The Collaboration for Early Childhood uses an innovative model for decision-making. In addition to the Board of Directors, a Collaboration Council builds consensus on activities and the IGA Governing Board oversees agreements with the municipal taxing bodies.


Board of Directors

Board of Directors

Amy has been actively involved with children and education in Oak Park and River Forest for nearly 20 years, most recently serving on the Board of Education for Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200. Her professional experience includes practicing labor and employment law for several years before founding McCormack Schreiber Legal Search, a legal recruiting firm in Chicago.
Penny Wallingford is a program and policy-oriented financial professional, experienced in working with non-profit organizations. She is active in educational and civic matters, being a former member of the Financial Advisory Committee for OPRF, Citizen’s Council of OPRF, the Transitions Committee for the Oak Park Middle Schools, and the Oak Park Plan Commission. As a mother of three daughters, she personally understands the critical role of early childhood development.
Chris has been the PreK Implementation Advisor for Lead. Learn. Excel at the Ounce of Prevention Fund since 2014. He is a National Board Certified teacher who has worked as an early childhood educator in both public and private settings for over 15 years. He has also worked for 8 years as a Mentor Teacher for the Academy for Urban School Leadership, training new teachers for placement in classrooms serving at-risk populations. Chris holds an M. Ed. From the Erikson Institute, an M.A. in Theological Studies from The Claremont School of Theology, and B.A. in Religion from St. Olaf College.
Gordon is a business and commercial real estate lender at Community Bank of Oak Park River Forest. He has more than 20 years experience in community development and commercial banking in Oak Park. He is also an Oak Park Housing Authority Commissioner. In addition to his banking career, Gordon spent nine years with the U.S. Department of State as an American Diplomat in Bucharest, Moscow and New Delhi.
After 23 years in engineering research, Michelle decided to enter the teaching ranks and currently teaches IB Geometry, Accelerated Algebra 2 and AP Calculus at Morgan Park High School in Chicago. Since entering the education field, she has received a Master of Science degree in Education and Social Policy from Northwestern University. Michelle has an extensive record of service to Oak Park children, including serving on the Oak Park Elementary School District 97 School Board as Vice President and President. She is also co-founder of the Math Academy, an organization successful in increasing the number of African-American students in honors math at Oak Park and River Forest High School.
Susie is a psychiatric mental health clinical nurse specialist. Her research and clinical practice are focused on developing and delivering interventions to parents and young children to support and enhance social and emotional development.
Marcus is currently a doctoral candidate of Literacy, Language, and Culture at University of Illinois at Chicago. Within his broader interest in literacies and race, Croom’s research will continue to document teachers’ understandings of race and examine the influence these understandings may have on teacher efficacy, student identification, pedagogical reasoning, and teaching practices in literacy instruction.
Bernadette has been the executive director of ABC Toon Town since 1988. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration from DePaul University and a Master's degree in Education from National Louis University. Bernadette also has 20 years of corporate experience in HR/Employee Benefits.
Laura is a certified teacher who has taught in both independent and public school settings. She holds a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from the Erikson Institute and currently teaches first grade at The Children's School. She has served as a member of the planning committee for the Collaboration’s annual Symposium and was involved in the Strategic Planning Study for Oak Park Elementary School District 97.
Elizabeth serves as a Practice Manager at Advocate Health Care Children’s Hospital where she manages three health care sites, including the Pediatric Development Center which provides evaluation and treatment of children with developmental disabilities. Elizabeth was involved with the Collaboration from its founding. She is a former D97 Board member too. She, Carolyn and Eric were instrumental (from their perspective on the D97 board) in identifying the different levels of readiness of children arriving for kindergarten and saw the need for attention to early childhood education.
Gina is a pediatrician and assistant professor at Rush University Children’s Hospital. She has served on Rush’s Child Protection team for the past 7 years, providing guidance on cases of suspected child abuse and neglect. Gina has recently taken on the role of Director for Community Health for Pediatrics and has been working on building a maternal-child health initiative for Rush’s west side communities.
Jason has been a bookseller for 25 years. Since 2003, he has been the co-owner of The Book Table in Downtown Oak Park. The Book Table was recently named the best bookstore in Illinois by Real Simple Magazine and Yelp. Jason served for six years on the board of Housing Forward in various roles including President and Treasurer. He also served for 10 years on the Downtown Oak Park board in various roles including Vice President and Treasurer.
Carollina is a past Chair of the Collaboration. She served as the co-president of PTO Council for Oak Park Elementary School District 97 and co-chair of the Children's Services committee for the League of Women Voters of Oak Park/River Forest. As a first-generation American whose family qualified for free and reduced-price lunches, Carollina is a firm believer that high-quality learning experiences beginning at birth are key to success in life outcomes.
Becki worked as the director of a special education cooperative and then an assistant superintendent for Elk Grove School District 59. In that capacity, she worked closely with district leaders and teachers to ensure that students with disabilities could access curriculum and were appropriately supported across school settings.
Anne is a long-time communications and advocacy consultant, serving a range of Chicago-based nonprofits and foundations, including the maternal and early-childhood focused nonprofit HealthConnect One. Anne was Chief of Staff to Congressman Mike Thompson of California, and she worked in public affairs for The Pew Charitable Trusts and as a Senior Communications Officer for the University of Chicago. Anne holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the George Washington University and a Bachelor of Business Administration from the College of William and Mary. Anne is currently Senior Vice President at Salutem, A Daniel J. Edelman Company. She serves on Oak Park School District 97's Committee for Legislative Action, Intervention and Monitoring (CLAIM) and is a commissioner for the Village of Oak Park's Civic Involvement Commission. She is also on the board for the Community Media Workshop.
David is the founder and director of Farther Foundation, a charitable scholarship organization providing opportunities for low-income youth to participate in educational travel programs. Following a career in private business, he worked for Illinois Action for Children and was the program officer at the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, as well as board member of the Oak Park Community Chest/United Way.

