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Staff Bios

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is the Statewide Director for the K-12 Alliance, a Science and Engineering program of WestEd, in Southern California, advocating for high quality science and mathematics instruction for all students.

In her position, Grace directs the design and coordination of programs for educators throughout all levels of the education system. She has served as the professional learning and technical assistance provider for programs including the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. She consults with districts across California to help advance science education and teacher leadership initiatives, as well as implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). She was part of the writing team that developed the 8th grade learning sequence, Understanding White Sharks, which earned the NGSS Design Badge. She serves as the California Steering Committee representative for OpenSciEd, Steering Committee member and In-Service Subcommittee Co-Chair for the UC-CSU Environmental and Climate Change Literacy Summit, and Biodiversity Expert Council for the City of Los Angeles. She is the K-12 Alliance Executive Committee representative for the CA NGSS Collaborative, and serves as a committee member for the California Environmental Literacy Initiative and California Science Collaboration Committee.

Prior to her work with the K-12 Alliance, Jill was a middle school science teacher and is the 2014-2015 California Finalist for the Presidential Award for Mathematics and Science Teaching. She has been an adjunct professor for the Science Education Department at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). Her background also includes elementary science and informal education.

Jill is the 2019-2021 Past President of the California Science Teachers Association (CSTA). This followed six years of service as President, President-Elect, and Middle School Director. As part of her tenure with CSTA, she worked with teams to create social media networks to connect educators, expand relationships with neighboring states, created the California Science Education Climate Summit (including the production of designed-for-NGSS learning sequences for grades K-12), and produced the briefing paper, Equitable Access to Science Education in California. She served on the leadership team that developed the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Systems Implementation Plan for the State of California, was a contributing author and public reviewer of the California Science Framework, and an Instructional Materials Reviewer for the State of California. Since its inception, she has been a lead developer, mentor, and presenter for the CA NGSS Collaborative, which leads professional learning events such as the Rollouts and the CA NGSS TIME (Toolkit for Instructional Materials Evaluation). She is a presenter at state and national conferences.

Jill has a BS in Marine Biology and an MS in Science Education from CSULB.

Jo Topps

Jo Topps  is a WestEd K-12 Alliance Regional Director. Her work is focused on how all of us, from the teacher to the state department of education, can help teachers reflect on their practice and its impact on student learning.

In her position, Topps directs the development, coordination, and implementation of professional development programs in STEM fields, kindergarten through postsecondary, on a regional, statewide, and national basis. Topps has served as professional development and technical assistance provider for the California adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), the CA NGSS Early Implementation Initiative, the ABC STEM Initiative, the Engineering is Elementary (EiE) program, Math Pathways and Pitfalls, Improving Teacher Quality/California Postsecondary Education Commission (ITQ/CPEC) and as a design team member for the following: the Carnegie Foundation American Museum of Natural History NGSS tools project, FOSS Leadership Academy, the National Science Foundation State Systemic Initiative (SSI), the Center for Assessment and Evaluation of Student Learning (CAESL), and the St. Louis Math Science Partnership (MSP). She is a frequent presenter at Learning Forward, NSTA, NSELA, and CSTA.

Topps helped develop California's science reform effort as a writer of the California Science Content Standards. She coauthored Assessment-Centered Teaching: A Reflective Practice, The Science Assessment Facilitator Guide and The Guide to Selecting and Purchasing Instructional Materials and contributed to CSTA's Making Connections. As a lecturer and instructor, at California State University, Long Beach, Topps is a thesis committee member and supervisor of secondary student teachers.

Her publications include Assessment-Centered Teaching: A Reflective Practice; a chapter in Professional Learning Communities for Science Teaching: Lessons for Research and Practice; and an article in Principal Leadership. Topps received a BS in social science from the University of California, Irvine, an MS in education from California State University, Fullerton, and is a Doctoral Candidate in educational leadership at the University of La Verne.

Susheela Valdez

Susheela Valdez  is a Regional Director for K-12 Alliance, a Science and Engineering program of WestEd. In this role, she has been an active leader as the California professional learning provider for OpenSciEd to improve science education, working with classroom educators, state science leaders, experienced science curriculum developers, individual school districts, Achieve, and the science education community. Valdez continues to pioneer this work by providing support and training to the field test teachers as well as help build a California Network collaborative to have an OpenSciEd community across California.
She formerly served as Aspire Public Schools’ Project Director for the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative grant through 2019 in which she successfully built a well-recognized science program for 34 schools across California. Since then, Valdez delivers professional learning around the implementation of the NGSS, focusing on district supports and implementation in science classrooms. This work focuses on the capacity of K-12 classroom teachers in delivering high quality science instruction and increasing student engagement and achievement. Her work has long focused on empowering young girls and women to recognize their capacity for science. She inspired a group of young ladies to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in their education and career while being their mentor and leader in the Femineer's Program, an effort created and funded by Cal Poly Pomona's College of Engineering. Valdez also built a sustainable program and community for future STEM leaders in California’s Central Valley.
A native of California, Susheela earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biochemistry with a minor in Physics. She began her undergraduate journey at the University of California Santa Barbara and then transferred over to the University of the Pacific where she completed a Master’s of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on Science and a second Master’s of Science Degree in Forensic Science. Over the years she has also obtained her Master’s of Science degrees in Chemistry and Biology. Susheela currently lives in California with her husband and their children.