Board of Directors
The AzAEYC Governing Board directs the actions and promotes the mission and goals of AzAEYC.
Melissa Larson Busby | AzAEYC Board President
Melissa has worked in the early childhood education field for over 15 years as a play therapist, director of an NAEYC accredited child care program and as a faculty member, advisor and administrator. She currently directs the NAEYC Accredited Early Childhood Education program at Central Arizona College.
By supporting the early childhood workforce, fostering collaborative relationships among systems and respecting the contributions of the diverse AzAEYC members and programs, she is confident that AzAEYC will continue to be an inclusive organizational group of professionals who are the leading voice in advocating for all young children, families and early care and education professionals in Arizona.
“As a mother, I have seen first hand the difference having access to high quality early learning made in the lives of my children. As a professional, I feel strongly it is our responsibility to advocate for every child and family to have the opportunity to access programs and services that will give all children the best start possible.”
Ben Alteneder | AzAEYC Vice President of Policy and Advocacy
Ben is the Senior Director of Government Affairs with First Things First and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Arizona State University with a certificate in American public policy. Ben has over 13 years experience and expertise in advocacy and government affairs having served in various capacities at the state legislature, public agencies and the private sector.
“NAEYC is an important partner in the early childhood system and movement. As a father, I know that it is imperative that Arizona’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens have a voice at the local, state and national level. That voice begins with a well-informed membership that has access to their elected public policy makers.”
Eric Bucher | Vice President of Professional Learning & Development
Early Childhood Program Specialist, Arizona Department of Education/ ECE Adjunct Faculty, Paradise Valley Community College
With a keen interest in early childhood science and STEM, Eric serves as early childhood adjunct faculty with Paradise Valley Community College, a NAEYC-accredited A.A.S. program.
Eric has facilitated high-quality early childhood science professional development and family engagement with the Arizona Science Center, serving thousands of children and adults each year. He has worked to provide job-embedded professional development for educators serving infants and toddlers, constructing and presenting workshops, and both teaching – and learning with – young children. Eric is currently pursuing an Ed.D. in Leadership & Innovation focused on ECE Professional Development at ASU.
“Collaboration is one of the most important components in strengthening early childhood systems. Serving on AzAEYC’s board provides opportunities to learn with and from fellow early childhood colleagues, support concerted efforts in quality improvement around the state, construct innovative solutions to problems facing our field, and sustain the work for a stronger future for Arizona’s children, their families, and early childhood professionals.”
Julia Butler | Treasurer
Julia currently serves as one of the coordinators of Las Familias, a community of practice of Great Expectations for Children, Families and Teachers (SAzAEYC) and has been responsible for the professional development planning and implementation, as well as the fiscal responsibilities associated with a grant-funded project. As the former owner and director of Second Street Children’s School in Tucson, Julia has managed a small business successfully while growing a competent group of educators, making SSCS a special place for children and their families. Additionally, she has worked as a consultant on NAEYC accreditation projects with the US Air Force; served as an adjunct faculty member at Central Arizona College; and is a member of the ECE Advisory Board at Pima Community College.
“My vision for AzAEYC is that it will continue to serve educators, children and their families across the state and it will become an inclusive, dynamic, productive force in the early childhood field where every voice is heard, respected, and considered; where the value of membership is apparent resulting in high quality learning experiences for every child; and is the place educators and policy makers look to for guidance and direction.”
Jenny Douglas | SAzAEYC Representative
Jenny started working at a pre-school when she was still in high school, setting her on the path to a career teaching and supporting young children, their families and educators ever since. Jenny is the director of Second Street Children’s School, a program she started teaching in, when it first opened 25 years ago. Jenny first joined SAzAEYC in 1991 and has been involved ever since. She has served on the board of SAzAEYC for three years and is currently the president. Jenny was the 2012 recipient of the SAzAEYC Francis Miller Community Action on Behalf of Young Children Award.
Jenny earned a BA in sociology and family studies from the University of Arizona. She has also worked for the Blake Foundation as an early interventionist and support coordinator working with children and families in their homes. She also serves on the board for Second Street Children’s School and the board for The Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding.
Jenny has three children and stays active in their schools, sports and other activities. She has been married to her husband for 18 years. Jenny and her family love to travel both near and far – one of their favorite Southern Arizona destinations is Bisbee.
