central Arizona College included directing a statewide early childhood education professional development program, serving as a college district quality coordinator, and serving as Vice President of College Development Services. Cheryl has provided strategic planning consulting services to several colleges, city government entities, and early childhood associations. She has a Master's Degree in Education from Arizona State University with an emphasis in early childhood education.

Stephanie Fregoso

Home Visitor, Pascua Yaqui Tribal Health Department

Stephanie Fregoso is a proud member of The Pascua Yaqui Tribe and has been employed with the Tribe for two years as a home visitor with Ili Uusim Hiapsi (Little Children’s Hearts). Stephanie graduated with her Bachelors of Arts in Psychology from the University of Arizona in 2014, where she was a recipient of The Outstanding Graduating Senior Award imparted to her by Native American Student Affairs. Stephanie is a current Board member for the American Indian Alumni Club at the University of Arizona.


Diana Gal

Graduate Research Assistant Arizona State University

Diana Gal is a graduate research assistant in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University with a BS in Neuroscience from The College of William and Mary. Before pursuing graduate study, Ms. Gal worked at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, as an educational coach working with preschool to implement a social and emotional learning intervention (Preschool RULER) in Head Start classrooms. She also developed additional content extending components of Preschool RULER to parents and families. Her research interests are in emotional development in early childhood and the role of parents and teachers in fostering children's early emotional development.

Sarah Galetti

Deputy Associate Superintendent K-12 Academic Standards, Arizona Department of Education

Sarah Galetti is currently the Deputy Associate Superintendent for K-12 Academic Standards at the Arizona Department of Education. The K-12 Academic Standards unit works to update Arizona academic standards and provides K-12 professional development, implementation support, guidance, and resources to educators statewide for State Board adopted academic standards, including: English language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, world and native languages and educational technology. Additionally, K-12 staff provides technical support and professional learning for Arizona schools and districts as they implement the requirements of the Move on When Reading legislation. K-12 staff also administer the Mathematics and Science Partnership Grants program and provide support for STEM implementation in the classroom. Prior to working at the Department, Sarah worked at a school district level, providing K-8 professional development and support district-wide to educators, coaches, paraprofessionals, and administrators. Sarah has also worked as both a language arts coach and classroom teacher.

Nancy Getty

Principal / Owner, A.S.P.I.E.S. Asperger Syndrome Proficient Information Education Services

Nancy Getty is an international educational and motivational speaker and published author presents a celebration of differences of the joys and challenges of a different way of being. As an adult diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum) complicated with an anxiety disorder and the single mother of now adult twins, both diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum, she delivers a passionate and tangible message about the capabilities and struggles of persons on the Autism Spectrum. Translating Asperger Syndrome with firsthand knowledge of the difficulties and capabilities of persons on the Autism Spectrum is both, educational and inspiring. Nancy brings a positive empowering message with a touch of unique humor as she guides her audience into the world of Autism Spectrum Culture.

Sandra Gutierrez

National Director, Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors

Sandra Gutierrez is the Founder and National Director of Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors (AP). Gutierrez led the development of AP- the nation’s first evidence-based, comprehensive training program for Latino parents with children 0 to 5. Prior to her work with AP, Gutierrez developed a series of training programs to support children and families involved in the child welfare system for Parents Action for Children. She brings over 40 years of experience with legal, children’s advocacy and community service organizations. Her multi-faceted career has included founding the first service organization to assist Central American refugees, developing health education programs for the United Farm Workers of America and leading campaigns to promote the benefits of preschool to the Latino community. In addition, for seven years, she served as a founding member and State Commissioner for First 5 California, where she established the Advisory Committee on Equity. Gutierrez serves as an Advisory Board member for the Too Small To Fail Initiative. In 2014, Gutierrez was named by the White House as a Ce´sar E. Cha´vez Champion of Change, and in February 2015 she received the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award.


Rev. Dr. Darren Hawkins

Chair, Yuma Regional Partnership Council

Rev. Dr. Darren Hawkins is the Sr. Pastor for the Yuma Presbyterian Church. As Sr. Pastor he has had the opportunity to work in Christian Education Stewardship, Outreach, Fellowship, Personnel and Mission Committees. He is the father of 3 girls and loves to work with children and youth. Rev. Hawkins was involved in the Habitat for Humanity, Crossroads Mission and School Based Clinics programs. Rev. Hawkins is the Chair and Faith Representative for the Yuma Regional Partnership Council.

Dr. Susan Hedges

Director, Program Quality Research, NAEYC

Susan M. Hedges, Ph.D. is the Director of Program Quality Research for NAEYC Accreditation of Early Learning Programs. Her professional background includes work as a clinical therapist, a research psychologist, college teacher, and executive director of a private child care program in the Washington, DC area. Dr. Hedges’ joined NAEYC in 2006 to contribute her expertise in tests and measurement to the reinvention of NAEYC’s accreditation system. She is responsible for developing the measurement tools used on accreditation site visits, training assessors in the use of the tools, and ensuring that the assessors and the tools are valid and reliable. Dr. Hedges regularly presents talks and workshops at national and state conferences.

Brook Hererra

Child Care Program Administrator, Department of Economic Security

Brook has been with CCA for many years. Most recently, she was responsible for the operations of the Payments and Contracts Units, partnering with child care providers to ensure families have access to high quality child care. Prior to joining CCA Brook worked in the private child care sector recruiting, training and assisting child care providers in obtaining certification. She also owned and managed a successful in-home child care business as well as holding a Director position in a child care facility. In the few months since I joined CCA, I have been extremely impressed with Brook's ability to embrace the opportunities afforded through the 2014 Reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant. Brook possesses a distinct capacity to engage and lead others through changes that result in improved experiences for our customers, including child care providers and the families and children they serve.

Margaret Heritage

Senior Scientist, WestEd

Margaret Heritage is Senior Scientist at WestEd and the former Assistant Director for Professional Development at the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing (CRESST)< at UCLA. Margaret is also the Advisor for the Formative Assessment for Students and Teachers (FAST) SCASS. Margaret is an internationally recognized expert on formative assessment. She has written three books and numerous papers on formative assessment, and has made presentations on the topic all over the U.S., in Europe, India and Australia. Margaret has worked with Arizona schools and the Arizona Department of Education for the past five years. Her advisory work includes collaboration with the Arizona Department of Education, and working directly with schools and school districts on formative assessment and school improvement. Margaret is a key partner in educating Arizona students.

Dr. Susan Highsmith

Loving Birth Task Force Leader, Foundation for Living Medicine

Susan Highsmith, Ph.D., is an educator and counselor working in the field of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology. Susan mentors doctoral candidates, lectures at universities and community colleges, and speaks at international congresses addressing consciousness in the womb and the long-lasting effects of our earliest experiences. She facilitates intensive retreats for individuals seeking to heal psychological wounds that stem from conception, gestation, birth, and early childhood. Susan is the author The Renaissance of Birth: Creating Bonds That Last a Lifetime, which introduces prenatal and perinatal psychology to young audiences, and The First Fairy Tale, the story of conception told in a way that every child can enjoy. She is a National Board Certified Counselor (NBCC). Susan holds a Doctorate of Divinity from the American Institute of Holistic Theology (AIHT) and seeks to balance psychological theory and practice with spiritual and holistic wisdom.

Dr. Michael Hull

Dentist A Tooth Doctor for Kids

Michael Hull graduated with a DDS in 1997 from the University of Missouri – Kansas City. He was an officer in the Navy Dental Corps for 4 years. Since 2001 he has been in a pediatric-focused dental practice caring primarily for the Medicaid (AHCCCS) population in Phoenix, AZ. Michael has served on multiple committees for the Arizona State Board of Dental Examiners and is currently a clinical research member of the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network.

