The Time is Now: Leadership & Advocacy
April 26-28, 2023

At the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership, we strive to catalyze change as we implement initiatives that strengthen the leadership capacity of early childhood educators. Our Leadership Connections National Conference helps us do just that! The mission of the McCormick Center to empower leaders and advance the field to promote excellence in early childhood education is the touchstone of Leadership Connections. The conference offers opportunities to attend workshop sessions relevant to your complex role, network with professionals who relate to your trials and triumphs and gain inspiration from dynamic specialists in our field. We would be delighted for you to join us!

Not only does our virtual conference provide cutting-edge content during the live three-day event, but recordings of all keynote and break-out sessions will be available to registered attendees for three months following the conference. During the event, engage with others, enjoy live sessions, and connect with sponsors. Later, you may view any missed sessions, so you’ll fully benefit from our valuable material!

Full Conference Information

Program Booklet


Partnership Kit

Leadership Connections 2023 Partnership Kit for sponsors, advertisers, and exhibitors


Social Media Toolkit

Let’s Connect! Post and tag us on social media.


Luis Hernandez
Early Childhood Education Specialist

Luis A. Hernandez, Early Childhood Education Specialist, brings solid expertise based on his work history in Head Start, Pre-K programs, colleges and universities, child care resource and referral agencies, and ECE management. His expertise includes early literacy, dual language learners, adult learning practices, changing demographics and diversity, and ECE management and leadership topics. As a regular presenter and keynote speaker at national, state, and local conferences, Luis is highly regarded for his motivational and energizing presentations. In addition, Luis is an author. His book, “Learning from Bumps on the Road,” focused on leadership topics and is a compilation of presentations and conversations with three fantastic leaders in the field. Mr. Hernandez is active in a number of organizations that support children and family interests.

Brandy Jones Lawrence 
Sr. Analyst, Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE)

Brandy is a seasoned early childhood policy and advocacy leader with over 20 years of experience in state and federal early care and education policy development, analysis and consultation, early learning program partnership development and philanthropy. During her long tenure at the Start Early (formerly the Ounce of Prevention Fund) in Chicago, Brandy helped to lead efforts to secure one of Illinois’ largest sustained increases in state birth-to-five funding. Additionally, she was a founding leader of the Start Early’s National Policy Consultation team where she led work supporting advocates and organizations across the country with customized birth to five state policy, financing and strategy expertise and also helped lead the expansion and development of Educare Schools across the country. Brandy served as the State Program Manager at the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, a project of the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation, where she managed a diverse array of national and state-based investments to support improved and equitable developmental outcomes for infants and toddlers. Brandy was the Senior Director at Bank Street College Education Center where she advanced partnerships to design and implement infant-toddler teacher residencies and apprenticeships programs. Currently, Brandy is a senior analyst at the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) where her work focuses on California-specific policy analysis and leadership, to advance research and systems solutions informed by the experiences and priorities of early educators and the children and families they serve. Brandy holds a Master’s of Public Policy from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor’s of Science in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University. She resides in the Chicago area with her three children, Dean, Layla, and Theo.

PUBLIC POLICY FORUM | Thursday, April 27
Lauren Hogan
Managing Director of Policy and Professional Advancement, NAEYC

Lauren Hogan is the Managing Director of Policy and Professional Advancement at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). After joining the organization in 2015, Lauren has grown a portfolio that includes federal and state policy and advocacy, higher education accreditation, implementation of efforts to support and advance the early childhood workforce, technical assistance, and applied research. With her guidance, NAEYC has built both its policy team and its nonpartisan policy agenda with a focus on centering the voices of educators, shared leadership, capacity building, diversity, and equity. Lauren previously served as the Vice President of Programs and Policy at the National Black Child Development Institute and began her career working with an after-school program in Louisville, Kentucky, later serving as the director of an early literacy and family support program in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She also served as a Rappaport Public Policy Fellow in the Department of Social Services in Boston, MA. Lauren earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and a Master’s degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Carol Brunson Day
President, Brunson, Phillips & Day Consultants

Dr. Carol Brunson Day, Ph.D., is the President of Brunson, Phillips & Day Consultants. She had a Master’s in Early Childhood Education from the Erickson Institute and a Ph.D. In Education from the Claremont Graduate School. Carol’s experience includes serving as the President and CEO of the National Black Child Development Institute and President and CEO of the Council for Professional Regulation. Her awards include a Distinguished Fellow of the Council for Professional Recognition and a Lifetime Achievement Award for dedicated service to the field of Family Child Care.


Lynette Fraga

Formerly the Chief Executive Officer of Child Care Aware® of America (CCAoA) for over a decade, Dr. Lynette M. Fraga, Ph.D., is a passionate practitioner, advocate, and leader in the field of child care, early learning, and equitable systems change working to advance the accessibility of quality childcare experiences for all children in support of healthy growth and development.
Dr. Fraga began her career in early childhood as a teacher in infant, toddler, and preschool classrooms, and has since held positions at the local, state, and national levels within the nonprofit, corporate and higher education sectors.
Dr. Fraga holds a doctoral degree in Family Studies from Kansas State University, a master’s degree in Human Relations from the University of Oklahoma, and a bachelor’s degree in Special Education from the University of Arizona.

