YoungStar Connect Team

Meet the YoungStar Connect Leadership Team

  • Erin Gernetzke is leading the YoungStar Connect team as the YoungStar Project Director for Wisconsin. Erin has been a part of the YoungStar program since it began in 2010, beginning as the YoungStar Program Director at WECA, as they provided Milwaukee County coaching and statewide formal rating, micro-grant, and professional development services. Erin then served for seven years as the Quality Initiatives Section Manager for the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, where she oversaw the administration of the YoungStar, T.E.A.C.H., and Reward programs, the CCR&R Network, and services through The Wisconsin Registry, WI-AIMH, and more. Erin lives in Madison, WI and is most passionate about supporting infants and toddlers while championing higher compensation for the ECE and school-age care workforce.

  • Sarah Talbot, the YoungStar Deputy Director of Program Support, brings over 14 years of experience helping children in Wisconsin access equitable, high-quality care and education. Specializing in inclusion and differentiation, Sarah uses that experience to support the early childhood workforce in providing safe, innovative, and developmentally appropriate opportunities for children to build a solid foundation in their formative early years. Sarah lives in the Fox Valley area in northeastern Wisconsin.

  • Becky Breda brings over 30 years of experience in early care and education to her role as the YoungStar Rating Manager. She has held a variety of roles in child care programs in California, Michigan, and Wisconsin, but she found her passion when she began working in a quality rating and improvement system in Florida. Becky brought that experience to YoungStar when she joined the rating team at WECA from 2011-2016. She is excited to supporting Wisconsin’s child care providers as they strive to provide the best care to young children and their families. Becky lives in southern Wisconsin near Madison.

  • Talesha Campbell is the YoungStar Coaching Manager for the Southeastern Region of Wisconsin. She has dedicated 10 years in Milwaukee to working to improve the academic growth and development of the youth in her community. Talesha uses her lived experiences paired with her formal education and training to support the early childhood workforce in producing positive outcomes for all stakeholders – families, communities, staff, and students.

  • Jessica Espinosa Pelayo grew up in Beaver Dam, WI, in a household that spoke only Spanish, and graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in Human Development and Family Studies. She has an extensive work background in different aspects and environments because of the work she did as an undergraduate. Most notably, she worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant for three years and has hands-on classroom experience in Early Childhood Education.

  • Amanda Jolitz has worked in the field of Early Care and Education for over 20 years and began her supporting role as a YoungStar Coach, connecting providers with practices and services to help increase their quality of care. She continued supporting programs as a Community Engagement Specialist, presenting the importance of high-quality child care to both business leaders and local legislators in her county. Amanda enjoys her role working with programs as the Help Desk Manager, creating new avenues for providers to travel on their paths to success.

  • Lisa Jones is the Content Development Manager. She has 30 years of experience in the early care and education profession. She is most proud of the 23 years she spent in the classroom working with children and families in the Madison area, where she grew up. For the past eight years, she has dedicated her energy and passion to training providers in the field throughout southern Wisconsin. 

  • Laura Taylor is Manager of Operations and Technology for the state. She has worked in the social services field for over 18 years and has degrees in Sociology and Elementary Education, as well as experience in Early Learning and Data Systems. Recently, Laura created a referral and resource system for Corrections and Law Enforcement agencies in Indiana. Her goal is to create user-friendly systems that meet the needs of Wisconsin teachers, administrators, and families, using data to create visual representations of the disparities among communities. 

  • Cassie Mattie is the Southern Region Coaching Manager. She has 19 years of experience in the early childhood field in a variety of roles, including as Assistant Teacher, Teacher, and Director for both non-profit and private ECE programs. Most recently, Cassie worked for 4C in Madison as a YoungStar coach. Her passion includes supporting programs in understanding the impact of social emotional learning in the early years and the importance of understanding Infant and Early Childhood mental health needs.

  • Danielle Weaver has been in the early childhood education field for 20 years, working in early intervention, community-based Head Start, and public school settings in coaching, training, and administrative roles. Her interests include early intervention, early childhood special education, and creating learning environments where all children can be successful. She is also adjunct faculty at Erikson Institute. She is the Coaching Manager for the Northern and Western YoungStar regions.