“I have experienced firsthand the amazing results a small group of dedicated people can achieve when working together toward a common goal. Working in a field that is often under-recognized by our greater society, it is vital that we support a professional organization such as NAEYC.”
Stacia Emerson | AzAEYC Member-at-Large
Stacia holds a PhD in Early Childhood Education and has 30 years of experience in the field. This experience is broad – ranging from teaching young children (4’s are her favorites), being a standing columnist for an Early Childhood magazine (a decade of child development articles), and teaching and supervising at the University level (approximately 10 years).
Currently, she is a Clinical Assistant Professor in Teaching and Learning at NAU. She teaches a variety of Early Childhood courses and supervises practicum students, which keeps her focused on the early learner and attuned to the current educational environment in Arizona. These experiences and knowledge are magnified by her excitement to share with other educators the joy of teaching with heart.
“I am passionate about joining with leaders in the early childhood profession to raise a voice on behalf of all young children and their families.”
Jonathon Adam H. Gonzales | Member-at-Large
Jonathon worked as the State Director of the Arizona Head Start Association (AHSA) to strengthen member agencies and partners who enhance the lives of young children and families by serving as the unified voice of the diverse Head Start/Early Head Start community through advocacy, collaboration and education.
A former Head Start parent, Johathon has served as the inaugural Regional Director and with South Phoenix Regional Partnership Council with First Things First. He led his council through the needs and assets, strategic and funding plan processes that required consistent re-evaluation to ensure the meeting of organizational benchmarks.
In the past, he worked as the Director of Community Outreach with Children’s Action Alliance and Prevention Specialist with Maricopa County Tobacco Education and Prevention Program. He is an alumnus of Brophy College Preparatory and Arizona State University and grew up in the West Valley. He serves in the Arizona Army National Guard as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 3666th Maintenance Company.
Jonathon is married with 3 children ages 20, 18, 13.
“I was a Headstart dad. I learned so much from those early years on how to be a better parent, and how to engage my children in their learning.”
Lena Malofeeva | Vice President of Membership and Communication
Lena Malofeeva is Vice President and Senior Director of Research at Evaluation Strategies, a company that provides evaluation, grant writing, and technical assistance services. She is a licensed psychologist with Tucson Counseling, Tucson, AZ.
Lena earned a dual Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame in Developmental and Counseling Psychology with a minor in Quantitative Psychology. Her interests include understanding program and strategy impacts on children and adults and identifying best practices, developing policies that are based on best practices, and ways to promote community collaboration and sustainability using sound qualitative and quantitative methodologies.
Lena has a strong passion for the mission, vision, and values of AzAEYC and NAEYC. She has worked at the national and state levels and has presented to multiple audiences and stakeholders. She has extensive experience in program evaluation, design and statistics, evaluation of systems, partnerships, alliances, management of complex data systems, and estimating complex models.
“My goal is to help to make the state of Arizona a better place for children and families by advocating for quality care and education. Young children are our future, and we need to invest in them intentionally and wisely.”
Martha Muñoz | Past President of AzAEYC 2015-2016
Dr. Martha Muñoz is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education, Department of Teaching and Learning, in the College of Education at Northern Arizona University. She brings thirty years plus experience in education that includes teaching preschool, Head Start, and kindergarten. Dr. Muñoz was a child care center director for eleven years at a National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) nationally accredited campus laboratory school. She has served as a Dean at both the community college and university level.
Dr. Muñoz earned a doctorate in educational leadership from The University of Texas at Austin in 2008. She also earned MEd and BA degrees from Arizona State University with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education. She was awarded an AAS degree in Child Care Administration from Phoenix College following attainment of a General Education Diploma.
As Past President of the Arizona Association for the Education of Young (AzAEYC) Children, Dr. Muñoz serves as an advocate for children and families. In addition to service at the state level, Dr. Muñoz is a Commissioner for the NAEYC Higher Education Accreditation system.
Dr. Muñoz’s research interests include the professional development of early childhood educators who aspire to leadership roles. She is compelled to study the skills and characteristics of seasoned early childhood leaders in order to create effective strategies to support the professional development of individuals entering the profession as well as those who wish to advance their own learning.
“My passion is investing in the future for all children.”
