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Let’s talk about an important benefit of the research alliance structure

Benefit of research alliance structure

By Emily Kirkwood
April 23, 2018

One of the most exciting aspects of Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest’s research alliance structure is the opportunity to bring together diverse stakeholders focused on a specific problem of practice who might not otherwise connect. The REL Midwest Early Childhood Education Research Alliance (MECERA) realizes this benefit by building connections among the early childhood practitioners, policymakers, and researchers in the alliance as well as the community of practice, which includes early childhood stakeholders from outside MECERA’s primary state of Illinois.

The following Q&A captures the thoughts of three MECERA members—two alliance members based in Illinois and one community of practice member based in Minnesota—on the relationships that they have built through MECERA and how this element of the partnership might further their efforts to improve early childhood education in their states.

Tell us about yourself! Could you explain your role?

Shelia Boozer, Director of Teaching and Learning, Springfield (Illinois) Public Schools (alliance member): This role encompasses all curriculum and instruction, professional development for both teachers and administrators, social-emotional learning (SEL), special needs and gifted students, and more. Assessment also falls under my department, as well as district and school improvement planning. I work with community partnerships, too.

Charlie Rosemond, Data & Outcomes Manager, Education Systems Center at Northern Illinois University (alliance member): In addition to my role at Northern Illinois University, I also serve quarter time in the same position for the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development. One of my primary responsibilities is staffing the Illinois Longitudinal Data System (ILDS) Governing Board, which governs a federated data system integrating records from seven state agencies. The early childhood component of the ILDS encompasses data sets from the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois State Board of Education.

Jon Vaupel, Kindergarten Entry Profile Coordinator, Minnesota Department of Education (community of practice member): My path to my current role is a bit nonlinear, though I’ve always had the same focus and interest—fighting to improve the outcomes and opportunities for all children, especially those who are traditionally underserved or most at risk. At the Minnesota Department of Education, I am responsible for managing the Kindergarten Entry Profile Initiative, which is a standards-based assessment model that honors local control through a menu of high-quality tools that can be used to produce a profile of kindergartners and support coherence in prekindergarten through third grade teaching and learning. I also support the state’s data collection system efforts to assess annually young children at kindergarten entrance as well as upon entry and exit of Voluntary Prekindergarten. In addition to those programmatic functions, I have my eye on building and supporting Minnesota’s P3 Comprehensive Assessment System, which impacts local assessment of enrolled children from birth through age 8.

What professional contacts have you made through the alliance or community of practice?

Boozer: I have made great connections with community organizations working to strengthen kindergarten readiness across our region, as well as with other school districts that are dealing with some of the same projects, concerns, and developments as my district is. Billie [Day, MECERA’s partnership facilitator] has facilitated some connections and meetings for us. The researchers that we have met through this work have been outstanding as well. The articles and white papers that we have been introduced to have been amazing.

Rosemond: Surrounding states are at different stages of building their own integrated data systems, and each of them has learned valuable lessons. The community of practice facilitates connections across states that allow me to apply here the lessons learned elsewhere.

Vaupel: It’s great to be able to turn to a group and ask for some guidance on “Who should I talk to?” My colleagues and I are just starting to tap into this community of practice, and I look forward to getting to know more people and learning about their work.

How do these relationships differ from relationships that you might have made outside the alliance or community of practice structure?

Boozer: I may have met some of these wonderful folks at other meetings or conferences, but the likelihood of that happening is slim to none. These have been strategic meetings and conversations based upon data and where we need to go to make sure all our students are ready for kindergarten and have the proper skill sets needed to be proficient in grades K-3.

Rosemond: I doubt I would have made similar contacts outside of MECERA.

How have these professional contacts influenced your work, or how do you anticipate that they might in the future?

Boozer: I am now looking closer at how to restructure our kindergarten classes without losing rigor. I am also in more meaningful conversations with community partners, such as Head Start, looking to service more of our families and students in prekindergarten with services that include SEL as well as academic components. We know we should be more intentional in monitoring our progress with all our students before they enter kindergarten as well as after they enter our system.

Rosemond: Ultimately, I appreciate the opportunity to learn from others who perform similar work.

Vaupel: I believe strongly in the premise that more minds on a task usually produces better results. There is so much to be learned by hearing about others’ experiences. I think there’s value in hearing about opportunities, successes, and challenges—and believe that will help me better serve the teachers, students, and families in Minnesota. I also hope to share some of my experiences with other members.

Are there any other benefits that you have experienced or anticipate from your participation in MECERA?

Boozer: I love the articles and presentations. I have a great deal of resources at my fingertips that I can use in professional development. We’re also looking at the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS) assessment through a more intentional lens than we were before. In the past, we really did not use that data too much or try to connect it to what we were already doing.

Rosemond: MECERA convenes a variety of stakeholders. State-level data systems building can sometimes feel disconnected from program staff and practitioners. Sharing convenings with different stakeholders grants me a broader perspective that grounds my work.

Vaupel: There’s a lot of information out there, and sometimes it can be a challenge to sift through it all. I’ve found that the materials and conversations that are occurring within the group are relevant to my work.

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Author(s) Information

Meredith Lukow Picture

Emily Kirkwood

Communications Specialist | REL Midwest


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