KidsReadyNC | 2018 HIGHLIGHTS2017 HighlightsMEDIA





Mandy Ableidinger is the policy and practice leader at the NC Early Childhood Foundation. She leads the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Initiative, guiding the development of a Birth‐to‐Eight Policy Center to serve as a reliable source of information on birth‐to‐eight policies for North Carolina. She has more than 15 years of experience in the nonprofit and public sectors. Prior to NCECF, she was a consultant in the early childhood, child welfare and child mental health fields. She also served as the director of policy and budget analysis at Action for Children NC (now NC Child), and as a fiscal policy analyst for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As a Fulbright Scholar, she worked on education issues with the UN World Food Programme in Morocco. She holds a B.A. from Duke University and a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) from Princeton University. She lives in Raleigh with her husband and three children.

Provost Warwick Arden  is North Carolina State University’s executive vice chancellor and provost and has been in the position since December 2010. From July 2014 to February 2015, Arden concurrently served as interim senior vice president for the University of North Carolina system, comprised of 17 campuses serving more than 220,000 students. Previously, Arden served as interim provost since 2009, and as dean of NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine from 2004 to 2009. As provost, he is NC State’s chief academic officer, reports to the chancellor, and collaborates with vice provosts, executive officers, college deans and others in the administration of all academic and student affairs. He has led numerous key campus initiatives, including the development and implementation of “The Pathway to the Future: NC State’s 2011-2020 Strategic Plan,” along with the university’s recent reaffirmation of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Arden received a Bachelor of Science in veterinary sciences (DVM equivalent) and a diploma of veterinary clinical studies from the University of Sydney, Australia; a Master of Science in physiology from Michigan State University; and a Ph.D. in physiology and biophysics from the University of Kentucky.

Sen. Chad Barefoot is currently serving his third term in the North Carolina Senate. He represents the 18th Senate District which includes Wake and Franklin Counties. In the Senate, he serves as a chief budget writer chairing the Senate Committee on Education Appropriations and he serves as chairman of the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee. Outside of the legislature, Chad serves as Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Louisburg College. Barefoot holds an M.A. in Christian Ethics from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, and a B.S. degree with a concentration in public management from Appalachian State University. He is married to Paige Barefoot. They have three children: Franklin, Louisa and Henry and they live in Wake Forest. They are active members of Capital Community Church.

Jeanette Betancourt is the senior vice president for U.S. Social Impact at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street. She directs the development and implementation of community and family engagement initiatives making a difference in the lives of vulnerable children and their families. These research-based initiatives are designed to impact children’s early learning, health and well being, and provide strategies and resources to counteract the effects of trauma while fostering the critical connections that adults have on children’s lives. Prior to joining Sesame Workshop, Betancourt created programs in adult learning and early childhood education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She is a licensed bilingual speech and language pathologist and educational therapist. She participates on several national and local boards and has contributed to the start of charter schools. Betancourt has a B.A. and M.A. in Speech and Language Pathology; an M.S. in Bilingual Reading/Special Education, and an Ed.D. in Special Education

Leslie Boney serves as the director of the Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) and leads IEI’s efforts to identify key issues of importance to the state and develop consensus for action to address. Prior to joining IEI, Leslie was vice president for International, Community and Economic Engagement at the UNC system office, coordinating efforts to extend university expertise and services throughout the state. While serving in the NC Department of Commerce and Governor’s Office, Boney coordinated the state’s efforts to redesign rural development policy, increase volunteerism and reform welfare. At the nonprofit MDC, he managed a two-state effort to help rural communities recover from manufacturing job loss. A former teacher and reporter, Boney serves on the boards of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina and the Rural Economic Development Center. He received a B.A. from Amherst College.

