Jo Kirchner

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.

Chad Dunkley

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.

Tony Amandi

Treasurer at ECEC

Chief Financial Officer at KinderCare Education

Tony Amandi is the CFO of KinderCare Education (KCE). KCE is the nation’s leading private provider of high-quality early childhood education and school-age programs, serving more than 185,000 children from six weeks to 12 years old at more than 2,300 locations nationwide. KCE is the parent company of the KinderCare, KinderCare at Work, and Champions brands. As CFO, Tony leads the accounting, treasury, external reporting, finance, information systems and procurement functions. He is responsible for multiple functions across the company, including financial planning and analysis (FP&A), the controller’s organization, internal audit, tax and risk, and procurement. Prior to his promotion to CFO in June of 2019, Tony served as the senior vice president of KCE’s financial planning and analysis and was previously Corporate Controller.

Before joining KCE Tony worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers for nearly 10 years in their Audit and Assurance practice. He worked with clients to complete their annual audits and improve processes and controls. Tony also assisted with engagements related to clients’ acquisitions, debt, and stock offerings. He gained extensive Sarbanes-Oxley experience in this role. Tony also served as the project leader for a Fortune 100 company during the first year of 404 controls implementation and integrated audit approach and lead the audit and advisory engagements of public and non-public, multinational and multilocation companies. When he left PricewaterhouseCoopers Tony was the Senior Manager of their Portland, Oregon office.

Tony earned his Bachelor of Arts in Finance and Accounting from the University Honors College at Oregon State University. He earned his Master of Business Administration from the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. Tony is a Certified Public Accountant in the State of Oregon and is a Certified Treasury Professional. Tony lives in Portland with his wife and their three children.

Charles Hodges

Executive Director

North Carolina Licensed Child Care Association

Charles Hodges has served as the executive director of NCLCCA since 2019. As executive director, he leads state and federal public affairs efforts and oversees all facets of member and board relations, finance and communications. Charles is also the owner and founder of Insight Advocacy and Communications, which specializes in public affairs and public relations for small to mid-size businesses, organizations and non-profits.

He has more than 20 years' experience in public affairs, grassroots organizing and advocacy, communications and public relations gained in Washington, DC and North Carolina. Before returning to North Carolina and working at the largest public affairs firm in the Southeast, Charles worked in Washington, DC, with the global PR firm Hill and Knowlton Public Affairs and the American Heart Association, where he managed communications for state and federal advocacy initiatives in their DC-based government relations office.

Mark Bierley


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.

Jonah Stuart

Chief Policy & Government Relations Officer

Teaching Strategies

Jonah Stuart is Chief Policy & Government Relations Officer at Teaching Strategies, where he leads the company’s policy, research, and advocacy agenda. Prior to joining Teaching Strategies in 2009, he served as an aide to United States Senator Chuck Schumer. Jonah began his career teaching middle school in Baltimore with Teach For America. He holds a B.A. in History and Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley, and a M.A. in Education from Johns Hopkins University.

As a former educator and the father of three young girls, Jonah has a deep appreciation for high-quality early childhood education. He is committed to advancing policy aimed at improving and expanding access to early learning opportunities for all children.

Rhonda Paver


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


KinderCare Education

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

Bright Horizons

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.

Dennis Maple


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.

David Evans

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.

Gigi Schweikert


Lightbridge Academy

Gigi Schweikert is CEO of Lightbridge Academy overseeing 58 open centers in seven states. Gigi is an international thought leader in early childhood education and supervision. With 30 years of experience and 18 published books, in three languages, Gigi has appeared on CBS, NBC, Fox, and the Wall Street Journal Lunch Hour News. Ms. Schweikert has been quoted in The New Times, Entrepreneur, and Forbes.

Ms. Schweikert was the former Director of the United Nations Child Care Centre. Gigi developed and managed on-site employer-sponsored child care programs for Fortune 500 companies including, Johnson & Johnson, Bank of America, and SC Johnson Wax. Gigi was the host of the TV show, “Today’s Family,” but her greatest accomplishment is being the mother of her four children.

Joshua Frick


Kiddie Academy® Educational Child Care

Josh has served as Kiddie Academy® Educational Child Care’s President since January 1, 2020. He joined the company in 2001 as a Real Estate Manager. In 2003, he was promoted to Director of Real Estate (later known as Vice President of Real Estate) and in 2017, Josh was promoted to Chief Development Officer.  During his tenure with the company, Josh has overseen the company’s growth and development, provided overall strategic leadership and guidance, while maintaining direct supervision of several critical components of the business. There are more than 285 Kiddie Academy locations nationwide, each delivering the high-quality care and education that has earned the trust and respect of families, educators and entrepreneurs nationwide.  He earned a Bachelor of Science from York College of Pennsylvania, where he studied marketing, management and entrepreneurship.

