Christine Nowaczyk, Chair
Senior Vice President, Bank of Arizona, a division of BOK Financial
Christine Nowaczyk is the corporate banking executive for Bank of Arizona, a division of $31 billion regional financial services company, BOK Financial. Previously, Christine served for nearly two decades in commercial banking, retail and credit administration at JPMorgan Chase. She is President Emeritus for the Association of Corporate Growth (ACG) in Arizona and is an elected member of Arizona Business Leadership. As a volunteer leader, Christine received national recognition as a recipient of the ACG Global Meritorious Service Award, the highest honor ACG bestows on its 14,500 global members. She has been honored as an Outstanding Women in Business by the Phoenix Business Journal and as one of the Most Influential Women in Arizona by AZ Business Magazine. Christine has been a long-time advocate for improving the lives of Arizona’s most vulnerable children and their families through high quality early childhood education, public policy reform and community support. She was appointed to serve on Arizona’s P-20 Education Council under Governor Janet Napolitano and served as Chairman of the Board for Children’s Action Alliance.
Jessie Rasmussen, Immediate Past Chair
President, Buffett Early Childhood Fund
Jessie joined the Buffett Early Childhood Fund in 2007, and her entire professional career has focused on improving outcomes for children and families. For over 20 years Jessie was an early childhood education teacher and administrator in a variety of environments, including Head Start, the Jewish Community Center, and the Munroe-Meyer Rehabilitation Center in Omaha, Nebraska. She spent the next 20 years in state government, first serving as a Nebraska State Senator for four years and then serving as the state human services director in both Nebraska and Iowa. She served as the Early Childhood Policy Director for the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, where she advocated for good public policy for young children and their families. In this position, Jessie played an instrumental role in the development and successful passage of early childhood legislation in 2006 that established a $60M early childhood endowment funded through a public and private collaboration.
Denise Higgins, Secretary
Vice President, Ibis Foundation of Arizona
Denise Higgins is a co-founding collaborator and anchor funder of Educare Arizona. She serves as Board Secretary for Educare Arizona and sits on the Balsz Community Education Foundation Governing Board, as well as the Neighborhood Outreach Access to Health Governing Board where she serves as Vice-Chair. Denise earned a master’s degree in public health from Hunter College in New York, NY. For 20 years, she worked as the Public Health Educator for the Skin Cancer Foundation and New York County Health Department. In 2006, she became a Co-Trustee and Vice-President of the Ibis Foundation of Arizona, a private family foundation whose mission is to provide grants for health and education. Denise participates as a member of Arizona Grantmakers Forum, American Public Health Association, and Exponent Philanthropy. She resides in Scottsdale, Arizona with her husband and three children.
Mitchell Moore, Treasurer
Member, Score Financial
Mitchell Moore, a current member of Score Finance, LLC, has years of experience in fiscal management and leadership for Arizona organizations. He serves several civic organizations including as a Fellow of The Arizona Center for Civic Leadership, Suns Charities 88, Mesa Leadership Training and Development, and the East Valley Partnership. In addition to Mr. Moore’s professional experience he brings a true passion for youth education and dedication for improving Arizona.
Jeff Smith, Ed.D.
Superintendent, Balsz School District
Dr. Jeff Smith has been a teacher, principal, and district administrator for 30 years. He currently serves as Superintendent of the Balsz School District in Phoenix. After growing up in Arizona, Dr. Smith attended and graduated from Arizona State University with degrees in elementary education and school administration. In 2012, he was honored as Arizona Superintendent of the Year. In 2013, the Phoenix Business Journal recognized him as a Diversity Champion. With a strong commitment to early childhood education, Dr. Smith advocates for children and families from backgrounds of poverty. He’s best known for his innovative reform strategy to extend the school year learning time by 20 days, with the Balsz School District becoming the first district in the United States to adopt a 200 day calendar. This dynamic change is leading to high academic achievement and extraordinary gains in English Language Acquisition for students. Dr. Smith has published numerous articles in Galileo for the Superintendent and North Star for Principals through The Master Teacher. He has received many awards for innovation and leadership. He also serves on numerous community boards, including the Educare Arizona Board. He and his wife have three children.
Director of Marketing & Communications, Parsons Xtreme Golf
Leela Brennan, an experienced communications professional, has had the opportunity to partner with some well-known brands and personalities, including GoDaddy and GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons. She is currently the Director of Marketing & Communications for Parsons Xtreme Golf (PXG). Brennan holds a Bachelor’s degree from Goucher College and a Master’s degree from City University of London, and resides in Scottsdale, Arizona with her husband and their son.
Executive Director, The Steve Nash Foundation
Jenny has been Executive Director of the Steve Nash Foundation since 2005. Following a clerkship with the U.S. District Court, she served as project attorney to the Alaska Judicial Council, evaluating justice practices in the state, and as staff attorney to First Star in Washington, D.C., developing public policy-based legal strategies for children in dependency and educating congressional members and medical professionals. Her past work on child abuse and neglect, and legal rights for and representation of children informs her daily work at the Foundation to support health and education resources for underserved children and to operate sustainably. Raised in Victoria, BC, and Brooklyn, NY, Jenny completed her bachelor’s of arts degree at UC Berkeley and her law degree at the Washington College of Law. She is a member of the New York and Massachusetts Bars, and resides in Alaska.
Karen Ortiz, Ph.D.
Designee, Whiteman Foundation
Dr. Karen Ortiz is the Vice President and Program Director of Early Childhood Education for the Helios Education Foundation. Dr. Ortiz works in conjunction with the Foundation’s community investment team to identify collaboration opportunities and implement the Foundation’s strategic early childhood education investment goals in Arizona and Florida. She brings more than 22 years academic and professional experience in early childhood education. A former early childhood policy advisor to Arizona’s Governor Janet Napolitano and Director of the State Board of School Readiness, Dr. Ortiz has helped lead statewide initiatives impacting children ages 0-5 and their families. She is a part-time adjunct instructor in early childhood professional development with Central Arizona College. A former elementary school nurse and substitute teacher, Dr. Ortiz has practical experience within school district and classroom settings. She holds a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and early childhood education, along with undergraduate degrees in business and nursing. She recently completed her doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction, early childhood education at Arizona State University.
Educare Arizona Parent
Laura, a Phoenix native, brings a unique perspective to the Educare Arizona Board of Directors with her role as a parent to a currently-enrolled student and a recent graduate of the school’s early learning programs. She has worked for the Arizona Town Hall for seven years as Executive Assistant where she oversees the daily office operations, facilitates the development communications and coordinates meetings and events statewide. Laura has an Associates of Arts with Honors from Phoenix College and serves as Secretary on the Madison Camelview Parent Teacher Organization.
CEO, Southwest Human Development
Ginger Ward is the founder and chief executive officer of Southwest Human Development. Founded in 1981 with a staff of only six serving 175 children and families, Southwest Human Development has grown to be Arizona’s largest nonprofit dedicated to early childhood development with more than 900 employees, serving 135,000 young children and their families each year.
Under Ginger’s direction, the agency has established a national reputation for leadership and high-quality services in the early childhood fields of education, mental health, family support, disabilities services, and training. Ginger has made a significant contribution to the early childhood field in Arizona by ensuring that the latest best practices and research are used to create programs and to educate parents, professionals, and policy makers about the importance of children’s earliest years to later development.