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. Sherry co-chairs Governor Cuomo’s Early Childhood Advisory Council. She has worked in the field of early childhood education as a classroom teacher, a program administrator, and as both a faculty member and higher education administrator at Erie Community College, the University of Pittsburgh and now, CUNY. She has extensive experience in inner cities and rural communities. Sherry has served on several Boards of Directors and College Advisory Boards as well as presided over national and regional membership organizations.


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 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. Helen supervises Institute coaches and coordinates the Gender, Sexuality, and the Family workshops. She also manages a team of Pre-K assessment specialists who provide technical assistance and professional development on authentic assessment.


Leslie Capello, Director of 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 professional experience includes over 20 years of experience working with birth to five early care and education programs in Northern California and New York City in a range of leadership roles, including a classroom teacher. Leslie earned her Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education & Leadership from Mills College in Oakland, CA and is an adjunct lecturer at Borough Manhattan Community College in the Teacher Education Department.


Louisa Higgins, Director of New York Works for Children

Louisa Higgins is the Director of 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. She holds a B.S. in Child Development from Vanderbilt University, Peabody College and a M.A, from Columbia University.


Angelica L. Velazquez, Director of The Informal Family Childcare Project (IFCC)

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.


Claudine Campanelli, Director of Career Services and Higher Education

Claudine Campanelli, is the Director of Career Services and Higher Education at the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute. Claudine oversees the undergraduate and graduate early childhood programming at CUNY School of Professional Studies in partnership with the Institute. She also leads the Career Services team at the Institute supporting early childhood professionals in their pursuit to obtain qualifications and develop career skills to join the early childhood workforce throughout New York State. Prior to her work at the Institute, She has worked as an infant-toddler teacher, program coordinator, Director and opened new programs throughout the United States, England Australia and India. Claudine holds a degree in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology from Towson University, an MBA and Masters in Human Resources from St. Joseph’s College, holds an Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) Assistant to Infancy Diploma and is currently pursuing her Doctorate at Long Island University, C.W. Post Campus.


Hamish Strong, Web and Database Administrator

In his role as the Web and Database Administrator, Hamish builds public facing websites and data tools for the Professional Development Institute. Hamish has been working with QUALITYstarsNY since the beginning, building and maintaining the website, and consulting on QUALITYstarsNY data systems. He 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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