14th Annual MERC Conference

October 17th, 2017
Chesterfield Career Technical Center
13900 Hull Street
(registration and breakfast at 8:15)





Since the beginning of public education in our country, advocates have argued that schools are critical to the success of our national economy; are the central mechanism for individual social and economic mobility; and provide the foundational knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary for informed citizenship within our multicultural democracy. We are currently in a moment of rapid political and social change in our country that raises questions about the form and function of public schools.  This calls for a reconsideration of the goals of public education in the current context.

The 14th Annual MERC Conference is designed to provide a space for key stakeholders across public education to share ideas and present work directly related to this theme. The conference will include an opening plenary discussion on the theme, a series of interactive sessions that address critical topics in PK12 education, and opportunities throughout the day for networking and connecting to ongoing projects.

Sessions will include:

Teachers as Action Researchers
Jesse Senechal (VCU)
Action research is a form of inquiry where practitioners conduct research about their local organizational settings.  The session will open with a presentation about teacher action research that includes the perspectives of university-based researchers and teachers. This will be followed by an open poster / roundtable session where attendees will be able to learn about teacher action research projects that have occurred in the region over the past two years.

Conversations at the Crossroads:
Cultivating Critical Dispositions to Promote Cultural Diversity
Julie Gorlewski (VCU), Tami Sober (RTR), Hillary Parkhouse (VCU), Ashlee Lester (VCU), Zoey Lu (VCU)
Our educational experiences shape our beliefs about knowledge, learning, and school. Because these beliefs are often unexamined, they can contribute to cultural mismatches that influence student achievement. This interactive workshop offers an opportunity to connect critical incidents from your own experiences of school to scholarship about cultural diversity. The session will be facilitated by members of a MERC research team, a collaboration of school leaders, teachers, and VCU faculty, investigating how teaching for cultural diversity can be promoted through professional development. The team will share the background and progress of their current research study, and in this session present a framework for cultivating critical dispositions – or the ability to question your own beliefs – through analysis of real-life scenarios. Participants will engage with current research, apply this research to their own lives, and consider how beliefs influence teaching and learning.

Achieving Racial Equity in School Discipline Policies and Practices
Ashlee Lester (VCU), Rachel Levy (VCU), William Noel (HCPS)

Why do racial disparities in school discipline exist? This session will feature research related to the MERC Achieving Racial Equity in School Disciplinary Policies and Practices Study. It will explore issues of racial disproportionality in school discipline both locally and nationally, discuss various interventions designed to ameliorate disproportionality, and provide recommendations that inform policymaking and practice in the Richmond region. Participants will hear from researchers as well as practitioners working locally in school discipline and be invited to share their own perspectives on what we can do to make our disciplinary policies and practices more equitable.

Preparing Teachers for Hard to Staff Schools:
Success and Challenges of Residency Models
Tamara Sober (RTR)

The challenges of recruiting and retaining teachers for hard to staff schools persist. This session focuses on the successful components of residency models that address these challenges, such as how residency and mentoring differs from traditional student teaching, and how curriculum can be aligned to better prepare preservice teachers for various contexts. This session opens with a panel discussion, with voices representing various perspectives on the residency model, including: a current resident, a resident alum, a clinical residency coach and more. Panelists will then engage participants in discussions on the above topics as well as how to sustainably fund residency models.

Policies and Practices for English Learners
Melissa Cuba (VCU), Jesse Senechal (VCU) 
There are have been major shifts to address a growing English learner (EL) population, creating a needed discussion on issues that impact these students. This session will cover current trends in local EL growth, research on best instructional practices for EL-identified students, and resources related to EL policies at the federal and state level. In addition, sponsors will facilitate a panel discussion on EL-related topics with different perspectives at the table, including a former EL-identified student, a parent, a teacher, a doctoral student, a faculty member, and a local school division leader.

Teacher Morale and Professionalism
Kimberly Bowman, Brionna Nomi (VCU), Jesse Senechal (VCU)
There is general agreement that the success of students and of schools is dependent on the expertise of the teachers within those schools. However, recent research suggests that teachers are choosing to leave to the profession at high rates, especially from the most academically challenged schools. The goal of this session is to present ideas about teacher professionalism that help make sense of the current trends in teacher retention, and provide a framework for re-imagining the professional role of teachers within schools.  The session will include a presentation of the findings of the MERC Understanding Teacher Morale report, and engage attendees in a discussion that leads to practical recommendations for supporting and retaining teachers.

College Access in the Commonwealth
Kathleen Daly (VCU), Paula Robinson (SCHEV), David Naff (VCU), Charleita Richardson (Partnership for the Future)

This session will feature a presentation from members of the team that carried out the Virginia College Access Resource Study, which was commissioned by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and made possible through funding from Virginia 529. The presentation will explore the need for college access support in Region One of the Commonwealth and will discuss the resources available to help students gain access to postsecondary education. The team will also share findings about trends in college access need and support from providers across the state. They will  identify which types of students are currently a focus for college access efforts, and will discuss some of the challenges faced by first-generation college students, in particular. In this interactive session, participants will have a chance to share their own ideas and experience working to support students in their postsecondary endeavors, while learning more about potential barriers to college enrollment, the geographic distribution of need for postsecondary access support, and the resources that can help to address that need. Efforts to support students in considering and attending college can — and should — begin early, so those who work with elementary and middle school students are encouraged to attend the session to share their perspectives.

Implications of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
Lynn Sodat (VDOE), Jeremy Raley (GCPS), Joshua Taylor (VCU), Samantha Hope (VCU)
This interactive session will feature a brief presentation from Dr. Lynn Sodat from the Virginia Department of Education about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), followed by group conversations and a panel discussion about implications of this recent legislation. Panelists will answer participants’ questions and talk about what ESSA means for our school divisions, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners. Participants will be engaged throughout the session, and will have the opportunity share about what ESSA means for their work and come away with answers and resources.

Stay tuned for information about new sessions,
panel discussions, and guest speakers! 

Interested in presenting your work?

We are looking for presentations of research or practice connected to the theme of the conference.  If you are interested in presenting,
submit a proposal through our website by September 21.

Who is invited to attend?

MERC is committed to the idea that the discussion around the direction of public education is one that benefits from multiple voices representing a range of perspectives including:

K12 Students | Parents
Teachers | Teacher Educators
Principals | School Leaders
Educational Researchers
Community Partners




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