Tom Campbell is the creator, executive producer, and moderator of NC SPIN. He comes from a rich family tradition of public involvement in North Carolina. His family founded Campbell University as well as WNCT-TV, the first television station in eastern North Carolina. He worked in his family’s broadcast business for over 24 years, writing and delivering daily radio editorials. NC SPIN gives Campbell the opportunity to involve two of his passions, broadcasting and politics. Prior to starting NC SPIN, Campbell was the Assistant Treasurer for the State of North Carolina, licensee of WRAZ-TV “FOX50″ in the Raleigh-Durham market, and co-founder of The Family Business Institute, a consulting firm for family and closely held companies. His My SPIN editorials have appeared in newspapers across the state and he is often a guest of talk radio stations. NC SPIN airs on UNC-TV Friday nights at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 12:30 p.m.

Jack Cecil is the president and CEO of Biltmore Farms, which was one of the Southeast’s largest dairy producers and has now evolved into a community development firm. Biltmore Farms is the developer of Biltmore Park Town Square, a mixed-use urban center of retail, office, restaurants, hospitality and entertainment venues. As the fourth generation to run the family business, he is committed to building strong communities. He has a way of identifying the big picture even in the face of adversity. For example, during the Great Recession, the company stuck with its plan to construct Town Square even though many of the storefronts were not leased. Now, it’s 90 percent full. For Biltmore Farms, the five tenets of community development of education, health care, economic development, arts & culture and environmental stewardship drive everything the company does.

Hedy N. Chang is the founder and executive director of Attendance Works, a national and state level initiative aimed at advancing student success by addressing chronic absence. A skilled presenter, facilitator, researcher and writer, she co-authored the seminal report, Present, Engaged and Accounted For: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades, as well as numerous other articles about student attendance. Deeply committed to promoting two-generation solutions to achieving a more just and equitable society, Chang has spent more than two decades working in the fields of family support, family economic success, education and child development. In February 2013, Chang was named by the White House as a Champion of Change for her commitment to furthering African American Education.

Tina Chen-Xu is a senior consultant with the human services practice area at Public Consulting Group, Inc. (PCG). She works with state and local government agencies, nonprofits and special commissions nationally to focus on early childhood education policy. In this work, she leads strategic planning processes for communications and marketing of early childhood education. Recently, she managed the research, data collection and facilitation of Vermont’s Blue-Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care. As part of that process, she led a series of focus groups with local parents, child care providers, government agencies, community organizations and business leaders. In Massachusetts, she is leading a project to re-brand the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) for child care programs. Chen-Xu holds a n M.A. in business administration from Clark University. She graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill with a B.A. in public policy, a concentration in social policy, and a minor in social and economic justice.

Audrey Choi is chief marketing officer and chief sustainability officer of Morgan Stanley. As chief marketing officer, Choi is responsible for stewarding the brand to reflect the firm’s core values of leading with integrity and exceptional ideas across its businesses and geographies. As chief sustainability officer, Choi oversees the firm’s efforts to promote global sustainability through the capital markets. In a career spanning the public, private and nonprofit sectors, Choi has become a thought leader on how finance can be harnessed to address community concerns and global challenges. Prior to joining Morgan Stanley, Choi held senior policy positions in the Clinton Administration, including serving as chief of staff of the Council of Economic Advisers, and domestic policy advisor to the Vice President. Previously, Choi was a foreign correspondent and bureau chief at The Wall Street Journal. She serves on the boards of several national nonprofits focused on sustainability, community development and social justice. Choi is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School.