  • Waukeysha Williams is a Coach Manager for the Northeast Region. She has dedicated over 15 years to the Early Childhood field in the Fox Valley in a variety of roles, including as Teacher, Director, and YoungStar Consultant. Waukeysha also spent some of her career as a Home Visitor to improve positive child outcomes, starting in the home. Her passion is to improve quality and equitable child care in Wisconsin.

YoungStar Connect Regional Coaches

Northern Region YoungStar Office – Rhinelander

  • Danielle Weaver has been in the early childhood education field for 20 years, working in early intervention, community-based Head Start, and public school settings in coaching, training, and administrative roles. Her interests include early intervention, early childhood special education, and creating learning environments where all children can be successful. She is also adjunct faculty at Erikson Institute. She is the Coaching Manager for the Northern and Western YoungStar regions.

  • Audrey Bittner is a YoungStar Coach for the Northern Region. She lives in Wausau and has 13 years of experience in the Early Childhood field, working in a variety of settings, including child care as a teacher and a director for 4K, Head Start, and as a YoungStar Coach. Her interests include developmentally appropriate practices, lesson planning and goal setting, and helping teachers learn to create and arrange successful classroom environments.

  • Biography coming soon.

Northeastern Region YoungStar Office – Appleton

  • Waukeysha Williams is a Coach Manager for the Northeast Region. She has dedicated over 15 years to the Early Childhood field in the Fox Valley in a variety of roles, including as Teacher, Director, and YoungStar Consultant. Waukeysha also spent some of her career as a Home Visitor to improve positive child outcomes, starting in the home. Her passion is to improve quality and equitable child care in Wisconsin.

  • Lisa Hirn is a Coach in the Northeastern Region, residing in the Green Bay area. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in 1992 and since has been a part of the Early Childhood field. For the past seven years, she has been a part of YoungStar. She has a passion for working and building relationships with Early Childcare professionals and supporting them to see the difference they make in a child’s life.

  • Priscilla Peterka has a degree in Psychology at UNIFIL University Center Philadelphia and earned her post-graduation clinical psychology credentials while participating in internships working with children in private sessions and school system programs. Early on, she conceptualized, wrote, and applied for a governmental grant, as well as led a program to serve children from households with low incomes and minorities through an afterschool program in Brazil. Priscilla supervised and supported workers as they developed lesson plans, as well as creating a curriculum striving to promote inclusion, empowerment, and social rights advocacy for students, teachers, and coordinators. Since 2021, she has been working at local hospitals, doing assessments and coaching parents.

  • Bridget Cullen is a school-age coach for the Northeast Region. In addition, Bridget also provides professional development to staff, administrators and families. She has over 45 years of programming and administrative experience in youth, early childhood and family development with many large and small non-profit agencies in the Midwest.  Bridget earned her M.Ed in Educational Psychology from Oklahoma State University.  She served as Executive Director of a CCRR agency, administered large after-school and early childhood programs around the Midwest, and previously worked part of the YoungStar state team at the Department of Children and Families for more than years.  She has a passion for supporting school-age programs in continuous quality improvement, especially through the lens of healthy nutrition and physical activity and developmentally appropriate environments.

Southeastern Region YoungStar Office – Milwaukee

  • Talesha Campbell is the YoungStar Coaching Manager for the Southeastern Region of Wisconsin. She has dedicated 10 years in Milwaukee to working to improve the academic growth and development of the youth in her community. Talesha uses her lived experiences paired with her formal education and training to support the early childhood workforce in producing positive outcomes for all stakeholders – families, communities, staff, and students.

  • Born in Chicago, Adina Banks has been “everyone’s babysitter” for as long as she can remember and has had an interest in early childhood education since she was in her early teens. Her early childhood education professional work history started in group
    childcare centers in 2002, and she opened her own family childcare in 2004. After this, she also pursued a nursing career but realized her passion was working with children and families in her community. She has an Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Education, a Preschool Credential and a Technical Diploma in Child Care Services. She also is in the process of commissioning for her Administrative Credential in early childhood education and her Substitute Teacher license. Banks is also a prenatal coordinator, connecting women who are pregnant or have children with community resources, and runs a nonprofit called Positive Women, which provides women with a safe place to come once a month to get a mental break.

