Samantha Jennings

Samantha Jennings is a PreK teacher at Dr. Reginald Mayo school in New Haven. While in the classroom, she works hard to engage her students in learning through developmentally appropriate practices. She is an advocate for play based learning and strives to show this through the variety of experiential learning activities she provides students with in her classroom. She is known for implementing meaningful lessons and experiences for her students. She works tirelessly to incorporate social/emotional learning as well as academics into everyday practices for her students. She also communicates with families about current events and practices to help promote continuity between school and home life.

Samantha earned her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education with a concentration in STEM and Psychology, from Southern Connecticut State University. She is currently continuing her love for learning at Albertus Magnus College to earn her Master’s in Education in STEM. Samantha stays current with her teaching by reading about best practices and joining many cohorts. She was recently a part of New Haven ChILD’s PLC cohort with Bank Street, which focused on implementing play-based learning in early childhood.

Samantha understands the importance of high-quality early learning experiences on a personal level. She is a mother of two, a 12-year-old and 2-year-old. She enjoys learning from them as well as the students in her classroom.

Yari Ijeh

Yari Ijeh is the mother of two children ages 6 months and 4 years old. By day, she is the Director of Development and Implementation at the Department of Children and Families (DCF) with the State of CT. Growing up with many foster siblings in her childhood home, Ijeh turned her personal experience into a professional career. Ijeh taught preschool and has been a social worker with DCF for over two decades. In her roles at DCF, she has advocated for children and their families, giving voice to their needs, and oversees policy changes to improve outcomes while reducing disparities. By night, she’s teaching her children through play.

Ijeh has an Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education, a Bachelor of Social Work from Southern CT State University and a Master of Social Work from Fordham University. Additionally, Ijeh is co-chair of the Progreso Latino Fund and has volunteered with True Colors, which develops programming and services for the LGBTQ+ youth; the New Haven and Hamden Juvenile Review Boards, which gives youth who are first time offenders an alternative to the criminal justice system; and the Shubert Theatre.

Steven Hoffler, MSW, Ph.D.

In addition to his role as Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Work at Southern Connecticut State University, Dr. Hoffler also holds the position of a Counselor at the Yale School of Drama (YSD). At Southern, he serves as an advisor to Brotherhood of Scholarship and Excellence (BRoSE), an affinity group on campus committed to recruiting and graduating men of color to and from higher education institutions. In 2019, he received Advisor of the Year at Southern and continues to form community partnerships with high schools to help bridge the gap for other young men of color to pursue higher education. For the past few years, Dr. Hoffler has elevated his advocacy to addressing systemic racism in the criminal justice, child welfare and educational systems and instituting restorative justice practices in various settings.

Dr. Hoffler’s professional experience has also included positions as a Mental Health Consultant for Yale Medical School and Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living for their Juvenile Detention Program and for their Child, Adolescent and Young Adult Programs. His practice experience has included clinical, supervisory and administrative positions at Yale New Haven Hospital, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families and the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) through Casey Family Services (CFS) where he served for ten years. At Casey, Dr. Hoffler served as the Deputy Division Director for six years in their Hartford Division and provided administrative and clinical oversight of its foster care, post-adoption, reunification and community involvement programs. At Casey he also served on the leadership team that managed the New Haven Grants Program of non-profit agencies dedicated the improving the lives of children and families. Additionally, he served as the Project Coordinator for the Center for Children’s Advocacy for the Deep End Diversion Program, where he was responsible for implementing the principles of restorative justice in Connecticut’s juvenile justice system, individual, family and group therapy. He has taught adjunct at several universities and continues to serve as a consultant for Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families.

Dr. Hoffler received his B.A. in History and MSW from the University of Connecticut and his Ph.D. from Smith College School for Social Work. He serves on several advisory boards, holds several professional memberships, and is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. In 2007, he received the Achiever Award from the University of Connecticut and the Connecticut Association of Educational Opportunity Programs (CAEOP) for his outstanding educational, community, and personal success. He was awarded the 2019 Humanitarian Award by Senator Richard Blumenthal and the Connecticut Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission. Dr. Hoffler maintains a private practice in North Haven and is the father of a toddler son, Tyler.