Sec. Mandy Cohen and her team have worked tirelessly to improve the health safety and well-being of North Carolinians since she was appointed as Secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services in January. Among Cohen’s top priorities are combating the opioid crisis, building a strong, efficient Medicaid program and improving early childhood education. Cohen is an internal medicine physician and has experience leading complex health organizations. Before coming to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services she was the chief operating officer and chief of staff at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). She brings a deep understanding of health care to the state and has been responsible for implementing policies for Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Federal Marketplace. A graduate of Cornell University, she received her medical degree from Yale School of Medicine, an M.A. in public health from the Harvard School of Public Health and trained in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Governor Roy Cooper has spent nearly three decades in public service protecting families, keeping communities safe and working to create jobs and improve schools. Born and raised in Nash County, he attended public schools and worked summers on the family farm before attending UNC-Chapel Hill on a Morehead Scholarship. After earning a law degree from UNC, Cooper returned home to Nash County to practice law. In the NC House and Senate, Cooper fought to increase teacher pay and reduce class sizes. He wrote North Carolina’s first children’s health insurance initiative. During his service in the legislature, Cooper worked with members of both parties to get balanced budgets that raised teacher pay to the national average, grow the economy and cut taxes for middle class families. In 2000, the people of North Carolina elected  Cooper as Attorney General, a position in which he continued to fight for families during his four terms, before being elected governor in 2016.

Joe Crocker is the director of the Local Impact in Forsyth County program area at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. He is known for his extensive civic career across the Carolinas. Since joining the Trust in 2010, he has worked to improve the lives of Forsyth County’s financially disadvantaged residents. Crocker oversees Great Expectations, the Trust’s long-term initiative to prepare Forsyth County’s youngest children for success in school and life by the time they finish kindergarten. He also oversees all of Forsyth County’s grant-making. Joe previously served as director of operations for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, as assistant secretary for community development for the North Carolina Department of Commerce, as senior vice president at Wachovia Corporation, and as chairman of the board of trustees at Western Carolina University. He grew up in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. He graduated from Western Carolina University with an undergraduate degree in business administration and pursued a career in banking services.

Lisa Finaldi is the community engagement leader for the NC Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF), leading the First 2000 Days initiative and the NC Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. She has over 25 years of experience as a nonprofit leader at the state, national and international levels. Prior to NCECF, as national campaigns director at Greenpeace US, Finaldi directed numerous successful environmental and public health policy initiatives. She designed and led the first global investigation to test ingredients in children’s toys and products, resulting in new consumer protection policies in over 20 countries. Lisa holds a B.S. in journalism from West Virginia University and a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University. She and her family live in Raleigh, and she is a past president of the Society for the Preservation of Historic Oakwood, a founder of NCWARN and a founding board member of Raleigh City Farm, a one-acre urban farm in downtown Raleigh.

Oscar Fleming  is an implementation scientist and the core lead for evidence-based decision making at the HRSA/MCHB-funded National MCH Workforce Development Center, based at UNC-CH’s National Implementation Research Network. Fleming has worked on public health and community development programs in North Carolina, across the US and in lower and middle-income countries around the world for over 25 years. His areas of interests include program development, implementation science, coaching, team strategies and complex systems change. Currently working to complete a doctorate in health leadership, Fleming holds an M.S. in public health and B.S. in international studies, with both degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Elizabeth Gaines is a senior fellow with the Forum for Youth Investment. For over a dozen years, Gaines has led the Children’s Cabinet Network and is the nation’s leading expert on children’s cabinets and councils. She has helped policy leaders use tools and techniques to improve their use of data, increase their policy alignment and more efficiently apply resources toward greater impact. Her publications include The Adding It Up Guide to Mapping Public Resources for Children, Youth and Families, the Forum papers on state children’s cabinets and councils; and How Public Policy Can Support Collective Impact. Most recently, she developed the Children’s Funding Project to help local leaders find, align, generate and evaluate funding to improve kid outcomes. Her commitment began with leading after-school and community-based youth programs in Madison, Wis. She later served as youth policy analyst for Citizens for Missouri’s Children, where she lobbied state lawmakers and led the “Invest in Missouri’s Children” campaign. She attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Nicole Gardner-Neblett is an advanced research scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on factors that promote children’s language and literacy development, particularly among children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In particular, Gardner-Neblett’s work examines the oral narrative, or storytelling, skills of African American children and the implications for literacy development and educational practice. Her work also examines professional development programs for early childhood educators to promote children’s early language and communication development. Gardner-Neblett has published her work in high quality, peer-reviewed outlets, including Developmental Psychology, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Child Development Perspectives, and the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. Dr. Gardner-Neblett holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in Developmental Psychology from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s degree from Brown University.

