Former Rep. Ross Hunter was appointed Director of the Department of Early learning (DEL) by Governor Jay Inslee on September 7th, 2015. Ross’ focus is on improving outcomes for all children, and especially on eliminating race and family income as predictors of progress and success for young learners. He is passionate about investing upstream in proven prevention strategies, using strong data and outcomes analysis to administer these programs, and supporting a strong workforce of caregivers and professionals to deliver the services that ensure fewer children experience trauma and more families can build resilience and succeed together.
Ross served as State Representative from the 48th District of Washington (the greater Eastside) from 2003-2015. During that time he chaired the Appropriations committee from 2010 through 2015 and was responsible for negotiating the three biennial state budgets.
Throughout his tenure he focused on improving education opportunities and outcomes for all Washington Children. Through his work as Appropriations chair, Ross was instrumental in the passage of the Early Start Act in 2015, funding the Foster Care to Age 21 expansion, and led the effort to redefine basic education funding. Ross served on the Washington Learns K-12 Advisory Committee and the Joint Task Force on Basic Education Finance. He used his business experience when he chaired several other committees, including the Finance committee (responsible for tax policy), the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee, and the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.
Ross began his career at a small software company on the Eastside that expanded beyond all expectations. He was at Microsoft for 17 years and holds several patents for database and user interface design.
Ross earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science from Yale University in 1983. His wife Tricie is the CFO of a Montessori preschool, and he has two grown children.
Favorite children’s book: The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Best childhood memories: I have very fond memories of my mother’s notebooks from her Montessori teacher prep and the materials used in the classrooms. The strongest memories though are the freedom of using public transportation, bikes, and walking to go everywhere in Philadelphia independently. A great city for a kid to explore.
Most important children in his life: My two children, Jack and Emily, who now lead independent adult lives.
As deputy director, Heather provides day-to-day operational oversight for DEL. Prior to joining DEL, Heather was deputy director at Child Care Aware of Washington, where she helped lead the successful statewide roll-out of Early Achievers.
She has previous experience in state government, serving nine years as a research analyst with the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee and another five years as both a budget and policy analyst for the state Office of Financial Management.
Favorite children's book: The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats.
Best childhood memory: Winter weekends at the family cabin in Paradise Valley.
Most important children in her life: My identical twin sons, Dylan and Dustin (although they are now young men, they will always be my boys!).
Assistant Director of Government and Community Relations
Frank Ordway served as the Director of Government Relations for the League of Education Voters from 2008 to 2015, until he was appointed as the Assistant Director of Government and Community Relations for the Department of Early Learning (DEL).
Frank has worked in non-profit and consulting for the bulk of his professional career, providing strategic planning, negotiation, staff and budget development, community outreach and policy for various organizations dedicated to public advancement.
One of Frank’s top career goals is to create sustainable institutions that are both entrepreneurial and have positive, wide ranging community impact.
Frank earned a MPA in Public Affairs, Political Science and Women’s Studies from the University of Washington in 2006.
Favorite children's book: Ant and Bee, by Angela Banner.
Best childhood memory: Running free with friends (without parent supervision) for the first time in the woods near Scholls, Oregon.
Most important children in his life: When I was an aid worker in Africa, I met a young boy with serious health issues--he was in danger of losing his arm. The barriers between this child and healthcare or education in rural Africa were distance and infrastructure. Later, I encountered a child in Washington with similar health issues and poor access to early education. The barriers for this American child are flesh and blood--people and policy-makers who don't understand children's needs. I think about those children each day in my work, and I hope to see a future where Washington children have better access to services they need.
Assistant Director for Partnerships and Collaboration
Greg oversees the Partnerships and Collaboration division, which includes: Early Support for Infants and Toddlers; the Head Start State Collaboration Office; Medicaid Treatment Child Care; State-Local Coordination; the Early Learning Advisory Council; and Strengthening Families Washington (which includes Home Visiting, in partnership with Thrive By Five, and Child Abuse Prevention). The Partnerships and Collaboration division specializes in authentic family and community engagement, building external connections, fostering internal relationships, leading for racial equity from a social justice perspective, and encouraging healthy child development in all settings.
