Who We Are
The Teams that Make QUALITYstarsNY Work

The Administrative Team

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.

Contact: leslie.capello@cuny.edu

Malika Henriques: Assistant Director of Administration

Malika Henriques joined QUALITYstarsNY with a master’s in public administration from New York University and six years of experience in youth development programming. She is passionate about ensuring that educational systems in our society are equally serving all children, which attracted her to QUALITYstarsNY’s mission. Malika’s career includes serving as a program director for Young Dancers in Repertory, an arts nonprofit youth program in Brooklyn, and as an education coordinator and teacher in Jiangsu, China. Malika earned her bachelor's degree from Binghamton University, where she double-majored in history and politics. Malika enjoys volunteering and baking in her spare time.

Contact: malika.henriques@cuny.edu

Rachel Crosland-Welch: Assistant Director of Quality Improvement

After working in the legal field, Rachel decided to pursue her dream and entered into the field of education. She joined QUALITYstarsNY with a Master of Science degree and five New York State teaching certifications with specializations in Early Childhood Education, Students with Disabilities and TESOL. Rachel has worked with and supported many teachers, directors and principals. Her background includes Universal Pre-K coach and facilitator at Bank Street College, assistant program director at Union Settlement Association, education and disabilities supervisor at Grand Street Settlement, and adjunct professor at Touro College and Borough of Manhattan Community College. She has also taught in public schools and community-based centers working with children in early childhood, elementary, middle and high school.

Contact: rachel.crosland-welch@cuny.edu

Prabhleen Kaur: Data Systems and Rating Manager

Prabhleen has always excelled in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. She believes that education and health care are two aspects of life that can shape future generations thus can tell the future of a culture or a country. With a passion in her heart to make a difference, Prabhleen has worked in universities, schools and hospital settings to help manage their data and technology. In her spare time, Prabhleen enjoys interior design and DIY projects.

Contact: prabhleen.kaur@cuny.edu

Christina Kelly: Communications and Outreach Manager

Christina Kelly has worked in non-profit communications and public relations for more than five years. Christina brings a passion for early childhood education and experience working for organizations focused on education and childhood development. Prior to joining QUALITYstarsNY, she worked in policy communications for a leading association in the cancer field. She received her bachelor’s degree in political science from American University in Washington, DC.

Contact: christina.kelly@cuny.edu

Johanny Paulino: Project Associate

Johanny Paulino joined QUALITYstarsNY in 2019 with over 10 years of administrative experience. She has worked with non-profit organizations in New York City focusing on workers’ rights and labor policy. Johanny has a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Hunter College. She supports the dynamic work of our Quality Improvement Specialist all over the state of New York.

Contact: johanny.paulino@cuny.edu

Jasmine Tejada: Project Associate

Jasmine Tejada joined QUALITYstarsNY as a Project Associate at the end of 2019 and brings over five years of administrative experience. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Hunter College. Prior to joining QUALITYstarsNY, she worked with a non-profit mental health organization whose mission was to provide mental health services to underserved communities all throughout the five boroughs of New York City. Jasmine is known by friends and family as an avid professional wrestling fan and enjoys attending shows and supporting talent in her spare time.

Contact: jasmine.tejada@cuny.edu

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.

Contact: hamish.strong@cuny.edu

The Quality Improvement Specialists

QUALITYstarsNY utilizes Quality Improvement Specialists (QI Specialists) to provide guidance and direction to early learning and development programs and providers through the QUALITYstarsNY process. QI Specialists have expertise in Early Childhood Education and Child Development and are adept at administrative practices, such as strategic planning, the creation of budgets, and better business practices.

Kathleen Siragusa:

Contact: KSiragusa@qualitystarsny.org

JoAnn Toth: Capital District & North Country

JoAnn has had the privilege of being a QI Specialist since QUALITYstarsNY originated in 2010. Prior to joining the QUALITYstarsNY team, she spent 23 years as the director of an integrated early childhood center. Throughout her early childhood career, JoAnn has been committed to fostering early learning environments where all children are welcome and recognized as distinct individuals. Additionally, JoAnn’s background includes serving as a director of project management, coordinating professional development opportunities for over 200 educators. She also holds a New York State Training and Technical Assistance Professional Credential as a professional development specialist and a coach.