Laura Gerald is a physician and president of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. She has decades of leadership experience in health care delivery, rural health, philanthropy, nonprofit management and public health. Dr. Gerald grew up in rural North Carolina where she returned to work as a pediatrician. She then assumed a variety of prominent roles in the state including executive director of the North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission and North Carolina State Health Director. Gerald holds bachelor’s degrees from Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges, a medical degree from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and a master of public health degree from Harvard University School of Public Health. She is very active in the nonprofit and medical community serving over the years on many boards. She is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow in American Academy of Pediatrics and an adjunct assistant professor at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Jim Goodnight is the CEO of SAS, the world’s leading business analytics software vendor. Goodnight has led the company since its inception in 1976, overseeing an unbroken chain of revenue growth and profitability unprecedented in the industry. He is recognized globally for being a trailblazer among companies that top great workplace rankings, including being No.1 on several country and multinational lists. Harvard Business School named Goodnight a Great American Business Leader, and he was named one of America’s 25 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs by Inc. magazine. A champion of education reform, Goodnight sees education as critical to the success of individuals, organizations and nations.

Tracey Grayzer is the president of Impact Alamance, a $60 million dollar foundation resulting from the merger of  Cone Health and Alamance Regional Medical Center. She has worked in healthcare for more than 14 years and is passionate about addressing the social determinants of health to impact population health outcomes. Impact Alamance’s mission is to strategically invest in Alamance County for hope, health and prosperity. The foundation invests nearly two million dollars annually on building healthy environments and working to provide an equal educational opportunity for all children in the community from cradle to career. Grayzer has a dual master’s degree in business and health administration. Prior to her work at the foundation, she served as the Director of Marketing and Community Outreach for Alamance Regional Medical center and as a news reporter and anchor. Grayzer is actively involved in numerous community organizations, is married and has two young children.

Janice Gruendel has 35 years of applied social science experience crafting state and local policy and practice guidance focused on early childhood through young adult years. Most recently, she has supported United Way’s Bridgeport Prospers effort, NC Pathways to Third Grade Reading Initiative, and the SC Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation’s review of children’s advocacy center services. For 16 years, Gruendel worked in Connecticut state government as a senior executive, serving under five governors. She also served former governor M. Jodi Rell as senior policy advisor for early childhood for five years. She brings nine years in the nonprofit research, policy and advocacy sector, as co-founder and co-president of CT Voices for Children. She worked in the business sector for four years as VP for Education and Technology at Rabbit Ears Productions, and she now heads her own small business as its founder. She and her husband, just retired as CT Appellate Court judge, have recently moved to Charlotte where she will be supporting Whole Child Charlotte initiative.

Jim Hansen is the regional president of PNC Bank Eastern Carolinas, based in Raleigh, N.C. As the senior executive, he is responsible for PNC’s business, strategy and brand in the market. Hansen is a member of the board of directors for the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce and YMCA of the Triangle. In addition, he serves on the executive committee of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and the Research Triangle Regional Partnership. Hansen received his bachelor’s degree in business management with a minor in statistics from North Carolina State University and an MBA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill.


Venessa Harrison, president of AT&T North Carolina, is responsible for the public policy, economic development and community affairs activities of AT&T, a leading provider of communications and entertainment services. In her role, she works closely with state and community leaders to help bring new technology and jobs to the state and to improve the quality of life for all North Carolinians. A native North Carolinian, Harrison began her career with AT&T and its predecessor companies in the operator services organization. She subsequently moved through positions of increasing responsibility in the network, business and regulatory and external affairs departments. In addition to her AT&T responsibilities, Harrison has also been very involved in community, charity and education activities. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees of North Carolina A&T State University, and on the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Chamber, and the Foundation for the Carolinas.

