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Our Team

W. Steven Barnett

Director of NIEER

As Principal Investigator, W. Steven Barnett has the ultimate leadership and oversight role for the operation of CEELO. He calls on his expansive knowledge of research and change efforts across fields to connect staff to critical research and reports on effective practices and systems. Steve is a Board of Governors Professor and Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University. His research includes studies of the economics of early care and education including costs and benefits, the long-term effects of preschool programs on children’s learning and development, and the distribution of educational opportunities. Dr. Barnett earned his Ph.D. in economics at the University of Michigan. He has authored or co-authored over 180 publications. Research interests include the economics of human development and practical policies for translating research findings into effective public investments. His best known works include: reviews of the research on long-term effects; benefit-cost analyses of the Perry Preschool and Abecedarian programs; randomized trials comparing alternative approaches to educating children including length of day, monolingual versus dual-language immersion, the Tools of the Mind curriculum; and, the series of State Preschool Yearbooks providing annual state-by-state analyses of progress in public pre-K.

Lori Connors-Tadros

CEELO Senior Project Director at NIEER

Lori leads the work of CEELO to provide technical assistance to build capacity of state education agencies to improve outcomes for children birth through third grade. She conducts research and facilities decision-making to ensure states develop evidence-based policy to support program quality, effective teaching, and developmentally appropriate learning. She collaborates with other technical assistance organizations to leverage expertise and resources in support of states’ goals. She previously held the position of Vice President of Children and Family Services at The Finance Project, directed federally funded technical assistance for state child care administrators, conducted research on family/community impact on children’s learning, worked at the state level to support inclusive settings for children with disabilities, and was a preschool special education teacher.

Jana Martella

CEELO Co-Project Director at EDC

Jana co-leads and supports all operations of the Center, including the development and execution of strategic and responsive technical assistance (TA), analysis and review of all products and publications, tailoring TA activities and materials for use by SEAs and RCs, and providing direct TA to multiple states. She brings more than thirty years of experience in education, including as a teacher and assistant school administrator, SEA legislative liaison and coordinator for federal programs. A central part of her focus has been on education system and program improvement through standards-based reform, including her work in promoting improved opportunities in early childhood education. She has worked on multiple initiatives designed to advance high quality in early childhood education and in child and adult care in the states.

Rolf Grafwallner

CEELO Sr Scientist and Program Director at CCSSO

Rolf Grafwallner is Program Director for Early Childhood Initiatives at the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in Washington, D.C. where he works with states to improve learning opportunities and outcomes for young children. Prior to joining the Council, Dr. Grafwallner worked on early childhood policy and school reform as an Assistant State Superintendent at the Maryland State Department of Education. He has been a teacher, program director and administrator prior to joining the Department. He will support CEELO with expertise on large scale early childhood assessments, governance, finance, and organizational leadership, as well as early education systems building.

James Squires

Senior Research Fellow, NIEER

Jim conducts research on national and state early education policy and practices, focusing on prekindergarten through third grade, and provides technical assistance to state leaders. He was formerly the early childhood programs coordinator at the Vermont Department of Education and past president of the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education. Jim has taught and directed programs in child care, Head Start, public schools, migrant education, and university lab schools, and served as adjunct faculty at the University of Vermont, Champlain College, and Community College of Vermont.

Diane Schilder

Senior Research Scientist, EDC

Diane Schilder is Senior Research Scientist at EDC. She brings more than 20 years of research and evaluation experience in child care, early education, and K–12 education programs and policies to her study of how those programs provide efficient and effective services. Schilder is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Salem State University, where she teaches research methods. She is a member of the Child Care Policy Research Consortium Steering Committee. Outside EDC, she consults to school districts on evaluation of elementary and secondary education interventions. She received a BA in communication from Ohio State University and an MA in education policy and an EdD from George Washington University.

Shannon Riley-Ayers

Associate Research Professor, NIEER

Through her work at NIEER and CEELO, Shannon writes, conducts research, and provides technical assistance on issues related to early language and literacy development, assessment, professional learning, and early childhood standards. Before joining NIEER, Shannon was co-director of the Office of Early Literacy at the New Jersey Department of Education and was instrumental in developing and implementing the New Jersey Early Literacy Initiative. She is a former college instructor for undergraduate and graduate pre-service teachers. She is a certified teacher and reading specialist, with several years of experience in public school classrooms.

Milagros Nores

Associate Director of Research, NIEER

Milagros Nores is Associate Director of Research at NIEER. She analyzes quantitative data from both NIEER research studies and additional large-scale data sets. Her expertise is in early childhood attainment, the economics of education, poverty, and international and comparative education. Milagros currently runs an early childhood study in Colombia and another study on parental-child educational practices for minority children in the U.S. She has a Ph.D. in Education and Economics from Columbia University and an Ed.M. in Educational Administration and Social Policy from Harvard University. She also consults for various organizations in education projects in Latin America and Asia.

