School administrators spend long hours each week attending meetings, planning curricula, setting budgets and writing reports. Consequently, their schedules often leave them little time for tasks such as researching new instructional methods or conducting studies to identify more effective ways to mentor teachers.

But in March, representatives from six local P-12 districts, along with members of the UAB School of Education faculty and graduate students, met on campus to network and share information about their research interests and priorities.  

Research Roundtable

The SOE hosted the event, “Partnerships for School Improvement,” on Wednesday, March 4, at UAB’s Alumni House. The event’s purpose, says UAB SOE Dean Deborah Voltz, Ed.D., was to get faculty and advanced graduate students to connect with the districts around research topics that were of interest in those districts.

“The goal,” says Voltz, “is to provide a context to facilitate connections between district representatives, faculty and advanced graduate students who have research interests that are aligned with school district priorities.”

The school districts represented at “Partnerships for School Improvement” included Birmingham, Hoover, Midfield and Pelham city schools. Representatives from Jefferson and Shelby county schools also attended the event.

One participant, Elisabeth Davis, Ed.D., curriculum coordinator for Pelham City Schools, talked about her interest in researching the impact of the Common Core Standards on student achievement. Cindy Adams, Ph.D., a chief academic officer for Hoover City Schools, said she wanted to research the use of technology for improving student engagement and individualized instruction.

During another discussion, the superintendent of the Midfield City School District, Demica Sanders, Ed.S., and UAB faculty members Loucrecia Collins, Ed.D., Shannon McCarthy, Ph.D., and James Ernest, Ph.D., talked about mentoring teachers and the need to get parents more involved with children’s education.

“We want to figure out how to get our middle school and high school parents engaged,” Sanders told the group. “We’re an urban school setting, so you have parents who may have to work during the day. … And how do we find those innovative ways to get them involved with homework?”

Faculty and District PartnersMcCarthy, an assistant professor in the UAB Counselor Education Program, told Sanders about her own research on programs to increase parent involvement at schools. She says “Partnerships for School Improvement” will be helpful to her as a faculty member.

“Not just in terms of my research,” she says, “but also in terms of what our program could do in service for some of the schools, and, at the same time, have our students to learn about what the schools need. … It’s a complete win-win for everyone involved.”

The Birmingham City Schools representatives Evelyn Nettles, Ed.D., a district administrator in curriculum and instruction, and Constance Burnes, the interim academic officer, talked about their efforts to transform school culture and build a greater sense of community among students, teachers and staff.

“I think this event is a wonderful opportunity to enhance the quality of research that could be used by the school districts to improve their programs,” Nettles says.

Sarah Toth, M.Ed., a health education and promotion doctoral student, said the sharing of information between faculty, students and the P-12 schools will be valuable for her research and for the school districts.

“It really gives you specific ideas that you haven’t thought of that could be applicable and useful not only for a specific school system,” she says, “but for the state as a whole.”

Jefferson County Schools administrators Shannon Stanley, Ph.D., a deputy superintendent of teaching and learning, and Jennifer Maye, Ed.S., a director of professional learning, also made presentations along with Lewis Brooks, Ed.D., an assistant superintendent for Shelby County Schools.

“I’m very appreciative of our district partners for coming out to participate in this event,” says Voltz. “I believe that the collaborative studies that will grow out of this event will be catalysts for school improvement.”