  • Dana Biasi is a Youngstar Coach in the Southeastern Region. Previously, she was a Director at a half-day preschool for 12 years and worked for the Milwaukee Public Library as the Lead Play and Learn presenter for several branches, educating parents and caregivers on the Five Practices of what young children need for healthy brain development. She was also an Outreach Storytime Presenter for several summers with MPL, working with Milwaukee childcare centers in Milwaukee and educating childcare teachers about literacy. She lives in Wauwatosa, WI.

  • Biography coming soon.

  • Biography coming soon.

  • Lori Molter was born in Milwaukee and spent her younger years growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She has been dedicated to working with children in group care since high school and attended Northern Michigan University, where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Development. She has almost 17 years of experience working in early childhood development centers throughout Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois.

  • Valerie Price is a Coach in the Southeastern Region. Prior to this role, she worked in Child Welfare licensing and in Early Childhood Education for almost 20 years. She enjoys building positive relationships with providers and colleagues and working as a team to help strengthen the the quality care already provided to children of all ages throughout Wisconsin.

  • Evelinda Rodriguez is a Bilingual Coach for the Southeastern Region. Before joining YoungStar Connect, was an educator within Milwaukee Public Schools, working as a Special Education Teacher for eight years and a Paraprofessional for three years. She is passionate about learning new skills from her colleagues and applying them to her professional journey, as well as working in diverse settings and learning from different professionals.

  • Takeisha Spann Moore has an Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood
    Education, several credentials, and 30+ years of experience in the classroom, management and working collaboratively with community partners. Takeisha understands that there are multiple ways to contribute to the growth and development of children. She has four beautiful children and finds great joy in fulfilling an ongoing commitment to actively support, guide and advocate for children to reach their highest potential.

  • Biography coming soon.

  • Matt Rodriguez has been in the childcare field for over 15 years. He specializes in School-Age and day camp coaching and consultation, and the focus of his work is out-of-school time. Throughout his career, he has held every position from assistant teacher to director and uses that experience in his coaching. He enjoys working with programs and sharing his experiences and knowledge.

Southern Region YoungStar Office – Fitchburg

  • Cassie Mattie is the Southern Region Coaching Manager. She has 19 years of experience in the early childhood field in a variety of roles, including as Assistant Teacher, Teacher, and Director for both non-profit and private ECE programs. Most recently, Cassie worked for 4C in Madison as a YoungStar coach. Her passion includes supporting programs in understanding the impact of social emotional learning in the early years and the importance of understanding Infant and Early Childhood mental health needs.

  • Danjela Deisinger has 13 years of experience in the Early Childhood field as a Teacher and Director. Her love for Early Childhood grew from her experience growing up in a large family. Danjela resides in Elkhorn, WI.

  • Susan Walker is a Coach in the Southern Region. She earned her Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education Administration and has 21 years of ECE experience, including teaching in child care centers with children ages 0-5. More recently, she had supervisory roles in local centers, as well as the local Head Start Program. Susan loves providing guidance and training to child care providers to ensure they are providing high-quality care to the children and families in their communities and to help them grow professionally in this field.

  • Originally from Appleton, WI, Jenny has resided in Madison for nearly seven years and has has worked in Early Childhood Education for over 15 years, primarily in supervising roles. She has been a part of several types of childcare organizations, including non-profit, federal and private. Jenny’s greatest passion is supporting teachers to ensure the development of children and that all programs are supported with quality and understanding.

  • Connie Williams received a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, as well as a Certificate in Infant, Early Childhood and Family Mental Health from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a trainer, consultant and coach, providing professional development to staff, administrators and parents of young children and youth. Connie has held many positions early childhood and afterschool care: elementary teacher, preschool teacher, afterschool and summer camp group leader, program coordinator, and non-profit center director. She was a child care specialist for over 25 years with the City of Madison’s accreditation program, where she provided quality assessment, consultation and technical assistance to early childhood and afterschool programs. Currently, in addition to teaching courses for Wisconsin Afterschool Network, Connie is the Afterschool School YoungStar Coach for the Southern Region.

