Co-Chair of ECEC
CEO of Primrose Schools
As CEO of Primrose Schools, Jo Kirchner has a lifelong mission to deliver a nurturing environment and a quality early learning foundation to help children become confident adults who love who they are and what they do. Jo leads strategic direction and external brand leadership efforts for Primrose, including the launch of Primrose on Premise℠ employer-sponsored schools.
She joined the company in 1990 as Vice President and became President and CEO in 1999. Under Jo’s leadership, Primrose has grown from four schools in metro Atlanta to 425 schools nationwide.
Co-Chair of ECEC
CEO of New Horizon Academy
Chad Dunkley is Chief Executive Officer for New Horizon Academy and Kinderberry Hill Child Development Centers. He oversees operations, marketing, strategy, and finance, and drives the culture of continuous improvement at all New Horizon and Kinderberry Hill locations.
Chad has served on the board of ECEC since 2001. Chad is also President of the Minnesota Child Care Association (MCCA), and was elected to serve a 4-year term on the governing board of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in 2012. Chad received his J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law and his B.A. in management from Hamline University.
Treasurer at ECEC
Chief Operating Officer at Childcare Network
Chris Smith began his tenure as Chief Operating Officer at Childcare Network in March of 2020. Prior to this position, Chris served as Chief Growth Officer, President, and Chief Financial Officer over the past eight years. Before joining the company, he spent 16 years in the healthcare services industry, serving in senior management or executive level positions for 13 years. Childcare Network operates more than 250 programs in eleven states, serving 40,000+ children and 6000+ employees.
The mission at Childcare Network is to provide children with the highest quality early care and education and to serve as a supportive network and resource for families. Chris holds a B.A. from Birmingham-Southern College and a Graduate Diploma in International Studies from the University of Sydney.
Secretary at ECEC
CEO of Cadence Education
Dave Goldberg is Chief Executive Officer of Cadence Education, one of the largest early childhood educators in the country. Dave has over 20 years of experience leading franchise, hospitality, and service companies, and specializes in formulating strategy, improving the customer experience, enhancing operations, branding, and launching new concepts.
Prior to Cadence Education, Dave served as Senior Vice President, New Programs at 2U, a leading provider of online education. He contributed to the companies 30%+ annual growth, and was one of the management team members involved in successfully taking the company public (NASDAQ: TWOU).
North Carolina Licensed Child Care Association
Bill Mitchell is owner of Primrose School at Eastfield Village. He was previously Vice President of Franchise Operations for Domino's Pizza at their Ann Arbor Michigan headquarters, where he was responsible for a $500 million division of the company. He was also Vice President of Franchising at Aaron Rents, Inc. in Atlanta GA.
He is now President of the North Carolina Licensed Child Care Association, serves on the NC Board of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (AdvancED), the Board of the Washington DC-based Early Care and Education consortium, the Charlotte Mecklenburg School District's Task Force on Early Childhood Education, the Charlotte Chamber's Workforce Education and Development Committee, and is the Chairperson of the Primrose Schools Franchising Company Advisory Council.
Learning Care Group
Mark R. Bierley is Chief Executive Officer of Learning Care Group, the second-largest for-profit early education and care provider in North America. Learning Care Group operates more than 900 schools in 36 states, the District of Columbia and internationally. As CEO, Mark is responsible for all aspects of the company’s strategy, leadership and operations.
Mark joined Learning Care Group in 2012 as Chief Financial Officer, then served as President and Chief Operating Officer until he was appointed as the CEO on July 1, 2019. Mark leads more than 20,000 Learning Care Group employees in delivering excellence to the families served throughout a portfolio of school brands: Childtime, The Children’s Courtyard, Creative Kids Learning Centers, Everbrook Academy, La Petite Academy, Montessori Unlimited, Tutor Time, and Pathways Learning Academy.
Ph.D., Vice President Specialized Services
Holly King, Ph.D., is Vice President of Specialized Services for Cognia, supporting accreditation and continuous improvement for early learning schools, digital learning, STEM, and corporations. Holly holds a Ph.D. in Leadership and Change from Antioch University, as well as Master degrees in Early Childhood Education and in Leadership and Change.
Holly has directed early learning programs in private, non-profit, and school district settings over the past 19 years. She served as adjunct faculty in Early Childhood Education for eight years at Arapahoe Community College and CCCOnline in Colorado, and for three years at Clark College in Washington. She currently serves as Adjunct Faculty in the Master’s in Leadership and Organizations program at University of Denver and is a Research Associate in Quantitative Methods for Antioch University.
Senior Vice President & General Counsel
The Learning Experience
Michael Shafir is the Senior Vice President & General Counsel of The Learning Experience, headquartered in South Florida. Prior to working at The Learning Experience, Michael worked at several top-tier Florida law firms, including Carlton Fields and Broad and Cassel, where he practiced complex commercial litigation, employment defense, and insurance law. He received his JD, magna cum laude, from Nova Southeastern University – Shepard Broad Law Center.
Michael is involved in various professional and community organizations, including Make-a-Wish Foundation, Jewish Federation of Broward County and the Young Presidents Club of Mount Sinai Medical Center Foundation, of which he is a past co-chair.
Spring Education Group
As CEO of Spring Education Group, a best-in-class platform for education, Shawn Weidmann was instrumental in bringing together three premier private school organizations from Preschool - 12 in the United States. Prior to this, Shawn joined Stratford School as the CEO in April 2015. Previously, he was the COO of Public Storage, the world’s largest operator of self-storage facilities with over 2200 sites in the 38 states.
