Meet the Collaboration for Early Childhood Staff
The Collaboration for Early Childhood currently has a core team of seven full time staff members. We work in partnership with a variety of other agencies, consultants, and part-time staff members. Program committees help to steer our work. Without these partnerships, would not be able to do what we do.
John became the Collaboration’s Executive Director in October 2018. For almost 30 years, he has devoted his career to working on behalf of children and families in underserved communities, most recently with the National Center on Early Childhood Health and Wellness at the American Academy of Pediatrics. As Manager of Child Care and Education Initiatives, John oversaw educational content for a $34 million, five-year health education and resource development contract funded by the U.S. Administration for Children and Families (ACF). His leadership role on the national early childhood landscape followed more than a decade of similar grant-based work serving children and families on behalf of ACF and its programs.
Whitney joined the Collaboration in the summer of 2018 as a Community Ambassador. Prior to that she had been a stay at home mother for many years, and now brings a unique perspective both as a parent of two children, and as a preschool teacher here in Oak Park. As a Community Ambassador, Whitney is heavily involved in community outreach and leading our parent team, Families First. She also helps facilitate the Collaboration’s annual Parent Leadership Training. Additionally, she serves on the Family Advisory Committee for the Illinois Early Learning Council. Whitney holds a BA in Criminology and Sociology from Dominican University.
Director of Operations
Laura has been active with the Collaboration since she joined the Measurement & Evaluation Committee in 2013. She later came on as a consultant with the longitudinal data project, maintained the website and handled general communications. As the Director of Operations, Laura continues these activities and oversees the internal workings of the organization. Previously, she provided nonprofits and small businesses with technology assistance and was the Technology Manager at Ounce of Prevention. Laura was co-chair of District 97’s PTO Council, and was involved with the Irving Schoolyard Project and the South East Oak Park Community Organization.
Director of Early Learning & Equity Initiatives
Heather Duncan, NBCT, is a child development professor, consultant, trainer, coach and the Director of Early Learning at the Collaboration for Early Childhood in Oak Park, Illinois. She helmed her first classroom in Posen-Robbins School District 143 ½, then founded Ahadi Early Learning Center which she directed for 5 years before joining Chicago Public Schools as a preschool teacher. She is a 2015-17 America Achieves National Fellow, a 2016 Chicago Foundation for Education ARLI Research Fellow, a 2018-19 Teach Plus Early Childhood Fellow and winner of the 2018 Golden Apple For Excellence In Teaching Award. She holds a BA in English and MEd in Early Childhood Education from the University of Illinois, a certificate in Early Childhood Leadership from Erikson Institute and is currently pursuing a PhD in Organizational Leadership at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
Shannon T. Ellison
Manager of Health & Development
Shannon joined the Collaboration in January 2014 as the Developmental Screening Coordinator. She brings more than 20 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.
Azucena is a Community Ambassador for the Collaboration and a preschool teacher. She specializes in early childhood education and is responsible for teaching kids at an early age. Azucena facilitates the Parent Leadership Training and bimonthly Parent Circles hosted by Families First | La Familia Primero. When she lived in Mexico, Azucena taught people to read and write. She has also volunteered as a teaching assistant at her church. In the workplace, Azucena is a powerful force and uses her positive attitude and her bilingual communication skills to bring the community together. She is tireless in her efforts to encourage others to work and succeed. Azucena is inspired daily by her family. In her free time, Azucena likes to run, ride bikes, and read books with her kids.
Community Engagement Coordinator
Wendy has been involved with the Collaboration since she joined the Development Committee in 2019. She began her professional career as a paralegal, specializing in litigation and environmental law. After leaving the for-profit world, she volunteered for numerous leadership roles in her children’s’ schools and other community organizations, for which she was recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education’s Those Who Excel Program in 2013. Volunteering opened her eyes to the deep disparity in early childhood experiences that exist in our community and created a desire to help all families succeed in their child’s earliest years. She was also actively involved with Parenthesis Family Center and upon their merger with New Moms, was hired as Parent Education Coordinator. Wendy holds a BA in History and Political Science from The University of Michigan.
Sophie joined the Collaboration in the summer of 2020 as the Communications Coordinator. She brings a creative lens and a background in social media marketing to the role. Before joining the Collaboration, Sophie worked at the NYC Department of Education in the Office of Teacher Recruitment & Quality, where she supported on impactful messaging, teacher recruitment campaigns, and managed a resource website for current NYC public school teachers. She has also worked at an international exchange program on the campus of Oberlin College and as a Chicago tour guide. Sophie holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry from Boston University.
Hearing & Vision Screening Technician
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.
Manager of Family Engagement
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.
Zach joined the Collaboration in October 2019 as the Office Administrator. He brings a combination of customer service and nonprofit experience to the role. Before joining the Collaboration, Zach worked as an Assistant Rental Manager at Penske Truck Rental, where he managed the day-to-day operations of the branch office and ensured customer satisfaction for a large customer base. He also interned at the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum and Trajan’s Market, the Museum of Imperial Fora in Rome. In those roles, he supported the organizations through event planning, visitor engagement, and database management. Zach holds a BA in History and Religious Studies from Bradley University.
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We champion high-quality early childhood care and learning experiences and support for families so all children develop their full potential.