Western Region YoungStar Office – Eau Claire

  • Danielle Weaver has been in the early childhood education field for 20 years, working in early intervention, community-based Head Start, and public school settings in coaching, training, and administrative roles. Her interests include early intervention, early childhood special education, and creating learning environments where all children can be successful. She is also adjunct faculty at Erikson Institute. She is the Coaching Manager for the Northern and Western YoungStar regions.

  • Samantha McHugh is a YoungStar coach in the Western Region. She lives in Eau Claire and has over 15 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. She has been a YoungStar Coach since 2015 and enjoys teaching developmentally appropriate expectations and social emotional skills and creating effective classroom environments. Samantha prides herself on building positive relationships with early childhood educators.

  • Paula Reed is a Coach in the Western Region. Her favorite days are spent in programs helping childcare teachers or family providers brainstorm ways to better support the children in their care. She believes that childcare providers form the base of Wisconsin’s economy – helping them thrive is what she is most passionate about.

  • Biography coming soon.

 

YoungStar Specialists

  • Anna Barthen is a Content Specialist with over 10 years of experience working with children and families. She holds a Master’s in Early Childhood Education and a Master’s in Infant and Early Childhood Development, with an emphasis on mental health and developmental disabilities. She is continuing her lifelong passion for learning in her PhD program, where she is focused on the lived experiences of families who have children with Autism. Prior to this work, Anna owned a licensed family childcare for five years and taught as an Early Childhood Special Education teacher for three years. She is an inclusion advocate and is excited to share her expertise and support providers in such a challenging and rewarding field.

  • Nina Bottomley is a passionate Social and Emotional Learning Content Development Specialist. She has been in the educational system for 13 years, teaching 4K, first grade and second grade. In addition, she has been an instructional coach for two years and, most recently, an SEL Intervention Specialist. Nina holds a degree in Early Childhood Education and has obtained multiple certificates in order to train and educate others in the areas of mindfulness and coping strategies, yoga and distress tolerance, social and emotional skills, and brain-based learning. She is an ambassador for equity and mental wellness and strives to provide sustainable change in the systems in which we live to create opportunities for the best early childhood experiences and educational practices for all.

  • Jess Bowden has over 18 years of experience in the early care and education field in the roles of teaching, directing and managing, program development, child care regulation, consulting, and training. After college, she traveled in the Up with People Global Leadership Program and volunteered at early childhood programs and schools around the world. She is passionate about creating positive experiences and developing wonderful lasting memories for young children while teaching others to do the same. Experiences become memories and memories become part of who children are. Jess is eager to help families and programs discover creating meaningful experiences in ways that work best for them.

  • Nicole Cusimano is a dedicated Social Emotional Content Specialist with over a decade of experience in Early Childhood Education. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education Leadership and has recently earned Endorsement from the Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental Health for Culturally Sensitive, Relationship-focused Practice Promoting Infant Mental Health as an Infant Family Associate. Nicole is a driving force for nurturing emotional well-being.  As an equity and mental wellness advocate, Nicole is committed to shaping enriched early childhood experiences and educational practices for all.

  • Grace Eilers is the Family Child Care Content Specialist with Satellite Family Child Care System and lives in Eau Claire, WI. She specializes in early childhood mental health, specifically as it relates to early care and education. She is devoted to improving the quality of professional development opportunities for family child care providers across the state.

  • Lindsay Florey is an Infant-Toddler Content Specialist, having started her adventure in education as a teacher’s aide for a preschool in Minneapolis for two years while completing her Associate’s Degree and being enlisted in the Army National Guard. She completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Child Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and moved to Oshkosh, WI, where she continued to pursue her passion in educating children at a Montessori school. She became certified as an Infant-Twos Montessori guide and worked for three years as the lead educator of the toddler room. Lindsay is passionate about inclusivity, dismantling barriers for minority communities both in education and our society, and empathy for others.

