Featured Speakers

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Aaliyah Samuel
Dr. Aaliyah Samuel, a Fellow at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, is the Executive Vice President of Government Affairs & Partnerships at NWEA. Aaliyah is a bilingual executive leader with expertise from early childhood through higher education. Her experience includes program evaluation and evidence-based programs; data collection and disaggregation; family and community engagement support strategies; and policy development and implementation at the local, state, and national level. Aaliyah has informed state policy agendas, assisted with developing cross systems approaches to develop policy solutions to support children and families and leading systems-level change. In her current role at NWEA, she leads a team working on driving a state and federal education agenda. Prior to NWEA, Dr. Samuel was the Director of Education at the National Governors Association (NGA). While at NGA, Aaliyah’s work included business development, strategic planning, and supporting high-ranking state officials on the development of policies that impacted health, education, and workforce. Aaliyah has worked with diverse constituents, philanthropies, and national partners. Aaliyah holds an undergraduate degree from Tuskegee University, a Masters from University of South Florida, and a Specialist and Doctorate Degree from NOVA Southeastern.
Amber Jones
Amber Jones holds an M.Ed in Early Childhood Education Curriculum and Instruction and has been working in the field of early care and education for approximately 20 years. She is a certified Facilitator with WestEd’s Program for Infant/Toddler Care (PITC) and has spent over a decade integrating systems thinking concepts into child development professional development courses. Following her role as Lead Content Developer for Systems Thinking in Education for WestEd’s PD2GO online learning series, she founded Creating Connections Consulting Group, LLC (CCCG) in 2018. Since its inception, CCCG has partnered on early education projects with the University of Arizona, Pima Community College, the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, and various Head Start agencies across the state of Arizona.
Mrs. Jones has served on various nonprofit boards advocating for quality early learning for all children and is in her 11th year serving on the First Things First Pima North Regional Partnership Council. A mother of two young children, she spent 3 years representing Arizona alongside her husband, Travis, as a volunteer Parent Advocate with Child Care Aware of America. In this role, she and her husband have engaged with members of Congress to influence policy around access and affordability of high quality child care and preschool. Mrs. Jones is best known for her infectious smile, tenacious advocacy, and uncanny ability to motivate those around her to seek action on behalf of children and families.
Travis Jones
Travis Jones is a Senior Manager in Audit and Assurance at southern Arizona’s largest public accounting firm, Beach Fleischman PC. He holds two bachelor’s degrees, one in Accounting and another in Finance, a master’s degree in accountancy, and is a Certified Public Accountant and Certified Fraud Examiner in Tucson, Arizona. As an accountant, he has spent 14 years partnering with organizations to conduct financial audits across Arizona, Alaska, Texas, California, and Florida. While he’s best known by both clients and colleagues as someone who brings magic to excel sheets and data processing systems, he’s also known for his unwavering love of being a husband and father of two young children. To know Mr. Jones is to know his dedication to his family, his community, and his work. In addition to serving on a variety of nonprofit boards, Mr. Jones has spent 3 years representing Arizona at the US Capitol alongside his wife, Amber, as Parent Advocates with Child Care Aware of America. Mr. Jones has used his role as a business leader to influence national policy related to child care access and affordability. In recognition of his tremendous impact and leadership at his accounting firm, service on local nonprofit boards, and national parent advocacy work, he was recently the recipient of Tucson’s 40 Under 40 Award given by the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Daily Star.
Julie Montali
Julie Montali, PhD is the director of Early Childhood Education for Twin Rivers USD in Sacramento, CA and a psychologist of 25+ years. Julie has taught graduate courses in early childhood, special education, and teacher residency programs at various universities in New York and California. She is the co-author of several visual arts integrated curricula designed for young learners. Julie is committed to high quality early learning experiences with an emphasis on language, math and social-emotional development that connect to early elementary grades. Her current work in Twin Rivers involves collaborating with various departments and site leaders to fully integrate preschool programs into the PK-12 public school system.
Saras Chung
Dr. Saras Chung holds over two decades of experience in practice and research with children and adolescents in schools and youth development organizations. Her research focuses on the system dynamics of adolescent development and social emotional learning in schools. Dr. Chung has been published in both peer-reviewed and mainstream media, such as the American Journal of Community Psychology and HuffPost. She has been invited to give keynotes and plenaries on the topic of community engagement and the system dynamics of educational reform in national and international conferences. Dr. Chung’s advocacy and leadership for young people has been recognized by the Chris Harris Youth Advocacy Award from the Missouri State House of Representatives, the St. Louis Cortex Kineses Super Collaborator Award, and has been nominated for the 2020 LaunchCode’s Moonshot Challenge category. She has completed training and fellowships from the International Society for Child Indicators and the WashU Social System Design Lab and is an active member of the System Dynamics Society and the Society for Social Work Research. Dr. Chung holds doctorate and master’s degree in social work from Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work and Public Health and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has two teens who attend STL public schools and enjoys urban farming, running/yoga, and data analysis for fun.
