Innovative Leadership

Our purposeful curriculum for infant care and early education has passed through many levels of scrutiny from our expert education panel and esteemed advisory board. Our focus is always on what will best serve the needs of Primrose children and families with an eye on innovation and advocacy for quality early education for all children.

  • Jo Kirchner

    Jo Kirchner

    CEO

    Jo Kirchner has devoted the majority of her career to pioneering breakthrough strategies for delivering high-quality early education and care. As CEO of Primrose Schools® since 1999, she has led strategic growth of the company from four locations in Georgia to a national brand recognized as an industry leader and innovator.

    Jo joined Primrose in 1990 as Vice President and was instrumental in creating and expanding the franchise model that now includes over 450 independently owned and operated schools coast-to-coast.

    Today, Jo continues to shape strategic direction for the rapidly expanding franchise company while also providing leadership on the Primrose Schools Board of Directors and the Primrose Early Learning Council. Outside the company, her national advocacy work includes serving on the board as co-chair for the Early Care & Education Consortium, a trustee for Cognia and the Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, and she engages in initiatives internationally to advance early education and child care. In 2017, Jo received the International Franchise Associations Bonnie LeVine Award in recognition of her commitment to the mentorship of women.

    Jo founded the Primrose Schools Children’s Foundation and launched the Primrose Promise℠ corporate social responsibility program, which helps the Primrose organization fulfill its mission to forge a path that leads to a brighter future for all children.

  • Steve Clemente

    Steve Clemente

    President

    Steve Clemente joined Primrose as President in May 2016. In his role, he leads internal operations for Primrose School Franchising Company and partners with CEO Jo Kirchner on strategic growth initiatives.

    Steve’s entire career has been focused on providing senior leadership and management in multi-unit businesses. Prior to joining the Primrose Schools executive team, Steve served as President of Field & Stream, a subsidiary of Dick’s Sporting Goods. Before that, he spent five years at the Nebraska Book Company, rising from Sr. Vice President in charge of operations to President and CEO.

    He began his career as an Executive in Training at Target Stores and enjoyed a 15-year trajectory there, culminating as a Group Vice President in charge of $3.3 billion in operations. He was widely recognized for mentoring high-performance executives, and his team led the company in customer service and financial profitability.

    Steve holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida. He earned a master’s degree in business administration from Webster University.

  • Lauren Starnes

    Dr. Lauren Starnes

    Vice President of Early Childhood Education Research and Development

    Dr. Lauren Starnes joined Primrose in March 2018. As Vice President, Early Childhood Education Research and Development, she leads the team responsible for furthering the adoption, efficacy and continuous improvement of our proprietary, researched-informed Balanced Learning® approach.

    With nearly twenty years of experience in early childhood education, Lauren has actively served the education system on all levels. While she began her formal career teaching at the university level, she has prior experience teaching within preschools, serving as a support professional for children with autism spectrum disorders and as a coach for fellow preschool teachers. She has also worked as a school principal for multiple different preschools and elementary school programs, consulted for different early childhood education and educational product companies, and remains actively involved as a voice for early childhood education in various professional associations.

    Lauren has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a master’s degree and doctoral degree in developmental and child psychology from North Carolina State University, and a doctoral degree in educational leadership and administration from Liberty University.

  • Maria Shaheen

    Dr. Maria Shaheen

    Senior Director, Early Childhood Education

    Dr. Maria Shaheen joined Primrose Schools in 2014. She began her career as a multiage Preschool/PreK teacher in a school inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach, and has taught in both public and private schools at the early childhood, elementary, and middle school levels. In addition, she has worked as a reading specialist, adult ELL instructor, and served in several administrative roles as both Curriculum Director and Director of PreK/Elementary.

    Prior to joining Primrose Schools, Dr. Shaheen was Assistant Professor of Elementary and Early Childhood Education at Kennesaw State University. Her research areas include early literacy, social justice in early childhood/ elementary education, and innovative teaching practices. Her publications and presentations at the state, national, and international levels relate to current, research-based best practices in early childhood/elementary education.

