Who We Are

Our Mission

The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative promotes the knowledge, professional learning, and collective action necessary to cultivate optimal early learning environments and experiences.

Our Vision

A world where all early education leaders have the knowledge and strategies they need to provide children and their colleagues with strong, supportive learning environments.

Our Values



We strive to transform early education, acting with high expectations, an open mind, and a deep belief in all children’s potential—and the potential of the adults dedicated to their learning.



We focus on settings that serve the most vulnerable, aiming to buffer stress and reduce adversity.

Scientific Integrity

Scientific Integrity

We hold ourselves to high scientific standards. We craft relevant questions, employ rigorous methodologies, and produce findings that advance policy and practice. Our tools for the field are grounded in evidence.



We are always striving to make connections. Our research informs our work with leaders; insights from the field enhance our research; and the networks we build enable collective action.



We generate, broker, and exchange information for impact. We are dedicated to rapid-cycle dissemination that provides accessible, progressive, and practical tools and information.


Stephanie Jones is a Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her research, anchored in prevention science, examines the long-term effects of poverty and exposure to violence on children’s social and emotional development, as well as the impact of school-based interventions promoting children’s social-emotional skills, pro-social behavior, and academic skills. She has studied evaluation research addressing the impact of preschool and elementary focused social-emotional learning interventions on behavioral and academic outcomes and classroom practices, as well as the development, implementation, and testing of new curricula.

Jones was awarded the Grawemeyer Award in Education for her work with Edward Zigler and Walter Gilliam on A Vision for Universal Preschool Education; she was also awarded the Joseph E. Zins Early-Career Distinguished Contribution Award for Action Research in Social and Emotional Learning by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).

Jones serves on numerous national advisory boards and expert consultant groups related to social-emotional development and child and family anti-poverty policies, including the boards of Parents as Teachers and Engaging Schools. Jones was previously the Marie and Max Kargman Associate Professor in Human Development and Urban Education Advancement at HGSE.

Nonie Lesaux is the Juliana W. and William Foss Thompson Professor of Education and Society at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her research focuses on promoting the language and literacy skills of children from diverse linguistic, cultural, and economic backgrounds. Results of her program of research appear in numerous scholarly publications, and their practical applications are featured in three books. She served on the U.S. Department of Education’s Reading First Advisory Committee, and the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council’s Committee on the Science of Children Birth to Age 8.

Lesaux also leads state-level policy work to improve third grade reading outcomes in Massachusetts. She authored a state-level literacy report that formed the basis for a Third Grade Reading Proficiency bill passed in the Massachusetts Legislature. The legislation established an Early Literacy Expert Panel, which Lesaux co-chairs, charged with developing new policies and initiatives in a number of domains that influence children’s early literacy development. Lesaux is the former chair of the Massachusetts Board of Early Education and Care.

Our Team

Danila Crespin Zidovsky

Senior Policy and Leadership Specialist

Kate Kane

Lead Facilitator, Certificate in Early Education Leadership

Robin Kane

Assistant Director, Professional Programs and Partnerships

Kimberly McMahon

Online Learning and Program Administrative Coordinator

Alan Mozaffari

Research and Policy Analyst

Charlotte Petty

Research Associate, Pre-K Initiatives and Data Use

Jackie Ramos-Draper

Research and Policy Analyst

Jon Wallace

Senior Writer and Editor

Emily Wiklund Hayhurst

Assistant Director, Learning Design and Communications

Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H)

PhD Students

Caitlin Dermody, Lily Fritz, Ron Grady, and Madelyn Gardner

Zaentz Professors

Junlei Li is the Saul Zaentz senior lecturer in early childhood education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His research and practice focuses on understanding and supporting the work of helpers–those who serve children and families on the frontlines of education and social services. Li studied and learned from a wide range of developmental settings with low resources but high-quality practices, including orphanages, childcare, classrooms, and community youth programs. He developed the “Simple Interactions” approach to help identify what ordinary people do extraordinarily well with children in everyday moments and made that the basis for promoting positive system change. Li frequently delivers keynote presentations and workshops for national, state, and international conferences focused on improving practices, programs, and policies for children, families, and professionals, with a particular emphasis on early childhood development. He teaches about improving human interactions and supporting adult helpers at HGSE and the Zaentz Professional Learning Academy. Li’s work is significantly influenced and inspired by the pioneering work of Fred Rogers (creator of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood). He previously served as the Co-Director and Rita M. McGinley Professor for Early Learning and Children’s Media at the Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College.

Meredith Rowe is the Saul Zaentz Professor of Early Learning and Development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). She leads a research program on understanding the role of parent and family factors in children’s early language and literacy development. She is particularly interested in uncovering how variations in children’s early communicative environments contribute to language development and in applying this knowledge to develop interventions for low-income families. Rowe received her doctoral degree in Human Development and Psychology from HGSE in 2003 and pursued postdoctoral fellowships in the Psychology and Sociology departments at the University of Chicago for several years. In 2009, she was appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology at the University of Maryland, where she was promoted to Associate Professor in 2014 before joining the faculty at Harvard. Her work is published widely in top journals in education and psychology, including Science, Child Development, Developmental Science, and Developmental Psychology.