  • Maria Matrak is a Multilingual Specialist and has worked in the education field for more than 10 years, always providing resources and experiences that foster growth socially, emotionally, cognitively, and physically in children. She holds a Master’s Degree in Spanish Language Education and has has worked in many bilingual educational centers as a teacher, utilizing curriculum and designing and developing programs. Additionally, she is an Infant Toddler Developmental Specialist, focused on ways to promote development and learning in children with special needs and their families. Maria is based in Orlando, FL.

  • Mary Niec started in the field of early care and education in Olbrich Botanical Garden’s education department in Madison, WI, coordinating outdoor education programs from 2006-09. After finishing a Master’s Degree, she returned to early childhood education in 2013 and has worked in the field since. Before joining YoungStar, Mary was a Lead Teacher and Program Director at Big Oak Child Care and went on to be Executive Director at University Avenue Discovery Center. Following her time working in group child care centers, Mary was a WECA/WEESSN program coach for 23 group child care centers in Dane County, WI. Mary has a Bachelor of Special Studies degree in Community Development from Cornell College, a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Credential in Early Childhood Program Development from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 

  • Paola Núñez García has 16 years of experience in the field of early education. She is bilingual and has worked in different positions, including as a teacher assistant, teacher, coach and trainer, and has taught entry-level classes, the Pyramid Model and WMELS, among others. Paola holds a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a Master’s in technological education.

  • Jennifer Smith has been working with children and adolescents for over 25 years. She believes all youth deserve fully present adults in their lives who are genuinely interested in their success and well-being. Jennifer began her career as a special education teacher supporting youth with learning and emotional-behavioral disabilities after earning her M.Ed. from University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. She has since worked in community-based organizations, afterschool programs and now Marshfield Clinic Health System. In her current role she supports youth-based initiatives in communities throughout the health system service area and provides training and technical assistance to out-of-school time programs statewide through the Wisconsin Afterschool Network. In recent years, Jennifer has expanded her knowledge around Adverse Childhood Experiences, the impacts of trauma, and the interventions youth-serving organizations and community agencies can implement to help youth build a more positive future.

  • Leah Zastoupil is the Help Desk Lead at the Rhinelander Office. She has an Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Education, Leadership, Administrative and Family Credential. She owned a family child care center for over 18 years that was five-star rated within the YoungStar system and has five years of HeadStart center-based experience. She lives in the Eagle River, WI, area.

YoungStar Raters

  • Amanda Anders is a Rater with over 20 years experience in child development and in the early care and education field. She has worked in a variety of early childhood roles, including early intervention, service coordination, child development instruction, and most recently as the Administrator for a parent cooperative preschool. Amanda is passionate about educating children and adults in the early childhood field, and she has participated in the YoungStar program for over five years. The support and information she received from her YoungStar coach gave her the desire to work with other child care programs in their pursuit to provide high-quality care to the families of Wisconsin. S

  • Fabiola Meschisi has seven years of experience working in early child care in a variety of roles, including assistant teacher, lead teacher, and center director. She lives in Verona, WI, and is passionate about working with children and helping the community.

  • Jennifer Thomas is a Rater and has over 20 years of experience in the early care and education field in various group child care programs throughout the state of Wisconsin. She has been directly involved with providing YoungStar services as a Coach since 2019. Jennifer is passionate about all children and families having access to quality early childhood programs and is excited to continue working with child care providers across Wisconsin in their path to quality. Jennifer resides in Rhinelander, WI.

  • Sue VanderLoop is a Rater and has 33 years of experience in the early care and education field. She has experience working in all aspects of ECE, including as a child care teacher and director and 4K teacher and working with Head Start programs. Sue has been directly working with YoungStar since 2016 as an Environment Rating Scale Observer. She enjoys building relationships with all the programs she works with and focuses on their strengths while encouraging them to continuously improve the quality of their programs. Sue resides in Kronenwetter, WI.