Contact: jtoth@qualitystarsny.org

Tracey Heatley: Central New York

Since 1993, Tracey has been involved in the field of education. Tracey's experience spans public and private schools, early childhood programs, elementary schools and post-secondary school education with the learning disabled population. In her years of her early childhood experience, Tracey served as a classroom teacher, program coordinator and assistant director in an integrated preschool setting. These roles have allowed Tracey to provide support and training to program staff and parents in all areas of child and professional development. In addition, Tracey has served as a learning consultant/coach with individuals with learning disabilities to assess their strengths and barriers to obtaining employment and to help them set achievable goals towards success. Additionally, Tracey has served as a Response to Intervention (RTI) math specialist at the elementary level, providing remedial support to students and training and mentoring for teaching staff. Tracey is passionate about providing quality early childhood education to all children, and is committed to working with programs to help them achieve this goal. Tracey lives in Baldwinsville with her husband and four children. She enjoys spending summers with her family at their home on Wellesley Island.

Contact: theatley@qualitystarsny.org

Brigid Daly-Wagner: Finger Lakes

Brigid Daly-Wagner is originally from Indiana but has lived in Rochester for the past 17 years. She has been in the field of early childhood education for 25 years, working as a preschool teacher, center administrator, professional development provider, and college instructor. Brigid has been a QI Specialist with QUALITYstarsNY in the Finger Lakes area since the Field Test in 2010.

Contact: bdalywagner@qualitystarsny.org

Rachel Zielinski: Finger Lakes

Rachel Zielinski has been active in the field of early childhood education for about fifteen years, focusing on training and supporting staff professional development in the areas of child growth and development, early childhood environments and curriculum, and family and community relationships. Rachel is a graduate of Buffalo State College where she earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Early Childhood & Elementary Education. In her career, she has worked as a classroom teacher, education specialist, and education/disabilities coordinator at one of the highest performing Early Head Start/Head Start programs in the country, and was responsible for the majority of the training for the program. Rachel has also received her New York State Trainers Credential as a professional development specialist and mentors CDA candidates. She has a contagious love for learning and sharing her passions with others.

Contact: rzielinski@qualitystarsny.org

Eileen Flicker: Hudson Valley

Eileen Flicker has been an advocate for young children and their families for over 30 years. Her experiences include work as an early childhood teacher, childcare director, curriculum coordinator, public school principal, school improvement specialist, educational consultant, and college professor. Eileen is the co-author of Guiding Children’s Behavior: Developmental Discipline in the Classroom (Teachers College Press). She has master’s degrees in early childhood education, educational psychology, and developmental psychology, and a doctorate in curriculum and teaching from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Contact: eflicker@qualitystarsny.org

Joyce Guimaraes: Hudson Valley (Lower Hudson Valley)

Joyce Guimaraes has a NYS Certification, N-6. Her degrees are in elementary education and developmental reading. She also holds a New York State Administrator Credential. Joyce has been the director of a licensed and accredited center for 38 years and has been a QI Specialist with QUALITYstarsNY since the field test in 2010.

Contact: jguimaraes@qualitystarsny.org

Beth Mindes: Hudson Valley

Beth Mindes is honored to join the QUALITYstarsNY team as a Quality Improvement Specialist in the Hudson Valley. She has been working in the field of early childhood education since 1984 in Long Island, Manhattan, Rockland and Orange Counties. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in special education from Saint Thomas Aquinas College and her Masters of Education in instructional technology from the New York Institute of Technology. In 2018, Beth earned her New York State T-Tap Trainer credential. Prior to joining QUALITYstarsNY, Beth worked as both a resources specialist and an infant toddler specialist for the Child Care Council of Orange County, providing technical assistance and training. Beth is a member of NAEYC and serves on the Board of Directors of Zylofone, a performing arts program for children of all abilities.

Contact: bmindes@qualitystarsny.org

Heather Schwegler: Hudson Valley (Dutchess, Rensselaer & Orange Counties)

Heather Schwegler lives in Ulster County and has worked in the early childhood field for the last 20 years. Her experiences have been operating a group family child care, providing professional development training, coaching, and rebuilding efforts for child care professionals in NYS. Heather currently serves as a board member on the National Association of Family Child Care.

