Meet the TA Team

Colleen HicksColleen M. Hicks, MPP | Director, Grow NJ Kids TA Center Central and Northeast

I am the Director of the Central and Northeast Grow NJ Kids TA Center and I’m thrilled to introduce you to my exceptional team of passionate early childhood leaders. My role in Grow NJ Kids has been to develop our TA Center so that our ECE community has the support it needs to improve and thrive.

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I believe that our early childhood providers have one of the most important jobs in the world and I’m committed to ensuring that they have the support they need to nurture our youngest learners. I’ve been with Prevent Child Abuse-NJ since 2005 and while Grow NJ Kids is my greatest passion and achievement, I’ve worked in several agency programs including Home Visitation, Adolescent Parenting, Community Engagement. I have an MA in Public Policy from Monmouth University and a BS in Education from Clarion University of Pennsylvania.

 

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Brianni GraverBrianni Graver | Training Coordinator

I am the Training Coordinator of the Central and Northeast Grow NJ Kids TA Centers. Prior to this position, I was a Technical Assistance Specialist for Hudson County for 4 years, working hands on with teachers and directors.

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I have worked with children and their families in different capacities since 2008, working in schools as well as at the Center for Attachment Research, researching the ways attachment affects children’s long-term success while obtaining my MA in Psychology at The New School. I want to be an agent for change and growth in children’s lives. I am motivated to support children’s abilities to develop empathy, resiliency, and critical thinking skills and this fuels all of the work I do with the caregivers in their lives. I love the work I do every day and try to find creative solutions to every endeavor. The trainings I provide now focus largely on Developmentally Appropriate Practice, care for infants and toddlers, as well as family engagement and communication. In my free time, I enjoy painting, reading, gardening, and cooking.


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Central TA Center


Christine ConklinChristine Conklin | Program Manager

I am the Program Manager covering five counties in NJ for our Central Region TA Center. I work, play and collaborate with an outstanding team of early childhood professionals who inspire me and those with whom they work every day.

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Each TA Specialist on our team brings a passion for Early Care and Education with their varying experience and knowledge to the table. Collectively we work to raise the bar of quality for NJ’s youngest population by coaching, mentoring, and providing TA and collaborative networking opportunities to child care centers and family child care providers across our region. My degree is from Rutgers University’s Douglass College in English and Elementary Education and I am a certified K-8 teacher. Before joining PCA-NJ, I grew up in the field of Early Childhood Education, wearing many hats from teacher, Family Child Care owner and operator, Child Care Center Director, Executive Director and Regional Manager. My Program Manager hat, however, is the one I wear with the most pride as it enables me to focus on supporting the adult learners who work to ultimately provide high quality opportunities and experiences to ALL children in our region and to work with and support a team who gives it their all every day. In addition, I am a certified Enough Abuse trainer, child advocate and mother.

 

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Vasu NachaVasu Nacha | Sr. TAS

Early childhood experiences impact outcomes in the years to follow. The opportunity to make a positive impact in a child’s early years is what excites me in my role of a Sr. Technical Assistance Specialist for Monmouth County within the Grow NJ Kids TA team.

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I have had diverse career experiences ranging from business development, recruitment and training to teaching and for the last 6 years working with children and families. My volunteer activities with the CASA of Middlesex county and as an advisory board member for SKN foundation’s special needs program SCOPE have enriched my experiences and further fueled my passion in this field. Equipped with a M.A in Psychology I enjoy providing workshops and trainings for adults and am a certified trainer in Cultural competence as well as a certified Enough Abuse trainer.

 

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Barbara ThorntonBarbara Thornton | Sr. TAS

I became a Senior Technical Assistance Specialist with Grow NJ Kids in 2015. Before taking this role, I held a number of administrative and teaching positions at various child care settings including corporate, private, faith-based, family and school-based centers.

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I hold a Master’s Degree in Public Health/Health Education and have worked as a Community Health Educator. I have over 25 years of experience in Early Childhood Education and have found it to be the most rewarding and influential work. I am honored to be part of the Grow NJ Kids Initiative as we work together to improve the quality of young children’s education and learning experiences.

 

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Joy BakerJoy Baker | TAS, Somerset County Lead

I am a Technical Assistant Specialist with the Middlesex/ Somerset County team. I joined the “Grow Team” because I see Early Childhood Education as an incredible, rewarding and admirable field. I am so honored and excited to be part of the Grow NJ Kids initiative.

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I hope to make a real difference in improving the quality of young children’s education and learning experiences, and helping those in the field to ensure children get the best care possible. Prior to this role, I held a number of roles in a child care setting. With my degree in Psychology and Education, I also have over 15 years of experience in Early Childhood Education.

