Collaboration Institute

The Partner Plan Act Collaboration Institute (PPACI) is a year-long program of the Community Systems Statewide Supports (CS3) project designed to support early childhood collaborations in strengthening their impact. The project is funded by the Illinois State Board of Education and will ensure that communities are working to help children birth through five – especially those from low-income families or families with multiple needs – enter kindergarten healthy, safe, ready to succeed, and eager to learn. Depending on their individual need, collaborations can apply for one of two tracks of targeted support provided—Process-Guided or Coach-Guided.



PPACI collaborations can expect to explore a community systems development approach through a combination of trainings, consultation, and coaching:

  • Community Assessment & Targeted Problem Identification
  • Systems Scan & Root Cause Analysis
  • Strategy Design
  • Implementation & Action Learning

When your collaboration participates in PPACI, you will build action-oriented knowledge and strategies that will help your collaboration:

  • Discover and master concepts, tools, and methods to support systems-change and systems-development work;
  • Assess the needs of your community, define strategies, and meet the goals of your collaboration;
  • Inform state policy related to community systems development;
  • Learn from experienced trainers and coaches and other collaboration participants; and
  • Develop the capacity for your collaboration to effectively lead change for your community.

Map of Participating Collaborations

Cohort 1 Collaborations 

  1. Greater East St. Louis Early Learning Partnership
  2. Southern Illinois Coalition for Children & Families
  3. DeKalb County Kindergarten Readiness Initiative
  4. Altgeld Riverdale Early Learning Coalition
  5. Palatine Early Learning Alliance
  6. Plano Area Alliance Supporting Student Success
  7. Champaign County Home Visitor Consortium
  8. Macon County Early Childhood Collaboration
  9. Early Childhood Alliance (Skokie-Morton Grove)
  10. Early Childhood Coalition of Lake County
View the Collaboration's Year in Review

Cohort 2 Collaborations 

  1. North Lawndale Early Learning Collaboration
  2. Carpentersville Early Childhood Collaboration
  3. Glenbard Early Childhood Collaboration
  4. DeKalb Coordinated Intake Collaboration
  5. St. Charles Early Learning Partnership
View the Collaboration's Year in Review

Cohort 3 Collaborations 

  1. Early Childhood Alliance (Niles Township)
  2. West Central Early Childhood Collaboration
  3. Glenbard Early Childhood Collaboration
  4. DeKalb Coordinated Intake Collaboration
  5. St. Charles Early Learning Partnership


Collaboration Institute Coaches

Chris Foster

coach foster
Christina Foster is a process artist, learning facilitator, thought partner, and concept developer who believes that together we can create a thriving world. With a passion for personal development, organizational learning, and systems change, Christina’s work primarily focuses on shifting the paradigm of what’s possible by enhancing the capacity of individuals and groups to think, learn, lead, and act together.

Central to Christina’s approach is Participatory Leadership, Strategic Dialogue, and other change processes that engage groups in meaningful conversations and collective learning that can lead to Collaborative Innovation and action.

Christina has successfully supported organizational and community-based change efforts employing a variety of self-organizing, participatory methods throughout her career. She founded Foster What Matters in 2010 to focus her work more intensely on designing and supporting multi-scale change initiative that seek to enhance the health and well-being of children, youth, communities, and the environment. Currently she is working to shift paradigms in early childhood, K-12 education, after-school, juvenile justice, and mental health systems.

As a steward of the Illinois Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter Community of Practice, she volunteers her time and talents to deepen and expand Art of Hosting practices throughout Illinois in service of cross-system collaborations.

Christina holds a Masters Degree in Holistic Transformative Education from Norwich University and a Bachelors Degree with a double major in Organizational/Corporate Communications and Studio Art from Northern Illinois University.

Ruby Flores

Ruby_Flores.jpg Ruby Flores is currently a Trainer/Coach with Illinois Action for Children's (IAFC) Community Systems Statewide Supports (CS3) team, although she has spent the last ten years at IAFC in positions ranging from program supervision to coaching and training. A native of Los Angeles, Ruby is proud to say that her first professional job was as a teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District. In the 20 years since, she has dedicated herself to working on behalf of children and families through education and child-centered nonprofit work.

Carolyn Newberry Schwartz

Carolyn is passionate about building connections between families, schools and social service organizations in order to develop strong communities where children thrive. Her long history of developing educational programs in communities includes serving on the Oak Park Elementary Schools, District 97, Board of Education for eight years where she helped launch Oak Park’s Collaboration for Early Childhood and also and played a leadership role in school finance and strategic planning. She was formerly the Collaboration’s first executive director and led the effort to secure intergovernmental agreements between three Oak Park jurisdictions to fund the development of and sustain an integrated community system of high-quality early childhood programs and services for the area. Carolyn completed the Barbara Bowman Leadership Fellows Program in 2018.

Kim Zalent

Kim Zalent is a Coach/Trainer at Illinois Action for Children for the Community Systems Statewide Supports (CS3) initiative. Kim has spent her career creating and directing new organizations, coalitions, schools, and school partnerships with the goal of strengthening organizations' capacity leading to improved outcomes in diverse, low-and mixed-income communities in Chicago, Cleveland, and New York City. She uses this experience now as she coaches and trains early learning collaborations, especially those in the start-up phase, which are part of the CS3 Partner Plan Act Collaboration Institute. She received her B.A. from Valparaiso University.

Janet Vargas

Janet Vargas is a Mexican woman and mother. Born and raised on the South side of Chicago, she currently lives in Brighton Park. Janet has over 10 years of experience in community organizing having previously worked on immigration and worker’s rights, as well as youth organizing with a violence prevention focus while at Enlace Chicago in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. She most recently worked as the Lead Organizer at Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI). While at COFI, she trained parents in COFI's Family Focused Organizing model, a leadership development curriculum which provides comprehensive training and organizing support to develop parent leaders and helps them build organizations to take action on the issues that affect their families. She was also the lead staff on the parent led, state-wide, Early Learning and Elementary Justice Campaigns. Janet firmly believes in creating and maintaining systems that work with and for families.

Janet studied Sociology modified with Public Policy at Dartmouth College.