Rachel Gilroy

Ms. Gilroy joined Elm City Communities in 2019 after more than 20 years of experience in construction and design industry and educational leadership.

As Senior Project Manager for Elm City Communities and Glendower Group, Ms. Gilroy is responsible for overseeing the design and construction phases of development projects by working within a team, as well as being in cross-team collaboration. This progressive work environment includes bridging the planning-level constructability and sustainability with the concerns of client needs, and site-scale design process to construction completion.

Ms. Gilroy has served in various leadership roles, including being a veteran of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a Project Manager of Design and Construction, an Artist and a Facilitator for the Yale School of Management Interpersonal Group Dynamics Course. The range of her work experience includes construction management, sustainable and urban design, land planning, park and recreation planning, art and design, land architecture and teaching positions.

Ms. Gilroy holds a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science from University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT and a Master of Fine Art from the Academy of Art, San Francisco, CA.

Kia Levey-Burden, MSW

Kia Levey-Burden is a passionate leader, a dedicated advocate, and a loving mother and wife. Kia is deeply committed to igniting passions and helping others discover their power and courageous leadership. Kia gets to work in this passion through her work at Launch Consulting as she works with leadership of diverse organizations throughout the state of Connecticut, supporting their hopes of becoming more effective leaders and organizations.

As the mother of a 13-year-old son and a now adult foster daughter, Kia is committed to equitable and quality opportunities for all children and, in particular, children of color who are in systems that don’t consistently provide pathways to success for them. After spending over a decade as single mom, being a mom is the job Kia loves the most! Kia is grateful for every opportunity that she has been blessed with and hopes to use every platform she’s been given to create opportunities for others.

Sarah Arnold

Sarah Arnold is a lifelong educator. She currently serves as the Public Policy and Outreach Coordinator for the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America (WECAN), as well as being a member of the WECAN Board. She is also pursuing a Doctoral degree in Language and Literacy Development in Early Childhood. Prior to her current roles, Sarah served as a program director and teacher at Evergreen Garden Playschool, a Waldorf early childhood program; and as a public elementary school teacher in Nevada and Massachusetts.

Sarah is passionate about making high-quality, child-centered, developmentally-appropriate education ubiquitous in the United States. In her WECAN work, she has the opportunity to participate as a member of the Ideal Learning Round Table and as a movement builder for Education Reimagined, which both work to make that dream a reality.

Sarah’s research interests are focused on building community in early childhood classrooms through play and storytelling. As part of her research fellowship at Boston University, Sarah has visited upwards of 40 early childhood and lower elementary classrooms across Boston and Massachusetts. She has seen both the best and worst of educational environments. She is dedicated to making the best available to every child.

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Sarah Boone

Sarah Boone grew up in New Haven and attended the Foote School. She is also a graduate of the Phillips Exeter Academy and the University of Pennsylvania where she majored in sociology.

Before returning to New Haven in 2003, Sarah worked as a sales and account manager in the hotel and technology industries in Dallas, Texas and San Francisco, California.

Sarah currently serves as the manager of the Guilford Racquet and Swim Club where she oversees a year round operation including as many as 60 summer employees (35 year round) and more than 1000 members.
Sarah has four children, ages 9 -15, who all attended Calvin Hill Day Care and are currently enrolled at the Foote School and Wilbur Cross High School. Sarah loves New Haven, believes it is a wonderful city to raise a family, and wants to help improve the education for all of her neighbors, not just the fortunate few.

Wendy Waithe Simmons, Ph.D.

Dr. Wendy Waithe Simmons is the Executive Director New Haven ChILD. She is also a licensed psychologist with more than 25 years of experience working with children and families. Throughout her career, she has been involved in the lives of children and families through teaching, direct clinical service, consultation, program development, and research in both educational and clinical settings. She believes that all children deserve to have the opportunity to have multiple pathways towards success. She has a specific interest in developing and implementing programs for children from a variety of backgrounds who have been experiencing social, behavioral, and/or academic challenges, particularly for children birth through five years of age.

