Cristina Pacione-Zayas, PhD, brings a lifetime of experience in education policy and community advocacy to the Illinois Senate.

Before joining the Senate in December of 2020, she was the Associate Vice President of Policy for Erikson Institute, an academic institution focused on child development where she led the Institute’s efforts to great policies that support young children, families, and communities. Dr. Pacione-Zayas is credited with establishing Erikson’s Early Childhood Leadership Academy and Community Data Lab—two statewide initiatives designed for Illinois leaders to foster deeper understanding of the importance of a child’s early years and how to apply child development science to policies that yield positive outcomes for children and families.

Dr. Pacione-Zayas serves on the Illinois Early Learning Council executive committee, Illinois State Team of the BUILD Initiative, and Title V Needs Assessment Advisory Committee for the State’s federally-mandated Maternal and Child Health Services. Her service in Chicago Public Schools and Enlace Chicago built a track record for leveraging community partnerships, implementing restorative justice practices, and supporting the leadership of young people, parents, and educators. 

Her experience has also given her an understanding of government at all levels. She previously served as board secretary on the Illinois State Board of Education, co-chaired the Kindergarten Transition Advisory Committee of the P-20 and Early Learning Councils, and served on the Governing Board of the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, Educational Success Committee of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Transition Team, and the Education Committee of Mayor Lori Lightfoot's Transition Team.

As a member of the Puerto Rican community, she’s also been a staunch advocate for the Latinx community. She served as director of education advanced policy at the Latino Policy Forum, a position informed by research and lived experiences of Latinx and immigrant communities across Illinois. She was also co-chair of The Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago for six years, a non-profit organization of local Puerto Rican leaders who influence policy for the self-determination of Puerto Ricans and provided political commentary on WGN TV Chicago during election cycles.

Senator Pacione-Zayas currently serves on the Education, Health, Higher Education, Human Rights and Revenue committees.

Category: Information

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