Candida Hunter

Senior Director of Tribal Affairs, First Things First

Candida Hunter, a member of the Hualapai Tribe, serves as Senior Director of Tribal Affairs for First Things First (FTF). She is responsible for ensuring the facilitation of effective government-to-government relations between FTF and Arizona’s Indian Tribes and Nations; building and strengthening organizational relations with tribal partners; fostering tribal relations through collaborative partnerships; and, facilitating the provision of culturally responsive early childhood services in tribal communities. Candida also is a member of the BUILD Equity Leaders Action Network, which works to advance racial equity in early childhood systems. Prior to joining FTF, Candida served as a Hualapai Tribal Council member, Education Coordinator, Green Reentry Program Manager and as a volunteer on the FTF Hualapai Tribe Regional Partnership Council and several other community groups. She is a mother, a human services professional and former policymaker who strongly believes the success of future generations begins in the early years of life.


Dr. Roopa Iyer

Senior Director, Research and Evaluation, First Things First

Dr. Roopa V. Iyer is the Senior Director of Research and Evaluation at First Things First. Dr. Iyer also is the designated data analyst for FTF Quality First program. She has 15 years of experience working in early childhood research and data. Prior to joining First Things First, Dr. Iyer was an adjunct faculty member at Arizona State University, Department of Psychology. She has served as a research consultant for New Direction Institute of Infant Brain Development. Dr. Iyer completed her postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute of Human Development, University of California, at Berkeley.

Dr. Elizabeth Jacobs

Faculty Emeritus, Maricopa Community Colleges, AZ

Dr. Elizabeth Jacobs has been an adjunct and full-time professor of Psychology at Glendale Community College since 1982. She recently retired after 24 years of full-time teaching and was awarded the status of Faculty Emeritus by the Maricopa College District upon her retirement. She continues to teach Human Development and Statistics classes at Glendale and Paradise Valley community colleges. Elizabeth has served on the Arizona Foster Care Review Board for over 17 years, was a foster child for five years, and is an adoptive parent. She is a national presenter on the topic of attachment for a variety of foster care groups including CASAs, judges, attorneys, and multi-disciplinary groups. This presentation, as well as her book, Will I Ever See You Again?, combines her many years of experience on Arizona’s Foster Care Review Board, her own experiences as a foster child and adoptive parent, as well as the results of her research into the challenges faced by foster children as they try to form relationships with adults and children in the Foster Care System.

Amber Jones

Founder, Creating Connections, LLC

Amber is a passionate early childhood educator with over 14 years of experience working in a variety of capacities in the early care and education field. She has been a teacher, a preschool director, a Program for Infant Toddler Care (PITC) certified instructor, an adjunct faculty member, a coordinator and director of a professional development program supporting early childhood teachers, and an independent education consultant. She has expertise presenting locally and nationally on systems thinking, intentional interactions, Mind in the Making, CLASS, ITERS, ECERS, and PITC. Most recently, Amber served as the lead content developer for the systems thinking series with WestEd’s PD2GO project, published by First 5 California. She is the founder of Creating Connections, LLC and currently serves on the Pima North Regional Partnership Council as the Parent Representative.


Naomi Karp

Director, Early Childhood Professional Development, United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona

Naomi Karp works at United Way of Tucson and Southern AZ where she leads an FTF early childhood professional development grant, Great Expectations for Teachers, Children, Families, and Communities. For 20 years, Naomi served in the U.S. Department of Education, 10 years as director of the Early Childhood Research Office. She has presented at national and international conferences and has written book chapters, professional journal articles, and research reports for families, educators, and Federal officials. She also taught children with special needs. Naomi is past president of the AZ AEYC and served on the NAEYC Governing Board. She received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters and the 2005 Alumni Achievement Award from the University of AZ. Naomi was chairperson of Pima Community College’s Early Childhood Advisory Committee and the U of A’s College of Education Advisory Board. She served on the FTF North Pima Regional Partnership Council for 6 years.

Crystal Kee

Sr. Research Program Coordinator, Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health

Crystal joined the Family Spirit leadership team in 2012, but has been involved with the program since 2008 as a home visitor and site coordinator in Chinle, AZ. Crystal works closely with affiliates by participating in outreach to new sites; conducting pre-training work; coordinating and leading trainings; providing technical assistance; and generally acting as a liaison between affiliates and the Family Spirit team. Crystal finds this work rewarding and challenging on many levels: “I see the challenges that our people deal with—poverty, substance abuse, low education, loss of identity. The most devastating, in my opinion, is hopelessness.” Each day, Crystal tries her best to bring a slice of hope to the families and communities she works with.

Dr. Michael Kelley

Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

Dr. Michael F. Kelley is an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. He has published over 120 articles, books, book chapters, policy reports and proceedings linked to education. His research interests lie in understanding the structural and process features related to high quality professional development experiences for early childhood teachers that effectively impact child outcomes. Currently Dr. Kelley is the PI and lead researcher on a federally funded project and a Helios Foundation funded project with Childsplay that provides job embedded professional development for pre-school and K-3 teachers. Dr. Kelley is also a Co-PI on a federally funded TQP grant awarded to ASU to better prepare all teachers for English language learners resulting in improved content knowledge; academic language skills required for learning and higher level literacy skills that are essential for academic success.

Courtney King

Quality First Program Coordinator, First Things First

Courtney King is a Quality First Program Coordinator with First Things First who has oversight of the assessment piece of Quality First. Prior to joining First Things First in October 2014, Courtney worked as part of the Quality First Assessment Team for four and a half years both as an Assessor and Lead Assessor.

Lawrence King

Chief Judge, CRIT Tribal Court

Dr. Judy Krysik

Director and Professor, ASU School of Social Work and Center for Child Well-Being

Dr. Krysik is the Director of the ASU Center for Child Well-Being and an Associate Professor in the ASU School of Social Work where she teaches program development. She has published widely on program evaluation reporting on a key prevention program: Health Families. She also has extensive involvement with the child welfare and social work education systems as the Associate Director of the ASU School of Social Work, the Chair of the ASU School of Social Work Curriculum Committee, and as the PI on the ASU Advanced Child Welfare Training Academy and Citizen Review Panel Program. More recent evaluation work has included the evaluation of child welfare outcomes for the Cradle to Crayons program and most recently Dr. Krysik is the PI for the Evaluation of the Arizona Title Iv-E Waiver Demonstration to reduce the number to children in congregate care.

Kelly Kulsrud

Executive Director

Lectio Kulsrud served as the executive director for Lectio, a partnership with Dr. Nonie Lesaux of Harvard University, in an innovative approach around their program design evaluation tool, Lectio, used to help guide the work of MA communities engaged in programmatic analysis and strategic planning process to advance reading proficiency rates and ensure access to high-quality early education. Kulsrud also currently serves on the nine-member Massachusetts Early Literacy Expert Panel, established by the legislation An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency and is charged with developing new state policies and policy-based initiatives to support early literacy development. Prior to joining SFC, Kulsrud earned her Ed.M. at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, with a concentration in language, literacy and literacy coaching. At HGSE, she was awarded the graduate school’s Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award. She also holds extensive teaching experience. As a second grade teacher in Washington, D.C. public schools, Kulsrud was selected to serve on a district-wide advisory team working to advance the teaching of literacy. As a middle school math teacher in Los Angeles, Ms. Kulsrud initiated district-wide professional development programs to help teachers and principals improve students’ literacy across the disciplines. Ms. Kulsrud has also worked with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University and facilitated professional development institutes across Massachusetts on adolescent literacy.

Ramya Kumar

Speech Language Pathologist, Banner Thunderbird Medical Center

Ramya Kumar is a certified Speech Language Pathologist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of pediatric feeding and swallowing disorders. She has been practicing in the Valley for the last 3 years in both pediatric and adult hospital settings. Ramya is passionate about creating mealtime success for her patients and families –from the medically fragile NICU babies and beyond! She is committed to ongoing education and research in the field of pediatric feeding difficulties and has presented findings at the American Speech Language and Hearing Association's Health and Business Institute.


Laura Lamothe

Quality First Coach Supervisor, Southwest Human Development

I have worked and specialized in the field of early childhood education for the past twenty years. I started my early childhood career in Massachusetts as teacher assistant in a preschool classroom. Years later I worked as both a teacher and program lead for an early childhood program that partnered with CalTech and JPL in California. In 2006 I moved to Arizona and became a director for a corporate child care program. For the past five years I have been working as a Quality First Coach and Quality First Coach Supervisor at Southwest Human Development. Through my work as a QF Coach and Coach Supervisor, I have had extensive experience in developing and facilitating professional development for our coaching team, focusing on the foundational aspects of coaching, establishing partnerships, and how to engage early childhood educators as adult learners and drivers of change.