 

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Joanne BodnarJoanne Bodnar | TAS, Mercer County Lead

As Technical Assistant Specialist, I work to support programs on their journey towards continuous quality improvement.

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Now in my fifth year with the Grow NJ Kids TA Center, I previously worked in a similar capacity with early child care programs and family childcare providers in my former role with the agency. I hold a BA in Psychology/Sociology from Rutgers University and a MAT from The College of New Jersey. Additionally, I hold certifications as a State of NJ Teacher, Trauma Professional and Reflective Supervision Consultant. Throughout my professional career I’ve worked as an educator in every age group within the field of early childhood. My work includes experience in a variety of environments inclusive of urban/suburban school districts, general/special education classrooms, blended programs, family child care providers and Head Start. I also serve as County Collaborative Lead and chairperson of the County Council for Young Children- Education Committee in Mercer County. Our team at Grow NJ Kids shares your vision and commitment to high-quality early learning and care. It is my pleasure to be able to support children and families in our community.

 

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Christine BouffordChristine Boufford | TAS

I am a Technical Assistance Specialist for Grow NJ Kids working in Ocean and Mercer counties. I became part of the TA Center because I wanted to collaborate with centers as they work to continuously improve early childhood standards for children and families.

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It was a natural extension of my 25 plus years in the field of Early Childhood Education. I hope to draw from my experiences as both a teacher and administrator to help centers navigate within the Grow NJ Kids process.

 

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Lissette FalconLissette Falcon | TAS

Hi I am a Technical Assistance Specialist for the Central Region, mainly supporting Family Child Care providers. I joined the GNJK team on October of 2016, and I feel very grateful for the opportunity of being part of this work.

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I have over 17 years of experience in the field of Early Childhood Education serving in different roles including Family Child Care provider, Lead Infant/Toddler Teacher, Special Education Teacher Assistant, Parent Educator through Parents as Teacher, and Community Family Partner. I hold a B.S in Psychology and an A.S in Business Administration.

 

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Leanna Felipe | TAS, Middlesex County Lead

I am a TA Specialist for the Central Region as well as the Middlesex County Lead. Prior to joining the Grow NJ Kids Team I was Director of one of the pilot programs which gives me a unique perspective when it comes to supporting you.

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I have about 15 years of experience in the Early Childhood field and have held various positions, including teaching and administrative roles, in non-profit and private/state-funded blended child care programs. I hold a Master’s Degree in Education from Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education with specializations in teaching Preschool-Third Grade, Kindergarten-Fifth Grade, and Students with Disabilities. My goal is to improve the quality of early care and education in New Jersey by supporting and educating those in the field.

 

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Jennifer FlanneryJennifer Flannery | TAS

I am a Technical Assistance Specialist for Grow NJ Kids in the Central Region. I have been in the field of Early Childhood Education for over 25 years; with experience in Montessori, faith-based Elementary Education, and both corporate and community child development centers.

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I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from the University of Scranton and believe that every child deserves to learn, grow and develop in a safe and loving environment. I joined the Grow Team to build relationships and partner with others in this field to make a difference.

 

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Sandra FloresSandra Flores | TAS

I am a Technical Assistance Specialist for the Central Region. I support programs and Family Child Care providers in Middlesex, Monmouth, Mercer, and Ocean counties. I have been in the field of Early Childhood for 18 years and have a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education /History.

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I hold both a Pre k -3rd grade and Kindergarten to 8th grade teacher certification from New Jersey City University. I’ve taught preschool age children for 16 years and was Education Coordinator for 2 years. I feel working with the Grow NJ Kids together with the experience I have, can help providers achieve the highest quality of care and education for our children.

 

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Sheila Maguire | TAS

I am a Technical Assistance Specialist for the Central Region. My 25+ years of experience in Early Childhood have taken me from the classroom, to center administration, to training and coaching, and I am proud to help providers through the Grow NJ Kids process. My favorite part of this position is working with diverse types of programs to help them reach their goals of improved quality.

  

 


Puja MathurPuja Mathur | TAS

I am privileged to be part of the Grow NJ Kids team because we make a difference in the lives of children in Early Care settings all over New Jersey! My work in the Early Childhood Education field began early on in India where I worked to set up 150 preschool centers in urban and rural areas.

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I continued to work in the Early Care and Education field as an Assistant Teacher, Teacher and Head Teacher in Bright Horizons and later Head Start. From the start I have enjoyed working with children and their families because developing strong partnerships with families is essential to improving the quality of care and bridging the gap between school and home. I have a Master’s degree in Human Development with a specialization in Early Childhood Education. Reading books and having rich discussions with co-workers helps me to keep myself abreast of the new developments in my field. In my free time, I listen to music, dance to the tunes of Bollywood music and spend time with my lovely family and close friends.