    Dr. Shaheen has a doctoral degree in Curriculum and Instruction and master’s degree in Elementary Education from Kent State University in Ohio.

  • Laura Jana

    Laura Jana, M.D.

    Early Learning Council

    Dr. Laura Jana is the proud mother of three, a pediatrician, author, certified child passenger safety technician, and Primrose School Franchise Owner. Dr. Jana is also a nationally recognized parenting expert and health communicator. Having first served as a consultant to Dr. Benjamin Spock, Dr. Jana went on to co-found The Dr. Spock Company in 1999, and then subsequently founded her own company, Practical Parenting Consulting.

    Dr. Jana now serves as a media spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics; is on the advisory board for American Baby magazine and The Walt Disney Internet Group; and serves as an expert consultant for academic organizations, non-profits and major corporations such as P&G, Dorel, Playtex and Reckitt Benckhiser/Lysol.

  • Kathy Trundle

    Kathy C. Trundle, PhD

    Early Learning Council

    Dr. Kathy Cabe Trundle, Department Head and Professor in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education at North Carolina State University, has more than 30 years of experience in science education, including 10 years of public school teaching. Before joining the faculty at NC State, she was a Professor in Early Childhood Science Education at The Ohio State University, and she previously served as the State Science Consultant for the Kentucky Department of Education. Dr. Trundle has more than 200 scholarly publications, including research articles, book chapters, and books. In addition to her academic and scholarly activities, Dr. Trundle is highly sought after as a national and international expert in early childhood education. She serves as an advisor to the Fred Rogers Company and to Louisiana Public Broadcasting. She has served as a Fulbright Specialist in Indonesia. Additionally, she has been an invited keynote speaker at international conferences and universities in Turkey, China and Indonesia, and she consulted with the Chinese government on a science and technology museum project.

  • Douglas Bell

    Douglas Bell, PhD

    Early Learning Council

    Dr. Douglas Bell is an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at Kennesaw State University in the Birth through Kindergarten teacher preparation program. With more than 30 years of experience in early childhood curriculum, early literacy, early social emotional development and working with young dual-language learners, he has held positions as teacher in all age groups birth through second grade. Additionally, he has served as early learning school administrator, curriculum coordinator, and teacher trainer. Dr. Bell has published and presented on local, state, national and international levels.

  • Carol Donovan

    Carol Donovan, PhD

    Early Learning Council

    Dr. Carol Donovan is a Professor of Literacy Education at the University of Alabama. Her research interests include children’s and teachers’ selections and uses of books for science, children’s genre knowledge development, and children’s writing development. She has published her work in various journals, including Reading Research Quarterly, Research in the Teaching of English, The Reading Teacher, Elementary School Journal, and Language Arts. She received a doctoral degree in Multicultural Teacher and Child Education with an emphasis in reading and writing from the University of New Mexico.

  • Mary Louis Hemmeter

    Mary Louise Hemmeter, PhD

    Early Learning Council

    Dr. Mary Louise Hemmeter is a Professor of Special Education at Vanderbilt University. Her research focuses on effective instruction, supporting social emotional development and addressing challenging behavior, and coaching teachers. She has directed numerous projects funded by the US Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. Through her work on the National Center on the Social Emotional Foundations for Early Learning and IES-funded research projects, she was involved in the development of the Pyramid Model for Supporting Social Emotional Competence in Young Children and the Practice Based Coaching Model. Additionally, she is a co-author on the Connect4Learning Early Childhood Curriculum and the Teaching Pyramid Observation Tool. She has received the Merle B. Karnes Service to the Division Award and the Mary McEvoy Service to the Field Award.