Chris Lawrence

Trainer Teaching Strategies

Chris Lawrence is a Professional Development Trainer for Teaching Strategies, LLC. He has been presenting on Early Childhood curriculum and assessment for nearly five years focusing on quality, effective implementation. Prior to becoming a Professional Development Trainer Chris was a teacher and administrator in public school settings. Chris has a Masters in Early Childhood Education and a Masters in Educational Leadership, both degrees earned from Northern Arizona University. In addition to being a trainer for Teaching Strategies, Chris instructs for the University of California-Riverside, specializing in Early Childhood content.

Amanda Leonard

Tribal Home Visiting Program Coordinator, Inter-tribal Council of Michigan

Amanda Leonard, works in the division of Maternal and Child Health Programs at the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan, as the Program Coordinator for the Tribal Home Visiting (MIECHV) program. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Lake Superior State University in early childhood education with a minor in sociology and is also a licensed practical nurse. Amanda has been involved in many community based research projects and has taken part in both program development and implementation. Ms. Leonard has over 10 years of experience in providing community outreach, focus group facilitation, curriculum development, and health education and support to tribal communities. Amanda is a member of the Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and most importantly a mother of two young girls.

Brooke Loiland

Quality Assurance Specialist, First Things First

Brooke Loiland joined the First Things First Quality Assurance team in August 2013, and is currently the Quality Assurance Specialist for Children’s Health. She comes with a background in behavioral health, including her time as a Supervisor for High Need Case Managers with Southwest Network. Through the behavioral health field, she has pursued her passion in supporting and assessing infants in regards to behavioral and developmental needs. She has experience with infant mental health practice, juvenile justice, out-of-home placement, crisis intervention, child welfare, infant adoption, and special rehabilitation. Prior to coming to FTF, Brooke was hired as a contract employee through the Cradle to Crayons Program to facilitate on-going communication among stakeholders. This included Court and public/private agencies, which provide services and support to the birth-three population. Brooke earned her BA through The University of Arizona in Interdisciplinary Studies with an Emphasis in Communication, Business Culture, and Special Rehabilitation.

Amy Lucero

Research Technician, University of Arizona-Southwest Institute for Research on Women

Amy Lucero is a native Tucsonan. She graduated with a BA in Film and Television Production with a Minor in Communication from the University of Arizona. Amy is a Research Technician for the Southwest Institute for Research on Women at the University of Arizona, where she has been for the last five years. Amy currently works in partnership with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Southern Arizona on Project LAUNCH, which helps connect children and families to helpful resources within the community. Amy is also a proud new mother, who has a passion for working with young children and their families to achieve their goals and reach developmental milestones!


Christy Maltos

Outreach Coordinator, Child & Family Resources, Graham/Greenlee Counties

Christy Maltos is the Outreach Coordinator for Child and Family Resources in Graham/Greenlee Counties. She has been involved with children and families for most of her adult life, both in her career and serving as a Youth Pastor in her church. Christy has a passion for strengthening families and connecting them with resources to keep them strong. Christy is a Certified Trainer in the Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework, Safe Sleep, Strengthening Families Modula, and Car Seat Safety Technician. Her education is in Social Science with emphases on education. She has sat on many boards, coordinated events and provided trainings all with the goal of helping the children and families of Arizona.

Kalman Mannis

STEM Education Specialist, Project WILD!

Mr. Mannis is a K12 STEM Specialist and Instructional Coach with the Edkey/Sequoia Charter School system, Arizona State coordinator for Project WILD!, and an FTF Regional Council Member.

Mildred Manuel

Young Child Wellness Expert, Pascua Yaqui Tribal Health Department~Ili Uusim Hiapsi

Mildred (Akimel O’odham/Yaqui) earned her Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in Special Education and Rehabilitation from the University of Arizona. She currently serves as the Senior Management Analyst/ Young Child Wellness Expert for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe’s Sewa Uusim Community Partnership-Ili Uusim Hiapsi (Project LAUNCH) program. She is responsible for accomplishing the mission of creating a sustainable culture of collaboration and interdependence that provides accessible integrated resources that promote holistic child wellness to ensure that every Pascua Yaqui child will have equal opportunities to engage in an array of culturally relevant, strength based services that promote holistic wellness, spirituality and improved quality of life. Formally, Mildred served as Senior Program Coordinator of the Tohono O’odham Nation’s Division of Special Needs in Sells, AZ and the K-12/Johnson O’Malley Coordinator for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe’s Education Division, as well as an Inclusion Specialist for the Vail School District.

David Martinez III

Advocacy and Outreach Specialist, St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance

David Martinez III oversees the government relations of St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance to secure food for clients and funding for on-going operations through critical government nutrition programs. Originally from Marana, Arizona and one of six children, David began working at St. Mary’s in 2010 to expand child nutrition programs for children at risk of hunger. A fellow of the inaugural class of the Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy and the inaugural class of the Feeding America Advocacy Academy in partnership with the Congressional Management Foundation, David previously has worked as a community organizer and state lobbyist, and served from 2007 to 2009 on the Arizona Board of Regents. As a first generation college student, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Education, Political Science and Journalism from the University of Arizona and worked at the UA Office of Institutional Equity as well as an intern with Congressman Raul Grijalva.

Amy Maschue

Speech-Language Pathologist, Owner, Author Words to Grow On LLC

Amy M. Maschue is a certified speech-language pathologist (SLP) in Phoenix, Arizona since 1998. She has worked as a clinician and supervisor in several settings, including, early intervention, daycare, home-based intervention, center-based programs, schools, and via telepractice. Amy evaluates and provides therapy for children ages 0-18 in individual and group sessions with a variety of speech and language impairments, including, autism spectrum disorder, general speech and/or language delay, Down’s Syndrome, apraxia of speech, stuttering, voice, at-risk populations, etc. She specializes in helping children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other communication difficulties become effective communicators by teaching families how to use the real, engaging dialogues that happen during daily routines to provide a language-rich environment to notice and practice conversational language skills.

Barbara Mayers

Quality Connections Coordinator, Easter Seals Blake Foundation

Barbara Mayers is the Coordinator for two communities of practice called Quality Connections in Cochise County. She provides professional development and coaching to early care and education providers through her work with the Easter Seals Blake Foundation. Barbara holds a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education and has fifteen years of experience working in early childhood. She has worked in classrooms with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, has been an Assistant Director and also a Training Specialist for preschool and child care.

Pamela Morris

Early Childhood Education Director, East Valley JCC

Pam Morris, ECE Director, holds a BS in Psychology, an MSEd in Early Childhood Education from Binghamton University in New York and her Director’s Credential from the McCormick Center at St. Louis University, courtesy of Quality First. For over 20 years, she has been an early childhood educator in both public and private settings across the United States. As the Director of the Early Childhood Learning Center at the East Valley JCC, she works with nearly 30 staff and over 120 children from ages 6 weeks through Pre-Kindergarten. Weekly, she creates email blasts to over 2000 people about the center and local events. In addition, Pam writes an educational blog and promotes play-based learning in it and through Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook. Early Childhood Ed is her calling and marketing it is her passion!

Hannah Mrvichin

Special Ed Teacher, Deer Valley School District

Hannah has a multiple credential in teaching and special education from Arizona State University. She has been employed by the Deer Valley School District for five years supporting children in being fully included in Elementary School. She has also worked in early intervention with infants and toddlers and their families with the Beginning Together program. Hannah is passionate about ALL children growing and learning together and sees it as a mission to help other teachers acquire the attitude and skills to support children in this way as well. Hannah writes IFSPs and IEPs in a way that is non-negotiable about pull-out and separate programs for children who need additional support to be successful in relationships and education.

