Our Team


PAULA JORDE BLOOM, PhD | Founder, McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership | P 847.947.5055 | Read Bio

TERI TALAN, EdD, JD | Interim Executive Director and Director of Policy Initiatives | P 847.947.5060 | Read Bio

MICHAEL ABEL, PhD | Director of Research and Evaluation | P 847.947.5312

JILL BELLA, EdD | Director of Quality Support | P 847.947.5059 | Read Bio

SAFIYAH JACKSON, MBA, MEd | Director of Training | P 847.947.5056 | Read Bio

MARIE MASTERSON, PhD | Director of Quality Assessment | P 847.947.5109 | Read Bio


BROOKE ALEXANDER | Assessor and Training Specialist | P 847.947.5459

KERI ANDERSON | Assessor and Training Specialist

JULIETA ALONSO | Administrative Technology Associate

GIOVANNI ARROYO |  Media Specialist | P 847.947.5149

MARLEEN BARRETT |  Training and Events Coordinator | P 847.947.5267

LINDA BUTKOVICH | Assessment Certification Specialist | P 847.947.5072

MELISSA CASTEEL | Quality Training Specialist | P 847.947.5483

PAMELA COSTAKIS | Assessment Specialist Manager | P 847.947.5212

SONJA CRUM-KNIGHT | Assessment Coordinator

LUIS DIAZ | Administrative Technology Associate  | P 847.947.5026

MICHELE DENTON | Assessor and Training Specialist

LINDSEY ENGELHARDT | Marketing Coordinator and Graphic Designer | P 847.947.5222

LESLIE GILBERT | Leadership Specialist Trainer

FLORA GOMEZ | Assessor and Training Specialist | P 847.947.5847

KATHRYN GRAVER | Aim4Excellence™ Project Supervisor | P 847.947.5315

WENDY GUERRERO | Assessor and Training Specialist

AMNA HASAN | Administrative Assistant | P 847.947.5277

SARAH HASANExceleRate Office Manager | P 847.947.5221

CATIE HEIN | Quality Assessment Manager | P 847.947.5133

ANGELA HENDRICKS | Assessor and Training Specialist

KIA HILL | Assessor and Training Specialist | P 847.947.5321

JESSICA HOLMES | Assessor and Training Specialist

TARAH KADZIELAWSKI | e-Learning Manager | P 312.261.3257

ROBYN KELTON | Training and Technical Assistance Specialist

HEATHER KNAPP | Research Associate

SHARON LEWIS | Assessor and Training Specialist | P 847.947.5264

EVELYN MANCILLA |Quality Specialist Trainer

JAMI McCORMACK | Assessment Coordinator | P 847.947.5324

CARA MURDOCH | Assessor and Training Specialist

EWA PYREK | Administrative Assistant | P 847.947.5195

KATHY RADICE | Assessor and Training Specialist | P 312.261.3012

CATHERINE RADER | Assessor and Training Specialist

SHERRY ROCHA | Assessor and Training Specialist | P 847.947.5607

LORENA RODRIGUEZ | Administrative Technology Associate | P 847.947.5054

KATHY E. ROUSSEAU | Administrative Assistant | P 847.947.5063

PAULA STEFFEN | Assessor and Training Specialist | P 847.947.5136

BARBARA VOLPE | Quality Specialist Coordinator | P 847.947.5132

KATHLEEN WILDMAN | Business Analyst | P 847.947.5148

MIGDALIA YOUNG | Assessment Coordinator  | P 847.947.5031

Paula Jorde Bloom holds a joint appointment as the Michael W. Louis Endowed Chair of the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership and Professor in the Department of Early Childhood Education at National Louis University. She received her masters and doctorate from Stanford University. Dr. Bloom has taught preschool and kindergarten, designed and directed a child care center, and served as administrator of a campus laboratory school. She is a frequent keynote speaker at state, national, and international early childhood conferences and serves as consultant to professional organizations and state agencies. Paula is the author of numerous journal articles and several widely read books including Avoiding Burnout, A Great Place to Work, Living and Learning with Children, Blueprint for Action, Circle of Influence, Workshop Essentials, Making the Most of Meetings, and Leadership in Action. Her latest book is From the Inside Out: The Power of Reflection and Self-Awareness.


