Who We Are

The New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute (PDI) is a public-private partnership that brings together a range of city agencies, a consortium of private funders, and the nation's largest urban university to build a comprehensive system of professional development for individuals who work with young children in New York.

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Sherry Cleary, Executive Director

Sherry M. Cleary is the Executive Director of the New York City Early Childhood Professional Development Institute, which is housed at the City University of New York. She leads the work of a dynamic, intelligent, and passionate team dedicated to building essential systems to insure a highly effective early childhood workforce for the state of New York, to guarantee that young children have access to excellence. Some hallmarks of the vision and leadership that Sherry has brought to New York include collaborative efforts to create New York Works for Children (New York’s early childhood workforce development system), a new competency-based Core Body of Knowledge, Early Learning Guidelines (Birth to Age 5), the completion of the NYS Trainer Credential, ASPIRE – NYS’ workforce registry, and oversight for the implementation of New York’s quality rating and improvement system, QUALITYstarsNY. She co-chairs the Governor’s Early Childhood Advisory Council, for the state of New York, and co-chairs its Work Force Work Group. She is also the President-Elect of the New York State Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators (NYSAECTE) and has presided over the group in the past. Most recently, Sherry was named to Mayor de Blasio’s 6-member Early Childhood Working Group, initially charged with building the model to be used for a Universal Pre-kindergarten implementation in New York City.


Dona Anderson, Deputy Executive Director

Dona Anderson is the Deputy Director at the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute, where she is responsible for programmatic and operational oversight, as well as communications. She coordinates the Institute’s internal data collection and evaluation efforts and represents the Institute at community and university events.

Prior to her work at the Institute, she was the Director at the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness, where she led a team of researchers in exploring the impacts of poverty and homelessness on children, students, and families in New York City and across the United States. She also supervised early childhood care and education programs, after school programs, residential summer camps, and a family support program as the Director of Programs and Development at Homes for the Homeless, a homeless services provider. Dona has presented at national conferences and co-authored a variety of public policy reports on the topics of child poverty, homelessness, early childhood, and trauma. She holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and a bachelor’s degree from Claremont McKenna College.


Kate Tarrant, Director of Research and Evaluation

Kate Tarrant, Ed.D. is an independent early childhood research and policy consultant whose clients include the BUILD Initiative, New York State’s Early Childhood Advisory Council, AIR, and other national, state, and local organizations. She co-authored a book on the early care and education workforce, co-edited a volume on early childhood transitions and alignment, and written numerous book chapters, reports, and journal articles. Her work focuses on comprehensive early childhood systems, workforce development, and quality improvement policy. Tarrant earned a doctorate in education from Teachers College, Columbia University and an M.P.A. from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.


Helen Frazier, Director of Early Childhood

Helen Frazier has worked in early childhood education as a preschool and kindergarten teacher, a special educator, a consultant and a coach since 1998. She received her Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Special Education from Bank Street College of Education. Most recently, Helen has worked as a Master Teacher at SCO FirstStepNYC, the birth-to-five demonstration site for the Early Childhood Leadership Institute. Helen joined the Institute in February 2015. Her work has focused on collaborating with the Division of Early Childhood Education to design content, train trainers, and lead coaching for of the PreKforAll professional learning lane: Using Data to Inform Instruction.


Dana Benzo, Co-Director, Career Development Services Center

Dana Benzo has spent over twenty years working in early childhood education with children, families, and educators. She began her career as a classroom teacher and then a director. For the past nine years, Dana has worked in higher education as an adjunct professor and student teaching supervisor for CUNY's City College of New York Center for Worker Education (CWE) and School of Professional Studies as well as a staff developer and instructor at Bank Street College of Education. Dana joined the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute in March 2010. Her work has focused on the creation of the credit-bearing CDA Certificate and coordination of the Children’s Program Administrator Credential (CPAC) for the CUNY School of Professional Studies, quality improvement initiatives serving the birth – Grade 3 population in both child care and public school sectors, as well as multiple projects for the city and state of New York dedicated to professional development initiatives related to teacher training, leadership, and workforce development. Dana holds a BS in Elementary Education from SUNY Oneonta, a MS in Early Childhood Education from Queens College and an Ed.M. – Advanced in Leadership for Educational Change from Bank Street College of Education. She also holds permanent licenses in NYS as a Teacher Birth – Grade 6 and School Administrator/ Supervisor (SAS), as well as NYS Early Learning Trainer Credential – Level 3.


Ariel Davis, Director, QUALITYstarsNY

Ariel Davis is the Project Coordinator for QUALITYstarsNY and manages various aspects of the project's statewide implementation, including overseeing the completion of major deliverables, building partnerships across state and local entities, and maintaining accountability and fiscal oversight to key stakeholders. Dedicated to building lasting systems that provide children with access to high quality education, Ariel applies her leadership, strategic thinking and project management skills to the opportunities and challenges of the work. Ariel has worked on the QUALITYstarsNY project since 2012. She received a B.A. in American Studies and a M.A. in Education Studies with a concentration in Program Evaluation from Tufts University. She is also pursuing graduate coursework in Public Administration at CUNY's Baruch College.


Louisa Higgins, Director, New York Works for Children

Louisa Higgins is the coordinator for New York Works for Children (NYWFC), the state's integrated professional development system for the early childhood and school age workforce, which houses The Aspire Registry. Louisa began her career as a teacher in a Head Start program and went on to work as a mental health consultant in pre-k classrooms before transitioning into policy support and systems building.


Angelica L. Velazquez, Director, Informal Family Child Care Project

Angelica L. Velazquez has worked for 20 years as an educator, program manager and trainer. In her current capacity as Project Coordinator for the Informal Family Child Care Project (IFCC) at the NY Early Childhood Professional Development Institute (PDI), she oversees a dynamic professional development program serving home-based child care providers throughout New York City. She is passionate about empowering and building the capacity of families, caregivers, communities and other stakeholders to improve outcomes for children. She holds a B.A. in Elementary Education from Antioch College and a M.S. in Urban Affairs from Hunter College at The City University of New York.


Raedell Wallace, Co-Director, Career Development Services Center

Raedell M. Wallace, M.A., is the Project Coordinator of the Career Development Service Center at the NY Early Childhood Professional Development Institute. In this capacity she manages several projects designed to support the career development needs of New York’s early childhood workforce – serving individuals currently in the field, as well as those aspiring to a career working with young children.


Hamish Strong, Web & Database Administrator

In his role as the Web and Database Administrator, Hamish builds public facing websites and tools for the the various Institue initiatves as well as web-based data systems for tracking and reporting on program work. Hamish earned a BA in Sociology from Bard College, along with the Max Weber Award in Sociology. After graduating, he joined the NYC Teaching Fellows and earned a MSEd in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and taught elementary-level ESL for two years.