Andrew Herdman has more than 22 years of HR industry experience across all human resource functions and currently serves as vice president of human resources at Mayne Pharma. He has held numerous HR consulting roles and was vice president of human resources and strategic partnerships at Crown American Real Estate Investment Trust. Prior to joining Mayne Pharma, Herdman was associate professor in the department of management at East Carolina University.


Rep. Craig Horn is a former Russian linguist with the United States Air Force Security Service, as well as a retired food broker and businessman. Elected in 2010, he is now in his fourth term in the North Carolina General Assembly representing House District 68, Western Union County. Representative Horn is a co-chairman of the House committee on Appropriations for Education and the House Committee for K-12 Education Policy. He serves on a total of eight House committees and on the Child Fatality Task Force.  He is an Early Learning Fellow for the National Conference of State Legislators and the NC Commissioner to the Education Commission of the States. He was dubbed “The Education Legislator” by the popular online blog EdNC and was recently the only elected official to be recognized by EdScoop as an “EdTech Hero: 25 State Leaders Making a Difference.” In 2016, Representative Horn was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters by Wingate University for his work in education. 


Brenda Howerton has served as a Durham County Commissioner since 2008, including serving as Vice Chair from 2012 to 2016. In Aug. 2017, Commissioner Howerton was sworn in as President of the North Carolina Association of Counties. In addition to being the owner of Howerton Consulting, Inc., a business that specializes in organizational development and executive coaching for public and private industries, Commissioner Howerton serves on many local, state and national boards and committees, including Durham Technical Board of Trustees, Downtown Durham, Inc. Board of Directors, North Carolina Local Governmental Employees` Retirement System Board of Trustees and National Association of Counties’ Justice & Public Safety Steering Committee. Commissioner Howerton received a B.S. in Business Management from Shaw University and a certification in Executive Coaching from North Carolina State University.

Mark Johnson was elected to the post of North Carolina State Superintendent  in 2016. His career in education began at West Charlotte High School where he taught through Teach for America before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Superintendent Johnson served as a member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education and was legal counsel at Inmar, an international technology company based in Winston-Salem. Having served as a teacher, an education leader and as a father of a young daughter soon to start school, improving education in North Carolina is a personal mission for Johnson.


Donna King is currently the editor in chief of North State Journal, North Carolina’s only statewide newspaper. Prior to her current role, King served as a television anchor, reporter, producer and media spokesperson, developing her expertise in public policy, print media, and television news. As a reporter and producer for Reuters North America, America’s Voice, PBS and NewsChannel 8 (ABC), her beat was Capitol Hill, particularly public policy on health care, agriculture, national security and education. Additionally, King served as Press Secretary for a U.S. senator, interpreting public policy and procedure for constituents and media, and ensuring accurate news coverage of the senator’s activities. She also assisted in coordinating the media message between the Bush presidential campaign and the senate press offices. King earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communication/journalism from North Carolina State University.

Carolyn S. Langer has had an extensive career as a physician executive, including positions as chief medical officer of MassHealth (the Massachusetts Medicaid program) and medical director for several commercial payers. In her role as MassHealth chief medical officer, she directs the Office of Clinical Affairs and provides clinical leadership to the Medicaid program. Langer has been among the lead contributors to MassHealth’s payment and care delivery reform efforts, including MassHealth’s Primary Care Payment Reform Initiative and MassHealth’s ACO initiative where she co-chaired the Quality Measurement Advisory Workgroup from 2015-2016. She has been extensively involved in initiatives supporting children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCNs), including the Massachusetts Child Health Quality Coalition (co-chair), the Massachusetts CYSHCN Systems Integration Project (Executive Team) and the Standards for Systems of Care for CYSHCN National Work Group. Langer has also served on the Massachusetts statewide Autism Commission and on the Commission’s subcommittees on Workforce Development and on Transition Age Youth. Langer holds an appointment as associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and further serves as an instructor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She also sits on the Advisory Board for the Health Policy and Management Department at the Boston University School of Public Health. Langer received her medical degree from Jefferson Medical College and completed her residency at the Harvard School of Public Health. She is board certified in occupational medicine. Langer holds a law degree and a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University. She is also a retired colonel and former flight surgeon in the Army National Guard.