Betsy Lin
Betsy Lin has been working in early childhood education for over 20 years. She began as a preschool teacher in Taiwan, and then taught in Iowa and Florida. She is currently an education program consultant at the Iowa Department of Education, focusing on preschool programs serving young children with disabilities. Her Master of Arts in Education degree (MAE) is in the area of early childhood special education. Betsy’s passion is to ensure all children with disabilities are served in high-quality, inclusive settings. In 2018-2019, Betsy was chosen to participate in the CEELO Leadership Academy, a learning opportunity designed to strengthen leadership and management competencies of individuals with responsibilities for early childhood education programs in state departments of education, early learning agencies, and other state early childhood education agencies. Since her time in the Leadership Academy, she has infused systems thinking not only in her own work, but also in facilitating learning with various groups and colleagues across the state.
Rhian Allvin
Rhian Evans Allvin serves as the chief executive officer of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), a position she has held since August 2013. She is responsible for guiding the organization’s strategic direction as well as overseeing daily operations. NAEYC is the largest national professional association for early childhood educators. Its mission is to promote high-quality early learning for all children, birth through age 8, by connecting practice, policy, and research. NAEYC advances a diverse and dynamic early childhood profession and supports all who care for, educate, and work on behalf of young children. During Rhian’s tenure, NAEYC has successfully completed a dramatic structural transformation to: better serve members nationally and at the state and local levels; exert strong policy and advocacy leadership; and streamline NAEYC’s early childhood program accreditation system to decisively and accessibly define early childhood program quality.
Before joining NAEYC, Evans Allvin was a guiding force in Arizona’s early childhood movement for more than 15 years. In 2006, she cowrote the citizens’ ballot initiative that created First Things First (FTF), which set aside $130 million in annual Arizona tobacco tax monies to support the health, development, and education of children birth to age 5. FTF also created a state agency to ensure that all Arizona children start kindergarten prepared to succeed in school and in life. Then-governor Janet Napolitano appointed Evans Allvin to FTF’s inaugural state board, on which she served for three years before becoming FTF’s chief executive officer. During her tenure, the organization led and participated in a variety of Arizona statewide early childhood systems-building efforts, including panels that adopted the Arizona Model Early Childhood System Framework; the development of FTF’s 10 School Readiness Indicators; the FTF National Research and Evaluation Advisory Panel; and the development and rollout of Quality First, Arizona’s quality rating and improvement system.
Earlier experiences also helped prepare Rhian for her role at NAEYC. As a founding partner in the Brecon Group, she specialized in public policy, philanthropy, and community engagement. As senior advancement officer at the Arizona Community Foundation, she used her knowledge in community organizing, communications, fundraising, and nonprofit management to help donors connect their philanthropic interests with community needs. Additionally, she served in leadership roles with Libraries for the Future, a national nonprofit promoting the important role of public libraries in American life, and Children’s Action Alliance, Arizona’s state-based child advocacy organization.
Rhian has authored a number of white papers, articles, policy briefs, and reports, and she regularly serves as a presenter for diverse international, national, state, and community conversations.
Rhian Evans Allvin holds a bachelor’s degree from Northern Arizona University and a master’s degree in business administration from Arizona State University. She has earned various honors and widespread recognition for her work on behalf of children, including being inducted into the Northern Arizona University College of Education Hall of Fame in 2016 and being given the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center’s Excellence in Early Education Award in 2015, the Southern Arizona AEYC’s Board Award in 2014, and the Junior League of Phoenix Valley’s Impact Award in 2011. Rhian is married to Paul Allvin, and they live in Falls Church, Virginia, with their three children.
Ann Terrell
Ann McClain Terrell is an early childhood education professional serving in local, state and national leadership capacities. She has held a variety of positions and roles over her career including teacher, center director and administrator, child care licensing specialist, school district early childhood education director and higher education faculty. Ann holds a Master of Science degree in Educational Leadership, a Master of Science degree in Cultural Foundations of Education, a Bachelor of Science degree in Education and an Associate Degree and Apprenticeship Certificate in Early Childhood Education. Ms. Terrell is the author of the recently published book, Graceful Leadership in Early Childhood Education.
Ms. Terrell is proud of her community service work and serves on several boards, councils and committees, currently including the Wisconsin Governor’s Early Childhood Advisory Council, the Milwaukee Early Childhood Education Partnership and the Cardinal Stritch University College of Educational Leadership Advisory Committee. Ann was recently elected President of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). She was appointed Chair of Governor Doyle’s 2004 Quality Counts Early Childhood Task Force, which led to the creation of YoungStar, the Wisconsin child care quality rating system. She is a mentor to new early childhood leaders locally and nationally.