YoungStar Specialty Coaches, Consultants, and Counselors

  • Ryan Csuy is the Data Analyst for the Wisconsin Registry. He started with the Registry in 2022 as a data verification specialist, gaining valuable experience learning about the early childhood education field and assisting registry users. Ryan enjoys utilizing data to highlight useful insights that can be used to advance the ECE field and its workforce.

  • Danielle Earley is the Director of Operations for the Wisconsin Registry. She has over five years of experience with the Registry and oversees the team that processes Registry Membership applications, Trainer/TA approval, the Professional Development Approval System, Registry Credentials, and customer service support. Danielle enjoys cultivating relationships and sharing information on the Wisconsin Registry with partners and those working in the field of early childhood and afterschool education.

  • Dan Eckhardt brings over 20 years of experience working in early childhood education with an emphasis in group care. He brings a strong background in financial management and a keen eye for detail. Dan enjoys building upon relationships and collaborating with partners to strengthen business practices and help providers reach their financial goals.

  • Biography coming soon.

  • A Milwaukee native, Rachel Halstead is an Accreditation Consultant with Satellite. She has a degree in Education from the University of Wisconsin and has been working in the Early Childhood field for over a decade in various roles, including as classroom teacher and center director. She loves supporting family child care providers as they cultivate warm and enriching environments for the children they serve.

  • Jen Jorgensen is a Satellite Family Childcare Accreditation Consultant who works statewide. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a Child Development and Family Studies degree and has been working in the field of early childcare education and family support for over 15 years. She enjoys creating healing and engaging learning environments for children, with a special interest in social emotional well-being. She’s passionate about supporting family care providers to create spaces where children can grow and thrive. Jen resides in Madison, WI.

  • Daiana Kern brings over 20 years of experience in education to her role as a Bilingual Career Development Counselor. She holds her master’s degree in education and Montessori. She has worn many hats in her professional journey and enjoys helping individuals grow and achieve their career goals.

  • Mykenzie Lerg is part of the Satellite team, helping support providers in Green County. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Human Development and Family Studies with an emphasis in Child Development. She also has a capstone certificate from the University of Wisconsin in Infant, Family, Mental Health.

  • Christine Moldenhauer is the Executive Director for The Registry, Inc. Christine has worked in the early care and education field for over 20 years, first in group child care and then at The Registry for the last seven years. Prior to becoming the Executive Director, Christine was the Director of Operations for the Registry for three years. Passionate about coaching, guiding, and mentoring, Christine is strongly committed to supporting the early care and education workforce and their continuous growth as a profession. Christine is dedicated to fostering partnerships within the early care and education systems in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota to support children and families, communities, and the workforce.

  • Laura Simkin is Associate Director of Satellite Family Child Care System and has been deeply engaged in the early childhood community since 1990, in just about all possible roles, including as family child care provider, teacher, community college instructor, director and group center owner, T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship Counselor and WECA Membership Services Director. In her work, she focuses on all things family child care. She has a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Child and Family Studies and a Master’s degree from Wheelock College in Leadership and Policy in Early Care and Education. She is passionate about providing every child with the very best early childhood experience.

  • For more than 30 years, Mildred Starks has worked to improve the growth of early learners. Her variety of roles in early care and education demonstrates her passion to ensure all children have access to quality programs and empower educators to promote healthy child development through continued education.

  • With over 30 years of experience in the early childhood field, across a variety of locations and settings, Susy Willard Curry is passionate about the early childhood workforce and providing the guidance educators need to identify and navigate the career and educational pathways that are right for them!

  • Biography coming soon.

  • Kimberly Yehle has been an early care and education professional for over 25 years. She has worked as an ECE teacher, a center director and a WEESSN coach supporting center directors with their business practices. Kim has a bachelor’s in mathematics and an Administrator’s Credential from the University of Wisconsin. In her role as Finance Specialist for Wisconsin Early Childhood Association (WECA), she brings a strengths-based approach and financial tools to both providers and coaches to support financially sound and thriving businesses.

Share Your Voice!

YoungStar Connect wants to ensure enrolling and participating in YoungStar is the best experience it possibly can be. Share your ideas and suggestions by emailing us at info@youngstarconnect.com.

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