Laura Louison is an associate director of resource & capacity development and an advanced implementation specialist with the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN) at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. In her current role, she works with national, state and local agencies to apply best practices in implementation science to their health and human services programs. Louison’s areas of expertise include building implementation capacity, particularly in rural and frontier communities, multi-sector systems building and intervention development. Louison previously served as director of the North Carolina Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program at the North Carolina Division of Public Health. Louison is a public health social worker with over fifteen years of experience in implementation of maternal and child health programs and quality improvement with public and nonprofit agencies.

Kimberly McCombs-Thornton has over 20 years of experience working with nonprofits and universities to evaluate programs for children and families. She specializes in mixed methods program evaluation, with a focus on incorporating comparison groups into observational research design. She is currently the research and evaluation director for Smart Start, North Carolina’s nationally-recognized early childhood initiative. Prior to that, she conducted an evaluation of the ZERO TO THREE Safe Babies Court Teams project, enabling the program to qualify as promising by the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare. She has evaluated other systems change efforts related to pediatric HIV/AIDS, neonatal case management, Success By 6 and homeless families among others. She has extensive experience working with diverse sites to develop logic models, data collection instruments, and quality management procedures.

Rich Neimand works at the confluence of politics, policy and consumerism to market social impact. He’s known for his ability to synthesize disparate information into compelling persuasion. He develops messages that tap into attitudes, touch shared values and unite different audiences around common objectives. His specialty is marketing progressive causes in a conservative way, breaking through political polarization to create advances in financial inclusion, education, health and conservation. His clients include Mastercard Worldwide, America’s Essential Hospitals, First Five Years Fund, Nobel Laureate James Heckman, Year Up, United Nations Foundation, Natividad Medical Center, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, Monterey County Behavioral Health and a variety of other great causes, philanthropies and initiatives.

Lori O’Keefe is the president and CEO of Triangle Community Foundation. With undergraduate and MBA degrees from the State University of New York (SUNY), O’Keefe began her career working as a fundraiser and arts administrator at performing arts institutions in California and New York City. Lori joined Triangle Community Foundation in 2005, serving in a variety of roles until she was selected late in 2012 to serve as president and CEO. In this capacity, she leads the operations and strategic vision of the Foundation, which manages over $225 million in assets and grants more than $20 million a year. She works with the Foundation’s community programs to help strengthen the high-performing nonprofits, tackle critical issues and support students with scholarships. She also works closely with the Foundation’s diverse community of donors and fundholders to make sure they are engaged, inspired, mobilized and working together toward a vibrant Triangle in which everyone thrives.

 David Olds is a professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado Denver, where he directs the Prevention Research Center for Family and Child Health. He has developed and tested, in a series of randomized clinical trials, a program of prenatal and infancy home visiting known as the Nurse Family Partnership (NFP). The NFP is designed to improve the outcomes of pregnancy, children’s health and development and women’s life course. Today, the NFP serves over 50,000 families per year in the US and 18,000 per year in eight other countries. Professor Olds currently is orchestrating research devoted to estimating NFP lifetime effects and improving the NFP in community practice. He has received numerous awards for his work, including the Charles A. Dana Award for Pioneering Achievements in Health, the Stockholm Prize in Criminology and the John Stearns Medal for Distinguished Contributions in Clinical Practice from the New York Academy of Medicine.

