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 background also includes more than 20 years of experience working with birth to five early care and education programs in California in a range of leadership roles, including being a classroom teacher.

Contact: leslie.capello@cuny.edu


Malika Henriques: Assistant Director

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


Pilar Fort: Quality Improvement Manager

Pilar Fort is a motivated early childhood professional with more than 35 years of experience in the field, including in program design and implementation, coaching, and as a manager, director, trainer and proud teacher – at national and international levels. She is committed to advancing more effective strategies to provide quality of care and life to young children and families in adversity. She has worked in child care, Early/Head Start programs, and at ZERO TO THREE. Pilar currently serves as President of the Board of the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI). She obtained her early childhood bachelor’s degree in Lima-Peru, and her Master of Arts from Duke University in North Carolina. She is UCLA Head Start Management Fellow, and Erikson Institute Irving B. Harris Infant Specialist. Pilar is an Ages & Stages ToT, Education Diplomat, Program for Infant/Toddler and Care (PITC) certified trainer and former adjunct faculty for the University of Cincinnati.

Contact: Anamaria.Fort@cuny.edu


Jaime Perez: Data and Rating Manager

Jaime Pérez has been the Data and Rating Manager of QUALITYstarsNY since 2014. In this role, Jaime manages QUALITYstarsNY’s quality rating and data reporting/analysis functions. Originally from New York City, Jaime has a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science & economics and is fluent in several languages.

Contact: Jaime.Perez@cuny.edu


Becky Plattus: Special Projects Manager

Becky has led Start with Stars since its inception in 2016 and is responsible for outreach, recruitment, design and evaluation of a system that supports quality programs prior to their enrollment in QUALITYstarsNY. Before joining the QUALITYstarsNY team, Becky worked as an early childhood and parent development specialist in social service and early education settings—working with teachers, directors, parents and children to help create nurturing and responsive environments and relationships. Becky has a dual master’s degree in early childhood and parent development and social work from the Bank Street College of Education and the Hunter College School of Social Work and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Contact: Becky.Plattus@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


Kinte Serrant: Sr. Project Assistant

Kinté Serrant joined QUALITYstarsNY with a strong background in management, most recently working as a project supervisor. Originally from the Caribbean Island of Dominica, Kinté has a Bachelor of Science degree in management and marketing from the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus in Barbados. He also has a Master of Public Administration degree from Long Island University Brooklyn. Kinté is passionate about education management and brings a wealth of outside experience to his role at QUALITYstarsNY.

Contact: kinte.serrant@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 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.

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


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 a 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


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


Emilie Gay: New York City

Emilie Gay has worked in the early childhood field for over 25 years. She has been an early childhood teacher and education director in both public and private schools, and has served as a Universal PreKindergarten education director and consultant. In 2013, Emilie was the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Legacy Fellow. Emilie is a certified NYS credentialed coach and trainer with expertise in the Core Body of Knowledge and the Early Learning Guidelines. Emilie is also a class reliable observer. She received her master’s degree, teacher's license, and Montessori teacher credentials from Chaminade University in Honolulu, HI.

Contact: egay@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


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