Acting President and CEO
Vice President of Advancement
Early Childhood Coordinator
Director of Business
Early Childhood Supervisor
President & CEO Emeritus
Vice President of Strategic
LIBBIE SONNIER-NETTO, Ph.D., is the Center for Development and Learning’s (CDL) acting president and CEO. Improving the life chances of children, in particular those most at riskdue to income, education, environment, and health, has been the driving force of Libbie’s nearly 20-year career in education. Recognized for her tenacity in supporting marginalized populations, Libbie has led teams of individuals in system-wide initiatives for the betterment of children, families, caregivers, and educators across the life course. Libbie has served as a state director of two federal programs managing multi-million-dollar budgets as well as developing pilot programs in three states across multiple agencies and community partners to improve the efficiency and efficacy of direct services to children, parents, and educators in communities and schools. Libbie’s experiences conducting longitudinal and experimental research allow her to translate scientific findings into meaningful and practical applications for practitioners to improve child outcomes.Additionally, Libbie has successfully collaborated with numerous stakeholders to pass state statute, legislation, regulation, and policy. She is coauthor of multiple publications and technical reports, training curricula, and, with Drs. Sharon and Craig Ramey, The Four Diamonds Checklist and The Quality System to Achieve Results for Young Children in all Settings (Q-STAR). Libbie received a Doctor of Philosophy in human development with an emphasis in implementation science from Virginia Tech, a Master of Education in from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Bachelor of Science in special education from the University of Southern Mississippi. Libbie is the recipient of the Hulick Serving Spirit Fellowship Award for her commitment to individuals with disabilities across the life course. She is also the recipient of the Rotary Club’s Extraordinary Woman “Rising Star” Award.
EMILY DISTEFANO, MS, CFRE, CDL’s vice president of advancement and advocacy, has developed an extensive network of business and community contacts during her 30-year history of working with staff and volunteer leaders to advance the missions of nonprofit organizations, academic units, and government agencies. In addition to Emily’s ability to lead teams through conceptualization, assessment, planning, resource/capital acquisition, and implementation to achieve outcomes, she brings advocacy expertise to CDL that includes planning, coordinating, and lobbying for passage of bills; coordinating briefings for committee staff and legislators; and organizing grassroots structure and training. Emily’s successful advocacy campaigns include passage of legislation for the Louisiana Children’s Trust Fund and the Louisiana Children’s Code. Her successful capital and major gift campaigns have raised over $45M for education, healthcare, social service and civic organizations.
DENISE HOWELL, as CDL’s programs manager, spends much of her time organizing CDL’s annual Plain Talk about Literacy and Learning. She also coordinates the logistics and collects data for all professional learning sessions conducted by CDL professionals. Prior to coming to CDL, Denise worked with the Youth Service Bureau in St. Tammany Parish as their referral coordinator and the assistant coordinator for the Youth Service Bureau’s annual fundraiser, Chef Soiree.
SUZANNE “Suzea” MILLERHEBERT, M.Ed., is an early childhood coordinator at CDL. With over 30 years of experience in education across multiple states, primarily in early childhood, Suzea uses her passion to support early childhood educators from all walks of life. Suzea has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Southeastern Louisiana University and a Master of Education from the University of New Orleans in curriculum and instruction with a focus in early childhood and a minor in special education. Additionally, she is a CLASS reliable observer in infant, toddler, and Pre-K.
CINDY PHILLIPS is CDL’s director of business operations. Cindy oversees CDL’s accounting and risk management issues. Cindy brings extensive non-profit financial management experience to CDL, having previously worked for the Volunteers of America, managing multi-million dollar budgets with various program delivery models. Cindy holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance and a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from the University of New Orleans.
AMY E. POIRIER is the supervisor of early childhood programs at CDL where she enjoys working side-by-side with early childhood professionals to provide support and thereby positively affect outcomes for young children. Amy’s extensive experiences in the field as an early childhood teacher, center director, and director of curriculum and training allow her to develop professional learning services for early childhood professionals, organize and implement early childhood mentoring and coaching efforts, and support CDL’s early childhood team in meaningful ways. Additionally, she has worked as a program monitor, coach, trainer, and curriculum specialist for several statewide programs. Amy is an endorsed Louisiana Pathways trainer, an approved Child Development Associate (CDA) Professional Development Specialist, a Zero-to-Three approved trainer, and provides training and technical support for the Infant, Toddler, and Pre-K Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS). Amy is the creator and program administrator of CDL’s Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved Early Childhood Ancillary Certificate Program, CDA Cornerstones. Amy knows that children benefit most from high-quality interactions provided by teachers who understand child development and early childhood pedagogy, and that relevant, on-the-job coaching and mentoring support significantly increases these skills. Amy received a bachelor’s in education from Wichita State University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in early childhood education at Kansas State University where she is researching early childhood pedagogical leadership.
LAUREN RICHARDSON is CDL’s graphic designer. She designs and prints all training and promotional materials, including all materials for the Plain Talk about Literacy and Learning Institute. Lauren graduated from Louisiana State University College of Art and Design in 2008 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in graphic design. In her spare time, she enjoys creating original oil and acrylic paintings that showcase all that New Orleans has to offer.
ALICE THOMAS, M.Ed., is the founder of CDL and the president and CEO Emeritus. Alice’s work has been guided by a steadfast belief that all children, regardless of how they look, where they come from or how they learn, can and will achieve school success when provided with highly effective teachers and positive, supportive learning environments. In addition to executive duties, she facilitates professional learning for school leaders, teachers, and related specialists. Alice previously served as a teacher, counselor, and intervention specialist. She has taught university graduate courses on differentiating instruction for struggling students. She is a Learning Forward Academy graduate. She is the creator and director of the annual evidence-based Plain Talk about Literacy and Learning Institute. Alice is coauthor of the Plain Talk about Learning professional learning curriculum, the Right from Birth parent/caregiver training curriculum, and the Teens & Tots curriculum; and editor of CDL’s online blog. Alice completed a fellowship in neurodevelopmental variations at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, and doctoral level studies in change leadership at the University of Toronto. She is the recipient of the New Orleans Children’s Defense Fund’s Champions for Children award and the International Dyslexia Association’s 2013 Presidential Award for Excellence.
FRANK WILLIAMS, MS, CDL’s vice president of strategic alliances, has over 40 years of experience in senior executive positions. Positions he has held include CFO and assistant treasurer of the Democratic National Committee; CFO of Medicaid, New York City Human Resources Administration; vice chancellor of finance at Southern University – Shreveport; executive director and CFO of a recruitment and training program for women and minorities; CFO of a New York ,three billion-dollar healthcare and pension fund; executive director of a national resources development organization; founding executive director of Greater New Orleans Education Foundation; founding chair of Brothers Empowered to Teach; and founding board member of Orleans Public Education Network. Frank’s community activities include being a founding board member of three New Orleans public charter schools, of which he served as treasurer for two and currently chairs the third; serving as board chair of the Southern University – New Orleans (SUNO) Foundation; serving as chair of his church’s strategic planning committee that is responsible for a $35 million capital project; serving on the boards of three community-based nonprofit organizations; and chaired the board of directors of the Broadmoor Education Corridor in New Orleans. In addition, Frank served as chair of CDL’s board of trustees and board member of the United States Youth Council where he led political youth study tours in Western Europe. Frank attended New Orleans public schools and holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from SUNO and a Master of Science in business from Manhattan College in Riverdale, NY.