Governor Cooper Names Early Childhood Advisory Council Panel of Experts to Advise on Learning Opportunities from Birth to Age 8, Emphasize Importance of Child Development for Building a Strong Workforce and Economy


Governor Cooper reaffirmed his commitment to making quality early learning and development a priority today by naming experts to serve on the state's Early Childhood Advisory Council.

"Investing in early learning and development is essential to building a better future for our children and our state," Governor Cooper said. "Quality early learning gives children the opportunity to succeed in school and life, helps produce the workforce we need to drive our state's economic prosperity, and saves taxpayer money in the long run.”

Gov. Cooper issued an executive order today to reauthorize North Carolina’s council. Federal law requires each state to establish an early childhood advisory council. North Carolina’s Early Childhood Advisory Council provides leadership in the development of a premiere early learning and development system for children birth to age 8. 

The most rapid period of development in life happens in children’s earliest years. During a child’s first years, brain architecture is forming, creating either a strong or weak foundation for all future learning. Research shows that high-quality early childhood programs can yield a 13 percent annual return on investment through better outcomes in education, health, social behaviors, and employment – reducing taxpayer costs down the road.

The council will focus on:

  • Creating and guiding a bold early childhood action plan that aligns with other efforts to advance the state’s early childhood system.
  • Building awareness of the importance of high-quality early childhood experiences to future education and career success to ensure young children in North Carolina are learning and thriving.
  • Recommending and advocating for policies and funding that improve equitable access to high-quality early childhood services and better outcomes for young children and families.

The council includes experts from a wide range of fields that contribute to young children’s healthy development, education and well-being. Today, Governor Cooper announced the appointment of the following individuals to serve on the council:

  • Susan Butler-Staub as a consumer of early childhood services representative. Butler-Staub is an instructor of Early Childhood Education at Central Piedmont Community College. Prior to teaching, she worked in North Carolina’s child care resource and referral field for more than 10 years as a trainer and technical assistance provider. 
  • Anna Carter as a NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) representative. Carter is the Director of the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) at DHHS. Carter has served in a number of roles in that division and has also served as president of the Child Care Services Association in Chapel Hill. 
  • Dr. Lisa Chapman as an institution of higher education representative. Dr. Chapman is the System Senior Vice President/Chief Academic Officer for the North Carolina Community College System. She has more than 30 years of experience in the community college system spending most of her career at Central Carolina Community College. 
  • Sec. Mandy Cohen as the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services representative. She was appointed secretary in January 2017. Sec. Cohen is an internal medicine physician with experience leading complex health organizations. She was previously Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 
  • Gerald “Jerry” M. Croan is a Senior Fellow at Third Sector Capital Partners, Inc. He is a successful entrepreneur with an extensive career working to advance health, education and social policy and practice. Mr. Croan is currently working on Social Innovation Financing and Pay For Success program development in areas ranging from mental health to child welfare to education.
  • Terry David as a member from a Head Start agency representative. David serves as Director of Head Start and Early Head Start Programs with Chapel Hill Training Outreach Project (CHT-OP). Prior to this, he served as Director of Head Start in Durham and in Charlottesville, VA. He currently serves as President of the NC Head Start Association. 
  • Stephanie Fanjul as an at-large representative. Fanjul was a key architect of North Carolina’s early childhood system. She has served as president of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, led Smart Start, and created and directed North Carolina’s Division of Child Development. 
  • Dr. Laura Gerald as an at-large representative. Dr. Gerald is president of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. A pediatrician who was born and raised in rural North Carolina, she brings decades of leadership experience in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors to the foundation. 
  • Eric Hart as a consumer of early childhood services representative. Hart is the head of the properties department at Triad Stage in Greensboro, and teaches at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. He lives in Burlington with his wife and two children, the oldest of which is ventilator-dependent.
  • Velva Jenkins as an institution of higher education representative. Jenkins is Vice President of Continuing Education, Economic & Workforce Development at Brunswick Community College. She has more than 30 years of experience in the community college system. 
  • Dr. Doré R. LaForett as an at-large representative. Dr. LaForett is an Advanced Research Scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on young children’s school readiness and mental health with an emphasis on children from low-income, ethnically diverse, and dual language learner backgrounds. 
  • Dr. Kelly Maxwell as an at-large representative. Dr. Maxwell is a Senior Research Scientist at Child Trends with more than 15 years of experience in early childhood policy, research, and evaluation. She is known nationally for her policy-relevant research and evaluation focused on helping states improve their early care and education systems.
  • Karen McKnight as the Director of the Head Start – State Collaboration Office representative. In this role, she works to build statewide early childhood collaborations ensuring the role of Head Start. McKnight has 20 years of experience in early childhood education. Prior to becoming Director of the Collaboration Office, she served as Disability Services Manager for Migrant Head Start.  
  • Susan Perry-Manning as a NC DHHS representative. Perry-Manning is Deputy Secretary for Human Services at DHHS. She has more than 25 years of experience in early childhood development and learning at the local, state, and national levels. 
  • Mamie “Bernadette” Rodgers as a child care and early education provider representative. Rodgers is the Director/Owner of Smiling Faces Childcare Center in Williamston. Smiling Faces is a five-star center that has been in operation since April 1987 and is licensed to serve 190 children from birth to age 12. 
  • Meka S. Sales as an at-large representative. Sales is Director of Special Initiatives at The Duke Endowment, a private family foundation based in Charlotte. Her strategic oversight aids the development of initiatives that help communities improve conditions so that children and families can thrive and enjoy healthier lives.   
  • Dr. Pam Shue as a Department of Public Instruction representative. Dr. Shue is the Associate Superintendent for Early Childhood Education at the NC Department of Public Instruction. She previously served as the Director of the DCDEE for NC DHHS. 
  • Janet Singerman as an at-large representative. Singerman has served as president of Child Care Resources, Inc. based in Charlotte, since 1997. She is also a leader of the NC Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) Council, which manages and supports NC’s statewide system of local and regional CCR&R agencies. 
  • Dr. Ray Spain as a local educational agency representative. Dr. Spain was appointed superintendent of Warren County Schools in 2003. He began his career as a teacher’s aide in Halifax County and served as a classroom teacher, coordinator for education-related programs and principal before becoming superintendent. 
  • Dr. Betsey Tilson as a NC DHHS representative. Dr. Tilson is the State Health Director and Chief Medical Officer for DHHS. She is also a practicing physician who delivers primary care at the Wake County Human Services Child Health Clinic. 
  • Banu Valladares as a child care and early education provider representative. Valladares joined the Charlotte Bilingual Preschool as Executive Director in August 2017. She has an extensive non-profit background, having served for many years with the NC Humanities Council, the NC Arts Council, and SonEdna. 
  • Kristin Walker as an Office of State Budget and Management representative. Walker is Deputy Director of State Budget for the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management. In this role, she provides management oversight for statewide issues, demographic and economic analysis, strategic planning, and evidence-based policy making. 
  • Cindy Watkins as the President of the North Carolina Partnership for Children representative. Watkins has more than 30 years of experience working with children, families, and communities. As president, she is responsible for the partnership’s operations and for providing oversight and technical assistance for the state’s early childhood system, Smart Start. 
  • Michelle Winstead as an at-large representative. Winstead is Director of New Hanover County Department of Social Services. She began working with New Hanover DSS as Assistant Director in 2014 and was promoted to Director in 2015. She previously served as DSS Director in Warren County and has more than 24 years of human services experience.