Greg worked in various roles in legislative education, health, and social policy from 1988 to 2005, including working for the Washington State Senate, United States Senate, and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Since 2005, he has worked in education administration for programs in student support and for disproportionately served populations, and he has specialized experience in student and family engagement strategies. Greg earned his teachers’ certification in 1986, and his MA in Organizational Design and Renewal in 2007.
Favorite children’s books: The Scaredy Squirrel series by Melanie Watt (for children aged 3 to 7).
Best childhood memory: Growing up a “free range kid” in the woods and fields and waters and bike trails of North Rosedale, Washington.
The most important children in his life: My grandchildren Sam, Ava, Keira, Chloe, Lily, and Kyle, and niecelets McKenzie and Lavender.
Chief Financial Officer
Mike Steenhout oversees financial services, which includes accounting, budget, payroll, contracts, procurement, grants management, and audit. Mike worked for three years at the Washington State Liquor Control Board managing the Finance Division and six years as a budget analyst at the Office of Financial Management. He also served in the United States Marine Corps and is a veteran of the Gulf War. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in public policy and a Master’s in Public Administration from the Evergreen State College, is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, and has a certificate in project management from the University of Washington.
Favorite children’s book: Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.
Best childhood memory: Family trips to Clear Lake located at the headwaters of the McKenzie River in Western Oregon. Clear Lake is known as the "lake born of fire" and was formed 3000 years ago by a lava flow. We stayed in rustic cabins, rented a small row boats for fishing, and sat around the campfire late into the night.
Most important children in his life: My son Curtis.
Assistant Director for the Early Start Act
Luba is the Assistant Director and coordinates and oversees the implementation of the Early Start Act. She joins us from Puget Sound ESD, where she worked as an Associate Superintendent for Early Learning, and brings high level of expertise in providing comprehensive vision, leadership and direction for the development and implementation of the prenatal to 3rd grade educational services to culturally and linguistically diverse children, families, and communities.
Luba has an extensive knowledge and experience working with all of the components of the Washington State mixed-delivery early learning system: center-based and home-based child care, ECEAP, quality rating improvement system, home visiting, special and comprehensive services, dual language learners services, child welfare, WCCC, Head Start and Early Head Start. She is committed to equitable early learning care and education that ensures school readiness for ALL children and families in our state. Luba is a well-known advocate for data-informed policies and practice, and a cross-sector collaborative leadership.
Luba graduated with a Masters in Inclusive Early Learning Education from the College of Mount St. Joseph, Ohio.
Favorite children’s books: Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel and Karlsson-on-the-Roof by Astrid Lindgren.
Best childhood memory: Read alouds with her grandparents, and hiking and mushroom picking trips with her parents.
Most important child in her life: Her grandson, Arlo.
Assistant Director for Quality Practice and Professional Growth
Nicole Rose is the Assistant Director for the Quality Practice and Professional Growth (QPPG) division with the Department of Early Learning. She comes to this position from her former role as the PreK-3rd/Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) Administrator. Nicole grew up in Spokane, Washington and brings a variety of experience from early childhood settings including Head Start and ECEAP, community-based mobilization work and research and evaluation of Evidence-Based Home Visiting in Washington State.
Nicole is passionate about putting best practice into policy so that all of Washington’s children have the chance to be successful. Nicole is currently working on a Master’s in Public Administration at the University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy and Governance.
What is your favorite children’s book: Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney.
Best childhood memory: Spending time with my family going to Manito park duck pond in the summer and sledding down the big hill in the winter.
The most important child in your life: My two sons, Ryder and Sage.
Director of Analysis and Research
Vickie Ybarra is Director of Research and Analysis for the Washington Department of Early Learning. Since starting in this new position in early 2016 she has built a team that is busy producing analyses and applied research helping to forward DEL’s goal of ensuring children are ready for success in school.
Vickie began her career as a home visiting nurse working with immigrant families in Central Washington. She worked directly with families and built home visiting and healthcare programs in the Yakima Valley for over two decades. Over her career she has led the implementation and evaluation of numerous family support programs for low-income and marginalized families. Additionally, she has served in policy leadership positions to improve equity in outcomes for children including serving as an elected school board member in Yakima, and chairing a gubernatorial council to eliminate health disparities in the 2000s.
