My research focuses on school-community relationships, particularly in rural places. Schools and communities in rural places often have close but ambivalent relationships with one another. I seek to situate these relationships within the complex social, economic, political and epidemiological realities that affect rural places and to understand how school-community partnerships can be better leveraged to serve both equitable student learning and community development. I focus on the leadership of administrators, parents, teachers and youth to achieve these goals and work to elevate counternarratives to traditional deficit views of rural people and places through my scholarship.
I outline the broad contours of my research agenda in this 25 minute talk that I gave for the Island Institute in 2019 called “The heart, the drain, the catapult and the catalyst: Four stories we tell about rural schools and communities.” This can be viewed here:
Leading through crisis: School leader decision-making about basic needs provision for students in the context of social and spatial inequality in collaboration with Maria Frankland (UMaine)
The closing of school buildings in response to COVID-19 has underscored the role that U.S. schools serve in meeting the basic needs of economically vulnerable families as part of whole child supports for student learning. The transition to remote school has raised urgent questions about how districts across geographies (rural, suburban, urban) are supporting students in meeting their basic needs in a context of social distancing, fiscal uncertainty, unprecedented unemployment, and an evolving understanding of epidemiological risk. Superintendents have had to weigh the risks of providing these services and make rapid, iterative decisions with imperfect information and limited resources.
This study is using a mixed methods approach to examine the trajectory of district leadership decisions and practice/policy adaptations related to basic needs provision in two states with differing levels of epidemiological risk (Maine and Pennsylvania). Phase 1 of the project includes inventorying and analyzing district practices for meeting basic needs by collecting a time sensitive dataset from district websites and combining it with NCES Common Core Data; Phase 2 focuses on understanding how and why practices were adapted by interviewing 54 superintendents about the fiscal, political, socio-spatial and epidemiological influences on their decision-making. This work is being funded through a Spencer Foundation COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant.
Addressing childhood adversity in rural schools and communities in collaboration with Lyn Brown (Colby College) and Mark Tappan (Colby College)
This project is a long-term research practice partnership between the Cobscook Institute TREE program and the Rural Vitality Lab (a cross-institutional research partnership between the University of Maine and Colby College). TREE is a student-empowered, whole child, trauma-informed approach to rural school redesign that begins by meeting basic needs and expanding mental health supports for students and families. Using a coaching model to provide needed support, teachers and administrators learn the fundamentals of trauma-informed practice, methods to empower students, and instructional approaches that support the development of the whole child. TREE is a unique in that it is designed for rural schools and communities in partnership with stakeholders from each community. This work has been funded through the generosity of individual donors, private foundations, internal funds from the University of Maine and Colby College, as well as the American Education Research Association.
Read more about this project here: Transforming rural education: Unique research practice-partnership affirms synergy of school-community well-being
Creating a healthy rural ecosystem for community vitality in collaboration with Emily Newell (University of Southern Maine), Eklou Amendah (University of Southern Maine), and Kathleen Gillon (UMaine)
The objective of this project is to create a model of and mechanism for statewide, systematic data collection to support workforce development in rural Maine to ensure the long-term vitality and success of these communities. Small communities face challenges that limit the development of businesses. Finding and retaining qualified employees, accessing capital, learning about business resources and utilizing new technologies for the benefit of their business are among some of the difficulties they face. Despite these challenges, businesses in rural communities have the potential to grow if they have access to the right information at the right scale about the environment in which they operate; however, such information is often unavailable for small communities, packaged in ways that businesses can use.
This project is designed to address this issue by developing a system for economic micro-forecasting. By relying on their experience of working with small businesses, schools, and non-profit organizations, the faculty involved in this project will work with students to conduct an initial qualitative study to assist in the development of a survey that will provide data to drive decision making to aid the development of businesses and workforce development pipelines in rural communities. Business owners and education leaders will be our partners in the creation process of the data bank.
This project has been funded by the Rural Health and Wellbeing Grand Challenge Grant Program through the University of Maine System.
Constructing and reconstructing the “rural school problem”: A critical review of the rural education literature in collaboration with a) Amy Azano (Virginia Tech) and b) Daniella Hall Sutherland (Clemson University) and Erin McHenry-Sorber (West Virginia University)
This project focused on a) critically reviewing 100 years of educational research focusing on rural teacher training, recruitment and retention to understand how educational researchers’ understanding of rurality and its relationship to schooling has changed over the course of the 20th century; and b) revisiting citations of a key piece of work from the early 2000s (Coladarci’s 2007 editorial swan song on considerations for strengthening rural education research) in order to propose amended considerations for what “counts” as rural education research.
Read more about this project here: Professor examines 100 years of rural education research
Community schools in Maine: Innovative and promising practices for integrated student supports in collaboration with Dr. Janet Fairman (UMaine) and the Maine Education Policy Research Institute
This project consists of case studies of schools in Maine that are using community school approaches to providing whole child supports in Maine. The purpose of this project is to provide useful information to the Education and Cultural Affairs committee of the Maine State Legislature about how schools are engaging in these practices across the state.
Planning for uncertainty: The role of school and community institutions in preparing the next generation for a new economy in collaboration with Mindy Crandall (UMaine) and Kathleen Bell (UMaine)
As rural economies across the nation shift away from natural-resource based manufacturing, youth and adults wishing to remain in rural places face an uncertain work future which requires the ability to adapt and innovate over the course of their lifespan. This interdisciplinary collaboration engages undergraduate researchers in bringing together perspectives in education, natural resource management, and economics to understand the changing economic and educational needs of rural communities and to examine mechanisms for these communities to better leverage schools to promote the alignment between education and local workforce needs. This work was funded through a University of Maine Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research Collaborative Grant.
Read more about this project here: Addressing the problem of rural youth leaving the state
Youth-adult partnerships for school and community change in collaboration with Adults and Students Partnering for Reform in Education (ASPIRE)*
This project draws on four years of collaborative evaluation with ASPIRE (pseudonym), an organization working to elevate youth-adult partnership as a means for student-centered school reform in New England. This research examines the myriad opportunities and challenges for student voice as a vehicle of school and community change, as well as the dynamics of long-term school partnership with a community-based non-profit organization. This work was funded through a Pennsylvania State University Dissertation Research Initiation Grant and the Donald J. Willower Center for Educational Leadership.
Read more about this project here: UMaine researchers explore the role of tone-policing, calls for civility in student voice