 

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Sweta PatelSweta Patel | TAS, Monmouth County Lead

I am a Technical Assistance Specialist for Monmouth County. I am excited to be a part of the Grow NJ Kids team. My goal in this position is to help childcare providers implement and maintain quality programs.

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I have received my Bachelors from Boston University in Psychology and prior to joining Grow NJ Kids, I have over 10 years of experience in working in the Early Childhood Education, holding many different positions from Assistant Teacher to Education Coordinator.

 

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Jennifer RicheJennifer Riche | TAS, Ocean County Lead

I am a Technical Assistance Specialist for the Central Region as well as the Ocean County Lead with over 20 years of experience working in early childhood education.

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I’ve held a variety of roles in private preschool settings including as the Director of Curriculum & Instruction at a center serving infants through First Grade as well as the Head Teacher for a NAEYC Accredited, Abbott Contracted private preschool. I hold a Master’s Degree in Education specializing in Curriculum & Instruction and valid NJ Standard Certification in elementary education as well as P-3 Certification. I became part of the Grow NJ Kids process as natural extension of my years in Early Childhood and look to draw on my experiences as I work with centers navigating their path toward continuous quality improvement.

 

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Shemika RossShemika Ross | Program Assistant/Incentive Coordinator

Shemika Ross is the Program Assistant/Incentive Coordinator for Grow NJ Kids in the Central Region with Prevent Child Abuse-NJ. Shemika has been with Prevent Child Abuse-NJ for 9 years and is very passionate about the cause.

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She has four children ranging from ages 6-16 and believes that early childhood education is extremely important.

 

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Northeast TA Center


Kim HaighKim Haigh | Program Manager, Northeast Region

I am the Program Manager for the Northeast Technical Assistance center covering Essex and Hudson counties. I have been in this role since 2015 and I feel truly honored and blessed that I am part of such an amazing team that is working passionately to make a difference for young children in New Jersey.

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I have over 20 years’ experience in the field of Early Childhood Education. I received my bachelor’s degree in education from Kean University and I am currently pursuing a master’s degree at Montclair University in Child and Families. I love coming to work each day knowing that we are supporting childcare providers to increase the quality of their programs. I am inspired by their passion, dedication and commitment to the children and families they serve. Outside of my role as Program Manager I am a mother of 4, a grandmother of one beautiful little girl and have been married for 25 years.

 

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Kelly McGlassonKelly McGlasson | Sr. TAS, Essex County

I most recently became the Sr. Technical Assistance Specialist for Essex County. I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Master of Science in Early Childhood with a specialization in Early Intervention.

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I worked for ten years as a Developmental Specialist for Missouri’s Early Intervention program, coaching caregivers and teachers on how to utilize appropriate strategies to promote optimal development. After relocating to New Jersey in 2010, I taught in a Montessori-based elementary classroom, focusing on inclusion practices. I also served as the Program Specialist for the preschool program, guiding teachers on ways to modify their classroom environment and curriculum to meet the individual needs of all students. Most recently, I became a Child Development Instructor, educating adult learners on theories of early childhood education, developmental milestones, and learning differences. I am honored to have the opportunity to collaborate with other professionals as we strive to provide all young children with access to quality care and education.


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Jenny Cabrera-GrandeJenny Cabrera-Grande | TAS, Essex County

Hola! my name is Jenny Cabrera-Grande. I am a Technical Assistant Specialist with the Northeast TA Center for Essex County. I am passionate about Early Childhood Education and the importance to provide children with a solid foundation for their future years.

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Having worked as an educator for over 20 years and as an Assistant Director for a Grow NJ Kids rated center, has enabled me to experience firsthand, how raising the quality of care positively impacts children and their families. I joined Grow NJ Kids with the desire to make a difference in children’s lives. I loved applying the principles of GNJK in my preschool classroom, and I am thrilled about now being able to support and mentor early childhood educators and directors alike, in the journey to meeting the Grow NJ Kids standards and by doing so, improving the quality of care for their students.

 

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Juana InurriteguiJuana Inurritegui | TAS, Essex County

I am a Technical Assistance Specialist for Essex County. I joined the GNJK Technical Assistance Center in 2019 and I am very grateful to be part of an incredible group of people who are passionate about early childhood education.

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I have more than 10 years of experience working with child care centers professionals and FCC providers in both Essex and Passaic counties. I hold a BA in Social Work from Rutgers University and I’m currently attending a MSW program with a concentration in clinical work. My biggest motivation is the well-being of all children in and out of the classroom environment. For that reason, I find GNJK to be an exciting opportunity to provide the youngest population the tools needed to be successful in life regardless of their background.