Wes Wooten

President and CEO

The Sunshine House, Inc.

Wes Wooten is the President and CEO of The Sunshine House, Inc, an early education and care company operating more than 100 schools in eight states across the country. As President and CEO, he oversees the company’s strategic direction, operations, finance, expansion, and marketing efforts, and ensures the company delivers on its mission: providing high-quality care and education – every child, every family, every day.  

With more than 30 years of industry experience, Wes has made early childhood education and care his passion. Prior to joining The Sunshine House in 2014, Wes served for 25 years as Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Kaplan Early Learning Company. Wes has served on numerous boards and committees over the years and continues to look for ways to share his passion for the positive development of young children.

Wes earned his MBA from the University of North Carolina Greensboro, and his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Appalachian State University. A native of Garner, NC, Wes resides in Greenville, SC and is the proud father of two amazing young adults.

Gerry Pastor

Co-Chief Executive Officer

The Nest Schools

Gerry Pastor has been involved in the Early Childhood Education field for over 35 years. Having started, grown, and successfully operated a leading childcare company in Connecticut alongside his wife, Jane Porterfield, they sold their 20 schools in 2019 and thought they would retire. And they did for a year! However, they quickly realized they wanted to continue their lifelong commitment to providing exceptional programs for young children and their families and started up again with the creation of The Nest Schools in 2020. Gerry and Jane look forward to growing The Nest Schools across the country and creating a new standard of excellence for the future of early education and preschool.

Elisa Shepherd

Associate Vice President, Government Relations

The Learning Experience Academy of Early Education

Elisa Shepherd is Associate Vice President, Government Relations at The Learning Experience® Academy of Early Education (TLE®). With more than 300 early learning centers in the United States and the United Kingdom, TLE provides high quality child care to children, ages six weeks to six years old. At TLE, Elisa leads the international and domestic policy agenda and oversees the grants and government funded program opportunities available to private providers.

Elisa earned a Bachelor of Science from the Pennsylvania State University, where she studied psychology and child development to begin her early education career as a prekindergarten teacher. She has an unyielding passion and commitment to providing the best opportunities for young children. Throughout her 30 years in the field, she has served as an expert in early education, program management, quality assessment and staff development for several national childcare brands. In 2010, Elisa elected to utilize her knowledge and experiences in the world of policy and advocacy, and joined the Early Care and Education Consortium, representing Kids ‘R’ Kids, International. Today, she continues to drive childcare policies and public funding that “make a positive difference in the lives of our children, their families and the communities we serve.” -TLE Mission.

Leigh-Ellen Louie

Chief Executive Officer

Cadence Education

Leigh-Ellen Louie is the Chief Executive Officer of Cadence Education, one of the largest early childhood educators in the country, operating more than 295 schools in 30 states. With the proprietary Ascend Curriculum, Kind Child Culture, Kindergarten Club and more than 30 years in business, Cadence Education is proud of a deep expertise in, and commitment to, preparing students to thrive in their current and future lives. Cadence currently operates childhood learning academies, preparatory preschools, and specialty early childhood schools such Montessori and Spanish Language Immersion programs.

Leigh-Ellen is a seasoned business leader with more than 25 years of experience in multi-site consumer service businesses, and a career encompassing general management and strategy roles in various industries. Throughout her career, she has demonstrated a strong ability to enhance customer experiences, build and lead high-performing teams, and drive business growth. With a mother who was a children’s librarian and a father who was a lifelong CPA, Leigh-Ellen has an equal passion for the mission of developing children and the excitement of the business growth that comes from serving more and more families. Leigh-Ellen has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She is deeply passionate about providing children with the best possible start in life through exceptional early childhood education.

Shahdokht “Shy” Mudakavi

Founder & CEO

Safari Kid Global, Inc.

Shahdokht “Shy” Madakavi is the founder, CEO, and visionary behind Safari Kid Global, Inc. — a renowned chain of early education and school-age enrichment preschool and afterschool centers, operating in three countries (United States, Canada, and India) with more than 45 open locations. With over 20+ years of experience in early childhood education, Shy is a dedicated professional in the field of Early Childhood Education. With a genuine passion for learning and nurturing young minds, she brings a wealth of knowledge and creativity to her role.

Shy's expertise extends to curriculum development and implementation. As a hands-on leader, she works closely with the program and curriculum development team and has a keen eye for designing activities that stimulate cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development in young children. She is committed to providing a fun child-centric learning environment that nurtures curiosity, creativity, and a lifelong love for learning.