Photo by  Jeffery Pomranka

Stephen Zwolak, Executive Director

Steve Zwolak is the CEO of LUME Institute and Executive Director of University City Children’s Center. He has almost 40 years of experience working in early childhood.  Recently Mr. Zwolak has been recognized for leading the conversation on the impact and future of early childhood education in St. Louis.  His years as a classroom teacher, a leader in various educational arenas, and a student of children have enabled him to build an approach to education for which there is preliminary evidence of closing the racial and socioeconomic achievement gap. His approach brings together theoretical, observational, and neuroscientific research that emphasizes that the emotional development of children is critical to future success.

Over the course of his career, he has played leadership roles at many educational institutions, including Ladue Chapel Nursery School, McCare, a daycare facility for employees of McDonnell Douglas, and MICDS. As a young teacher, Mr. Zwolak studied at the St. Louis Psychoanalytic Institute, an organization for which he now periodically serves as an instructor for others in child- and family-serving professions. Through LUME Institute, Mr. Zwolak heads Child Care Aware of Eastern Missouri, which is responsible for providing professional development for thousands of early childhood teachers annually. 

Mr. Zwolak is recognized not only for his warm classroom demeanor, but for his ability to create, enhance, and expand programs with which he is involved, develop infrastructure, and design support systems. He is recognized within this community as an exceptional presenter who challenges and motivates teachers to develop reflective practices in their daily relationships with children and families. He has inspired students and teachers to recognize and move beyond their personal experiences in order to achieve optimum levels of personal and professional success.

He has a Masters of Education, and has received numerous awards for his work with children, most recently the Opportunity Maker of the Year Award from National Boys Hope and Girls Hope in 2006.  

The hallmark of Mr. Zwolak's career has been his work at University City Children's Center, the founding and lab school of LUME Institute.  When he joined UCCC as Executive Director, the program had only 25 children enrolled - all low-income, all African American. Since 2000, the UCCC program has grown to be one of the most highly regarded early childhood programs in Missouri because of its unique teaching approach and demographic mix of families.  It is because of the success of UCCC that Mr. Zwolak led the founding of LUME Institute, and now uses UCCC as a home base for innovation while he and his staff go out into the community to change the face of early childhood education. LUME Institute currently has four lines of business: 1) I. Jerome and Rosemary Flance Early Childhood Education Center, a start-up facility in 63106, the most challenged zip code in St. Louis (partnering with McCormack Baron Salazar, Urban Strategies, St. Louis Housing Authority); 2) Family Matters - a series of workshops and services that bring a psychodynamic approach to supporting families to improve parenting relationships; 3) Child Care Aware of Eastern Missouri, developing teachers, and; 4) Innovative curriculum development for advancing the practice of education in schools at a variety of levels.