Ana Bribiesca | AzAEYC Yuma Representative
Ana celebrates 25 years with Migrant and Seasonal Head Start and has worked with Chicanos Por La Causa in their Early Childhood Development program as Statewide Education Specialist for the past 17 years. With a B.A.S. in Early Childhood Education, Ana provides professional development at Arizona Western College through an Arizona PBS grant. Ana has served on the board of the Yuma County chapter of AzAEYC and is strong advocate of professional development within the Yuma County early childhood education community
“I’m passionate about Early Childhood Education! We know the early years are a unique time of child development. My goal is to continue advocating in my community and across the state.”
McKenna Pyeatt | Member-at-Large
McKenna Pyeatt is a fundraiser at the Arizona State University Foundation. She supports the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College by advocating for PreK-20+ education and attracting philanthropic investments and educational opportunities for the university at both the local and national level. In 2017, McKenna joined AzAEYC as a Member-at-Large board member.
Her work includes almost 8 years of fundraising in higher education. Before ASUF, she advocated for education at three universities in the state of Oregon; Linfield College, Oregon Institute of Technology, and Marylhurst University. McKenna’s background also includes classroom experience, where she taught health education at both the elementary and postsecondary level. She spent several years as a middle school children’s ministries leader and pre-school teacher’s assistant which developed her agreement with the NAEYC mission.
McKenna attained her BA in Health Education and Religious Studies from Linfield College and is currently pursuing her M.Ed. in Higher Education from Arizona State University with a focus in innovative fundraising strategy, financial budgeting, and educational policy.
She believes that networks and collaboration are the most important factors to create sustainable educational systems. Her work at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and for the AzAEYC community provides opportunity to support efforts that promote quality education for all students.
“We rise by lifting others.”
Claire Schonaerts | VSAEYC Representative
Dr. Claire Schonaerts serves as an Associate Clinical Professor at NAU. She has been in the field of education for over 49 years. Her love for the young learner has given her the opportunity to share the amazing commitments early childhood educators and leaders are doing on a state, national, and global level. As President of VSAEYC, Claire hopes to bring a heightened awareness of community involvement with all our early childhood members.
“Interact with a young child as often as possible. Each one has so much to tell us about what is really important in our world.”
W. Aaron Montaño Searles | VP – Membership
Aaron Searles is CEO of LMC Enterprises, an Arizona-based firm specializing in marketing and communications. An Arizona native, he has lived in Belgium, Mexico and Chile, gaining exposure to different international cultures. He has lived in Phoenix, Tucson and Washington D.C., with frequent stays in Carlsbad, CA.
Aaron has worked for over 10 years with numerous non-profits and has provided his expertise as a consultant. He has staffed the offices of three Phoenix City Council members and a Congressman in Washington D.C. He has also worked in the for-profit sector, providing solutions in marketing, fundraising, outreach and organizational development. Aaron attended the International School of Brussels, Sunnyslope High School, the University of Chile and the University of Arizona. He holds degrees in International Business and Spanish Literature.
Aaron volunteers with diverse non-profit organizations and serves on several boards, including the Encanto Village Planning Committee, Chavez Boxing Foundation and Phoenix Symphony. These align with his interests in child advocacy, the arts and health and fitness. Aaron also owns a boxing gym where he trains a select group of clients.
“I have dedicated my life to creating a better community through maximizing my own potential and that of everyone I touch.”
Elizabeth Taylor | NAzAEYC Representative
Elizabeth currently works full time as the Executive Director of four multiage, parent cooperative preschool sites in Flagstaff, AZ. She teaches preschool every day at one of the sites and has taught classes in Early Childhood Education at Northern Arizona University for over 20 years.
Elizabeth is the current president of the Northern Arizona Association for the Education of Young Children (NAzAEYC) and serves as advisor to the Northern Arizona University NAzAEYC student chapter. She holds a Master’s degree in Elementary Education from Northern Arizona University and has recieved endorsements in the areas of Early Childhood, Reading Specialist and ESL.
When her children were young, Elizabeth was their preschool teacher in the mornings. In the afternoons, she offered certified childcare for DES and took care of children and adults as a certified respite care provider. She also tutored in the evenings and on weekends for those needing reading support. She is a single mom of four amazing, successful children.
Elizabeth has written parenting curriculum and is involved in the Reggio Collaboration Project. With the students at Northern Arizona University, she guides community projects including weekly readings at the library, early childhood fairs, and workshop presentations.
“NAEYC is still the most respected institution for research, articles, and best practices indicators. Over the years I have met many passionate people advocating for young children and families. I love working with the Northern Arizona University students the most!”