 

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Alisa Jones | TAS, Essex County

I am very excited to have joined the Essex County Team as a Technical Assistance Specialist! I have a long history in education beginning with receiving my BA from Rutgers University and entering into Environmental Education for the County Park System, later pursuing first my Early Childhood credentials then my Lower Elementary certification in Montessori education.

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Collectively, I have spent over 30 years teaching families, young students and new teachers to help them build a strong foundation in, and a love of learning as well as assisting them to become well rounded individuals and to strive to reach their potential. In looking inwardly to expand my own personal growth as well as my aspiration to touch the lives of more teachers, programs, and especially families and young children, I was drawn to the wonderful work and the extraordinary people in the Grow NJ Kids program. I am excited to work with everyone and to draw upon my experience as a teacher and mentor to help schools who want to affect change and better the lives of the children they serve.

 

 

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Michael PeraltaMichael Peralta | TAS, Essex County Lead

Hi! My name is Michael Peralta. I am a Technical Assistance Specialist for Grow NJ Kids for Essex County. Before joining Prevent Child Abuse NJ, I was the School Age Services Unit Manager at La Casa de Don Pedro responsible for the implementation of La Casa’s Enrichment Program and 21st Century Community Learning Center serving children between the ages of 5 to 12 years old.

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This experience gave me insight into the daily challenges of program administration. Prior to working at La Casa de Don Pedro, I worked at the National Institute for Early Education Research as an Assistant Project Coordinator. At NIEER, I assisted with the coordination of data collection and training for various research/evaluation projects that included preschool, infant/toddler and family child care programs throughout the country and outside the country (Colombia and Ecuador). Prior to working at NIEER, I volunteered at a Head Start Center in New Brunswick and at Rutgers Developmental Disability Center in which I worked with children with Autism. I am passionate about children’s rights and being the voice that they do not have. My goal in life is to do as much as I can to help ensure children have as many opportunities possible for a great childhood. I am honored to be a part of the Grow NJ Kids team and I am excited to work together with program directors/administrators to achieve the quality education and care that their children deserve.


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Bryan RamirezBryan Ramirez | TAS, Essex County

Hi, my name is Bryan Ramirez and I have had the privilege of working alongside the youngest learners for over 10 years. I serve as a TAS for Essex North East region and have my BS in Psychology and a Masters in Business Administration.

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Initially gaining experience as a preschool teacher at The Children’s Corner, I realized this is what I wanted to dedicate my life to. Striving to constantly improve the learning experiences we offer is something I enjoyed. Especially when I got to see how much our children enjoyed it. I was soon able to expand my influence of support and teaching when I was offered the role as Director of Sarah Ward Nursery. As an administrator, it offered me the valuable perspective to further understand the importance for us to forge lasting connections with families and strengthen our communities. When I was ultimately presented with the wonderful opportunity to join the PCANJ GROW NJ family, I entered into a new chapter of personal growth and learning on so many levels. I am so proud to be a part of this illustrious team of professionals constantly raising the bar advocating for best standards in childcare. Through our relationships and support, together we can build a brighter and stronger future filled with hope, love and understanding.


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Robin HapponenRobin Happonen | Sr. TAS, Hudson County

I am a Senior Technical Assistance Specialist with the Northeast TA Center working in Hudson County. Prior to joining Grow NJ Kids, I worked as an elementary school teacher and preschool teacher. I have a BA in Elementary Education from the University of Maryland and a MA in Child Advocacy from Montclair State University.

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In between working and studying, my husband, my daughter and I became a foster family to two little girls and officially adopted them into our family in 2007. I am so pleased to be a part of Grow NJ Kids, working towards assisting centers on their journey to providing quality education for ALL children in the State of New Jersey.

 

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Cindy D'AltoCindy D’Alto | TAS, Hudson County Lead

Hello, my name is Cindy D’Alto and I am a Technical Assistance Specialist with Hudson County. I have been working in the childcare field for over 20 years. I started my career in the infant room, my senior year in high school, and have been a part of childcare ever since.

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I graduated from The University of South Carolina with a Bachelor’s degree of Arts. After graduating, I continued my education by taking early childhood education classes at local colleges, followed by beginning my Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education at Capella University. Several years ago, when I was a Director, I enrolled my program in Grow NJ Kids. Immediately, I fell in love with program. Not only was I able to see first-hand how beneficial the program is, but the idea of working with centers in order to improve childcare is everything I dreamed of and more.