Additionally, she is an Adjunct Professor in the Early Childhood Department at Gateway Community College and a Member of the Expert Advisory Panel for the University of Connecticut’s Pre-K to 3 Leadership Program. Prior to coming to NH ChILD, Dr. Simmons was the Director of Education and Equity at Connecticut Voices for Children (Voices), a research, state policy and advocacy organization. While at Voices she advocated for equitable policies in early care as well as education for children and youth from birth through college and/or career. She was also the Director of the Connecticut College and Career Readiness Alliance and Manager for the Voices’ Associate Policy Fellows Program, a program introducing and supporting recent college graduates to state policy advocacy. For almost 10 years, she worked at the State Education Resource Center (SERC) where she started as a consultant providing professional learning across various settings. Professional learning content included racial equity, special education, positive behavior intervention and supports, school improvement systems and structures, professional learning communities, and data teams, as examples. She had several leadership roles at SERC before becoming the Director for Development, Community Affairs, & Equity as well as the first Director of the SERC Foundation.

Dr. Simmons received her doctoral training at the University of South Carolina and post-doctoral training at the Child Study Center at Yale University. She is an avid reader, wife, and mother of two lovely daughters. She loves to travel and one day hopes to be fluent in French.

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Erik Clemons

Erik has devoted his career to empowering marginalized communities across the state of Connecticut and helping others see their own potential and power. He is the founding CEO and President of the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT), a non-profit organization based on the model of Bill Strickland’s, National Center for Arts and Technology. ConnCAT is dedicated to creating empowering arts-based educational environments for at-risk public school students and training programs for under and unemployed adults. Erik has an extensive background in non-profit management and organizational leadership. Prior to founding ConnCAT, Erik served as the Connecticut Executive Director of the premier national youth development organization Leadership, Education, and Athletics in Partnership (LEAP). LEAP provides academic and social enrichment programs to children and youth between the ages of five and twenty-three. Erik has also served as director of vocational training at the U.S. Department of Labor’s New Haven Job Corps Center.

A lifelong Connecticut resident, Erik volunteers significant time and energy in supporting other organizations doing good work in the local community. He serves or has served on numerous boards including: Cornell Scott Hill Health Center, New Haven Housing Authority, New Haven Legal Aid, and Connecticut Voices for children. Currently, Erik is an Education Fellow at the Aspen Institute, a member of the Connecticut State Board of Education, Board Chair of the Housing Authority of New Haven (HANH), Board of Director at START Community Bank, Board of Director at Elm City Market, and Board Trustee at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Erik has a wife (Sharon), and four daughters (Kiara, Nyle, Nia, Kai).

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James Comer, MD, MPH

James Comer, MD, MPH is the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale University Child Study Center. Dr. Comer has concentrated his career on promoting a focus on child and adolescent development as a way of improving schools.

In 1968 he founded the Comer School Development Program that promotes the collaboration of parents, educators, and community to improve social, emotional, and academic outcomes for children that, in turn, help them achieve greater school success. He has improved the educational environment in more than 1,000 schools throughout the U.S. He has authored numerous publications and received many awards for his work, including 49 honorary degrees.

In 2014 President Barack Obama appointed Dr. Comer to his Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans, and in 2016 became a member of the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. Dr. Comer received an M.D. from Howard University. He is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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Camille Cooper

Camille J. Cooper, Ed.D. is Director of the School Development Program’s Learning, Teaching and Development initiatives which include Teachers Helping Teachers and Balanced Curriculum programs. Teaching, Learning, and Development (T, L, &D) expands the focus of the Yale Child Study Center’s School Development Program (SDP) from relationships and school climate to student achievement and school performance.