Contact: hschwegler@qualitystarsny.org

Diane Farley: Long Island

Over the past 30 years, Diane Farley has worked with young children as a teacher, assistant director, director, counselor, and childcare worker. She has worked in urban and suburban environments, as well as small schools, large schools, corporate schools, non-profits, parent co-ops, Head Start, and Universal Pre-K. She has a master’s degree in early childhood education from City College and extensive experience in leading schools through the NAEYC accreditation and reaccreditation processes. In her years as a teacher, Diane enjoyed working with children every day and seeing their faces light up when they finally “got” something with which they had been struggling. As an administrator, she has had the opportunity to guide and mentor teachers so that they, too, could have a positive impact on their students’ lives and contribute to improving early childhood programs.

Contact: dfarley@qualitystarsny.org

Karin Sperb: Long Island & New York City

Karin Sperb has been a bilingual Quality Improvement Specialist for QUALITYstarsNY since the field test in 2010 and has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood field. Karin attended Bank Street College of Education in NYC where she earned a Master’s degree in Bilingual Early Childhood Education. As a teacher and Education Director of a Head Start program, Karin had the opportunity to work closely with immigrant families, as well as to develop a sound early childhood program for preschool children. As a site director and later as a Director of Programs, Karin developed UPK programs that were conducted by a Community Based Organization (CBO) for two Long Island school districts and served as a liaison between the CBO and school districts. Karin later worked as a Bilingual Early Childhood Specialist for the Child Care Council of Suffolk where she had the opportunity to provide professional development through workshops and technical assistance for programs.

Contact: ksperb@qualitystarsny.org

Stefanie Straker: Long Island & New York City

Stefanie Straker has worked in early childhood education since 2001. She served as an educational director at a childcare center for five years, and has experience teaching children ranging from toddlers to pre-kindergarten and first grade. In addition to serving in teaching and administrative roles, Stefanie also worked for the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute as an early childhood coach and a facilitator for teachers involved in the NYC Pre-K For All initiative. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in educational psychology while working at QUALITYstarsNY, and is excited to be making an innovate contribution to the changing dynamic of pre-kindergarten education.

Contact: sstraker@qualitystarsny.org

Amy Burns-Franz: Mohawk Valley

Amy Burns-Franz joined the QUALITYstarsNY QI Specialist team in 2016. Amy received her bachelor’s degree in educational studies from SUNY Empire State College and holds an associate’s degree in early childhood education from SUNY Cobleskill. She taught preschool for over 10 years at The Radcliffe Child Care Center at Harvard University in Cambridge. Amy then held roles at The Child Care Council of Cornell Cooperative Extension and Madison-Oneida BOCES before becoming the executive director of the Clinton Early Learning Center in 2003. She is a current member of NAEYC and served as a board member for the Clinton Central School Board of Education from 2012 to 2018. She was a recipient of the "Friend of the Child Award" from The Child Care Council of Cornell Cooperative Extension in 2006.

Contact: afranz@qualitystarsny.org

Brooke Alexander: New York City

Brooke Alexander has been involved in the field of early childhood education and child development for over 15 years. She has held varying roles including lead teacher, child development specialist, lead assessor, and senior training and technical assistance specialist. Brooke has experience with Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) in multiple states, and is passionate about helping others understand the intention behind using assessment tools to bring about positive change and improve program quality. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in human development and family science from The Ohio State University and a Master of Education degree in early childhood curriculum and instruction from Arizona State University. Brooke enjoys exploring the city with her rescue dog, Tressel.

Contact: balexander@qualitystarsny.org

Shelley Benvenuti: New York City

Shelley Benvenuti has been working in early childhood in various capacities since 2007. Originally from California, Shelley received her Bachelor of Arts degree from UC Santa Cruz. She then moved to New York City and received her Master of Science in the Art of Teaching from Sarah Lawrence College. She is certified in birth-sixth grade. Shelley has worked in various organizations such as a progressive non-profit preschool on the upper west side teaching children ages 2-5, has been a Pre-K for All teacher, a site director and an education director of community-based schools serving children ages birth-5 years old in Queens, New York. Shelley was formally trained in Emergent Curriculum and the Prospect Center’s Descriptive Review process. She has also been a part of the Leadership Initiative since 2016 and participates in many benefits the initiative has to offer.

Contact: sbenvenuti@qualitystarsny.org

Katharine Mora: New York City (Brooklyn)

Katharine Mora holds a master's degree in bilingual early childhood education from Bank Street College of Education. She has worked in the early childhood field for over twenty years, including teaching young children and serving as education director and program director for Head Start programs. In addition to these roles, Katharine has provided trainings, consulted on publications, and taught graduate courses in dual language development and second language teaching and learning.

