Leadership Logo copyThe CEELO Leadership Academy is designed to strengthen leadership and management competencies of individuals with responsibilities for early childhood education programs in state departments of education (SEAs), early learning agencies and other state early childhood education agencies. The Academy will introduce concepts of leadership development tailored to state early education administrators designed to build SEA leadership and management capacity to advance state agency visions for early childhood education and partner with state leaders and organizations to build a more unified, equitable, and efficient state birth through third grade early childhood system. The yearlong CEELO Leadership Academy includes four in-person sessions, interim online learning opportunities, and intensive coaching for each fellow.

CEELO Leadership Professional Learning Community-Final Report – read this summary of activities and findings from a professional learning community (PLC) to support leadership development among newly appointed, high-level leaders of early education in state education agencies.

Examine the results of the first three years of the academy by reading CEELO Leadership Academy: A Retrospective Review After Three Years of Implementation, or read A Summary of the CEELO Leadership Academy Retrospective Study.



  • Orientation Webinar for Fellows – WED- April 4 – 3-4:30
  • May 1-3, 2018 – Washington, DC
    • Interim Webinars – Tune into Roundtable Webinars/Recordings
  • June 6-8, 2018 – CEELO’s Annual Roundtable, Austin, TX
    • Interim Webinar – TH, June 28 – 3:00-5:00 Eastern
  • August 7-9 2018 – Washington, DC
    • Interim Webinar – TH, Sept 20 – 3:00-5:00 Eastern
    • Interim Webinar – TH, Oct 18 – 3:00-5:00 Eastern
  • November 6-8, 2018 – Washington, DC
    • Interim Webinar – TH, December 6 – 3:00-5:00 Eastern
  • January 8-10, 2019 – Washington, DC
  • March-May 2019 – In-state site visits planned with coaches

2018-19 FellowsCoachesAgendas | MaterialsLeadership Resources

Betsy Lin, Iowa

Betsy Lin joined the Iowa Department of Education in 2012 as an Early Childhood Special Education Program Consultant. Her primary role is to lead professional learning and coaching as part of Iowa’s State Personnel Development Grant with a focus on improving preschool teachers’ ability to provide specially designed instruction to young children with disabilities. Her responsibilities include leading a state leadership team in designing and implementing professional learning, supporting high-quality preschool programs through the monitoring of Iowa Quality Preschool Program Standards, and monitoring IDEA compliance. Before joining the Iowa Dept. of Education, Betsy was an early childhood special education teacher for 13 years in various states and overseas.

  • MEd, University of Northern Iowa, Early Childhood Special Education
  • BA, Central College, Pella, Iowa, Elementary Education and French


Cyndi La Marca Lessner, Maryland

Cyndi La Marca Lessner is the Collaboration and Program Improvement Branch Chief at the Maryland State Department of Education, Division of Early Childhood Development. Her responsibilities include overseeing the State Early Childhood Advisory Council which involves strategic planning and coordination of statewide 0-8 initiatives and policies that support young children’s learning and development. Cyndi also provides oversight for several grants. The Collaboration and Program Improvement Branch is also the Head Start Collaboration Office for Maryland. Prior to joining the Maryland State Department of Education, Cyndi worked for Head Start for 14 years in various positions including teacher, program director, and Mental Health Disabilities Coordinator.

  • MSEd, Johns Hopkins University, Special Education/Early Childhood Development
  • BA, Arizona State University, Psychology


Darlene Estes-Del Re, Tennessee

Darlene Estes-Del Re is the Executive Director of the Office of Early Learning at the Tennessee State Department of Education, leading efforts to build and sustain high quality early learning across programs in the birth to 8 space. Last year, she served as the director of Professional Development . Before coming to the State Department of Education, Darlene directed and taught children ages 2.5 to 6 for over 16 years. She began her teaching career as a public kindergarten teacher in Metro Nashville Schools. Darlene served as a Montessori Teacher Trainer at Belmont University for 9 years and has served as online Adjunct Faculty for Champlain College of Vermont and Pacific Oaks College of California preparing pre-service early childhood teachers and leaders.

