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Looking Ahead and Building on Past Successes

By Fiona Helsel and Jennifer Esswein | August 12, 2019


Fiona Helsel
Fiona Helsel is the director of REL Northwest and is responsible for overall project leadership and direction. Specializing in early childhood education, she conceptualizes and oversees work in this priority area for the Northwest region.

Over the last 53 years, REL Northwest has conducted various types of activities—including training, coaching, technical support, and applied research studies—to help ensure high-quality learning opportunities and experiences for all students in our region.

Over the last two and a half years, specifically, we have worked in close partnership with stakeholders on multiple focus areas identified as important to advancing education and improving student outcomes in the Northwest, including:

We are proud of the work we have done and the impact it has had, and as the new leaders of REL Northwest, we are eager to build on our achievements and plan for our future.

We are also excited to describe some of our goals for the next several years.

Jennifer Esswein
Jennifer Esswein is the deputy director of REL Northwest. Her work includes close collaboration with research alliances on school improvement and accountability in Alaska and the equitable distribution of effective educators in Idaho.

Expand the REL Northwest Governing Board

Currently, our Governing Board structure calls for two representatives from each state we serve: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.

Going forward, we will have three representatives per state.

These individuals bring a wide range of experience to the table, and they include researchers, principals, professors, superintendents, deans, and program directors, as well as the region's chief state school officers or their representatives.

Our goal is to get an even more complete picture of and more fully understand what our stakeholders require, which will allow us to better align our services with the region's needs.

Continue to Conduct Work Driven by Stakeholder Needs—and Share That Work Creatively

REL Northwest believes our work must address issues that stakeholders have identified, not those that simply interest researchers.

This belief underscores our commitment to collaborate in partnership with stakeholders to determine goals and activities.

For example, based on stakeholder-generated questions, REL Northwest examined the research on grow-your-own teacher programs; potential testing barriers for teacher candidates of color; and common practices for recruiting, training, and retaining bilingual and diverse teachers.

We also believe our work should benefit more than just the immediate stakeholders, that is, our applied research studies and technical support activities should have a ripple effect in the region—and beyond.

A key element of this is spreading the word about our work in creative and accessible ways. For example, REL Northwest recently created a training series on using data to promote equity in school discipline with the Equity in School Discipline Collaborative, and we conducted training sessions in partnership with four districts across two states.

The first training session was conducted February 15, 2018, with Pasco School District in Pasco, Washington. Subsequent training sessions occurred March 15, 2018, with Pasco and Yakima school districts in Washington, as well as April 6, 2018, and May 25, 2018, with Oregon City School District and Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Oregon.

REL Northwest developed the training series to help schools and districts improve their school discipline policies and practices. They provide resources to help school and district teams use data to identify areas of concern related to the overuse of exclusionary discipline or disproportionality in assigning discipline to student groups, such as students of color or students with disabilities. The series also helps teams use evidence to identify interventions, develop an action plan, track their effectiveness, and inform improvement decisions.

In addition, the REL Northwest Voices blog provides a venue for spotlighting our studies, videos, and infographics. It has also given our stakeholders a platform to share their experiences.

Use Common Themes to Tailor Our Focus

Our upcoming work will cover a wide range of topics, including early learning, college and career readiness, and educator recruitment and retention. But regardless of what we research or investigate, common themes arise that help us tailor our focus.

For instance, equity runs throughout our work; it has driven and will continue to drive everything REL Northwest does.

Along those lines, we look forward to continuing to partner with you to promote equitable outcomes for all students.

Please feel free to contact either of us at 503-275-9500 with questions or comments—and thank you for all you do to put research into action for our region's students.