Dr. Jill Bella, is Director of Quality Supports. In this role, she conducts research, training, and consultation for state initiatives on the Early Childhood Work Environment Survey and the Program Administration Scale (PAS). Jill is a national reliability anchor for the PAS and the Business Administration for Family Child Care (BAS). She holds a doctorate degree in adult education from National Louis University. She has both a master’s degree in special education and a bachelor’s degree in child development from the University of Illinois. She has experience teaching at several child care centers and working at a children’s hospital as an early intervention specialist, researcher, and trainer. Her interests include organizational climate, advocacy for the workforce, systems thinking, and early childhood leadership. She is a national and international presenter and co-author of A Great Place to Work and Inspiring Peak Performance.

Marie Masterson, Ph.D. is a national speaker, child behavior expert, researcher, and educational consultant to professional organizations and state agencies. She is the author of numerous articles that focus on strength-based, respectful practices that nurture resilience and promote high-quality early care and education, and author of101 Principles for Positive Guidance with Young Children: Creating Responsive Teachers and Enjoying the Parenting Roller Coaster: Nurturing and Empowering Your Children through the Ups and Downs. Two books in press address best practices in family child care. Dr. Masterson is former early childhood specialist for the Virginia Department of Education, university professor in early childhood education, and a Fulbright Specialist. She is an advocate for the human rights of children and serves on the national board of the U.S. Alliance to End the Hitting of Children.

Safiyah Jackson, Director of Training, is responsible for building relationships with program administrators, home providers, and early childhood leaders. She manages a portfolio of leadership development programs, quality improvement, and change management trainings. Safiyah develops strategic partnerships to build a cadre of professionals who foster high-quality early childhood program administration practices. She has experience managing organizational growth, non-profit boards, and consulting projects. She is an advocate for building learning organizations and her passion for learning environments is central to her work. Safiyah obtained an MBA from Florida A&M University, an M.Ed. from National Louis University, and a current student in NLU’s School Psychology program. When she isn’t training, consulting, or supporting directors, Safiyah is active in Chicago’s theatre community, practices yoga, and advocates for early literacy.

Kara Lehnhardt is Director of Technology Initiatives at the McCormick Center. In her role she oversees the McCormick Center’s online professional development initiatives, including the Aim4Excellence™ National Director Credential. She also orchestrates the McCormick Center’s technology trainings and e-marketing efforts. Prior to joining the Center, she served as Assistant Director for a child care resource and referral program reaching 3,000 early childhood professionals and families each year. Kara has developed e-learning tools, created marketing materials and web-based tools for nonprofits, and conducted numerous local, state, and national presentations. She holds a BA in organizational communication and earned her MBA at National Louis University. Kara balances her technology role with plenty of non-tech activities, including fitness, adventure travel, and spending time with her own early childhood experiment—her daughter Alaina.

Dr. Teri Talan is Director of Policy Initiatives at the McCormick Center and Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at National Louis University. She promotes action by state and national policymakers on early childhood workforce and program administration issues. Previously she led a child advocacy organization and a NAEYC-accredited early childhood program. She holds a law degree from Northwestern University and an Ed.D. in adult and continuing education and M.Ed. in early childhood leadership and advocacy from National Louis University. Teri’s research interests include early childhood leadership, workforce development, systems integration, and program quality evaluation. She is co-author of the Program Administration Scale, Business Administration Scale for Family Child Care, Escala de Evaluación de la Administración de Negocios, and Who’s Caring for the Kids? The Status of the Early Childhood Workforce in Illinois.