  • PhD, Walden University, Early Childhood
  • MS, Kaplan University, Administration & Leadership in Higher Education
  • MEd, Trevecca Nazarene College, Curriculum & Instructional Effectiveness Prek-12


Jacquie Porter, Texas

Jacquie Porter is the Statewide Director of Early Childhood for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) where she is focused on implementing initiatives committed to technical assistance, public and private partnerships between child care centers and school districts/charter schools and family engagement. Prior to her current position at the agency, Jacquie served as the Director of Early Childhood for the Austin Independent School District for 9 ½ years. She has taught Prekindergarten, Multi-age prekindergarten/kindergarten, Kindergarten Readiness, Kindergarten and First Grade. Jacquie has also served Austin ISD as a Primary Literacy Specialist and led the Response to Intervention (RTI) program. As the Statewide Director of Early Childhood, Jacquie enjoys working with the wonderfully talented and dedicated early childhood teachers across the state and the incredible advocates for young children in Texas.

  • MA, University of Texas, Austin, Education
  • BEd, Hardin Simmons University, Education


Nasha Patel, Louisiana

Nasha Patel is the Accountability Senior Manager in the Office of Early Childhood at the Louisiana Department of Education. Her work focuses on building, implementing, and improving the state’s unified early childhood quality rating and improvement system, and supporting families to make informed choices about care and education for their children. She also serves as the manager for the Preschool Expansion Grant for Louisiana. She has been working in the Office of Early Childhood since 2014. Previously, she held other roles in the department related to K-12 policy, implementation, and district support. She received her B.A. from Barnard College, and her M.Ed. in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

  • MEd, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Education Policy and Management
  • BA, Barnard College, Classics (Latin), with a concentration in education and High School Latin Teaching Certification


Nicole Madore, Maine

Nicole Madore joined the Maine Department of Education in February, 2016. She is the Early Childhood Monitor and a member of the Early Childhood Team. Her roles and responsibilities at the department include traveling the state of Maine to monitor and review public preschool programs, oversee applications for new programs, review annual preschool reports and provide technical assistance for preschool classroom teachers. She has her Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire and a Masters of Education in Elementary Education from Thomas College in Maine. Prior to this role, she worked as a Special Education Teacher for 3-5 year olds under Part B 619.

  • MEd, Thomas College, Elementary Education
  • BS, Plymouth State University, Early Childhood Education


Nicole Wilson, Georgia

Nicole Wilson is currently the Infant Toddler Manager for the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL). She manages a team of Infant Toddler Specialists who provide technical assistance and training to providers across the state, which includes overseeing an initiative focused on Early Language and Literacy Classroom Grants. Prior to joining DECAL in 2016, she served as the Early Intervention Coordinator for the Babies Can’t Wait program in Clayton County, GA, among other positions in early intervention. She is a certified special education teacher, having taught K-3 children with mild intellectual disabilities, and has experience working in early childhood education classrooms.

  • MA, University of Delaware, School Psychology
  • BA, University of Virginia, Psychology and Linguistics


Robin Wilkins, New Jersey

Robin Wilkins began her early education career in Head Start. Previously, Robin served in numerous positions at Teaching Strategies, including Director of Professional Development. She has been with the New Jersey Department of Education’s Division of Early Childhood Education and Family Engagement for over 10 years and currently serves as Acting Manager. Her current responsibilities include coordination of the Division’s Preschool through Third Grade projects. She has played an integral role as part of the leadership team for Grow NJ Kids, the State’s QRIS, developing program quality standards and strategic planning. She has been involved in numerous statewide professional development activities and policy initiatives.

  • MPH, University of Medicine & Dentistry, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Public Health
  • BA, Pennsylvania State University, Psychology


Sara Mickelson, Oregon

Sara Mickelson joined the Oregon Early Learning Division in 2018. Her policy purview includes Oregon’s early care and education workforce and the state professional development system, as well as preschool policy. Prior to joining the Division, she led early learning policy work at the Bainum Family Foundation and provided technical assistance to states in developing early learning policy at the National Governors Association. She also managed Rhode Island’s birth-to-five workforce systems work under the state’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Grant. She began her career as a Head Start/Pre-Kindergarten teacher in Houston.

  • MA, Brown University, Urban Education Policy
  • BA, University of Minnesota, English Literature and Philosophy: Ethics and Civic Life


Tara Huls, Florida

Tara Huls leads Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program, Policy, and Accountability efforts. She leads a statewide team in order to assist and support coalitions, school districts, directors, teachers, and other stakeholders. She is an expert in creating stakeholder buy in, tying initiatives to funding and statutory support, and developing and maintaining systems. Her background includes both education and experience working with children and families who are speakers of many languages, Migrant, and in university settings as well as informal education. She maintains current content knowledge in many areas of early childhood, and has also extensively studied the Reggio Emilia approach.

