REL Appalachia director
Deborah Jonas, PhD, leads REL Appalachia with experience assessing needs and partnering with states, districts, and schools in the four-state REL Appalachia region to strengthen policy and teaching practice to ultimately improve student learning and well-being. She has successfully communicated research results and implications with teachers, school and district leaders, state chiefs and boards of education, legislators, governors, and other policymakers, supporting accurate interpretation and application. Jonas has spent more than 15 years leading research studies and supporting state and local educators in integrating data from multiple sources to inform decisions about educational policy and practice. Her research interests are focused on strengthening transitions across the education pipeline—from early childhood to elementary and from high school to college. Her research has helped change high school graduation rate policy, create definitions of college and career readiness, and expand preschool programs; it has also helped policymakers identify and implement changes to policy and practice that reduce inequities and can improve educational outcomes for all students. Jonas and her family live in central Virginia.
REL Appalachia deputy director
Aliya Pilchen, EdM, has nearly 10 years of education research, technical assistance, and project management experience, particularly focused on teacher development and college and career pathways. She provides operational and strategic management for REL Appalachia and leads its systems for quality assurance and project planning. In recent years, she has planned and facilitated workshops and trainings on logic model development, the use of survey data to improve student outcomes, and strategies to support students’ postsecondary transitions, as well as led two large-scale mixed-methods evaluations of a new teacher development program. Before joining SRI International, Pilchen spent two years teaching middle school as part of Citizen Schools’ expanded learning time program in Boston, Massachusetts. She holds an EdM in education policy and management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and she earned a BA in public policy studies with minors in education and psychology from Duke University.
Developing Resilient and Supportive Community Colleges partnership lead
Paul Burkander, PhD, is a senior education researcher at SRI International. He has over 10 years of experience conducting research and evaluation studies in education. He has led training, coaching, and technical support projects to support school leaders’ capacity to conduct evaluations and he has led evaluations in partnership with stakeholders from DC Public Schools, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and the School District of Philadelphia. With expertise in quantitative methods, he has also led impact analyses across a wide range of topics, including teen-pregnancy prevention programs, employment assistance programs, school-turnaround interventions, and teacher training programs. He supported quality assurance of REL products by serving as a peer reviewer for over six years. Burkander also has extensive experience evaluating evidence quality, as a certified What Works Clearinghouse reviewer (version 4.1) and having co-authored evidence review standards for the Pathways to Work Evidence Review Clearinghouse.
Building Safe, Caring, and Trauma-Sensitive Schools partnership lead
Kirby Chow, PhD, specializes in the academic achievement and social and emotional well-being of historically underserved children, including students who have experienced homelessness. She uses a mixed-methods approach to research and evaluate education programs and interventions and has experience providing technical assistance to educators and state leaders. Chow has extensive experience leading large-scale projects, including an implementation and outcomes study of a trauma-informed intervention in K–12 schools in West Virginia, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)-funded study of Arkansas’ implementation of early childhood suspension and expulsion policies, and an Institute of Education Sciences (IES)-funded efficacy study of a behavioral management intervention for secondary school teachers. Before joining SRI International, Chow was a Society for Research in Child Development Policy Fellow at HHS. She received her BA in psychology and social welfare from the UC Berkeley, and her MA and PhD in education from UCLA.
Strengthening Mathematical Mindsets partnership lead
Kerry Friedman, MPP, brings nearly 10 years of experience partnering with educators and system leaders to improve teaching and learning. As a senior researcher at SRI International, Friedman delivers training and coaching to educators in Appalachia and beyond on evidence-based practices that support student learning and educator competency in areas such as mathematics, family engagement, data use, and social-emotional learning. She also leads policy-relevant research and technical support to promote evidence-based and equity-focused decisionmaking at the systems-level. Friedman has expertise in data visualization and communicating and disseminating research in ways that are accessible, actionable, and culturally responsive. Prior to her role at SRI, she taught high school mathematics in Washington, D.C. and facilitated an afterschool program on civic engagement and global competency.
Professional Learning for Mathematics Coaches and Educators partnership lead
Laura Kassner, EdD, brings nearly 20 years of experience across the education continuum, from early childhood and K–12 to graduate and adult education. She has served as a classroom teacher, district leader, federal grant coordinator at the state level, as well as a researcher and consultant. In addition to serving as the dissemination lead for REL Appalachia for the past two years, Kassner co-authored the Community Math Night Facilitators’ Toolkit, supported the Student Success in Mathematics partnership in Virginia, and co-led trainings with the Kentucky Department of Education on integrating social and emotional learning into mathematics instruction. Kassner holds deep commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and her strengths include building relationships, planning engaging learning experiences, and strategic communication. She earned a BA in sociology and elementary education from the University of Mary Washington, an MEd in educational leadership from Virginia Commonwealth University, and an EdD in educational leadership and policy studies from Virginia Tech.
Accelerating Early Literacy Success partnership lead
Mary Klute, PhD, is a principal education researcher at SRI International. She has over 20 years of experience conducting research and evaluation studies in education, including studies of early literacy programs. She specializes in supporting educators to use data and evidence to improve outcomes for students. Klute has worked in the REL program since 2013 in the Appalachian and Central regions. During that time, she has conducted applied research studies and led training, coaching, and technical support projects. For example, she has supported educators in Tennessee to conduct a pilot study of a high-dosage early literacy tutoring program. She also co-led a project with the Nebraska Department of Education to develop a resource inventory of evidence-based interventions and strategies that educators can include in individual reading plans to meet legislative requirements. She is a What Works Clearinghouse-certified reviewer for group design studies (version 4.1) and regression discontinuity designs (version 4.0).
Strengthening Students’ Preparation for College and Careers partnership lead
Victoria Schaefer, PhD, is a highly respected technical assistance expert who has supported education professionals at the federal, state, and local level, as well as those at non-profit organizations. Schaefer is an educational psychologist by training, with expertise in adolescent development and educational aspirations. She offers in-depth experience in data-driven decisionmaking, implementing evidence-based practices using a continuous improvement approach, performance measurement, and rural education. She holds a PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.