Contact: kmora@qualitystarsny.org

Kathy Moss: New York City

Kathy Moss has been in the field of Early Childhood Education for more than 20 years in many different capacities. She has been a preschool teacher, center director, education manager and Head Start training and technical assistance provider for many years. Most recently, Kathy has worked as a consultant in Early Head Start and as a start-up planner and mentor coach. Kathy’s diverse background has allowed her to assist program administrators and staff members as they adapt their policies, procedures and systems in their efforts to achieve a higher quality of service delivery for the children and families in their programs.

Contact: kmoss@qualitystarsny.org

Vidya Ragoo: New York City

Vidya Ragoo has over 15 years of experience in the field of child development supporting children from prenatal to school age stages of their lives. She has worked in early childhood as a developmental specialist, director of early childhood services, and deputy director of Early Head Start, Head Start, Early Learn and Pre-K programs in NYC. Because of her commitment to family and community development, most of her work has been based in large community organizations that provide a spectrum of services to promote the holistic wellbeing of children and families in under-resourced, urban neighborhoods. Vidya has her Master of Education degree from Lesley University and Bachelor of Arts from Georgetown University.

Contact: vstark@qualitystarsny.org

Bala Soto: New York City

With a master’s degree in early childhood development, and as a certified elementary Montessori guide, Bala Soto has been involved in multiple community outreach projects during her career as a teacher, program director, trainer, mentor, and coach for more than 20 years. Inspired to share what she has learned with others, Bala branched out to create ClearOneSource (COS). COS, Communities Living Empathy Awareness and Remembrance–a vehicle through which she provides educators, parents, and children with a holistic approach to learning. Dedicated to guiding educational programs in schools and homes through the process of creating community, her work is streamlined to facilitate the means by which programs can co-create adaptive systems that support their needs.

Contact: bsoto@qualitystarsny.org

Simone Taylor: New York City (Staten Island)

In 2002, Simone Taylor entered the early childhood profession leading her to a variety of positions for early childhood programming, including Head Start, U.S. government, faith-based, NAEYC accredited and private early childhood settings. In 2013, her focus shifted to positions relating to state funded early childhood quality initiatives, including Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS). Simone graduated from Bank Street College of Education and received her Master of Science in Education. Additionally, she has obtained several credentials, including the Program for Infant/Toddler Care certified trainer, Infant Mental Health Endorsement (Level II), Infant/Toddler Credential, and most recently earning the Beginning Together: Caring for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities and Special Needs in Inclusive Settings certified trainer. Simone serves as the membership chairperson for the Essex-Hudson affiliate of the New Jersey Association for the Education of Young Children. In 2018, she was the recipient of the June Moss Handler Memorial Award. Her work is grounded in the belief that all children deserve access to a quality education.

Contact: staylor@qualitystarsny.org

Ann Fraser: North Country

Ann has a nearly 20 year history working with the NYS Infant Toddler Project and CCR&R in Plattsburgh, NY. She has found it rewarding and gratifying to have worked with caregivers from all modalities and ages. Her favorite job has been her work as a group family child care provider, where she saw firsthand what a difference quality programming combined with loving caregivers could really do for children. Every day was an opportunity to share her love of the outdoors, walking and gardening. Additionally, Ann has taught CDA for 14 years and is always delighted by her student’s enthusiasm for improving practice and building competence and confidence. Ann is also a parent of one adult son and a black lab named Grace and hopes to return to teaching young children about the outdoors and nature when she retires.

Contact: afraser@qualitystarsny.org

Sarah Gould-Houde: North Country

Sarah Gould-Houde, M.S.Ed., NYS T-TAP Credentialed Trainer and Coach is a QI Specialist with QUALITYstarsNY covering the North Country and Capital Regions. Sarah is a trainer in the Master Cadre for the NYS Pyramid Model. Throughout her many years in early childhood, she has been a regional infant and toddler specialist through the NYS Infant and Toddler Resource Network with the Capital District Child Care Council where she led the creation and development of the Freedom of Movement Certification Program and provided training and technical assistance in seventeen counties to infant and toddler child care providers across settings as well as child care resource and referral staff. Sarah has also served in capacities as a college adjunct instructor at the graduate and undergraduate levels and board/advisory support for the Infant Mental Health Association of NY’s Greater Capital Region and NY Zero to Three Infancy Leadership Circles. Sarah’s experience also includes working as a home visitor, infant and toddler and Universal Pre-K teacher and education coordinator for Early Head Start and Head Start.