His extensive career as a leader includes being President of Teleflora, the world’s largest network of retail florists; consultant at McKinsey & Company; product manager for Progressive Insurance; and a partner at EHS Partners, a boutique consulting firm. He launched his career as an Army officer, leaving active duty as a Captain.
Stepping Stone Schools
Rhonda Paver is regarded as a leading expert in early childhood care and education. In 2011, the Governor appointed her as the only person in private business to the Texas State Advisory Council on Early Childhood Education and Care. She is also a writer and speaker, having presented multiple times at the World Forum on Early Care and Education and at the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s National Conference.
Her love of learning keeps growing stronger and she finds, as she interacts with them, some of her best teachers are the Stepping Stone children. She has taken what she has learned and made Stepping Stone Schools Central Texas’s largest privately-owned and most respected private preschool.
Tom Wyatt is Chief Executive Officer of KinderCare Education, the parent company of the KinderCare, CCLC, Champions, Knowledge Beginnings, Cambridge Schools and The Grove School brands. These brands collectively provide early learning and school-age programs to nearly 200,000 children in more than 1,700 locations and over 400 programs around the country. Previously, Tom served as President of Old Navy since 2008,
Tom first joined Gap Inc. as President, GapBody in March 2006. In February 2007, he was named head of the Outlet division. Prior to Gap Inc., Tom held the position of President and CEO for Cutter & Buck.
Mary Lou Burke Afonso
Chief Operations Officer, North America Center Operations
Mary Lou Burke Afonso, a 25-year veteran of Bright Horizons, is responsible for overseeing the operational leadership and management of all North America-based child care centers and schools.
The working mother of two daughters, both graduates of Bright Horizons early education and preschool, Mary Lou has the distinction of leading more areas of the company that any other employee. She has held a variety of leadership oversight positions in Finance, Center Operations, Business Operations, Client Relations, and College Coach. She has served as the company’s Controller and worked on the integration of milestone acquisitions in Europe and in back-up care.
Mary Lou has a special interest in growing and developing young women leaders and a dedication to professional recognition for early educators and the work they do. She is a graduate of Boston College and the Boston College School of Management and is also a CPA.
Goddard Systems, Inc.
Dennis R. Maple was named president and chief executive officer of Goddard Systems, Inc., franchisor of The Goddard School preschool system, in September 2019.
A University of Tennessee graduate, Dennis is a transformational leader who excels at leading business turnarounds; attracting, developing and engaging leadership talent; and creating value for internal and external company stakeholders.
Prior to joining Goddard Systems, Inc., Dennis served as president of First Student, Inc., which is North America’s largest K-12 school bus transportation services company, for five years. His emphasis on instilling operating and pricing discipline across North American operations, cultivating an engaged employee culture of performance and accountability, and instilling a relentless focus on the voice of the customer to deliver new product innovation have helped to create a strong, trusted partner in school transportation services.
Prior to First Student, Dennis spent 10 years at ARAMARK Corporation where, for seven of those years, he served as President of Aramark Education, delivering food, nutrition, and facilities services to K-12 school markets.
At First Student and Aramark, Dennis gained valuable insights into the issues facing educators and administrators, particularly issues about ensuring healthy and safe environments for students.
Dennis brings another 20-plus-years of experience with leading CPG companies that include Coors Brewing Company, PepsiCo, Kraft, and The Quaker Oats Company. These experiences have cultivated within him considerable proficiency in using data-driven insights to identify sustainable competitive advantage through product, business model, and service innovations.
Dennis is a member of the Descartes Systems Group board of directors, where he serves as a member of the compensation committee and the nominating committee. He has also served as a board member for various organizations in his hometown of Philadelphia, including the Urban League of Philadelphia, Episcopal Academy, Philadelphia Outward Bound School, Philadelphia Academies and the Paoli Hospital Foundation. He has also been an active participant in organizations that support primary and secondary schools and communities across North America.
Crème de la Crème, Inc.
Bruce T. Karpas is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Crème de la Crème, Inc., a national premium childcare company with 46 centers in 14 states with a capacity of serving 18,000 children. Founded in 1996, Crème is differentiated by its early education model of transitioning children to a variety of themed classrooms throughout its 21,000 square foot signature building.
Prior to Crème, Mr. Karpas was one of the founders of the first pay-per-view television network, Request Television. He also worked at Liberty Media Corp.
Mr. Karpas began his career as a corporate lawyer at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. He graduated from Columbia Law School, where he was a member of the Columbia Law Review, and Boston University’s School of Management, where he graduated summa cum laude.
Chairman and CEO
Child Development Schools
David Evans is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Child Development Schools (“CDS”). CDS is one of the largest providers of early childhood education and care (“ECEC”) in the U.S. to children from underserved and lower income communities as well as military families. CDS is the fourth largest ECEC provider nationally with more than 270 centers across 11 states, serving over 35,000 children each day. CDS is committed to giving every child it serves “A Great Start in Life.”
Mr. Evans also serves as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Glencoe Diversified Holdings, LLC which is a conglomerate engaged in Specialty Chemicals, Insurance, Education and Manufacturing industries. Mr. Evans started Glencoe Capital in 1994 and serves as Chairman and Chief Investment Officer. Mr. Evans has been responsible for over $2.0 billion of private investments in over 100 operating companies.
Mr. Evans earned his MBA with Honors from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago and his Bachelor of General Science degree from the University of Michigan. He has served on numerous philanthropic boards, and together with his wife Joan, established the Prosper Road Foundation to address educational access and inequity issues in the United States. Joan and David have two sons - Joey and Jonathan.