  • Iheoma Iruka

    Iheoma U. Iruka, PhD

    Early Learning Council

    Dr. Iheoma U. Iruka is a Research Professor of Public Policy, a Fellow at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG), and the Founding Director of the Equity Research Action Coalition at FPG at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Iruka is engaged in projects and initiatives focused on how evidence-informed policies, systems, and practices in early education can support the optimal development and experiences of racially minoritized children and those from low-wealth households and communities. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Temple University, a master’s degree in psychology from Boston University, and doctoral degree in applied developmental psychology from the University of Miami, Florida.

  • Gloria Julius

    Gloria Julius, PhD

    Early Learning Council

    Dr. Gloria Julius is a Strategic Consultant advising on research and development of early childhood curriculum and instructional programming. Prior to consulting, Dr. Julius served as Chief Academic Officer for Primrose Schools, overseeing the research, development, evaluation, and continuous improvement of the Primrose Balanced Learning® curriculum. Prior to joining Primrose, Dr. Julius served as the Chief Learning Officer for Calvert Education Services, a 115-year-old home schooling and virtual learning provider. She holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a concentration in music from Elizabethtown College, a master’s degree in education with a concentration in curriculum development from Towson University, and doctoral degree in education policy, planning and administration from the University of Maryland College Park.

  • Chih-Ing Lim

    Chih-Ing Lim, PhD

    Early Learning Council

    Dr. Chih-Ing Lim is a Senior Technical Assistance Specialist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the co-director of the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center, which works to build the knowledge on early STEM learning for children, especially those with disabilities. She also leads Supporting Change and Reform in Preservice Teaching in North Carolina, where she works with community college faculty to better prepare early childhood professionals to serve children with disabilities and who are from culturally and ethnically diverse families. She holds a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of York in England, a post-graduate diploma in music and math education from Nanyang Technological University-National Institute of Education in Singapore, and master’s and doctoral degrees in early childhood, families, and literacy education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

  • Sandra Linder

    Sandra M. Linder, PhD

    Early Learning Council

    Dr. Sandra M. Linder is an Associate Professor at Clemson University. centers her research on improving teacher quality in mathematics through professional development. In addition to her work in curriculum, Dr. Linder has multiple national publications relating to early childhood and elementary mathematics motivation and achievement, pre-service and in-service teacher quality and professional development, cross-curricular and technology integration in mathematics, and teacher beliefs related to mathematics pedagogy.

  • Jennifer S McDonel

    Jennifer Sutton McDonel, PhD

    Early Learning Council

    Dr. Jennifer McDonel is assistant professor of music and director of music education at Radford University. She also is a faculty member and former executive director of the Gordon Institute for Music Learning. Throughout her career, Dr. McDonel’s teaching and research has spanned across all ages, with a specific focus on the impact of early childhood music learning on children’s overall development. Dr. McDonel holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from The Ohio State University, a master’s degree in music education from the Eastman School of Music and doctoral degree in elementary education from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

  • Rebecca Parlakian

    Rebecca Parlakian

    Early Learning Council

    Rebecca Parlakian serves as senior director of programs at ZERO TO THREE where she directs a portfolio of projects related to child development, parenting, early learning, social-emotional skills, and high-quality teaching/caregiving. In her role, she has co-authored five parenting and professional curricula and developed resources for teachers, home visitors, and parents in various media formats. Ms. Parlakian’s written work has appeared in a variety of publications and she has been quoted by media outlets including the New York Times and the Washington Post. She holds a master’s degree in infant and toddler special education from the George Washington University where she currently teaches as an adjunct professor in their Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

  • Meg Small

    Meg Small, PhD

    Early Learning Council

    Dr. Meg Small is an assistant research professor and director for social innovation at Penn State University’s Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center. She is also director of the university’s Health and Human Development Design for Impact Lab. With two decades of experience in the prevention research field, Dr. Small’s work is focused on using research to create programs and inform policies that promote the health and well-being of children and families. She earned a bachelor’s degree in health and human development from Penn State University, a master’s degree in community health at the University of Alabama and a doctorate degree in community and public health from the University of Maryland.