Founders Board

A Founders Board was created in 2012 to offer institutional memory and guidance.

Founders Board

Eric is a businessman and attorney. He serves as the co-chair of Foundations for Success, the Collaboration's major gift fundraising campaign. He was the first chair of the Collaboration and previously served for eight years on the Oak Park Elementary School District 97 Board of Education, with three as the president.
Catherine retired as the executive director of the Oak Park River Forest Day Nursery in 2013, a position she held since 1989. She has more than 30 years of experience in the early childhood field and holds an undergraduate degree in Child Development and Family Relationships from Northern Illinois University, and a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Leadership and Advocacy from National Louis University.
Joan has directed the First United Church Nursery School for 33 years. Joan has served on the board of Chicago Metro AEYC, is a member of the NAEYC Community Collaboration Interest Forum, and is a former Collaboration president.

Collaboration Council

The Collaboration Council provides input and advice to the Board and the staff on all matters regarding the affairs of the Collaboration.

Collaboration Council Members

  • Amanda Heiman, Park District of Oak Park
  • Amy McCormack, Collaboration Board of Directors
  • Ann Courter, Community Member
  • Anne Warden, Collaboration Board of Directors
  • Becki Streit, Collaboration Board of Directors
  • Bernadette Hicks, ABC Toon Town, Collaboration Board of Directors
  • Bob Spatz, District 97 School Board
  • Carollina Song, Collaboration Board of Directors
  • Carolyn Newberry Schwartz, Collaboration Executive Director
  • Catherine Amato, Lurie Children's Health Partners
  • Catherine Hart, Collaboration Founder's Board
  • Chris Miller, Collaboration Board of Directors
  • Christine Li-Grining, Loyola University Chicago
  • Colette Lueck, Community Member
  • David Weindling, Farther Foundation, Collaboration Board of Directors
  • Debbie McCann, Community Member
  • Diana Rosenbrock, Consultant, Collaboration for Early Childhood
  • Elizabeth Lippitt, Collaboration Board of Directors
  • Emily Culbertson, Community Member
  • Eric Gershenson, Collaboration Founders Board
  • Erin Murchison, Collaboration Staff
  • Evangeline Leggin, Hephzibah Children's Association
  • Felicia Starks Turner, District 97
  • Francisca Contreras, Action for Children
  • Gail Shelton, New Moms
  • Gordon Hellwig, Collaboration Board of Directors
  • Holly Spurlock, District 97 School Board
  • Jackie Moore, District 200 School Board
  • Jennifer Cassell, District 200 School Board
  • Jennifer Little, Collaboration Parent Resource Coordinator
  • Joan White, First United Church Nursery School
  • Karen Boozell, District 90
  • Kathy Stohr, IL Governor's Office of Early Childhood Development
  • Keecia Broy, District 97 School Board
  • Kristin Raack, Consultant, Collaboration for Early Childhood
  • Laura Crawford, Consultant, Collaboration for Early Childhood
  • Laura Jordahl, Collaboration Board of Directors
  • Lenita Edgeworth, Easterseals
  • Linda Francis, Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation
  • Linda Horwitz, Fussy Baby Network
  • Liz Bethell, Child & Family Connections #7
  • Lori Pulliam, Oak Park Public Library
  • Melissa Ehmann, Child and Family Connections #7
  • Michele Suedbeck, District 97 ELSE Coordinator
  • Michelle Adams Harton, Collaboration Board of Directors
  • Michelle Howell, Easterseals
  • Molly Lowe, Community Member
  • Nathan Helsabeck, Community Member
  • Paul Carbery, Community Member
  • Paul Goyette, Community Member
  • Penny Wallingford, Collaboration Board of Directors
  • Rachel Rettberg, Wonder Works
  • Rachel Wood, Oak Leyden Developmental Center
  • Ralph Lee, Community Member
  • Ruth Martin, Pilgrim Community Nursery School
  • Sarah Valaika, Community Member
  • Shannon Ellison, Collaboration Developmental Screening Coordinator
  • Shelley Harris, Oak Park Public Library
  • Stephanie Malcom, Easterseals
  • Susie Breitenstein, Rush Univ. College of Nursing, Collaboration Board of Directors
  • Wendy Daniels, Consultant, Collaboration for Early Childhood
  • Wendy Epstein, Collaboration Grant and Contracts Manager

Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) Governing Board

IGA Members

  • Village of Oak Park
  • Oak Park River Forest High School District 200
  • Oak Park Elementary School District 97


Staff Members

Hired as the Collaboration’s first executive director in July 2009, Carolyn brings almost 30 years of experience working in the not-for-profit sector developing and administering programs for children and teens. She served on the Oak Park Elementary School District 97 Board of Education from 2001-2009 including 2 years as president where she distinguished herself as a leader in strategic planning and fiscal management. Carolyn helped to establish the Collaboration in 2002 and has served on the Illinois Early Learning Council since 2004.
Email Carolyn
Shannon joined the Collaboration in January 2014 as the Developmental Screening Coordinator. She brings 21 years of experience working with children and families. She has held the positions of child care teacher assistant, family service worker, Early Head Start infant and Head Start 3-5 year-old teacher, preschool site director, infant-toddler specialist (working with homeless families and children), Illinois and Indiana early intervention developmental therapist and Indiana early intervention developmental therapist parent advisor (working with families with children diagnosed as deaf or hard-of-hearing). She holds a Master in Early Childhood Leadership and Advocacy from National-Louis University.
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Wendy has 25 years of experience in non-profit fundraising, most recently as the Director of Grant Funding at the Oak Park River Forest IWS Children’s Clinic. She also served as the first Director of Development at West Suburban PADS (now Housing Forward) where she volunteers as a shelter meal provider. Wendy’s education credentials include an MA from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and a BA in Political Science and American Studies from Syracuse University.
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The Collaboration contracts with Tiffany Kelly to conduct hearing and vision screenings. Tiffany is a licensed Hearing and Vision Screening Technician. She has extensive experience screening preschool and school-aged children and has worked for the Chicago Department of Public Health and had contracted with the Illinois Department of Public Health to train other technicians.
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Jennifer joined the Collaboration in February 2017 as the Parent Resource Coordinator. She brings a mix of marketing and nonprofit experience to the position. Jennifer has worked at a boutique public relations firm in Chicago, taught English to adult students in Quito, Ecuador and prior to joining the Collaboration, she worked in Lake County, IL supporting early learning programs in underserved communities. She holds a BA in Advertising and Public Relations from Loyola University Chicago and speaks Spanish.
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A Texas native, Erin joined the Collaboration in May 2016 as the Office Administrator. She holds a BA from Hendrix College and a Master of Theological Studies from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Erin has spent much of her personal and professional time working with children and youth and is passionate about quality education for all learners.
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Hired in 2009, Diana has 43 years of professional experience in Early Childhood ranging from the young child's classroom to the college classroom and beyond. She retired as Chair of the Education Department at Triton Community College in June 2009. Over time, Diana has been a member of many state-wide and local early childhood committees, initiatives and boards. Most currently she is a steering committee member for PDAC (Illinois Professional Advisory Council); co-chairs the Family Child Care Credential Committee and Member of the Qualifications and Pathways committee of PDAC. Diana has a Master’s Degree in Education from Loyola University/Erikson Institute and maintains an Illinois Teacher License with an Early Childhood endorsement. She retired from working full-time at the Collaboration early in 2016.
Email Diana