Kelley Murphy

Director, Early Childhood Policy, Children's Action Alliance

Kelley is the Director of Early Childhood Policy at Children’s Action Alliance. She has a wealth of policy experience, having most recently served as the Bureau Chief of Policy at the Arizona Division of Behavioral Health Services. Prior to that position, Kelley spent four years as Senior Health Policy and Program Specialist for Arizona’s early childhood agency, First Things First. She has almost 20 years of experience working at the state and local level to improve public policy for children and families and has partnered with community members to further define and develop the system of early childhood in Arizona. Kelley has a master’s and bachelor’s degree in nursing from Indiana University.

Angela Mussi

Community Engagement Officer, First Things First

Angela leads the community outreach, awareness and engagement efforts of First Things First, which includes coordinating and overseeing the work of Parent Awareness and Community Outreach Coordinators stationed in regional offices across Arizona. Angela was part of the launch of Community Outreach efforts and previously served as a Community Outreach Coordinator in two metro-Phoenix regions.


Christina Nigrelli

Senior Director of Programs, ZERO TO THREE

Ms. Nigrelli is the Senior Director of Programs for ZERO TO THREE Western Office in Los Angeles, CA. Prior to joining ZTT, Ms. Nigrelli worked in Higher Education as Early Childhood Education Faculty at California State University, Long Beach and Saddleback College, Mission Viejo, CA. She has over twenty-five years of experience in Early Childhood beginning her career as an Infant and Toddler Specialist for a privately funded child care program in Irvine; CA. Ms. Nigrelli has extensive experience in local and statewide workforce development. As Senior Director of Programs, Ms. Nigrelli has helped to oversee the Prenatal to Age Five Cross-Sector Workforce Development Project and the Parent Engagement Activities of the Western Office. Ms. Nigrelli received a B.A. in Child Development and Family Studies as well as an M.A. in Early Childhood Education from California State University, Long Beach and an Ed. S. in Early Childhood Education from Walden University. Ms. Nigrelli is most proud of her continued support for the Health and Well Being of all children and families.

Deborah Nishikida

Program Manager, AZ Dept. of Child Safety


DyAnn O'Brien

Program Supervisor, Arizona Children's Association

DyAnn O’Brien is a Program Supervisor for New Directions Institute for Early Childhood Brain Development, a program of Arizona’s Children’s Association. DyAnn facilitates Nurturing Parenting®, 1,2,3,4 Parents! ® and Raising a Reader® programs for families and early childhood educators. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary and Special Education at the University of Northern Iowa and her Master’s Degree in Special Education at Arizona State University. DyAnn has extensive experience in education with over 30 years as a kindergarten, reading, and special education teacher and special education administration. DyAnn received a Teacher of the Year Award from Walmart in 2006.

Sarah Ocampo-Schlesinger

Project Director, Arizona Kith and Kin Project, Association for Supportive Child Care

Sarah Ocampo-Schlesinger is the Program Coordinator of the Arizona Kith and Kin Project and the Child Care Injury Prevention Program at the Association for Supportive Child Care (ASCC). ASCC is a non-profit action organization dedicated to improving the quality of child care for children throughout the state of Arizona. Sarah has been in the role of Coordinator for the Arizona Kith and Kin Project since 2000. The Arizona Kith and Kin Project targets Family, Friend and Neighbor child care providers in an effort to improve the quality of child care provided by this population. Sarah has played a role in developing and implementing a program that is delivering training, support, health and safety and early childhood materials throughout five (5) counties and includes partnerships with many community agencies and services in diverse cultural communities.

Dr. Karen Ortiz

Vice President and Program Director, Early Grade Success, Helios Education Foundation

As Vice President and Program Director, Early Grade Success, Dr. Ortiz’s work revolves around building and strengthening early childhood systems to promote language acquisition and emergent literacy for children birth through age eight. Dr. Ortiz brings more than 25 years of academic and professional experience in early childhood education. In addition to practical experience within school districts and classroom settings, she served as an early childhood policy advisor to Arizona’s Governor Janet Napolitano and was Director of the State Board on School Readiness, Dr. Ortiz has helped lead statewide and national initiatives impacting children, ages birth to age eight, and their families. Dr. Ortiz is a graduate of Arizona State University and holds Doctoral and Master degrees in Curriculum and Instruction, Early Childhood Education.

Rudy J Ortiz

Yuma Regional Director, First Things First

Rudy has over 18 years of experience in early childhood education and early childhood leadership. Rudy has his Masters in the Art of Teaching/Early Childhood Education and holds a Credential in Certified Public Management from Arizona State University. Once a preschool teacher, he was the first preschool teacher to receive the honor of Teacher of the Year for the entire San Diego Unified School District. He’s currently the First Things First Yuma Regional Director and is passionately committed to supporting, enhancing and ensuring the early childhood system is a top priority in Yuma.


Francisco Padilla

Regional Director Santa Cruz, First Things First

Francisco J. Padilla is Regional Director of the Santa Cruz Regional Partnership Council of First Things First. Francisco is a 2004 graduate of the University of Arizona, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with Minors in Spanish and Portuguese. Before joining First Things First in 2012, he served as Parent Relations Coordinator for Rio Rico High School. Prior to Rio Rico High School, he was employed by Golden Eagle Distributors, Inc. in Tucson where he held several positions in the company’s Marketing department during his seven years with the company. In addition to being Regional Director in the Santa Cruz Region of First Things First, Francisco is a member of the Knights of Columbus Council No. 14583, serves on the Board of Directors for the Friends of SCVUSD No. 35 Foundation, and is Treasurer of the Nogales Lions Club.

Cynthia Pardo

Community Outreach Coordinator, First Things First

Cynthia Pardo is the First Things First Community Outreach Coordinator in the Coconino region. Cynthia has extensive experience in grassroots community outreach efforts with non-profit organizations, local government and public campaigns. Her expertise includes reaching diverse audiences, including tribal communities, in innovative ways. Cynthia has an Associate’s degree from Coconino Community College and a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Sustainability, Community and Biocultural Diversity from Northern Arizona University.

Ashley Pascual

Senior Director, West Regional Area, First Things First

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a Family and Human Development emphasis from Arizona State University, Ashley began working with families involved with the child welfare system. As a Certified Parenting Strategies Trainer, Ashley trained foster and adoptive parents throughout Arizona, and also developed a team of trainers located in Casa Grande, Yuma, Lake Havasu, and Prescott. When working with Head Start programs in Pinal and Gila counties, Ashley coordinated community partnership building in early childhood throughout central Arizona. Ashley served in the role of Regional Director for First Things First for almost seven years before being promoted to her current position as Senior Director for First Things First’s West Regional Area. Ashley holds a Certificate in Public Management from Arizona State University and is currently completing a graduate program to obtain a Master’s Degree in Negotiation, Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding from California State University.

Tom Pearce

National Director, Shepherding the Next Generation

Tom Pearce has served as the National Director of Shepherding the Next Generation since 2013. Under his leadership, this membership organization of evangelical pastors and ministry leaders has tripled in size. Pearce and his members have successfully built demonstration projects engaging the faith community in service on behalf of children in poverty. They also have impacted public policy in several states and at the federal level. Previously, Pearce served three terms as a State Representative in Michigan. During his tenure, Pearce led several faith-based initiatives in Lansing and held leadership roles focusing on policies affecting children and their families. Prior to his legislative service, Pearce held leadership positions in para-church organizations including North Kent Service Center, which serves struggling rural families and Mel Trotter Ministries, a rescue mission in Grand Rapids. Pearce’s awards and accomplishments include: Guardian of Small Business Award; Legislator of the Year; After School Champion Award; Michigan’s Children Heroes Award; Literacy Advocate Award; and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Michigan’s Crime Fighter Award.

Dr. Megan Pratt

Postdoctoral Research Scholar, Arizona State University

Megan Pratt is a postdoctoral research fellow in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University. She received her Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Sciences from Oregon State University. Her research focuses on how formal (ex. Head Start) and informal (ex. library settings) early learning settings promote parent and child school readiness, with an emphasis on self-regulation skills. She is also interested in how early care and education programs and policies support vulnerable families with young children, including those involved in the Child Welfare system.