GG Weisenfeld

Assistant Research Professor, NIEER

GG Weisenfeld works at NIEER on the Yearbook and preparing state pre-K reports and as an education consultant researching and offering technical assistance on designing and implementing early childhood policies and programs. Her research interests include early childhood system alignment and fiscal policies; leadership; and identifying and measuring quality indicators. She previously held the position of Hawaii’s Director of the Executive Office on Early Learning in the Office of the Governor, worked on state level birth to grade three alignment as the P-3 Director of Early Learning for Hawaii P-20, was a professor at the City University of New York, and was an Early Head Start/Head Start Director and preschool teacher. She earned her Masters from Bank Street College and Doctorate from Teachers College Columbia University.

Michelle Ruess

Assistant Director for Marketing & Communications, NIEER

Michelle is a former newspaper reporter and editor who has spent the past several years helping a range of nonprofit groups share messages and engage audiences. She is now helping CEELO communicate with State Education Agencies to improve early learning opportunities and outcomes for all children. Still thinking like a journalist, she enjoys helping dedicated teams create meaningful and effective messages. Her experience includes creating and implementing marketing plans in partnership with advancement and admissions directors at independent schools, supervising and implementing redesign of websites, writing articles for and editing newsletters and magazines, as well as free-lance writing and fund-raising. Michelle holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She has worked in newsrooms in New Jersey and around the country.

Melissa Dahlin

Research Associate, EDC

Melissa holds a number of responsibilities that span from technical assistance to operational support. She synthesizes and analyzes research to inform technical assistance responses, writes for CEELO publications, advises and participates in evaluation of the project, and oversees the CEELO Information Line and website. Previously, she worked on a number of projects at the national, state, and local level. Her experiences include technical training and assistance to support early childhood policy and practice, monitoring and evaluation, and classroom instruction. She holds an MA in International Educational Development from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Michelle Horowitz

Research Assistant, NIEER

Michelle Horowitz is a research assistant at the National Institute for Early Education Research and the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes. Michelle’s work includes field work for the New Jersey Pre-K study, social media outreach, and administrative support on CEELO and NIEER projects. Previously, Michelle has interned in the Office of the Governor in New Jersey. Michelle holds a B.A. in Political Science and History from Rutgers University.

Alicia Prescod

Program Associate, CCSSO

Alicia Prescod is a Program Associate on the Early Learning team at CCSSO. Alicia provides programmatic support as well as administrative support to the various Early Learning projects. Prior to the Council of Chief State School Officers Alicia worked in higher education as an academic advisor. Alicia holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications with an emphasis in Public Relations from California State University, Fullerton.

Preschool Development Grant (PDG) Technical Assistance Consultants

Lindy Buch

Lindy Buch retired in May 2014 after nearly 20 years as an early childhood specialist with the Michigan Department of Education. During that time, she served as director of early childhood education and family services, as well as the supervisor of school accountability and curriculum. Her specific responsibilities included overseeing the expansion and evaluation of the state prekindergarten program, early childhood special education, early intervention, parenting, family education and family literacy programs, the kindergarten entry assessment, early literacy, and out-of-school time programs K-12, as well as a number of state curriculum and accountability projects. Prior to joining the Department, Lindy served in higher education and as a preschool general and special education teacher and administrator. Lindy has been a leader of professional organizations throughout her career.

David Jacobson

David Jacobson works with states, districts, and communities to improve early education and care for low-income children and their families. He specializes in building effective Prenatal through Third Grade (P–3) systems with the aim of closing achievement gaps, addressing inequality, and building strong communities. David brings to this work extensive experience in early childhood education, school and district improvement, professional learning communities, and strategic planning. He was the Professional Excellence Director for Cambridge Education, overseeing Cambridge’s services in school improvement, school quality review, and educator effectiveness. He received a BA in History from Brown University, an MA in Philosophy from Brown University, and a PhD in Sociology from the University of Chicago.

Richard Kasmin

Richard Kasmin is a research project coordinator at the National Institute for Early Childhood Education (NIEER). His primary research responsibility is analysis of early childhood education finance. In that role, Richard is focused on understanding the methods by which states raise and distribute funding for early childhood education and implications for program development of different funding mechanisms. He is also heavily involved in the production of CEELO’s Cost Quality Tool and NIEER’s State of Preschool Yearbook. Prior to his work with NIEER, Richard spent 20 years as an economist and strategist in the financial sector, focused on macroeconomics and sovereign interest rate markets. Richard earned an M.A. in Economics from New York University and an M.B.A. from Cornell University. He is pursuing doctoral studies in Education Policy at Rutgers University.