President & CEO Bela Moté Tapped to Guide New Agency as External Advisory Committee Chair

During a press conference at the Carole Robertson Center for Learning’s North Lawndale flagship site, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced a landmark proposal to create a unified state agency dedicated to early childhood programs. Currently, Illinois’s early childhood programs are administered by three agencies: Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS), and Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

Read the Office of the Governor’s full press release here.

While introducing Governor Pritzker, Carole Robertson Center President and CEO Bela Moté celebrated Smart Start Illinois and anchored press conference attendees in shared purpose, declaring: “Today, we are as committed as always to putting children and families first.”

Bela Mote, President and CEO of the Carole Robertson Center speaking at podium
Governor J.B Pritzker speaking at podium smiling

In his remarks, Governor Pritzker reflected on the impact early education and care providers like the Carole Robertson Center make on Illinois families. “[The Center is] a place we’ve chosen to come to time and time again because of the tremendous work that gets done here, and I can’t think of a better place to be this morning than right here,” he said.

The Governor emphasized that having a “one-stop shop” for early childhood programs benefits families and providers alike, facilitating more equitable, efficient delivery of vital services. State, district, and sector leaders alike reiterated this message, modeling the unity that the State of Illinois’s forthcoming early childhood-focused agency aims to foster.

Lieutenant Governor Julianna Stratton highlighted how improving Illinois’s early childhood sector impacts lives. “Ultimately, we stand here today committed to building a stronger, more resilient early childhood system,” Stratton said. “But this isn’t just about the system. This is about the people within the system: the parents, the families, the early childhood educators, and most importantly the children, who have greater access to the resources they need to thrive.”

Juliana Stratton

To ensure a solid foundation for the future state agency, Pritzker also announced the creation of a transition and advisory committee, appointing Moté as its chair. “Vital to our success will be the inclusion of the most important voices—that’s our parents and our providers,” the Governor said. He cited Moté’s career-spanning commitments to children through various roles in advocacy, philanthropy, and direct service leadership as reasons why she will be “a huge asset to the state in this capacity.”

Closing out a hefty lineup of speakers, Carole Robertson Center Grow Your Own Participant and Teacher Assistant Affoue Nguessan shared her experiences as both a parent and emerging early childhood professional. Nguessan recalled a conversation with North Lawndale Site Director LaTonya Jones as the catalyst for her career transition from information technology to early education.“I told her I had no experience, but she assured me I had the most important experience of all: and that’s being a parent,” Nguessan said. “Today I can say to you that I have two boys [enrolled at the Center]. And as of January of this year, I’ve started on my bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education [at the University of Illinois-Chicago] on scholarship.”

Illinoisans like Nguessan are a testament to how investing in children benefits everyone. We applaud Governor Pritzker for his continued commitment to ensuring that Illinois is the best state in which to raise a family. Governor Pritzker’s historic proposal to create a unified state agency for early childhood will improve systems—and lives—for generations to come.

Watch the full press conference video on YouTube

Office of the Governor

In early December, Governor Pritzker announced the members of Illinois’ Early Childhood Education and Care Transition Advisory Committee, which Moté will chair:

  • Makisha Binns, owner of Kiddos Care
  • Katie Cobb, Principal/Director of Early Childhood Programs at Valeska Hinton Early Childhood Education Center in Peoria Public School District 150
  • Johnna Darragh-Ernst, Distinguished Professor of Early Childhood Education at Heartland Community College
  • Shontae Fennoy, early childhood teacher in East St. Louis school District 189
  • Tonya Frehner, Regional Council Manager (Region21) at Birth to Five Illinois
  • Rochelle Golliday, Executive Director and Owner of Cuddle Care, Inc
  • Kesha Harris, parent
  • LaKeesha James-Smith, parent
  • Marcy Mendenhall, President and Chief Executive Officer of SAL Community Services
  • Janice Moenster, Director of Early Childhood Services at Brightpoint
  • Dara Munson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Family Focus
  • Mariana Osoria, First Deputy of Human Services, City of Chicago
  • Angel Powell-Muldrow, Principal in District 148
  • Edgar Ramirez, Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Commons
  • Robin Steans, President of Advance Illinois
  • Rebecca Vonderlack-Navarro, Vice President of Education Policy & Research at the Latino Policy Forum
  • Sarah Ziemba, Chief Executive Officer of Shine Therapy Services

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Since 1976, the Carole Robertson Center for Learning has been dedicated to educating, enriching, and empowering children and families through comprehensive child and family development programs.