Dan Puglisi

Senior Director of Marketing and Brand Advancement, First Things First

As Senior Director of Marketing and Brand Advancement, Dan serves as chief advisor to First Things First in the areas of marketing, social media and digital content and oversees the development and implementation of the FTF brand. He came to First Things First from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, where, as marketing officer, he was responsible for developing publications, advertising and digital content. He previously served in various marketing, media and communications capacities for organizations including the Smithsonian Institution and Discovery Communications. He started his career in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles and has extensive experience in the development of feature films, television, animation, documentaries and digital content.


Mona Qafisheh

Quality Assurance Manager, First Things First

Mona Qafisheh joined the First Things First Quality Assurance team in June 2012 and currently serves as the Quality Assurance Manager. In her role, she collaborates with grant and community partners to conduct programmatic site visits including the development and follow up of action plans to support continuous quality improvement. Mona’s prior experience includes working directly with young children, families, and teachers in early education settings for more than a decade including three years as a center director. She also has extensive experience in professional development curriculum creation and delivery with a focus on gender development in young children as well as leadership development. Mona earned a Master of Education degree in Early Childhood Education from Northern Arizona University.


Jannelle Radoccia

Regional Director, Lutheran Social Services

Jannelle Radoccia – Regional Director – Family Support and Prevention Services, joined LSS-SW in 2012 to establish the Family SPOT program. In her role she ensures program efficiency and quality, manages contracts and programmatic needs, and oversees training and supervision of field staff. Jannelle brings LSS-SW a rich history of professional experience, having served as Director of Early Childhood Programs and Services for several organizations. Jannelle continues to serve as a First Things First Council Member, and is a member of the National Association of Education of Young Children. Jannelle earned a BA in Human Development, with specialization in Early Childhood, Play Language and Literacy from Pacific Oaks College. She is certified as an Trainer of Leaders with Active Parenting, a Trainer of NAEYC Developmentally Appropriate Practices, and a Trainer for Bringing Protective Factors to Life in Your Work.

Dr. Kimberly Rimbey

KP Mathematics

Kimberly Rimbey, Ph.D., has served Arizona's children and educators for nearly 30 years as a preschool and elementary teacher, instructional coach, math leader, consultant, and Chief Learning Officer in both the public and philanthropic sectors. Her expertise in early childhood education and mathematics benefits educators and their students across the country. As a kindergarten teacher, she found that many of the numeracy skills her students lacked could have been addressed in the early years of their lives. Kim's message regarding early numeracy development as a parallel to early literacy is a must for parents and those working with young children. Kim has served in many leadership capacities, including membership on the first First Things First Regional Council for Northwest Maricopa County, President of the Arizona Association of Teachers of Mathematics, and presenter at dozens of national conferences. Kim holds degrees from multiple Arizona universities, including a Ph.D. from ASU, M.Ed. degrees from ASU and NAU, and a B.S. from Grand Canyon University.

Marginne Rivas

Quality First Coach, Easter Seals Blake Foundation

Marginne Rivas has worked as a Quality First Coach with the Easter Seals Blake Foundation for four years. She has a bachelor’s degree in Family and Consumer Sciences with an emphasis in Child Development. Marginne has a total of twelve years of experience working in early childhood. Her roles have included, providing support to children and families as a home visitor, has worked with DCS and behavioral health, and has also spent several years teaching young children in preschool settings. She now supports early care and education professionals.

Fernando Rodriguez

Administrative Coordinator, NuParent

Fernando Rodriguez was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and received his Bachelor of Arts from California State University, Los Angeles, in Child Development. Fernando is the administrative coordinator for the NuParent program at Children’s Bureau. He joined the NuParent team four years ago. He has conducted parenting education sessions as a NuParent Facilitator and also participated in the revision and reediting of the NuParent Curriculums. He has worked with families and children for more than 15 years. He is currently working on his Masters in Family and Human Development.

Dr. Nereido Rodriguez

Program Director, NuParent

Nereido J. Rodríguez was born in Havana, Cuba. Nereido graduated as a Medical Doctor in 1974 from Havana University. He received the first grade of Pediatrician Specialist and continued with his second grade of Pediatrician Specialist. He has a Masters Degree in Social and Family Medicine from Mexico, Bulgaria and Cuba. He also has several Master Degrees in Early Stimulation and in Child Development from several European countries. He also graduated as a Child Psychologist from Havana University. He arrived in the United States in 1994 and started working in Glendale Adventist Medical Center as Director of Maternal-Child Department. In 2000, he became the Program Director of the NuParent Program for Children’s Bureau. He has presented in several events in the United States and around the world, such as Early Head Start and Head Start, Zero to Three, ISPCAN, Nonviolent Education and Parenting, Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.

Candi Running Bear

Preschool Teacher, Chinle Unified School District

Candi Running Bear has been teaching in the preschool setting on the Navajo Reservation for 7 years. She has created effective strategies to meet the needs of all her students. She has been an integral part of the preschool team in developing activities and ideas for curriculum development. She has a B.S. degree in Psychology, Master’s degree in Special Education, and an Early Childhood Endorsement. Currently she is a participant in the Quality First Program.

Nicol Russell

Deputy Associate Superintendent for Early Childhood, Arizona Department of Education

Nicol Russell is the Deputy Associate Superintendent for Early Childhood at the Arizona Department of Education and the Director of the Head Start State Collaboration Office. Nicol has a background in early childhood and special education and has been the State’s Director of Early Childhood Special Education. She has teaching experience in K-12 and preschool classrooms, as well as in the administration of early childhood programs.


Vijette Saari

Regional Director, La Paz/Mohave, First Things First

Vijette Saari is the Regional Director for the First Things First La Paz/Mohave Regional Partnership Council. Prior to FTF, Vijette provided early intervention services to infants and toddlers in Mohave and La Paz Counties for 11 years. She has three children, the youngest of whom has hypotonic cerebral palsy, bilateral hearing loss and cochlear implants. She has personal experience advocating on her child’s behalf since birth. Vijette is a graduate of Grand Canyon University where she received her Master’s in Early Childhood Education. She is certified by the Arizona Early Intervention Program in Developmental Special Instruction and Service Coordination.

Diana Salcido

Quality First Coach, Easter Seals Blake Foundation

Diana Salcido works for Easter Seals Blake Foundation as a Quality Frist Coach. She provides technical assistance to programs enrolled in Quality First supporting adults who care for children ages 0-5 years. These adults include home providers, pre-school teachers and adults working in Child Care Centers. Diana has worked in the field of early childhood and education for more than ten years. Diana has earned a Completion certificate in ECE, a Child Development Associate certificate, and a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and Special Education.

Jordana Saletan

Program Supervisor, Easter Seals Blake Foundation

Jordana Saletan, LMSW, has worked with young children since 1994 in various capacities including teaching preschool classes, art, and Spanish; childcare; special education; intake and assessment; and both family and individual therapy. Currently she is the Program Supervisor of Smart Support services in Southern Arizona at Easter Seals Blake Foundation. Jordana has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a Master Degree in Social Work. She holds a Certificate in Infant/Toddler Mental Health Clinical Certificate from the Harris Institute at SWHD.

Ginger Sandweg

Senior Director, Early Learning, First Things First

Ginger Sandweg is a native Arizonan and has experienced multiple roles in the early childhood field such as preschool teacher, center director/manager, policy and program development, and college instructor. She believes that the care and education of young children is directly impacted by the professionals working with them and their families. She currently holds a position that supports the work of professional preparation and ongoing development of the early care and education workforce. As the Senior Director of Early Learning at First Things First, she has overseen the creation and implementation of the Arizona Early Childhood Career and Professional Development Network, the development of a statewide college scholarships program for early care and education professionals, and the ongoing implementation of Quality First, Arizona’s Quality Improvement and Rating System. She resides in Central Phoenix with her spouse and their 11 year old daughter.

