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.

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. M.P.A. is the Director of Research and Evaluation for the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute. She has worked as an independent early childhood research and policy consultant with numerous national, state, and local organizations, such as the BUILD Initiative, the Foundation for Child Development, the New York State’s Early Childhood Advisory Council, the New York City Administration for Children's Services. 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, 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.

Leslie Capello, Director of QUALITYstarsNY, QUALITYstarsNY

Leslie Capello was appointed director of QUALITYstarsNY in 2018 after serving as the deputy director of early childhood for Children’s Aid Society in New York City. Prior to her work at Children’s Aid, Leslie served as the Early Head Start director at Grand Street Settlement and as the Early Head Start education director at Educational Alliance. Leslie’s background also includes more than 20 years of experience working with birth to five early care and education programs in California in a range of leadership roles, including being a classroom teacher.

Louisa Higgins, Director, NYWFC, 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, IFCC, 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, Director, Career Development, 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 and 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.

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