Camille also leads the organization’s intake, implementation, and professional development activities for schools and districts. Implementation includes on-site workshops, consultation sessions, and school and classroom visits. Customized on-site professional development also supports the implementation process for schools and districts that have adopted the SDP program.

Prior to joining the SDP, Camille served as a professional educator in public schools over 25 years. Her professional experiences include special education, career/vocational education, associate director of elementary humanities, associate director elementary language arts, assistant and elementary principal, executive director/assistant superintendent for academic services, curriculum and instruction, and executive regional principal/assistant superintendent.

Camille and earned a B.S. in elementary education from Kent State University and a M.Ed. in the education of exceptional individuals from Wright State University. She has completed postgraduate work at Miami University, Wright State University and the University of Dayton in the areas of supervision, curriculum and instruction, school administration and educational leadership. The doctorate degree in educational leadership and policy is from Southern Connecticut State University. Her research focus is teacher collaboration and professional learning communities.

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Karen DuBois-Walton Ph.D.

Karen DuBois-Walton, Ph.D., President, Elm City Communities/Housing Authority of the City of New Haven (HANH). Karen DuBois-Walton currently serves as the President of the Elm City Communities/Housing Authority of the City of New Haven, The Glendower Group, LLC (the development affiliate of HANH) and 360 Management Group, Co., (the property management affiliate) responsible for administrative, programmatic and policy direction of the public housing, housing choice voucher program, finance and planning and development activities. Prior to assuming this role, Dr. DuBois-Walton served as the Chief Operating Officer for HANH.

Previously, she served as Chief of Staff for Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. in the City of New Haven, CT. Appointed to this role in August of 2004, Dr. DuBois-Walton was responsible for oversight of all city administrative and political affairs. Additionally, Dr. DuBois-Walton was responsible for all collaborative work with the city’s municipal and state legislative bodies.

Prior to promotion to Chief of Staff, she served as the Chief Administrative Officer for the City of New Haven from January 2002 to August 2004. As Chief Administrative Officer, Dr. DuBois-Walton served as the Mayor’s coordinator of public services including police, fire, public works/engineering, parks, recreation and trees, library and human resources. These departments made up the largest portion of non-education city services with a budget of over $80 million. In addition to coordinating activities of these departments, Dr. DuBois-Walton oversaw the city’s emergency planning initiatives.

A trained clinical psychologist, prior to assuming positions with the Housing Authority and the City of New Haven, she served in positions with the State of Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and Yale University Child Study Center. Dr. DuBois-Walton earned her BA from Yale University and MA and Ph.D. from Boston University.

Dr. DuBois-Walton resides in New Haven. She is the wife of Kevin Walton, Sr. and the mother of two sons. She co-leads the Community Leadership Program of the Graustein Memorial Fund. She co-founded Storytellers New Haven with her husband. She sits on several non-profit boards including the Melville Charitable Trust, CONNCORP, Inc., CT Association of Human Services, First City Fund Corporation, and the ACES Education Foundation. In 2014 Dr. DuBois-Walton was named one of The Network Journal’s “25 Most Influential Black Women in Business”. In 2011, 2013 and 2018 she was named one of the “100 Most Influential Blacks in Connecticut” by the CT State Conference of the NAACP. In 2015 she was awarded the Greater New Haven NAACP’s Community Service Award.

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Sarah Fabish

Sarah J. H. Fabish is the Vice President for Grantmaking and Strategy for the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. She currently manages the grant making process for The Foundation and its affiliate, The Valley Community Foundation.

She has served in the Foundation for over 30 years, with a particular emphasis on youth development and education. As such, she has developed a number of initiatives and collaborations, such as an Out of School Time Collaboration of CT Community Foundations and State Departments focused for two years on building the capacity of community foundations to support positive youth development and after school programming in their communities and encourage cross community learning. She was also primarily responsible for the development of an initiative funded by Wallace Funds to create a community of learners focused on promoting interactive learning opportunities for families where parents are supported as their child’s first teachers and the community as a classroom (PACK).