Dr. Lois Sayrs

Director of Research, ASU Center for Child Well-Being, Evaluation Methodologist

Lois Sayrs is the Director of Research and Evaluation for the ASU Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy. Dr. Sayrs is a specialist in Evaluation Research Methods. She has designed and implemented evaluations, performance audits and program reviews in Arizona for over twenty years. Dr. Sayrs has contributed to the research literature on methods and has specific expertise in mixed-methods evaluations. She has extensive experience in reviewing programs that are culturally responsive and respective of linguistically diverse populations in Arizona including the At-Risk Preschool Project, Healthy Families and Health Start. In addition, Dr. Sayrs has evaluated programs intended to improve outcomes for some of Arizona’s most vulnerable at-risk populations, for example, programs for persons with serious mental illness, children and adults with developmental disorders, homeless youth, pregnant teens, and children in juvenile detention. She is currently the Program Evaluator for the Arizona Title IV-E Waiver Demonstration Project to reduce the number of dependent children who currently reside in congregate care.

Claudia Scott

Teacher, Chinle Unified School District

Claudia Scott has been teaching in the area of Early childhood for 30+ years. She has been on the Navajo Reservation for 23 years where she has been teaching in an integrated preschool classroom and has provided services to the Head Start and F.A.C.E. programs. She has B.S. Degree in Elementary Ed, a Master’s Degree in Special Education, and in Early Childhood Education. She has presented at numerous Early Childhood Conferences including the N.A.Y.C. Conferences held in November. Currently she is a participant of the Quality First program.

Dr. Eva Marie Shivers

Executive Director, Indigo Cultural Center, Inc.

Dr. Eva Marie Shivers is the Director of the Institute for Child Development Research & Social Change, a non-profit action research firm at the Indigo Cultural Center located in Phoenix, AZ. Indigo focuses on exploring families’ culturally adaptive responses to poverty by examining their experiences with early care and education. Dr. Shivers has served as Principal Investigator on numerous child care research studies that involve participatory-based action research with diverse cultural communities. Dr. Shivers’ research interests include: ECE work force and professional development initiatives; racial equity in EC systems building; infant and early childhood mental health; and other child care issues involving culture, anti-bias education, and family sensitive care. Dr. Shivers has authored numerous publications about Family, Friend and Neighbor child care, and frequently presents research findings throughout the country. For the past fifteen years, Dr. Shivers has provided child care policy consultation to federal, state and local government entities.

Betty Smith

Preschool Teacher, Chinle Unified School District

Betty Smith has been teaching for 30+ years on the Navajo Reservation. She has taught in a variety of settings from preschool to third grade. She is a seasoned preschool teacher who has developed creative straties for teaching native children. She speaks fluent Navajo. She holds a B.S. degree in Elementary Ed. Master’s Degree in Bilingual Multicultural Education and an Early Childhood Endorsement. Currently she is a participant of the Quality First Program.

Bonnie Spencer

Infant/Toddler Mentor, Southwest Human Development

Bonnie Spencer is currently an Infant/Toddler Mentor for the Early Learning Matters Infant/Toddler Training Program at Southwest Human Development. Bonnie supports infant/toddler teachers by introducing unique classroom experiences, focusing on studying children through documentation and reflecting on children’s competencies. Bonnie has over 14 years experience in the field of Early Care and Education. Previous professional experience includes Curriculum Education Manager for non-profit organizations, Education Manager and working in various early childhood classrooms. Bonnie also has several years experience in infant/toddler curriculum design and incorporating and facilitating learning communities.

Dr. Jill Stamm

Founder, New Directions Institute

Dr. Jill Stamm is the cofounder of New Directions Institute for Infant Brain Development (NDI), now a member of Arizona’s Children Association family of agencies, and an associate clinical professor at Arizona State University. Dr. Stamm’s Ph.D. is in Learning and Instructional Technology. She is an author and a national and international speaker on early brain development and later school achievement. Currently, she serves on the Governor’s Advisory Council for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and is a member of the National Advisory Panel of the Learning & the Brain Conference. In the past she has served on the Governor’s Advisory Council for Head Start in Arizona, Arizona Community Foundation Early Care and Education Advisory Committee, Arizona Science Center’s National Advisory Council on Brain Development, City of Phoenix Task Force on Early Childhood, and Greater Phoenix Leadership P-20 Education Reform Board.

Marcia Stanton

Senior Injury Prevention Specialist, Phoenix Children's Hospital

Marcia Stanton, MSW, is Senior Injury Prevention Specialist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital where she coordinates their Strong Families Program. She leads the Arizona Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Consortium and their statewide “Strong Communities Raise Strong Kids” initiative, working to increase awareness of the impact of childhood trauma and promote resilience. She spearheads additional initiatives including “Creating Trauma Sensitive Arizona Schools”, and “Protecting Their Childhood” Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Prevention Coalition, and leads efforts to end corporal punishment and promote positive discipline. She has a Master’s degree in Social Work and a long history of personal interest and involvement in children and family issues. She was 2004 recipient of US Administration on Children, Youth and Families Commissioner’s Award for exceptional contribution toward the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect.

Meghan Storms

Program Manager Quality First Coaching and Incentives, Valley of the Sun United Way

Meghan Storms graduated from ASU with a Master’s of Infant Toddler Mental Health, and is endorsed by the Infant Toddler Mental Health Coalition of Arizona. With early roots in Head Start and Early Head Start, she then transitioned into Quality First as a Coach in 2010. From there she became a Quality First Coach Supervisor, prior to moving to into her current role as, Program Manager of Quality First Coaching and Incentives at Valley of the Sun United Way.

Molly Strothkamp

Child Therapist, Southwest Human Development

Molly Strothkamp, LMSW, IMH-E(III), is a Licensed Master Social Worker and is endorsed by the Infant Toddler Mental Health Coalition of Arizona as an Infant Mental Health Specialist (Level 3 Clinical). She completed the Harris Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Training Institute in Infant/Family Clinical Practice in 2007. Molly has worked with young children and their families at Southwest Human Development since 1999. She is a child therapist and the training coordinator at Southwest Human Development’s Good Fit Counseling Center and specializes in providing relationship-based counseling to young children and their caregivers. Molly is on the faculty for the Harris Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Training Institute. In addition, she provides presentations and trainings on infant mental health, attachment, trauma, and other related topics to parents, professionals, and community organizations statewide. Molly also provides reflective mental health consultation to home visiting programs.

Lisa Sutherland

Quality First Program Coordinator, First Things First


Erin Taylor

Community Outreach Coordinator, First Things First

Erin Taylor serves as a First Things First Community Outreach Coordinator for the La Paz Mohave region.

Karie Taylor

Assistant Director, Arizona Department of Economic Security

Karie Taylor, M.A., is an Assistant Director at the Department of Economic Security overseeing the Arizona Early Intervention Program and Child Care Administration. Karie has been involved in the field of early childhood for many years, including child care, Early Head Start, preschool special education and early intervention. She is currently the Part C Coordinator for the Arizona Early Intervention Program (AzEIP). Prior to that she served as one of two Continuous Quality Improvement Coordinators in AzEIP with primary responsibilities of designing, implementing, evaluating and refining the states integrated monitoring system. Karie has a Bachelor’s degree in Child Development and Family Relations and a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education. Karie is passionate about supporting families to ensure that their children have access to high quality child care, regardless of their developmental status.

Dr. Michelle Taylor

Assistant Research Professor, Arizona State University

Michelle Taylor is an assistant research professor in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University. She received her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Taylor’s primary research interests include examining contextual and relational influences on young children’s school readiness. Much of her work focuses on the role of adults in young children’s learning and development, with specific emphasis on the quality of interactions between caregivers and children. Dr. Taylor is currently working in partnership with the Scottsdale Public Library to examine the effectiveness of several library programs for promoting young children’s school readiness. She is the recent recipient of a Program Evaluation Grant funded by the Brady Education Foundation to examine the effectiveness of the Books Can…© program.

Diana Thies

Early Intervention- Occupational Therapist, United Cerebral Palsy of Central AZ

Diana is an Occupational Therapist that has been practicing in the Valley for the last 7 years. She has worked with the Adult and Pediatric population during this time in the Acute Hospital setting (NICU/PICU) as well as in an Outpatient clinic, School District and with the Arizona Early Intervention Program. Additional training and certifications include completion of Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation Level 1 Mentorship Program, Neonatal Touch and Massage Certificate, Handwriting Without Tears Certificate, LSVT Big Certificate, Pediatric splinting course, Interactive Metronome Certificate, and additional courses in general development and neurological disorders. She is married to another OT and have recently become parents for the first time!

