Project Director 

Project Contact:

Debra Torrence, M.Ed. is directing the project and supporting CEU series logistics and documentation. She will also provide webinars on Early Educator Certification. She has been active in the early childhood field for over 25 years, with a wide array of experiences from the provision of direct services to children in a home-based setting to early childhood distance learning research at the UNC-Chapel Hill. She holds a master’s degree in early childhood education. She has extensive experience in developing and implementing federal, state and privately funded early childhood professional development research, training and technical assistance grants in her roles as the Director of the North Carolina Institute for Child Development Professionals and as the Co-Director of the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhoodâ National Technical Assistance and Quality Assurance Center. Accomplishments pertaining to the scope of work outlined in this contract include guiding the implementation of NC Early Educator Certification system, co-authoring a national publication on early childhood distance learning for AFT/CCW, creating online early childhood CEU models for NC’s community college continuing education system, designing and guiding the implementation of NC’s Early Childhood Associate Degree Curriculum Improvement Project, developing and managing website content about NC’s early childhood professional development system (,  and developing technical assistance tools for professional development providers and systems. She has presented to numerous national and state groups about distance learning, professional development systems and continuing education development and serves on several statewide committees.



Rosemarie Vardell, Ph.D. has served on the planning committee, is the lead trainer and will guide the work of the learning coach to support implementation of the series.  She has worked in the field of Early Childhood Education for over 35 years.  During this time her focus has been on leading quality early childhood programs; teaching, training and supporting the early childhood workforce to offer high quality programs for all children; facilitating the development of teachers as leaders and mentors; making the connection between high quality work environments and quality education for young children; advocating for fair and equitable state and federal policies that impact young children and families; and, facilitating the strengthening of cultural competence of the early childhood workforce though action-oriented learning and organizational improvements. Her professional experiences include university teaching, administering early childhood programs, training and workforce development in non-profit organizations, and early childhood program monitoring in a state agency.  During her career she developed and implemented three workforce training programs, including Leadership Empowerment Action Project (LEAP), Taking on Turnover and Model Work Standards.  She trained a cadre of diverse trainers to effectively use these models and developed a national early childhood training institute, Leaders in Action.  Dr. Vardell has developed and taught graduate and undergraduate courses for teachers on Early Childhood Leadership and Mentoring.  She has published peer-reviewed articles, been awarded public and private grants and been a presenter/facilitator at numerous state and national conferences.

Michele Rivest MPA, is a dedicated advocate for children and early childhood education, Michele currently serves as the Executive Director of the N.C. Child Care Coalition (NCCCC), a statewide, early childhood advocacy association of state and local organizations across North Carolina. She was a founding member of the NCCCC and has served in leadership roles since the mid 1980s. She directs the Coalition’s public policy development, lobbying efforts and advocacy strategies, and frequently speaks to policy leaders and community agencies on key issues related to early care and education. Michele is the President of Michele Rivest Consulting, Inc. that specializes in strategic planning and special project development to increase opportunities for early childhood success. Her clients have included the N.C. Partnership for Children, the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education, Prevent Child Abuse and other state and local organizations. Prior to starting her own consulting firm, Michele served on former Governor Hunt’s transition team to create Smart Start and served as the founding Executive Director of the Orange County Partnership for Young Children, the first Smart Start organization in North Carolina. Throughout her career, Michele has worked at the national, state, and local levels providing technical assistance on early childhood issues. Michele also works as the Early Childhood Project Associate for the Natural Learning Initiative at NC State University on initiatives to address childhood obesity prevention through renovation of outdoor learning spaces for young children in child care.




Anna Mercer-McLean, M.S.  is a learning faclitator for this project.  Anna has been in the early childhood education field over 23 years.  She holds a Master of Science Degree in Business Education and focused coursework in Early Childhood (Level 12 Early Educator Certification).  Anna has served as director of a NAEYC nationally accredited and 5- star North Carolina licensed child care center, Community School for People under Six in Carrboro, for 21 years.  She has been a strong advocate for 1) high quality early care and education for all children, specifically low and moderate income children and their families; 2) a highly educated, experienced, and compensated workforce that reflects the diverse and inclusive communities served and 3) engaging others in leadership and mentoring opportunities.  Anna serves on several national, state and local boards and advisory committees including the National Association for the Education of Young Children, NC Institute for Child Development Professionals, NC Pre-kindergarten Advisory Committee, Orange County Pre-Kindergarten Advisory, the Diversity in Leadership Alliance and others.   Also, she has presented at many national and state conferences.

Michele Miller-Cox. M. Ed. is a co-trainer for the series.  Michele has worked in the early childhood field for 25 years.  She has spent the last 20 years as the owner and operator of a 5 star family child care facility.  Michele has a passion for children and families and has been a dedicated leader in the family child care community.  Michele advocacy work includes serving as president for the Wake County Family Child Care Association, as well as serving on the board of directors for Wake County Smart Start and Childcare Services Association.  Michele was instrumental in working with the Division of Child Development and Early Education on the Quality Rating Improvement System Advisory Committee to help make recommendations in improving the quality of early childhood programs across the state.  Throughout her career Michele has worked as a teacher, provider, and director.  Michele is also an adjunct instructor for Wake Technical Community College, were she teaches early childhood teachers the importance of providing quality care for the children they serve. Michele developed a CEU training Building Cultural Competency in the Early Childhood Field, for the NCIDP, where she also received her ECE Adult Endorsement.  Although Michele works to ensure that our youngest citizens are provided with the tools they need to succeed in life, she continues to support her own professional development by continue her education, recently receiving her Master’s Degree in Education and staying involved in projects such as the Diversity in leadership Alliance.




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