Contact: sgouldhoude@qualitystarsny.org

Mary Ellen DeNardo: Southern Tier

As QI Specialist for the Southern Tier since 2017, Mary Ellen Denardo covers parts of Chemung, Steuben, and Schuyler counties. Mary Ellen graduated from Elmira College in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and began her early childhood career as the preschool lead teacher for the Corning Children's Center. In 2003, she left the Corning Children's Center as associate director to join Corning Community College as the director of their child care center. In 2015, Mary Ellen accepted the education services manager position for the Economic Opportunity Program's Head Start component. At Head Start, she supervised five site education supervisors and two lead teachers. Her responsibilities included oversight of seven different sites and a total of 21 classrooms. Her experiences include supervision, maintaining accreditation/compliance status, CLASS, and practice-based coaching. Mary Ellen is a member of the Steuben Director's group and the Corning Community College Early Education Advisory Committee.

Contact: mdenardo@qualitystarsny.org

Colleen Finch: Southern Tier

Colleen has more than 20 years of experience in the early childhood field as a teacher, assistant director, education services coordinator, quality enhancement specialist, and education specialist. Most recently as an early childhood specialist with the Region II Head Start T/TA Network, she provided expertise to programs through consultation and other technical assistance strategies to support them in planning; providing quality services, professional development, meeting or exceeding standards; and building internal capacity. Her focus was high quality early childhood interactions and practices that support grantee progress towards meeting established school readiness goals—focusing on the use of child and program data to make decisions about approaches to working with teachers, home visitors, other direct-services staff and parents. Colleen holds a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and program administration from Cazenovia College.

Contact: cfinch@qualitystarsny.org

Mira Berkley: Western New York

Mira Berkley has spent more than 40 years as an early childhood professional. Before joining QUALITYstarsNY, she retired from her position as associate professor and early childhood education program coordinator at SUNY Fredonia where she worked from 2001-2015. She also spent nine years teaching at Jamestown Community College. Prior to becoming an early childhood teacher educator, Mira worked with young children ages two to six for 15 years, in a variety of programs: university child care and kindergarten in New Mexico, community mental health and Head Start in Arizona, and Head Start and public school kindergarten in Western New York. Mira has been an active member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (especially at the local and state levels) and the New York State Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators. She currently serves on the advisory board of the Chautauqua Child Care Council.

Contact: mberkley@qualitystarsny.org

Jill Boeck: Western New York

Jill Boeck has been involved in the education of young children since 1985. She began her work as a QUALITYstarsNY QI Specialist in the Western New York Region in 2015. Jill completed her Associate of Applied Science degree in early childhood education at Trocaire College, Buffalo, NY: Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education at Medaille College Buffalo, NY; and master’s degree in curriculum & instruction at Buffalo State College in Buffalo, NY. Jill has held previous roles as director of education and training at the Child Care Resource Network in Erie County; education department assistant professor at Villa Maria College of Buffalo and teaching Grades K-6. Jill has experience working with center, family and group family-based child care programs including Public School Universal Pre-K classrooms to increase quality and create a culture of continuous quality improvement. In 2017 she attained NYSAEYC Training and Technical Assistance Professional Credential (T-TAP) Coaching Credential for Early Childhood Teachers and Leaders. Jill is also a member of NAEYC.

Contact: jboeck@qualitystarsny.org

Sara Lamoreaux: Western New York

Sara Lamoreaux holds a Master’s degree in early childhood education and is certified to teach Pre-K—Grade 6. In 1999, she started her career in early childhood education at a Head Start program in Buffalo, NY. Sara was a Head Start teacher and then moved on to hold various management positions during her tenure with Head Start. She joined QUALITYstarsNY as a QI Specialist in 2012. In 2013, she earned a Level 3 New York State Early Learning Trainers Credentialed, and has presented and trained early childhood educators at many local and state wide conferences. She also holds the NYSAEYC T-TAP Coaching Credential for Early Childhood Teachers and Leaders. She is a member of NAEYC, and serves on the Early Childhood Advisory Board for Erie Community College. Since 2014, Sara has been an adjunct instructor in the Early Childhood Department at Niagara University.

Contact: slamoreaux@qualitystarsny.org