She provides program support to the Foundation’s Women and Girls Fund, which seeks to improve the quality of life for women and girls in the Foundations regions and the Quinnipiac River Fund that supports research and remediation of the Quinnipiac River.

She represents the Foundation on numerous youth development and education initiatives and endeavors, including serving on the City of New Haven’s Early Childhood Council and its Executive Committee.
She serves on the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative: a group of 14 funders in the state of Connecticut supporting strategies such as the Office of Early Childhood that improve the early education opportunities for children.

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Chrisanne Gayl

Chrisanne Gayl is an education leader with more than fifteen years of policy experience at the federal, state, and local levels. As Senior Director at Trust for Learning, Chrisanne oversees the organization’s investment portfolio and overall grant-making strategy. Chrisanne served as a Senior Advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, where she was responsible for developing new policies and programs to expand high-quality learning opportunities and supportive services for the nation’s children. She has also worked as the Director of Federal Programs for the National School Boards Association and as an education advisor to the governor of California. Chrisanne has testified in front of Congress and has authored numerous publications. She holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Georgetown University and received her undergraduate degree from Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

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Eliza Halsey

Eliza is the Executive Director of Elm City Montessori School. She was born and raised in New Haven and attended New Haven public schools. In 2011, she co-founded New Haven Parents, a parent group working to ensure all children in New Haven have access to excellent public schools and high-quality preschools. These efforts led her and a group of parents to create Elm City Montessori School. She has previous education and non-profit leadership experience as the New Haven Director for All Our Kin and the Director of Quality Assurance and Evaluation for Public Allies, a national leadership development organization whose Connecticut chapter she helped found. Eliza began her career in youth/leadership development at a small NGO in Kathmandu, Nepal and at Leadership, Education & Athletics in Partnership (LEAP) in New Haven. She currently serves as a member of the New Haven Early Childhood Council and of the City Transformation Plan Early Childhood Work Group. Eliza has a BA from Yale University and a Master’s in Public Administration from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
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Jennifer Heath

Jennifer Heath is the President and CEO of United Way of Greater New Haven (UWGNH). She assumed that position in July 2016, after serving the organization for the past 10 years as Executive Vice President and Vice President of Community Impact. During her tenure at UWGNH, Jennifer has been the key architect of the organization’s work in the community. She led volunteer teams and staff to identify community issues and design and implement collective solutions. She helped secured new and diversified revenue streams for the organization to support key impact strategies, including over $2 million annually in federal funds for regional Early Head Start programs. After being named as the incoming President and CEO in January 2016, Jennifer led the Board and senior staff in developing a new strategic plan for the organization.

Jennifer has an extensive background working in the non-profit sector. Prior to joining UWGNH, Jennifer was a non-profit consultant working with government, foundations, and not-for-profit organizations on strategic planning, grantwriting, and program development. Earlier in her career, Jennifer managed a national program based out of Yale University helping communities around the country create community schools. She also worked at CT Voices for Children, a statewide research and advocacy organization focused on improving children’s lives. She has experience in government, having managed school reform programs within the Maryland State Department of Education and worked at the US Department of Education on higher education issues. She has particular expertise in early childhood education and education policy, new program design and implementation, and group facilitation.

Jennifer has a Master in Public Affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University and a BA from Davidson College. A North Carolina native, she has lived in the New Haven area for more than 20 years. She served on the Hamden Board of Education for almost seven years, and is an active member of Spring Glen Church. She lives in Hamden with her husband, son, and stepson, and enjoys reading, hiking, playing the piano, and eating New Haven pizza, which is the best pizza anywhere.

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Sherri Killins Stewart Ed.D

In addition to serving as a Director for the BUILD initiative, Dr. Killins Stewart works an independent consultant. Her consulting clients have included BUILD, W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation, New Haven Public School System, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Ascend at the Aspen Institute, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, and Pearson Publishing.