  • PhD, Curriculum and Instruction: Early Childhood Education; Cognate – Teacher Education, University of South Florida
  • MS, Early Childhood Education, University of Nebraska – Lincoln
  • BS, Human Development Child and Family Studies, Concentration: Child Development ,South Dakota State University

Rolf Grafwallner, CEELO Senior Scientist and Program Director at the Council of Chief State School (CCSSO) Rolf 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 supports CEELO with expertise on large scale early childhood assessments, governance, finance, and organizational leadership, as well as early education systems building.

  • Ph.D., University of Maryland, Education Policy, Planning and Administration
  • M.A., Millersville University (PA), Early Childhood and Elementary Education
  • M.A., University of Munich (Germany), Political Science

Jim Lesko, Project Manager, Preschool Development Grants Program (PDG); AEM Corporation. Jim works as a project manager and TA Expert for federal technical assistance contracts within the Education Division, AEM Corporation including PDG, RTT-Early Learning Challenge TA and Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy. Prior to joining AEM, Jim was the director, early development and learning office in the Delaware Department of Education. His specific responsibilities included overseeing the state prekindergarten program, early childhood special education, home visiting, professional development office, Head Start Collaboration, and quality rating and improvement program. In addition to his TA and SEA work, Jim is involved in providing professional development to a cohort of European and Middle Eastern countries on the topic of inclusion of children with disabilities. Education:

  • Ed.D., University of Delaware, Educational Leadership and Policy
  • M.Ed., University of Washington, Early Childhood Special Education
  • B.A., William Paterson University, Elementary and Special Education

Penny Milburn is a consultant to NIEER and CEELO, and was an Early Childhood Specialist at the Iowa Department of Education, where she oversaw the development, implementation and evaluation of the state’s universal preschool program. Her work guided policy, professional development, family education, literacy, assessment, and kindergarten entry assessment. She facilitated a technical assistance network of early childhood and early childhood special education professionals from across the state. Prior to her position at the Iowa Department of Education, Penny worked as a specialist for Iowa State University Extension, an adjunct professor, group home administrator and coordinator for individuals with disabilities, child care provider, teacher, and an Area Education Agency early childhood specialist. She taught early childhood special and general education for more than 20 years.

  • M. S., Iowa State University, Child Development, Early Childhood Special Education
  • B. S., Iowa State University, Child Development

Jim Squires, Senior Research Fellow (National Institute for Early Education)/Senior TA Fellow (Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes) 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. Education:

  • Ph.D., Child Development and Public Policy, The Union Institute
  • M.S., Child and Family Development. University of Georgia
  • B.A., Psychology, Lake Forest College

All Leadership Academy in person and online meetings use a Desired Results Action Agenda – click on the link to download a template in MSword.

January 8-10, 2019 – Washington, DC

The 5th and final face-to-face meeting of the cohort is focused on the fellows’ job-embedded projects and learning reports.

December 6, 2018 – Interim Webinar

  • Webinar Slides

November 6-8, 2018 – Washington, DC

The 4th meeting of the cohort focused on strategic communications.  Expertise and tools were provided by Advocacy and Communications Solutions. Tools and presentations provided are included below.  Additional useful information can be found on their tools and resources page.

August 7-9, 2018 – Washington, DC

The 3rd meeting of the cohort focused on results based leadership.  Expertise and tools were provided by Annie E. Casey Foundation Results Count consultants. Tools and presentations provided are included below.  Additional useful information on results based leadership can be found on Clear Impact’s Results Based Accountability Resource Library.

June 28, 2018 – Interim Webinar

June 6-8, 2018 – Austin, TX

The 2nd meeting of the cohort was held in conjunction with the Annual Roundtable of CEELO and NAECS-SDE.  All materials for the meeting can be found on the 2018 Roundtable Agenda and Materials site.

May 1-3, 2018 – Washington, DC

The 1st meeting of the cohort focused on systems thinking .  Expertise and tools were provided by the Waters Foundation. Tools and presentations provided are included below.  Additional useful information can be found on the Waters Foundation’s Systems Thinking Tools and Strategies page .

April 4, 2018 – Interim Webinar

Preliminary Materials


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