For her career achievements and community service, Ann has received a number of recognitions and awards including, the Black Women’s Network Legacy of Leadership in Education Award; the NBCDI-Milwaukee Affiliate Early Childhood Recognition Award; the Community Braining Storming Conference Children’s Advocacy Award; the MATC Centennial Alumni Award in 2012 and in 2013 she was nominated for the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators Bert Grover Advocacy Award. In 2016 Ann was recognized as one of the most influential African Americans in Wisconsin and she received the 2018 MPS Foundation Legacy Alumni Award. She is the proud mother of two and grandmother to 5, all who bring much her much joy!
Katie King
Katie King is Director of Strategic Foresight Engagement at KnowledgeWorks. In her role, she manages strategic foresight projects and partnerships, co-designs and delivers workshops, and contributes to KnowledgeWorks’ publications about the future of learning. Katie has previously served as a consulting futurist for various nonprofit organizations and taught middle school English in Texas and California. Katie holds a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Southern California and a master’s in foresight from the University of Houston. She is a member of the Association of Professional Futurists and co-author of The Futures Thinking Playbook.
Jana Martella
Jana Martella is Senior Advisor at the Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), where she is a Technical Assistance (TA) lead and subject expert in the newly established Preschool Development Grant Birth-to-Five TA Center (PDG B-5 TA). For seven years, she co-directed the USED-sponsored Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO), overseeing the delivery of technical assistance and policy guidance to state education agency offices of early learning and worked with CEELO staff, partners, and experts to advance state early childhood systems. There she helped states: develop their comprehensive assessment systems; promote the use of data to improve program quality; increase the knowledge and skills of the early learning workforce; strengthen the alignment of P—3 educational policies and systems; and improve the coordination of resources and policies across statewide child and family serving systems. These efforts of the Center engaged her in multiple and diverse project management and leadership, training and capacity building for policy development, collaboration, and systems improvement. Ms. Martella is a frequent author, blog writer and commentator on early education and has been keynote speaker and presenter at national, state and community conferences. She serves on several boards and advisory committees, managing collaboratives, peer exchanges and academies, and providing support and leadership for a number of collective action efforts and networked improvement communities. As board member to HighScope she has helped steer largescale operations in early childhood. Prior to joining EDC, Martella was the executive director of the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS-SDE) providing leadership and support to states and organizations on early childhood initiatives.
Maria Romero
Maria Romero is Senior Manager of Strategic Foresight at KnowledgeWorks, where she supports the organization’s strategic foresight research, analysis, and writing on the future of learning. Maria has previously lead research and co-facilitated workshops for NASA’s Langley Research Center, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and the U.S. Forest Service. Maria holds a BS in Sociology from the Universidad Central de Venezuela, advanced studies in Communications from Universidad Católica Andrés Bello and an MS in Foresight from the University of Houston. She is a member of the Association of Professional Futurists and co-authored Beyond Genuine Stupidity and The Future Reinvented.
Bryan Stokes II
Bryan Stokes II is the Chief of Early Childhood Education for Chicago Public Schools. In this role, he leads the district’s work to build a universal preschool system that ensures that every child in Chicago is ready for school success. Prior to this role he served as the Vice President, Early Learning Programs at Illinois Action for Children, developing the agency’s early learning programs and strengthening community systems in the Cook County suburbs. Prior to joining Illinois Action for Children, Bryan worked in the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development to manage implementation of the state’s Preschool Development Grant, an $80 million federal investment in high-quality early learning across Illinois.
Bryan holds a Master’s degree in English Literature from Penn State. Originally from Detroit, Michigan, he came to Chicago as a Teach for America corps member in 2007. He is a member of the board of directors of the Highscope Educational Research Foundation, an organization built on the Perry Preschool Project that ensures that all children have a chance for lifelong success through research, curriculum and teacher training.
Marcia Zatarain
Marcia Zatarain has been working in the early childhood education field for the past 15 years. She began her work with systems thinking as a preschool teacher while working with Head Start. Here, she implemented and utilized systems thinking Habits and tools in the children's daily activities, while building a foundation for systems thinking that is currently being implemented in the younger grades. Her use of systems thinking tools has continuously provided high quality learning experiences focused on literacy skills and social-emotional development in children. She is the recipient of both the Nina Brannen Teaching Young Children Award (2012) and the Literacy Champion Award (2018). Currently, Marcia is the Site Director for Community Programs at Mesquite Elementary in the Vail School District where she continues to utilize and implement systems thinking. In this new leadership role, she has applied systems thinking in her work with colleagues, staff and children.
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