Michelle Smith Howard
President and CEO
Michelle Smith Howard began her career as an early childhood special education teacher and administrator with the District of Columbia Public Schools. She then served as the Director of Early Learning for the Obama Administration’s White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative.
Additionally, Michelle has worked as the Director of Early Childhood Development and Intervention with Catholic Charities DC and as the Coordinator of Citywide Early Childhood Programs with Alexandria City Public Schools.
Michelle currently serves on the Virginia Department of Education Early Childhood Advisory Committee. She is also an Alexandria Chamber of Commerce 40 Under 40 Awardee.
Michelle holds a bachelor’s in political science from Southern University and A&M College. She also holds a master’s in early childhood special education and an educational specialist in educational leadership and administration from The George Washington University.
Michelle credits her love for education to her mother, a retired public school teacher, and to her pre-Kindergarten teacher. Her favorite children’s books are The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats and Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina.
Director, Community Engagement and Partnerships
Maria McDonald graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in History and Art History. After working in American Furniture and Folk Art at Sotheby’s in New York, she moved to Washington, DC to work at The Phillips Collection. Working in a museum setting helped Maria realize that her passion was using art as a lens to explore different cultures and explain history. She completed her Masters in Art History and earned her teaching degree in Social Studies at American University. Maria worked at Bishop O’Connell High School for nine years before joining the KFY team in the spring of 2019 as a project manager for the Preschool Development Grant.
As the mother of two young children, Maria wants all children to be exposed to a love of learning early on so that they can embrace being life-long learners and have the tools necessary to succeed in life. Although she finds it very difficult to pick just one children’s book that is her favorite, she loves reading Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen with her boys.
Dr. Kim Sopko
Director, Quality Initiatives
Dr. Kim Sopko is a leader, facilitator, and collaborator in systems improvement efforts, professional development, policy review and development, and strategic planning at state, district, and classroom levels.
Kim began her career as an early childhood special educator in the City of Alexandria and quickly became a community-based inclusion specialist. She was a program coordinator for the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) and a senior policy consultant for Project Forum at NASDSE, Kim has worked as an assistant or adjunct professor at the George Washington University, Old Dominion University, George Mason University, and Goodwin University and provided technical assistance at the Early Childhood Personnel Center (ECPC), and Virginia’s Training and Technical Assistance Center (TTAC).
Kim earned three degrees from The George Washington University (Ed.D. in Special Education, M.A. in Education and Human Development, and B.A in psychology). She also earned a Graduate Certificate in Learning Design and Technologies with a concentration in E-Learning from George Mason University.
Kim has many favorite children’s books but enjoyed reading The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear by Don Wood to her two boys the most.
Coordinator, Family Connections
Tomashia Cornitcher considers herself a blessed mother of three talented children who range in age from 6 to 11 years old. Her children have inspired her to be courageous and persistent when faced with meeting life’s challenges. She devotes herself to learning about any organization or activity that involves her children.
Tomashia has served as a volunteer at The Campagna Center, organized teacher appreciation days, and served as an active member of the Head Start Policy Council, where she served as Chair in 2019. Additionally, she has participated in a number of conferences as a parent representative and highlighted Alexandria’s early childhood work.
Tomashia is passionate about children and believes that all children should have the opportunity to thrive. She is deeply aware of and committed to the work of Alexandria’s early care and education system and the focus to ensure families, including herself, can remain in the city. She made a promise that if given the opportunity to serve, she would gladly step forward given the support she has received from the early care and education community.
Milagro Yanes Benitez
Coordinator, Quality Measurement and Improvement
Milagro has been committed to enhancing the quality of child care through various roles in early childhood education. She has supported educators, children, and their families as a home-based educator, family service specialist, and child development specialist for various Head Start Programs.
Milagro is an experienced Child Development Associate (CDA) Professional Development Specialist and served as the Program Specialist for the Virginia Quality Initiative for the City of Alexandria. Milagro is a certified CLASS observer, Early Intervention Specialist, and a registered child forensic interviewer.
Milagro holds a bachelor’s in criminal justice, a master’s in early childhood education, and has completed master’s level coursework in child development. Currently, Milagro is continuing her education at Loyola University, completing courses in curriculum design and personalized instruction.
As a mom of three, Milagro has many favorite children’s books, but her absolute favorites are What Do You Do With An Idea? and What Do You Do With A Chance? by Kobi Yamada.
Muriel Tapia has always been dedicated to bettering the community. Born and raised in Northern Virginia, she has strong ties to the community. She has worked in school districts in Northern Virginia for the last seven years, including the Early Childhood Programs office of Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS).
Muriel’s career path in early childhood education began with ACPS as an early childhood special education paraprofessional. There she learned more about the different early childhood programs offered by the city. A series of truly fortunate events led her to work in the office of Early Childhood Programs office with ACPS where she was able to engage directly with families in Alexandria City and became familiar with the needs of the community.
As a doting aunt, Muriel has a couple of favorite children’s books she enjoys reading to her nieces and nephews. The top two favorites are Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.