Our Team

SchoolHouse Connection is the nation’s leading expert on the early care and education of children and youth experiencing homelessness. You can learn more about us below, and read about our history and advocacy principles here. Learn more about our board of directors here.

Barbara Duffield

Barbara Duffield

Executive Director

Barbara Duffield is Executive Director of SchoolHouse Connection. For more than 20 years, she has bridged policy and practice in early care, education, housing, and homelessness. Barbara began her career as a tutor for children experiencing homelessness in Washington DC in 1990. She was the Director of Education for the National Coalition for the Homeless from 1994-2003, where she collaborated with service providers, educators, federal agencies, and Congressional offices to address children’s issues. She served as the Director of Policy and Programs at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth in Washington D.C from 2003-2016, leading national efforts to strengthen federal protections and services for children and youth experiencing homelessness, from early childhood through higher education. Barbara helped to establish and develop the NAEHCY Scholarship Program, a comprehensive scholarship program for youth who have experienced homelessness and wish to pursue higher education. She has conducted technical assistance trainings, authored policy reports, appeared on television and radio shows, and has been quoted by various media outlets such as The New York Times and Education Week. Her academic work can be found in Educational Studies, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, and Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services. Barbara has served on numerous commissions and advisory groups, including Sesame Street Workshop’s Trauma Initiative and the National Commission on Children and Disasters education group. She received her Bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in Political Science from the University of Michigan.

Patricia Julianelle

Patricia Julianelle

Director of Program Advancement and Legal Affairs

Patricia Julianelle is an attorney and legal consultant for state and local governments and non-profit organizations. She has over 20 years of experience defending children’s and youth’s rights, including advocating for youth in the education, juvenile justice, child welfare, and immigration systems. Patricia is an expert on education law and policy, including the rights of children experiencing homelessness, students with disabilities and undocumented immigrants. She has worked with the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY), the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP), the National Disabilities Rights Network (NDRN), Washington State’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), and the American Bar Association, among other organizations. Patricia’s skills include: leading trainings for state and local educational agencies, attorneys and non-profit organizations; convening powerful local, inter-agency task forces on youth homelessness; providing targeted technical assistance to state departments of education and local educational agencies; and drafting federal and state legislation to turn the wisdom of practitioners and young people into law. She also produces training and awareness videos related to family and youth homelessness. Her work has been published in academic and practice journals, including the Children’s Legal Rights Journal, Seattle Journal of Social Justice, Journal of Poverty Law & Policy, and Inquiry & Analysis, as well as publications of the American Bar Association, California Research Bureau and U.S. Department of Education. Patricia has taught high school and law school. Patricia graduated from Yale University and received her J.D. summa cum laude from Lewis & Clark Law School. She taught high school in the US and law school in Chile, where she met her wife and continues to reside part-time.

Grace Whitney, Ph.D., MPA, IMH-E (IV)

Grace Whitney, Ph.D., MPA, IMH-E (IV)

Director of Early Childhood Initiatives

Grace Whitney joined SchoolHouse Connection after twenty years as Director of Connecticut’s Head Start State Collaboration Office.  She is a developmental psychologist and endorsed as an Infant Mental Health Policy Mentor.  Dr. Whitney began her career as a preschool teacher in special education and as a home visitor for at-risk families of infants and toddlers, and has since held clinical and administrative positions in early childhood, community mental health and human services, and has served on aid teams abroad.  She has taught full time and as an adjunct instructor in child development/developmental psychology, statistics, and public policy and is published on topics related to her work.  Throughout her career, she has participated on local, regional and national Boards and presented often at conferences and professional meetings including Zero to Three, National Head Start Association and World Congress for Infant Mental Health. She has designed government tools and publications, including three informational modules and related core knowledge and competencies for consultants to programs serving infants and toddlers and the original Early Childhood Self-Assessment Tool for Family Shelters. While serving as Head Start State Collaboration Director in CT, she partnered with a number of states and organizations to promote policy and practice to better meet the needs of young children and their families, in particular, those experiencing homelessness.

