Baji Rankin, Executive Director

Baji Rankin, Ed.D., has worked in early childhood education for 40 years as a teacher of young children and of adults, a researcher, an organizer, a scholar, an administrator, and an advocate. She is also the facilitator for a Shared Services project in NM, and works to increase access to quality early childhood education in NM and the nation. She was one of the first citizens of the U.S. to study and investigate the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, starting in 1982. She spent a year in Reggio Emilia in 1989-90, studying the schools, experiencing directly how teachers and children work together to develop curriculum. These experiences have inspired her to find ways of bringing excellence in early childhood education to ALL children. Baji Rankin has served as Executive Director of NMAEYC since 2004.

Paige Abrams, T.E.A.C.H. and INCENTIVE$ Project Director

Paige Abrams is a native New Mexican and has been in the field of early childhood education for over three decades. She received her Master's degree from Bank Street college of Education in New York City. For the last five years, she has been a consultant for New Mexico Pre-K at the University of New Mexico. She is honored to join NMAEYC and to support the T.E.A.C.H & INCENTIVE$ initiatives in our state. She believes that efforts to promote a sustainable system for early childhood professional development can be a catalyst to successfully address barriers to high quality educational experiences for all young children and their families.

Olivia Natale, Deputy Executive Director

Olivia Natale has been working with NMAEYC since 2013 through an AmeriCorps program called Public Allies New Mexico.  Since joining the program she has served as a Counselor for the T.E.A.C.H. program and as the Volunteer Coordinator for the New Mexico Wonder of Learning Collaborative, both projects of NMAEYC. Prior to moving to New Mexico Olivia worked as a caretaker and volunteer teacher of young children in New Jersey. Her subsequent work with a nonprofit organization called One Million Bones as the New Jersey State Coordintaor eventually led her to Washington D.C. to serve as Volunteer Coordinator for the culmination of the project. It was this experience that encouraged her to apply for the Public Allies program in New Mexico.

Ramona Gonzalez, Senior Administrative Coordinator

Ramona commenced her adventure in early childhood as a volunteer in the state of Colorado for a Head Start agency. Upon completion of high school she moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico where she began her career of nine years working in the early childhood field. She started as a Teacher Associate, took courses in Early Education which resulted in advancement to Lead Teacher and then Center Director. Ramona became interested in the study of Criminal Justice earning a degree and dedicating her time in the field for two years. In November 2014, Ramona happily joined NMAEYC staff as an INCENTIVE$ / T.E.A.C.H counselor to promote and encourage Early Childhood Education.

Ann Sullivan, T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship Counselor

Ann Sullivan has been involved in the field of early education in New Mexico since the early 1990’s. During her time in New Mexico she has worked with a variety of private and public programs to enhance the quality of care and education for young children, through both direct effort and by promoting the professional development of the early care and education work force. Ann has worked in Albuquerque with CDI (Community Development Institute) and at UNM Center for Development and Disability, in Gallup at UNM-Gallup on faculty in the early education program and as director of the Campus Child Care Center, and in Socorro as director of the New Mexico Tech Children’s Center. She came full circle back to Albuquerque when she joined the staff of NMAEYC as a T.E.A.C.H. scholarship counselor in January, 2014.

Alma Hernández, T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship Counselor

Alma Hernández served with NMAEYC as a Public Ally AmeriCorps members from 2015 to 2016. Prior to serving with NMAEYC, she completed a BS in Invididual Studies and minored in Childhood Psychology/Education at NMSU. She has experience as an assistant teacher in Hatch, NM for All Aboard Child Care Center, was a Tutor Specialist with a K-5 after school program sponsored by CYFD, and she has mentored students at NMSU through the College Assisted Migrant Program (CAMP).

Rachel Brasell, INCENTIVE$ Project Manager

Rachel was a toddler teacher for almost eight years at La Puerta de los Niños. She also serves on the board of La Puerta. Rachel’s interests include writing, children’s literature, travel, bicycling, and tacky design from the 60’s and 70’s. She lives with her family, her soulmate cat, Frances, and her two chickens in Nob Hill.

Judith K. Lavender, Co-Community Outreach Coordinator (Power to the Profession)

Judith K. Lavender, M.Ed. has a deep understanding of early childhood development and passionately advocates for play and developmentally appropriate experiences for young children. Throughout her career she has led organizations, chaired outreach projects, and planned fundraising events while serving on over thirty non-profit boards locally while a resident of the metropolitan Chicago area and nationally on educational boards in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New Mexico. In addition to civic leadership, Judith taught preschool and kindergarten, mentored teachers, started and facilitated educational financial groups for women, founded two businesses, started an early childhood and family center, facilitated a Foundation fund to benefit babies, and designed infant wear. As a graduate of the Erikson Institute in Chicago, Illinois, Judith continues to promote a child’s point of view as she has done for over 40 years.

Michelle Croasdell, Ph.D., Co-Community Outreach Coordinator (Power to the Profession)

Michelle is passionate about early childhood education and public policy.  She completed three degrees at the University of New Mexico and taught for the last 15 years in UNM’s Early Childhood program.  Her research focuses on state and national policy including play in early learning guidelines, emergent literacy, and social-emotional well-being.  Michelle worked as an Education Policy Analyst for the New Mexico State Senate and currently works on a federal grant at the Pueblo of Laguna consulting with Early Head Start, Head Start and Kindergarten teachers.

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