 

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Luz EstradaLuz Estrada | TAS, Hudson County

I am a Technical Assistance Specialist for Hudson County. I have a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and a master’s degree of Science in Multidisciplinary studies. I have been working as an Early Child teacher for 18 years.

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14 of those years in Colombia South America at a Bilingual School and 3 years in the United States. During these recent years in the US I have developed many skills and capabilities regarding Early Child curriculum and lesson planning. My knowledge and experience can be helpful in achieving goals of Grow NJ Kids.

 

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Alisa Jones

Amanda Sloan | TAS, Hudson County

Hi, I’m Amanda Sloan and am a Technical Assistant Specialist for Hudson County. I have over 10 years of experience working with children, adults, and families in a variety of settings: childcare, non-profit work, and most recently a TAS in Louisiana.

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I strongly believe that young children deserve to have access to high quality care and education. I have seen first-hand how often early childhood education is overlooked and under-resourced and I am honored to be able to support those that are caring for New Jersey’s youngest learners through Grow NJ Kids. I received a BS in Family and Child Studies from Louisiana Tech University and Louisiana will always be my home (crawfish, jambalaya, and gumbo OH MY!) but I am excited to be in the Garden State!


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Darayon D. Tharpe-JonesDarayon D. Tharpe-Jones | Program Assistant / Incentives Coordinator

I am the Program Assistant / Incentives Coordinator for Grow NJ Kids in the Northeast Region with Prevent Child Abuse-NJ. Born and raised in Jersey City NJ. I attended New Jersey City University in the late 1980’s and have been working in the Non-profit field for over 15 years in diverse roles surrounding Administration.

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Being able to be a part of a team that focuses on the needs of our child care centers throughout our communities continues to be a great experience. It has been great seeing us blossom from a hand full into the great team we have today and as we continue to grow.In my spare time I like to entertain and enjoy making baskets of all kinds for all occasions.


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District/Headstart TA Team


Gargi ShroffGargi Shroff | Sr. TAS, District/Head Start Programs

Hello! I am a Sr. Technical Assistance Specialist and lead for both Central and Northeast region, District/Head Start programs with Grow NJ Kids TA Center. I am grateful to be part of Grow NJ Kids Initiative. I am now in my fourth year with Grow NJ Kids TA Center.

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Throughout my professional carrier I have worked as an educator at various capacities with Early Childhood programs for the past 25 years. Giving back to the community and being a change agent has always been a priority for me. Through this opportunity of working as part of the Grow team has allowed me to do just that by supporting and guiding early childhood programs, achieve high quality standards through the Grow NJ Kids initiative. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and Liberal Arts and a P-3 Certification in ECE.


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LaToya DawkinsLaToya Dawkins | TAS, District/Headstart Programs Essex County

I am a School District/Head Start Technical Assistance Specialist for Essex County. I have been working in the field of education for over 10 years. Since then, I have held positions that included Preschool teacher and preschool director for both private and District programs.

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I also have experience as an Education Specialist with Head Start. I hold a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Scranton and a Bachelors in Early Childhood Education from Nyack College. In addition, I have a NJ Preschool to Third grade teaching certificate. This role allows me the opportunity to use my experience and knowledge to support programs achieve high-quality standards through the Grow NJ Kids initiative. I am honored to be a part of PCA-NJ and our continued and successful efforts to support young children and families.

 

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Kristen FarhatKristen Farhat | TAS, District/Headstart Central Region 

I am a School District/Head Start Technical Assistance Specialist for the Central Region.  I joined the GNJK Technical Assistance Center in 2015.  I have been working in the field of early childhood education for over twenty-five years.  I hold a Master Degree in Early Childhood Education Administration from Kean University, and a Bachelor Degree in Psychology from San Francisco State University.

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In addition, I have a NJ Preschool to Third Grade Teaching Certificate.  I have a full appreciation of the many roles and challenges facing the early childhood education workforce from the perspective of a coach, administrator, and teacher.  I truly believe that quality early childhood education is the foundation for a child’s future, and this is why I am so pleased to be a part of Grow NJ Kids.

 

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Alisa Jones

Charday Felder | TAS, District/Headstart, Hudson County

I am a School District and Head Start Technical Assistance Specialist for Hudson County. I have worked in the field of Early Childhood education for over 10 years. I hold a Master’s Degree in Human Services from Regent University and a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Counseling from Pillar College in New Jersey.

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I have served in varying roles across my tenure in early childhood education including Teacher and Director.  I understand the value in this work and the difference it makes in our world. I’m grateful to continue on this path of service with PCANJ to enhance quality in our schools, helping our students, empowering families and the community at large.

 

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