Denise Tift

Marriage & Family Therapist Paternal Instincts

Denise Tift has over twenty five years of experience as a psychotherapist, working with individuals, couples, and families, both in mental health clinics, private practice and in-home family therapy. For two years she was employed as a clinical therapist at the Urgent Psychiatric Center in Phoenix. Denise is a licensed social worker, a parent educator, family mediator, group facilitator and life-long volunteer. Denise earned a BA in Social Work from Moorhead State University and an MA degree in Counseling and Psychological Services from the University of St. Mary’s in Minneapolis Minnesota She is an adoptive mother, step mother and a foster mother to many children, adolescents and adults with special needs.

Neil Tift

Father Involvement Coordinator, Child Crisis Arizona

Neil Tift is the Father Involvement Coordinator for Child Crisis Arizona. He served as Director of Training for three national fatherhood organizations in Washington DC and Mesa Arizona, including NAFFA. He was the founding director of the Fathers Resource Center in Minneapolis from 1990 to 1998. For over 20 years, Neil was Adjunct Professor of Family Studies at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul Minnesota, teaching ethics, child psychology, and human service administration. He also taught at St. Mary’s University and Century College in Minnesota and currently teaches at Chandler Gilbert Community College. Neil has contributed chapters for 6 books and written numerous articles on fatherhood and related issues. Neil earned an M.A. in Counseling Psychology and is a fatherhood trainer, parent educator, college instructor, men’s therapist, game developer and overweight jogger. Neil is the father of 3, the grandfather of 11 and a foster father of many.

Leslie Totten

Quality First Director, First Things First

Leslie Totten is the Director of Quality First for the State of Arizona and has been working within the Quality First system since its inception in 2009. Her background is built on a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education with extensive experience in the field including classroom teaching in a public school setting, directing a private faith-based preschool and Kindergarten, teaching ECE courses at the Community College and coordinating a teacher mentoring program at Arizona State University.

Monique Tsosie

Research Technician, University of Arizona~Southwest Institute for Research on Women

Monique Tsosie is from the Deer Spring clan, born for the Tangle People clan. Her maternal grandfather is of the Black Streak Wood clan and her paternal grandfather is of the Big Water clan. She is originally from Tuba City, Arizona and is a graduate of the University of Arizona Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. Monique has worked previously with the Native American Research and Training Center on several projects. Monique currently is Research Technician at the University of Arizona’s Southwest Institute for Research on Women collaborating with the Pascua Yaqui tribe’s Treatment Expansion Project.

Clarissa Tudela

Early Head Start Teacher, Maricopa Head Start Zero to Five

I have a Bachelor of Arts in Education and is a Early Head Start Teacher at Maricopa County head Start Zero to five Program. I have been an early educator for the Head Start Program for nine years. I have a great passion for early childhood education because I firmly believes that you can make the greatest impact in the lives of children from the very start, especially those most at risk. I have an ongoing passion to help families attain personal successes.


Robert Vagi

Research Consultant, Arizona State University Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

Robert Vagi is a Ph.D. candidate in the Educational Policy Analysis and Evaluation program at Arizona State University. His research uses advanced quantitative methods to better understand state and local policy issues. Currently, his work spans several topics including immigration reform and education, school finance, early childhood literacy, and teacher mobility.

Lauren van Huisstede

Graduate Research Associate, Arizona State University

Lauren van Huisstede is a graduate research associate in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University. She received her MS in Psychology from Arizona State University in 2013. Before returning to graduate school to pursue her PhD in Family and Human Development, Ms. Van Huisstede worked in the community supporting Arizona families as a parent educator and family support specialist. Her research focuses on understanding the development of self-regulation in the context of parent-child relationships.

K. Vilay

Sr. Director of Regional Operations, First Things First

K. Vilay is currently the Senior Director of Regional Operations for First Things First, the Arizona Early Childhood Development and Health Board. Ms. Vilay has been with the agency since 2007 and spent the first five years with FTF as the Senior Program Specialist for Family Support and Literacy.


Julia Wacloff

Chief, Office of Oral Health, Arizona Department of Health Services

Christine Waldbeiser

Quality Assurance Specialist, First Things First

Christine Waldbeiser joined the First Things First Quality Assurance team in January 2014. She comes with a background in behavioral health, including her time as a case manager with The Southwest Network for children with high needs, working with Arizona’s children since 2009. She has partnered closely and collaboratively with families and institutions, such as Child Protective Services, Juvenile Corrections, Developmental Disabilities, and Arizona Educational systems. Christine has a degree in Family Social Sciences from the University of Minnesota and has previously gained experience working with children with disabilities as a direct care provider and serving families involved with the court system. Prior to coming to FTF, Christine held the position of QA Coordinator with The Southwest Network, overseeing the implementation of quality and compliance measures for those serving children.

Sandi Walters

Inclusion Specialist, WestEd

Sandi Walters has worked with children with disabilities and other special needs and their families in a variety of settings including family child care, center-based child care, early intervention programs, and community-based recreational programs. Through WestEd’s Center for Child and Family Studies, Sandi currently provides training and technical assistance for inclusive practice throughout California. She provides training on the topics of Belonging, Inclusion, Challenging Behavior, Assessment/Evaluation, Developmentally Appropriate Activities & Environments, and Social/Emotional Development for child care programs and child development professionals. Her M.A degree in Child and Family Counseling and her M.S. Degree in Human/Child Development & Early Intervention help inform the work she does to support families, children, and professionals.

Angela Ward

Western Regional Support Specialist

Angela Ward is the Western Regional Support Specialist for Parents as Teachers and provides technical assistance to PAT programs in Arizona, Wyoming and Utah. She has been involved with parents as teachers as a home visitor, supervisor and program director. Most recently she was with the MIECHV project in Utah. Angela’s passion is increasing the quality of home visits for better family outcomes.

Tammi Watson

Community Outreach Coordinator, First Things First

Tammi serves as a First Things First Community Outreach Coordinator for the Northwest Maricopa region. Before joining First Things First, Tammi worked with Jobs for Arizona’s Graduates where she managed seven high school programs spanning three counties. In that position, she worked with stakeholders throughout the state – such as high school students, parents and community members -- to ensure students persist through high school graduation. Tammi’s background includes community engagement, project and event management, program outreach and awareness. She is a graduate of Auburn University at Montgomery with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.

Hon. Richard Weiss

Superior Court Judge, Mohave County Superior Court

Mohave County Superior Court Judge Richard Weiss has sat on the bench as a Superior Court Judge for 20 years. In 2006 Judge Weiss became involved with the Best for Babies Programs in Arizona. This lead to the establishment of a collaborate Court Team. Today the Court Team is coordinated through the Mohave County Infant Toddler Mental Health Team. Judge Weiss is especially grateful to the support and commitment provided by First Things First to the vulnerable zero to three population the court sees in Mohave County’s Dependency cases. The trainings and educational programs set up by the Mohave County Infant Toddler Court Team has greatly improved the professional and public understanding of the medical, dental, emotional, development and educational needs of our zero to five population.

Mariko Whelan

Early Learning Coordinator, Scottsdale Public Library

Mariko Whelan M.ED. is the Early Learning Coordinator for the Scottsdale Public Library. Mariko has fourteen years of classroom teaching expertise in preschool through third grade. She is currently teaching part-time at NAU in their dual-certification teacher education program. She has vast experience in the world of early education and has worked as an early childhood coordinator for the Mesa Public School district and an Early Childhood Specialist for the Arizona Department of Education. Her distinct background includes working with: multiple school districts across the state, classroom teachers in a variety of settings and diverse groups of parents in her various roles as teacher, curriculum developer, trainer, and mentor. Mariko’s role as the Early Learning Coordinator for the Scottsdale Public Library has allowed her to merge her background in developmentally appropriate practices for young children and extensive knowledge about early learning and development with a new venue that supports family interactive programming to help prepare families with young children for school success.

