Our Executive Director, Jen Nickerson, comes from an extensive background as an educator with sixteen years of experience in the field. Her training includes delivering a wide variety of reading, spelling, writing, math and other programs in both high school and middle school classrooms. Since 2012, she was responsible for overseeing three classrooms and their activities throughout the school year and during summer programs.
In 2016, Jen came on board as the Deputy Executive Director for Community Learning Center to spearhead programs which are increasing delivery of tutoring at the Center as well as in neighboring communities through outreach programs in local churches, public schools and teen athlete programs. Her responsibilities also include ensuring that technical delivery of tutoring, provided by the Community Learning Center’s team of tutors, remains at the highest level possible.
Jen is passionate about education and believes that a solid foundation provides the building blocks to success in life.
Jen has two grown children with her husband of over 20 years, Kris Nickerson. Both Kris and Jen are actively involved in their community and volunteer their time and talents on a regular basis with human rights, drug education, community improvement and disaster relief organizations, just to name a few.
Sharon Hillestad began her educational career in 1954, as a third grader, tutoring younger students in reading in her one-room schoolhouse in Wisconsin. As an adult, she earned her teaching certificate and complete post-graduate work in remedial reading. She bacame a 3rd grade teacher and taught in two different public schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Her real education in reading instruction began when she had her own children. When her own son had difficulty learning to read, she began her life-long mission of reforming the way reading is taught in our public schools. She found the book Why Johnny Can’t Read, written by Rudolf Flesch, and discovered that systematic phonics instruction had been removed from the reading instruction of America’s children. In 1979, she founded the Minnesota Homeschool Network. In 1980, she joined the Reading Reform Foundation and became the State Representative for Wisconsin and Minnesota. In 1981, Sharon founded her own private one-room schoolhouse in Hastings, MN. Through the years of raising her children and involvement in education reform, Sharon consulted with parents and provided tutoring to children and adults alike.
In 2000, Sharon joined her daughter Holly in Florida and became the key designer of the Smart Way Reading and Spelling program, which is based upon the findings of the National Reading Panel. Since that time she has also served as the Director of Tutoring at the Community Learning Center, providing training to our professional tutors, volunteers and parents. In 2005, she designed and delivered a Family Literacy Program under a grant she wrote and got approved for the Governor’s Family Literacy Initiative (GFLI-under the Governor Jeb Bush). Today she continues to be active in educational reform and serves as the Florida State Representative for the National Right to Read Foundation.
Kristen Harper has always been passionate about helping children and through her college career has improved the lives of many children through mentoring, tutoring and assisting foster care families. After earning her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida in 1999, she began her adult career as a Mentor Manager at Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) in Hillsborough County and quickly moved up the ranks in management.
Kristen ran the BBBS school-based mentoring program, where caring adults volunteered their time during the school day to help children from single-parent, low-income families who were in need of positive role models. It was quickly discovered that these children not only needed mentoring, but were struggling academically and desperately needed tutoring as well. Kristen began researching effective phonics tutoring programs in 2002 and was introduced to none other than CLC founder Holly Haggerty and Sharon Hillestad.
At this time, Holly was in search of someone to run a literacy and math tutoring program in Ybor City and the Reading Partners program was born. Kristen ran this program which served underprivileged children in Tampa Bay for the next five years, resulting in hundreds of children from low-income families getting effective tutoring in reading, writing, math and study skills. Since then, Kristen has worked with the CLC as a professional tutor, Program Director, Director of Development, and most recently, VP of Expansion. Kristen has been a part of the CLC team for over 14 years!
Prior to joining the Community Learning Center, Bill Fiorentino was an Associate Director for Verizon in their strategic planning and finance departments. While living in New York, Bill was an adult education instructor, teaching business applications and computer skills for ten years. Following his move to Florida, he worked in the Pinellas County school system from 2005 to 2008 as a substitute teacher.
Bill earned his Master’s degree in International Finance at Long Island University and another from George Washington University for Project Management. Since 2009, Bill has served as the Director of Finance and a math tutor for the Community Learning Center.
The rest of our amazing administrative staff includes:
Alex Melgarejo – Deputy Executive Director Internal
Eddie Powell – Director of Operations Broward County
Our wonderful group of Teachers, Professional Tutors and Volunteer Tutors includes:
Elyse “Bitten” Revell
Rue Ann Furbish