Over the 45 years of her career, Dr. Whitney has worked in a variety of contexts involving children without homes, including child welfare, community mental health and early childhood systems and in orphanages abroad.  For several years early in her career she was a residential counselor with Second Mile for Runaways and helped start the National Runaway Switchboard. Her Master’s thesis focused on federal policy related to runaway youth at the time of passage of the Runaway Youth Act of 1974, as running away was beginning to be treated as a status offense.  Dr. Whitney received her Bachelor’s degree in Child Development/Education and her Doctorate in Family Studies from the University of Connecticut, her Master’s degree in Human Development from the Institute for Child Study at the University of Maryland, and her Master’s degree in Public Administration from Florida Atlantic University.

Leconte Lee

Leconte Lee

Communications Manager

Leconte Lee moved to Honolulu, Hawaii from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at the age of 20. He studied Advertising & Public Relations at Hawaii Pacific University while interning at various marketing and advertising agencies. Upon graduation, he accepted an account management position at a boutique public relations firm in New York City. Passionate about marketing, he moved to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2012 to complete his MBA in Marketing. During this time, the founder of Charlotte’s first mobile farmers market recruited him to be his right-hand man on the ground floor with $800 seed money and a big ugly van. As the co-founder, he experienced everything: starting/growing a business from scratch, balancing the budget for what became a $200,000 charitable business in less than 2 years, vendor relations, sales, and marketing. As a result, they were awarded three industry awards in innovation, sustainability, and entrepreneurship. When the business was sold, he was recruited by his former manager at Outrigger Hotels & Resorts in Hawaii to provide marketing services to 32 local and international properties. Some of his expertise includes social media, email marketing, copywriting and content development, traditional media, and campaign optimization. In his free time, Leconte loves exploring, seeking out new restaurants, and traveling. He currently resides in Alexandria, Virginia. Leconte is extremely excited to bring his skills and expertise to such an amazing organization. He was drawn to SchoolHouse Connection because his parents worked extremely hard and made incredible sacrifices to put him through college and he is determined to give back to the community and give others the opportunity that was given to him.  

Katie Brown

Katie Brown

Program Manager, Education Leads Home Campaign

Katie Brown is an attorney, social worker, and former teacher. Since serving third and sixth-grade students as a Teach For America corps member in the Bay Area after graduating from college, she has dedicated her professional career to supporting the educational success of marginalized students. Katie left the classroom to pursue systemic educational change. She attended graduate school in California and was awarded an Equal Justice Works Fellowship to spearhead an education advocacy clinic in the Los Angeles Juvenile Court system–the largest in the country. In this work, she collaborated daily with school personnel, caregivers, social workers, attorneys, community-based organizations, state agencies, legislative representatives, and youth themselves to enable foster youth to do their very best—in school, and in life. Subsequently, Katie contributed to local, state, and national policy development as an attorney with the Texas Supreme Court Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth, and Families. She has taught at the University of Southern California Graduate School of Social Work and consulted on projects with the National Center for Youth Law, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in Washington, D.C., and Teach For All. Katie earned her Bachelor’s degrees summa cum laude in English and Plan II Honors from the University of Texas at Austin and her J.D. and MSW from the David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles. She lives in northern Virginia with her curly-haired husband, two curly-haired children, and their curly-haired rescue poodle.

Jillian Sitjar

Jillian Sitjar

Program Manager, Higher Education

Jillian Sitjar hails from the Midwest where she attended Culver Academies, a small boarding school in Indiana. From there she continued her schooling at Butler University with a Bachelor’s degree in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. Serving as the Vice President of Student Affairs intern for a year, Jillian pursued a Master’s of Education in Higher Education and Student Affairs at the University of South Carolina. While she was there she worked as a graduate assistant in the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs supporting students of marginalized communities through various programs and events. This role first introduced her into social justice and advocacy work, which has been a guiding principle in her career. After graduation, she accepted a role at Georgetown University as a Community Director where she oversaw an apartment complex of about 450 students. During her time at Georgetown, she created a diversity initiative, platED, which allows students to engage in conversations regarding identity and social justice with a faculty or staff member over a free catered meal. In 2017 she won the Mid-Atlantic Association of College and University Housing Officers (MACUHO) New Professional Award. Her interests include team development, bystander intervention, diversity/dialogue training, and recruitment. Jillian is excited at the opportunity to be a part of SchoolHouse Connection and is committed to making a lasting impact as the Program Manager for Higher Education. In her spare time, she enjoys running, reading, trying out new restaurants, spending time with family & friends, and playing with her Maltipoo Marbles.

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