Fara Palumbo is a senior vice president and chief people officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, and ensures the company’s more than 4,700 employees are equipped to support and achieve strategic business goals. She is the primary driver behind the company’s major life/work initiatives, including the design, development and implementation of a backup childcare center, the first of its kind in North Carolina. She currently serves as board president of the Caring Community Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping cancer patients in financial need, and has served on the board of the Triangle Youth Ballet. Palumbo has also served as chair and vice chair of the United Way Campaign, as well as corporate chair for the Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Fordham University and her master’s degree in organizational management from Pfeiffer University.

Susan Perry-Manning  is North Carolina’s Deputy Secretary for Human Services and has more than 25 years of experience in early childhood development and learning at the local, state and national levels. She served as executive director for the Early Care and Education Consortium, a national nonprofit alliance representing child care businesses; as the executive director for the Delaware Office of Early Learning and as the Deputy Executive Director at Child Care Aware of America, a nonprofit membership association working to improve child care quality, access and affordability; Perry-Manning holds an M.A. in early childhood education from Concordia University – St. Paul and a B.A. from Hamilton College.

U.S. Congressman David Price represents North Carolina’s Fourth District—a rapidly growing, research-and-education-focused district that includes parts of Orange, Durham and Wake counties. He received his undergraduate degree at UNC-Chapel Hill and went on to Yale University to earn a Bachelor of Divinity and Ph.D. in Political Science. Before he began serving in Congress in 1987, Price was a professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Duke University. He is the author of four books on Congress and the American political system. Price currently serves on the House Appropriations Committee and is the ranking member of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee. He is also a member of the Appropriations subcommittees covering homeland security, State Department, and foreign operations funding. In North Carolina, Price’s constituents know him as a strong supporter of education, accessible health care, affordable housing, clean air and water and improved transportation alternatives.


Sepi Saidi is a professional engineer and alumna of North Carolina State University, with degrees in civil and agricultural Engineering. Saidi is a visionary leader who founded SEPI Engineering & Construction in 2001 and has led the company to become a premier engineering firm in the southeast. SEPI is a full-service civil engineering, environmental, planning and design firm and employs more than 250 employees with offices in Raleigh, Wilmington, Charlotte, Richmond, VA, and Loveland, CO. Saidi is dedicated to building great environments and giving back to the community. She serves on executive boards for the NC Chamber of Commerce, Duke Raleigh Hospital, Wake Ed Partnership, NC State’s Institute for Emerging Issues, and the North Carolina State University Foundation. She was recently appointed to the North Carolina State Banking Commission by Governor Cooper and was sworn into the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority Board by Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane.

Brian Sickora is the executive director and general director of UNC-TV. Director since 2012. Sickora is responsible for the overall vision, leadership, strategic direction and success of the organization, which includes  Sickora served previously as president and chief executive officer of WSKG Public Media in Binghamton, New York. During his nine-year tenure at WSKG, he launched a number of local programming initiatives and helped establish WSKG as a national model for partnership-focused enterprises.  Prior to joining WSKG, Mr. Sickora spent four years with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in Washington, D.C., where he served as vice president for system development and station grants administration. Sickora is vice chair of the PBS Finance Committee and serves on the Executive, Audit and Station Services committees and the Member Services Access Working Group. Sickora was awarded the Excellence in Leadership Award for being a champion of quality early learning services in the State of New York. This was presented to him by the Early Care and Learning Council of New York in 2015.

Alexandra Forter Sirota joined the N.C. Budget and Tax Center as a public policy analyst in April 2010 and became project director in November 2010. Before joining the Justice Center, she coordinated research on child well being and policy analysis on family economic security at Action for Children North Carolina. Sirota has a broad range of experience at nonprofit organizations and government agencies both in the United States and abroad. She has worked in the Community Affairs Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on a system-wide research effort to document concentrated poverty and at Toynbee Hall in London on an initiative to connect unbanked residents with financial institutions. Her research interests include poverty, community economic development and how budget and tax policies can support economic opportunity. Sirota received a bachelor’s degree from Haverford College in Pennsylvania and a joint master’s degree from the University of Chicago.