At the BUILD Initiative, Dr. Killins Stewart works directly with state leaders to advance early childhood systems efforts in health, early learning, and family support. She leads work to define and create intentional practices regarding equity in early childhood systems, policy, and leadership within the work of the BUILD Initiative. Her equity work includes co-leading a network of early childhood leaders to advance racial equity. Dr. Killins Stewart has worked at multiple levels and in a variety of states and/or communities to create targeted action to benefit young children and their families, including Georgia, Arkansas, Mississippi, Michigan, South Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, New Haven, Connecticut, and Baltimore, Maryland.

Dr. Killins Stewart was the former Commissioner of Early Education and Care for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Vice President of Human Development and Operations at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and CEO of Empower New Haven.

Dr. Killins Stewart is known for crossing organizational boundaries to create a child development lens on the work of informal organizations as well as within state agencies, including public health and housing.

Throughout her career, Dr. Killins Stewart has been committed to supporting families, both children and adults, through the use of workforce, housing, health, and education strategies. Her efforts seek to increase access for families and communities to high-quality formal and informal opportunities in health, early learning, and family wellbeing.

Dr. Killins Stewart holds a nursing degree from the University of Pittsburgh, a Masters of Administrative Science from Johns Hopkins University, and a Doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of Sarasota.

Peg Oliveira Ph.D.

Dr. Peg Oliveira is the Executive Director of the Gesell Program in Early Childhood at the Yale Child Study Center. As a psychology undergraduate Dr. Oliveira worked in a Head Start site, an experience that set her on the path of researching and advocating for essential improvements in the early care and education system. Dr. Oliveira received her doctorate in Psychology from Brandeis University and has worked with state agencies, nonprofit advocacy coalitions and local initiatives on issues of affordable child care, fair pay and paid family leave. Currently, as Director at Gesell, Peg partners with schools and early childhood education providers to translate new research into an immediate positive impact on how educators see and teach children.

Dr. Oliveira is also a beloved yoga teacher in her hometown of New Haven, CT and founded a nonprofit yoga service organization called 108 Monkeys. In this role she trains clinicians, educators and yoga teachers in trauma informed mindfulness and yoga for use in outreach settings.

Peg writes for national publications and education texts. She has contributed chapters on mindfulness to published work, including the essay “Practicing Yoga. Practicing Justice” published in 2019 in the book Stories of School Yoga.

Dr. Oliveira participates in numerous community initiatives including serving on the Board of Directors of the Becket-Chimney Corners YMCA. She is married to an urban educator, and together they have two children, two decades apart.

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Jessica Powell, Ph.D.

Jessica Powell is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood and Elementary Education in the department of Curriculum and Learning at SCSU. She is the Early Childhood Education program coordinator and co-director of the Educational Justice Collective at Southern Connecticut State University. She has a bachelors in inclusive education, a masters in early childhood education, and a PhD in educational justice. Her research and work with pre-service teachers focuses on equity, culturally responsive teaching, and racial justice in education. Prior to becoming a professor, she worked as a first grade teacher and was a site coordinator for a Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School.

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Ellen Roche

Ellen joined Trust for Learning in 2018 after graduating from a Montessori preschool and with many years of experience working in and with schools, nonprofits, and foundations.

Prior to recent leadership roles at two strategy firms, Ellen taught music, English, and humanities and earned an M.Ed. from Harvard, where she focused on progressive, antiracist, and civic education and spent many afternoons in the archives exploring progressive school history. She’s been lucky enough to teach and develop curricula across age ranges (from toddlers to adults), settings (public, private, and charter) and approaches (from high-stakes to experiential), and is fascinated by the dynamic relationship between American schools, democracy, and culture. Outside of schools and classrooms, she has led workshops and talks around the country on racial equity, storytelling for social change, democratic communications, and the hidden histories of American progressive teachers. Most recently, over eight years as a strategist and researcher for progressive causes ranging from climate change to human rights, she became more and more oriented toward root-cause problems and structural solutions, focusing for the last three years as much as possible on racial equity efforts. Ellen is honored to continue learning from the Ideal Learning community and deeply committed to equity in early education as a critical investment both in children and are more just, democratic future.

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