Dr. Ybarra holds degrees in Nursing and Public Health from the University of Washington, and in Political Science/Public Policy from the University of New Mexico where she was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation scholar. She is a quantitative scholar who has published research related to public policy and child/family health and wellbeing. She holds appointments as adjunct faculty at the UW School of Public Health and as a senior fellow at the RWJF Center for Health Policy at UNM.
Favorite Children’s Book: “Red Fox on the Move” by Hannah Gifford (my boys loved reading this book together over and over when they were small)
Best Childhood Memory: Family Christmas gatherings at my aunt’s large house with many cousins – always loud with food, laughter, and fun.
The most important children in your life: My two adult sons, Luis and Aaron, are the most important “children” in my personal life. My career has been driven by my early professional experiences visiting young families in their homes in the Yakima Valley, parents living in poverty who struggle and sacrifice to invest in their children’s future. It’s the experiences of those children, and many others in similarly humble circumstances around that state, that drive me in in my work today.
Head Start Project Administrator
Caitlin oversees the Head Start State Collaboration Office. She joins us from Montana, and brings knowledge and experience in comprehensive early learning systems, programs and policies.
She has experience working with many parts of the early learning system: Head Start/Early Head Start, maternal and child health, child care, quality rating improvement systems, home visiting, and child welfare. She cares deeply about social justice for children and families, and loves working in a field where there are many possibilities for positive change.
Caitlin graduated with a Masters in Social Work from the University of Washington.
Favorite children’s book: The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Best childhood memory: Spending summers out at my grandparent’s wheat and cattle ranch in Montana. My siblings and I loved to catch frogs, go on the combine during harvest with our grandpa, and listen to our grandma read The Chronicles of Narnia.
The most important children in your life: My niece Amabel, who lives (too far away) in Australia.
Tleena carries the ancestral names of Kwewatanat and HaʔhaʔMu and is an enrolled member of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. She worked for her people as the Together for Children Project Manager and now serves many tribes in Washington State as the Tribal Liaison for the Department of Early Learning. She has diverse work experience, serving in education, health, fitness and cultural instruction. She has also spent time working within her tribe in the fields of curriculum development, tribal law, social work and parent advocacy. Tleena is the author of taʔt̕ə́wəsnaʔ, “Star” a S'Klallam children’s book expressing the wishes and dreams for our children through an environmental health perspective.
Tleena has been trained as a trainer in the following areas that support early learning: Fatherhood/ Motherhood is Sacred facilitator, a Family Literacy Consultant with the National Head Start Family Literacy Center, Physical Activity Kit In Indian Country (IHS), Digital Storytelling (IHS), and My Amazing Body an Indian Health Service Head Start Cultural Nutrition curriculum. Recently Tleena participated in the Brazelton Touchpoints American Indian Early Childhood Community Leadership Program and a graduate of the 2015-2016 Leadership Kitsap class. Currently Tleena is a student at the University of Washington participating in the Native Education Certificate program.
Tleena demonstrates leadership with her actions as a healthy role model and spends much of her free time instructing others in their fitness. As former Miss Indian USA, her motto was “You will only fail if you fail to try!” In her spare time, she trains for Ironman Triathlons, works part-time for the Seahawks, runs her own fitness business and finds joy in witnessing her four children grow into the dreamers and leaders of her tribe’s future.
Tleena Ives earned her bachelor’s degree in Indigenous Education from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. She is also a recipient of the 2016 “Woman of Achievement” award from the YWCA Kitsap County.
What is your favorite children’s book: The Little Engine That Could is by far my favorite book that I have read to my kids even through pregnancy. The message it shares of overcoming the seemingly impossible as having an iron will allows us to overcome any obstacle.
Best childhood memory: Staying the night with my Grandma alongside my cousins as we gathered around to listen to my Grandma share stories. In an attempt to show bravery, we would ask her to tell us scary stories. Despite how frightening some stories were we all felt comfort in each other’s presence and most of all safe in knowing we had the best protection in the love from our grandmother.
The most important child in your life: My four children make me proud and thankful to serve in the sacred role of being their mother. Kaylayla, Kanim, Kiaya and Kah-Ty are not only my children but they are my teachers, teaching me what life is all about!