Marie Masterson

Dr. Marie Masterson, Ph.D., is the senior director of quality assessment at the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership. She holds a doctorate in early childhood education and is a national speaker, child behavior expert, researcher, and award-winning author of multiple books, including Let’s Talk Toddlers: A Practical Guide to High-Quality Teaching, 101 Principles for Positive Guidance: Creating Responsive Teachers, The Essentials for Family Childcare Professionals, and Enjoying the Parenting Roller Coaster: Nurturing and Empowering Your Children through the Ups and Downs. Marie has authored many articles that address research-based, practical skills for behavior guidance and high-quality teaching. She is a former early childhood specialist for the Virginia Department of Education, a university professor, and a Fulbright specialist. Marie provides content expertise and consultation to organizations and agencies involved in quality rating and improvement, and advocates for strength-based practices that foster resilience, especially for children who have experienced trauma and stress.

Teri Talan

Dr. Teri Talan, JD, Ed.D., holds the Michael W. Louis Chair and is a senior policy advisor at the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership and professor of early childhood education at National Louis University (NLU). She promotes action by state and national policymakers on early childhood workforce and program administration issues. Previously, she led a child advocacy organization and an early childhood program accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). She holds a law degree from Northwestern University as well as a master’s degree in early childhood leadership and advocacy and a doctorate in adult and continuing education from NLU. 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; Who’s Caring for the Kids? The Status of the Early Childhood Workforce in Illinois; and Closing the Leadership Gap.

Jill Bella

Dr. Jill Bella, Ed.D., formerly the Director of Quality Supports for the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership, coordinated and conducted research, training, and consultation for local and state initiatives on the Early Childhood Work Environment Survey and the Program Administration Scale (PAS). Dr. Bella is a national reliability anchor for the PAS and BAS. In addition, she serves as adjunct faculty for National Louis University. She holds a doctorate degree in Adult and Continuing Education from National Louis University. Dr. Bella also has both a master’s degree in special education/early intervention and a bachelor’s degree in child development from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to joining the Center, she worked at several childcare centers and an early intervention center as an early intervention specialist and training associate. Dr. Bella’s research interests include organizational climate, advocacy for the early childhood workforce, systems thinking, and early childhood leadership. She is co-author of A Great Place to Work: Creating a Healthy Organizational Climate, Inspiring Peak Performance, and Zoom: The Impact of Early Childhood Leadership Training on Role Perceptions, Job Performance, and Career Decisions.

Mitch Rucker

Mitch Rucker is a government affairs and advocacy consultant based in Lawrence, Kansas, and works with community groups and non-profits to eliminate barriers to building childcare capacity in Kansas. Prior to starting his consulting business, Mather Strategies LLC, Mitch worked as the Early Learning Policy Advisor – essentially a lobbyist for child care – at Kansas Action for Children. Before joining KAC, Mitch was the Legislative Director for the Kansas House Majority Leader, he has previously worked on campaigns at the local, state, and federal levels, and he is a former candidate for the Kansas legislature. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Kansas.

Fee Schedule and Pricing Information


April 25, 2023 (Tuesday)
9:00 a.m. – 4:15 p.m. CT

$125 | Pre-conference fee ($150 after March 31, 2023)



April 26, 2023 – April 28, 2023

(Wednesday through Friday)

9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. CT


$325 | Full-Conference – Discount Rate

(March 1, 2023- March 31, 2023)


$350 | Full-Conference

(April 1, 2023 -April 28, 2023)


$285 | Two-Day Registration – Discount Rate

(Any two of the three days)


$310 | Two-Day Registration

(Any two of the three days)


$130 | Single-Day Registration – Discount Rate

(Any one of the three days)


$155 | Single-Day Registration

(Any one of the three days)



Four (4) Live General Sessions
Thirty-six (36) Live Break-out Sessions
Recordings of all sessions for 3 months (recordings only available for days included in your registration)
Access to Sponsors and Exhibitors
Networking with other professionals



Groups of 10 or more full-conference registrations receive a $50 discount per registration.



Leadership Connections sessions are Gateways Registry-approved. Participation in Leadership Connections may also count toward professional development in other states.

Conference Schedule at a Glance

Note: Schedule subject to change
TUESDAY (Pre-conference) | April 25, 2023
Morning Session | 9:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. CT | "Updates to the Whole Leadership Framework—Responding to Voices from the Field" by Teri Talan, Marie Masterson, and Jill Bella
Afternoon Session | 1:00 p.m. – 4:15 p.m. CT | “Making the Case for Child Care" by Mitch Rucker
WEDNESDAY | April 26, 2023
9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. CT | Networking/Discussion Groups
10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. CT | Opening General Session | Keynote address by Brandy Jones-Lawrence
11:45 a.m. – 1:15 p.m. CT | Concurrent Sessions
1:45 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.  CT | Concurrent Sessions
3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. CT | Networking Options
THURSDAY | April 27, 2023
9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. CT | Networking/Discussion Groups
10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. CT | Public Policy Forum | General Session | Featuring Lauren Hogan
11:45 a.m. – 1:15 p.m. CT | Concurrent Sessions
1:45 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.  CT | Concurrent Sessions
3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. CT | Networking Options
FRIDAY | April 28, 2023
9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. CT | Networking/Discussion Groups
10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. CT | Leadership Colloquium | Carol Brunson, Visionary Leadership Award Recipient
11:45 a.m. – 1:15 p.m. CT | Concurrent Sessions
1:45 p.m. – 3:15 p.m. CT | Closing General Session | Keynote address by Lynette Fraga