Jodi Whiteman

Director, Professional Development ZERO TO THREE

Ms. Whiteman is the Director of Professional Development for ZERO TO THREE. In this position Ms. Whiteman leads efforts to build and broaden the reach of ZTT’s professional development and technical assistance offerings. Jodi has a wealth of experience with training (e-learning and onsite) and technical assistance on a variety of early childhood topics such as reflective supervision, relationship-based and reflective coaching in early childhood and early language and literacy. Jodi is a graduate of George Mason University’s Unified Transformative Early Education Model (UTEEM) program. UTEEM focuses on preparing teachers to work with culturally, linguistically, and ability diverse children and families. She has worked as a bi-lingual speech/language therapist assistant, a child care director, an early intervention specialist and a certified educator of infant massage. She is an experienced adult educator, writer, and trainer and has taught graduate-level University courses.

Matika Wilbur

Matika Wilbur is one of the Pacific Northwest’s leading photographers. A Native American woman of the Swinomish and Tulalip tribes (Washington), she has exhibited extensively in regional, national and international venues such as the Seattle Art Museum, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, the Tacoma Art Museum, the Royal British Columbia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Nantes Museum of Fine Arts in France. She studied photography at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Montana and received a bachelor’s degree from Brooks Institute of Photography in California. Her work led her to becoming a certified teacher at Tulalip Heritage High School, providing inspiration for the youth of her own indigenous community.

Dawn Wilkinson

Professional Development System Specialist , First Things First

Dawn Wilkinson is originally from West Virginia but has been in the valley for 18 years. She has experienced multiple roles in the early childhood field such as tribal preschool teacher, Director of Early Childhood Education for a tribal school on the Gila River Indian Community, center director/manager for a for-profit child care center, and a community college instructor. Throughout her experiences Dawn has learned to always ask, “How will your decisions affect the children?” This is something she has carried into her current position as Professional Development System Specialist. Knowing that the education of young children is directly related to the child care provider, she is excited to be in a role that supports professional development of the early care and education workforce. Dawn currently lives in Chandler with her husband and two sons.

Mr. Vern Wolfley

Geographic Information Systems Analyst II, Maricopa Association of Governments

Vern Wolfley is a GIS Analyst II for the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG). Vern is responsible for providing GIS and analytical support to the MAG Information Services Division. His responsibilities at MAG include the collection, creation, maintenance, and analysis of spatial data as well as map production, for both the Information Services Division and other divisions at MAG. He also assists in development of web-based mapping applications. Vern received a Bachelors of Science in Engineering from Arizona State University in 2005, and a Masters of Advanced Study in Geographic Information Systems in 2012. Vern has 12 years of GIS experience, previously working for the Dysart Unified School District as their Senior Planner.

Karen Woodhouse

Director, Eyes On Learning

Karen Woodhouse is the Director of Eyes on Learning, a statewide, public-private initiative to advance children’s vision health. Using collaborative partnerships to develop policy and programs, she is experienced in building statewide initiatives from the ground up. She most recently was Chief Program Officer at First Things First, where she strived for continuous improvement of early childhood systems, including preventative screening for developmental delays and sensory (hearing and vision) concerns. As Deputy Associate Superintendent at the Arizona Department of Education, she established in 2003 the department’s Early Childhood Education Division. Throughout her career she has focused her passion for young children on increasing equitable opportunities for rich early childhood experiences, healthy development and school success.


Elizabeth Yoe

Preschool Teacher, Chinle Unified School District

Elizabeth Yoe has been teaching for 25+ years on the Navajo Reservation. She has taught Kindergarten through second grade and is now teaching in preschool. She speaks fluent Navajo and is able to integrate Navajo language into many of her teaching activities. She has a B.S. degree in Elementary Education, Master’s degree in Bilingual Multicultural Education, Master’s Degree in ESL Ed. and an Early Childhood Endorsement. Currently she is a participant in the Quality First Program.

Keith Young

Research Associate, WestEd

Keith Young has more than 25 years working in education as a classroom teacher, administrator, and master trainer of program directors and teacher coaches. Annually, he is in more than 1,000 classrooms directly modeling or co-coaching teachers for administrators, teacher coaches, and university mentors. As a senior research associate for WestEd he works primarily in Arizona, Illinois, California, and Wisconsin in PK-university programs. He leads a system wide project coaching mentors and program coaches for preschool teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He has published works in whole school improvement and an EdD in educational leadership.


Sola Zaccheus

ECE Adjunct Professor/Faculty Ambassador/ECE teacher, University of the District of Columbia

Sola Zaccheus is a native of New Jersey with over five years of experience as a teacher. After graduating from Howard University, she received her masters in early childhood from American University. Ms. Zaccheus completed her Education Specialist degree from George Washington in 2015, in which much of her research was based on fine motor development, nature based play, and autism. As an educator, Ms. Zaccheus has taught preschool and special education and has made efforts to bring nature based play and fine motor curricula into early childhood programs. Ms. Zaccheus has supported student learning through project based learning, Creative Curriculum, Open World to Learning, Wilson’s Fundations as well as Reggio approaches. As an early childhood educator Ms. Zaccheus believes that a nurturing environment opens up the gateways to learning.

Dr. Lauren Zbyszinski

Early Childhood Program Specialist, Arizona Department of Education

Lauren currently works as a Program Specialist and Coordinator of Professional Development in the Early Childhood division at the Arizona Department of Education. Since her start at ADE, Lauren has worked to organize all state departments and create a singular professional development track for Early Childhood Education in the state of Arizona. Her background includes teaching preschool, kindergarten, and first grade throughout the state of Arizona. Lauren holds her PhD in the area of Curriculum and Instruction, with a specialization in Early Childhood Education, in which her research included a focus on Approaches to Learning/Executive Function and Social Emotional Development, with a special emphasis on development in the preschool and kindergarten years. She also works with Institutes of Higher Education to build collaboration between state policy, relative research, and teacher preparation.

Dr. Marlene Zepeda

Professor Emeritus, Child and Family Studies, California State University, Los Angeles

Marlene Zepeda is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Child and Family Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. A former preschool and elementary school teacher, Dr. Zepeda’s scholarship focuses on dual language learning in Spanish speaking preschool children and child development in Latino infants and toddlers. Dr. Zepeda has participated in a number of activities relevant to dual language learners. For the California State Department of Education, Dr. Zepeda led a group of national experts in the development of California’s Early Learning Foundations for English Language Development for 3 and 4 year olds, the first effort of its kind in the nation and contributed to a series of research papers and video material associated with California’s Best Practices for Dual Language Learners. She has authored a number of publications focused on the development of dual language learners including a set of teacher competencies for Dual Language Learners. Her most recent publication is entitled, “Bilingual language development in early childhood: Multidisciplinary perspectives” in Y. M. Caldera, & E. Lindsay (Eds.), Mexican American children and families: Multidisciplinary perspectives, published by Routledge. She was a Co-PI for a study of the efficacy of a preschool curriculum developed for Spanish speaking preschool children learning English: The Nuestro Niños School Readiness Study and is currently collaborating on a research study focused on the utility of two different assessment tools for capturing pedagogical practice with Dual Language Learners. Dr. Zepeda participated as a member of the Technical Working Group for the National Center for Early Care and Education Research: Dual Language Learners and in the Research Advisory Board to Los Angeles County Office of Child Care STEP Project, a quality rating system for early education settings where she was also an advisory member to the Race to the Top Learning Grant – Professional Development Stakeholder’s Group. Dr. Zepeda is a member of the Campaign for Quality Early Education, a California advocacy group that lobbies on behalf of Dual Language Learners and currently is a member of Los Angeles, First Five Commission. Marlene Zepeda received her BA in Child Development from California State University, Los Angeles and her MA and Ph.D. degrees in Developmental Studies and Early Childhood Education from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Carla Zimmerman

Speech-Language Pathologist/Listening & Spoken Language Specialist, Zimmerman Speech & Hearing Center

Carla Zimmerman is a speech-language pathologist, an LSLS certified auditory-verbal therapist, and the president of Zimmerman Speech & Hearing in Tempe. Her years of experience with children who are deaf and hard of hearing have given her thousands of hours of working with families to empower them to become the expert in their child’s hearing loss, and their child’s primary and most effective teacher.