Respected Early Childhood Leader and Expert Chosen to Succeed Retiring CEO Barb Yates

St. Paul, MN – Today, the Board of Directors of the nonprofit organization Think Small announced that Cisa Keller has been chosen to be its new President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), replacing Barb Yates, who is retiring after serving 16 years in that position.

“The Board of Directors is thrilled that we will be benefiting from Cisa’s energy and expertise at the helm of Think Small,” said Tracy Nordstrom, Chair of the Think Small Board of Directors. “We are on a roll with solid funding this past year, significant wins at the Legislature, and growing awareness by the public that quality in early learning matters. Cisa is the right person to keep the momentum going, and there is a great deal of important work to do.”

Starting in the classroom as an early educator, Keller has served for over 25 years as an expert and leader in the early childhood policy field. She has most recently served as Senior Vice President of Early Childhood Programs, where she oversaw Think Small’s government contracts and policy and advocacy initiatives.

Among other leadership positions, Keller also served as Director for Government and Community Relations for New Horizon Academy, Government Relations Chair of the Minnesota Child Care Association, an adjunct professor in the early childhood education field at Concordia University in St. Paul, and a member of several interdisciplinary statewide workgroups and coalitions advocating for reform of Minnesota’s early childhood education system. More information about Keller, as well as a photo, is available at Think Small leadership team.

“I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to guide this innovative organization to better serve our littlest learners, who are so key to Minnesota’s future,” said Keller. “Think Small and our partners have a lot of work to do to better prepare our most vulnerable children for school and all that follows, but we’re up for the challenge.”

Yates has served as Think Small’s President and CEO since 2008. She is renowned as a statewide and national leader in the early childhood education field. She announced in late 2023 that she was retiring. A photo of Yates and additional background about her storied career as an education reformer is available at Think Small leadership team.

“We are closing a powerful chapter on Barb Yates’ amazing leadership and successes at Think Small,” said Nordstrom. “We look forward to Cisa taking the organization and early learning to the next level of influence and innovation in Minnesota, and beyond.”

Think Small is a Minnesota-based non-profit organization focused on ensuring that every child is ready for kindergarten. More background is available at