Dave Tayloe, Jr. founded Goldsboro Pediatrics in 1977 after completing medical school at the University of North Carolina and pediatric residencies at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and NC Memorial Hospital. Today, the practice operates four offices and six school-based health centers that are coordinated by health information technology. Tayloe has served in leadership roles for the NC Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics since 1983 (President 1993-95), and in the national AAP (District IV AAP Chairperson and Executive Committee (2001-2010), and Academy President (2008-2009)). He is on the AMA Council on Legislation.


Napoleon Wallace is the Deputy Secretary for Rural Economic Development and Workforce Solutions at the North Carolina Department of Commerce. He manages support for North Carolina’s rural communities, leading a team of specialists to help communities prepare to attract business and spur economic growth. He also directs the Department’s efforts to strengthen the state’s workforce programs. He has also served as the Social Investment Officer at the Kresge Foundation, making investments in health and human services. He also served on the executive staff at Self-Help, managing community and economic development initiatives, small-business lending, financial institution turnarounds, mergers, portfolio acquisitions, community development real estate projects and retail strategy. He is a native of Pitt and Beaufort counties, the proud son of a teacher and a small-business owner. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in finance from North Carolina Central University and an MBA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Cindy Watkins is president for the North Carolina Partnership For Children and has decades of experience working with children, families and communities to focus energy and attention on improving the lives of young children. She has over 19 years of nonprofit management experience, serving as the executive director of three Smart Start Partnerships, including the Person Partnership for Children, the Alamance Partnership for Children and the Guilford Partnership for Children. Watkins also served as the Organizational Advancement Director at NCPC where she developed and implemented organizational strengthening and capacity building initiatives with local partnerships, including board and staff leadership development. Additionally, Watkins worked in the public school system in Virginia and North Carolina both as a teacher and a counselor. She holds an M.A. in counselor education from Lynchburg College and a B.A. from the University of Mary Washington with a major in psychology.

Ryan White is a consultant with the human services practice area at Public Consulting Group, Inc. (PCG). His work focuses on helping state and local Human Service agencies develop strategies to communicate meaningfully with their stakeholders. His most recent work has been in the areas of child welfare and early intervention, assisting state-level clients in articulating the impacts of major change initiatives to their staff, providers, families, and communities. Prior to his work at PCG, White worked in several roles in New York State government, including in federal relations, special projects and outreach coordination for the Governor’s Office and State Budget Office. He is a graduate of the University of Rochester.

Chancellor Randy Woodson became North Carolina State University’s 14th chancellor in April 2010. Woodson leads the largest university in North Carolina, with more than 34,000 students and a $1.5 billion budget. Under his leadership, the university created and implemented The Pathway to the Future strategic plan that has elevated NC State’s recognition among the nation’s top public research universities. A nationally recognized scholar and academic leader, Chancellor Woodson came to NC State having most recently served as provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at Purdue University. An internationally-renowned plant molecular biologist specializing in reproductive processes in agricultural crops, he earned his undergraduate degree in horticulture from the University of Arkansas and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in plant physiology from Cornell University.

Tracy Zimmerman has more than 20 years of experience working on behalf of public interest organizations. She helped found the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation, where she serves as executive director. She advances the organization’s vision that each North Carolina child has a strong foundation for lifelong success and reading proficiency, supported by the nation’s best birth-to-eight system. Prior to NCECF, she led The North Carolina Partnership for Children’s (NCPC) public engagement efforts and developed the First 2,000 Days campaign. Before NCPC, she served as the Public Relations Director at FPG Child Development Institute at UNC. She previously served as senior vice president at The Hauser Group in Washington D.C., where she created an award-winning public health campaign on infertility prevention for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. She holds a B.A. in political science from Washington University in St. Louis. Zimmerman and her husband, an elementary school teacher, have two children.