Recording Small Talks Slides White Paper

About the Event

Only 30% of Minnesota 8th graders were deemed proficient in reading in a recent national assessment (NCES 2022).

Addressing this troubling statistic begins with babies. There is much that can be done in a developmentally appropriate way, both at home and in early care and education settings, to help achieve the state’s literacy goals. This virtual-only 90-minute event will focus on what Minnesota policymakers can do to support infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children across early care and education settings in building a strong foundation for later reading success.

We invite you to join us for the second installment in our Small Talks early literacy series, Building Successful Readers Begins at Birth. This virtual-only event will take place on February 9 from 9:00-10:30 a.m. and will be focused on the ways public policy can support the early literacy development of children ages 0-5 in a range of early care and education settings.


Moderator and Panelists


Rep. Mary Frances Clardy 
MN House of Representatives 

Mary Frances Clardy has served in the Minnesota House of Representatives since 2023. A member of the Minnesota DFL Party, Clardy represents District 53A in the southeastern Twin Cities. Clardy grew up in Burnsville and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Minnesota State University, Mankato, her teaching certificate from the University of St. Thomas, and a Master of Education from Grand Canyon University. Clardy has worked as a teacher in Saint Paul, a housing advocate, and a civil rights commissioner. She became involved with the advocacy group Educators for Excellence and co-authored a policy paper proposing legislative solutions to recruit and retain teachers of color. Clardy served on the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission. Governor Mark Dayton appointed her to serve on the Minnesota Board of Teaching from 2014 to 2017, and Governor Tim Walz appointed her to the Minnesota Board of School Administrators in 2019. She has also served on the Inver Grove Heights School Board and the Board of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.


Kiran Sheikh
Director of Early Learning Corps, Ampact

Kiran Sheikh serves as the Director of Early Learning Corps with Ampact, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving communities by combining science and research with the power of people through Americorps. Although intending for law school, Kiran’s career path shifted after her service with America Reads as a reading tutor. Her passion to understand and advocate for individual student needs led her to the field of School Psychology. Since completing her graduate studies, Kiran has served in varying capacities in the field of early childhood education, most notably in her roles with the Head Start and Early Head Start program of Miami Dade County and the Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties. In her current role, Kiran provides leadership and direction through the development of training, program materials, and program coaching to support the successful implementation of the Early Learning Corps program which seeks to yield positive and equitable outcomes for students as it relates to core early literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional skill development. As a mother to five, Kiran witnesses early learning and the impact of early intervention daily. She is committed to the narrative that early learning matters and can be embedded into daily life with intentional and meaningful interactions between adults and children.


Alisha Wackerle-Hollman
Associate Research Professor, University of Minnesota

Alisha is an educational psychologist interested in two primary strands of research: parenting education and engagement and early childhood assessment, intervention and data-based decision making. In the area of parenting education Alisha has aligned her research with community-based models focused on improving parent engagement and child level outcomes for disadvantaged families through empowerment and evidence-based parenting practices, including via a partnership with the Northside Achievement Zone.  Additional applied research projects relate to practices and resources integral to early childhood multi-tiered systems of support. Alisha leads the development of the multiple early childhood language and literacy assessments, and her assessment and measurement work emphasizes the importance of robust assessment practices in early childhood and meaningful interpretation of student level data to information instructional decisions.  Alisha received her PhD from the University of Minnesota, and before her graduate education, she worked as a preschool teacher and director and an early childhood special education teacher.


Candace Yates (she/her)
Vice President of Equity & Program Supports, Think Small

Candace has worked in the field of early childhood care and education for 19 years. As Vice President of Equity and Program Supports at Think Small, she manages the development of long-range and annual goals supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies across the organization and provides overall management to the Quality Coaching, Capacity Building, Professional Development, and Outreach & Engagement teams.  Since joining Think Small, Candace has become an influential leader focusing on advancing equity for BIPoC children, families, and staff within the statewide early childhood system. She currently serves on the Parent Aware Racial Equity Action Workgroup, Solutions Not Suspensions Coalition, 80×3 Advisory Committee, and is a Board Director for the Minnesota Association for the Education of Young Children (MNAEYC). Candace holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in Spanish Studies and leadership certificates in Diversity and Inclusion from Cornell University and the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business. Candace is also an IDI Qualified Administrator and Embracing Equity 2021-22 Leadership Residency alum.