Middle School Matters Institute


Photo of Christy Murray

Christy Murray

Christy Murray serves as the director of the Middle School Matters Institute, co-principal investigator of the MSM-PREP research study, coordinates MCPER's social media campaigns, and has over 15 years of experience leading and managing educational research and technical assistance projects. From 2013 to 2017, Murray served as the principal investigator and project director of Middle School Matters, an education reform initiative founded by the George W. Bush Institute and implemented at MCPER. The initiative focused on identifying evidence-based practices deemed essential for success in the middle grades, supporting middle schools as they implemented these practices, and developing and disseminating resources that translated research to practice. From 2005 to 2012, Murray served as the deputy director of the Center on Instruction’s Special Education and Response to Intervention Strand. During this time, she provided technical assistance to Regional Comprehensive Centers and state departments of education, as well as developed products, publications, and PD materials. Prior to joining MCPER, Murray was an elementary classroom teacher specializing in reading and science instruction.

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Robert Balfanz

Dr. Robert Balfanz is a research scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University and associate director of the Talent Development Middle and High School Project. Balfanz has published widely on secondary school reform, high school dropouts, and instructional interventions in high-poverty schools. His research background includes developing, implementing, and evaluating comprehensive whole-school reforms and translating research findings into effective reforms for high-poverty secondary schools. To contact Balfanz, visit the Johns Hopkins website.

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David Chard

Dr. David Chard became Wheelock College's 14th president on July 1, 2016. Chard was previously dean of the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University (SMU), where he created a strategic vision focused on undergraduate and graduate programs built on evidence-based practices. Chard also served as associate dean for the College of Education at the University of Oregon. He has held faculty appointments at both Boston University and The University of Texas at Austin and in the late 1990s served as associate director of the Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts at UT Austin. Chard earned a Ph.D. in special education at the University of Oregon in 1995 and a B.S. in mathematics and chemistry education from Central Michigan University in 1985. His scholarly focus has been on the role of instruction in the development of basic literacy and numeracy skills for students with learning disabilities or those at risk for school failure. He has co-directed a number of federally funded model demonstration projects and research studies, and he has directed or co-directed several state and regional grants and contracts that have examined the improvement of schools and student achievement through the development of teachers’ knowledge and practice. Chard has published several research articles; co-authored and contributed to multiple book chapters; and either written or co-written numerous technical reports, monographs, and training guides. A frequent presenter at national and international education conferences, he has taught courses on behavior management, special education reading and writing, learning disabilities, and special education law. To contact Chard, visit the Wheelock College website.

Photo of Priscilla Collins-Parhms

Priscilla Collins-Parhms

Priscilla Collins-Parhms is a managing director for Uplift Education Public Charter Schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas. Collins-Parhms has worked in education for more than 20 years, serving as a teacher, staff developer, and in many administrative roles, including principal and administrator support for elementary school principals. She is a native of Louisiana and was raised in California, where she completed her early schooling. She returned to Louisiana to attend Northeast Louisiana University (now University of Louisiana-Monroe), where she received a B.A. in radio and television management. After working in private industry for several years in California, she pursued her teaching credentials. She went on to graduate from California State University, San Bernardino, in 2000 with a master’s degree in education administration. She has been a motivational speaker and has done extensive educational staff development with administrators, teachers, and parents. She is married to Chris, and they have two sons, Darnell and Devin.

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Mark Dynarski

Mark Dynarski is founder and president of Pemberton Research, which focuses on understanding and utilizing research evidence in decision making. Previously, he was vice president and director of the Center for Improving Research Evidence at Mathematica Policy Research. He also previously served as director of the What Works Clearinghouse at the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, and as director and principal investigator of numerous education programs with a focus on at-risk children and youth. Currently he is a senior fellow (nonresident) at the Brown Center for Education Policy at the Brookings Institute. Dynarski has published widely in peer-reviewed journals, including Educational Researcher, Educational Leadership, and Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk. He is also on the editorial boards of Effective Education and The Elementary School Journal. Dynarski earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from the Johns Hopkins University and holds a B.A. in economics from the State University of New York at Geneseo. He also was a tenured professor of economics at the University of California, Davis, where he taught theory, statistics, and econometrics.

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Art Graesser

Dr. Art Graesser is co-director of the Institute of Intelligent Systems at the University of Memphis, editor of Journal of Educational Psychology, and president of the Society for Text and Discourse and Artificial Intelligence in Education. Graesser has published more than 400 articles in journals, books, and conference proceedings; written two books; and edited nine books. His research background is in cognitive science, discourse processing, and the learning sciences—specifically, knowledge representation, question asking and answering, tutoring, text comprehension, inference generation, conversation, reading, education, memory, artificial intelligence, and human-computer interaction. To contact Graesser, visit the University of Memphis website.

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Steve Graham

Dr. Steve Graham is the Warner Professor in the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation at Arizona State University. Graham is the author of Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High School, Handbook of Writing Research, Handbook of Learning Disabilities, Writing Better, Making the Writing Process Work, Best Practices in Writing Instruction, and more than 135 articles. He is the editor of Exceptional Children. His research background is in learning disabilities, literacy, writing, and self-regulation—specifically, identifying the factors that contribute to writing development and writing difficulties, developing and validating effective instructional procedures for teaching writing, and using technology to enhance writing performance. To contact Graham, visit the Arizona State website.

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Sharon Vaughn

Dr. Sharon Vaughn is the executive director of MCPER, director of the Reading Institute, and a director of the Dropout Prevention Institute. For more information, read Vaughn's full bio.

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Anne Wicks

Before joining the George W. Bush Institute, Anne Wicks served for 5 years as the associate dean for external relations at the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education. Over her career, Wicks has held management and fundraising roles at organizations including Teach for America, American Public Media, the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health, and Stanford University. She holds a B.A in American studies and an M.A. in education from Stanford University, as well as an M.B.A. from the University of Southern California. A former captain of Stanford's women's volleyball team, she was part of three national championship teams, two as a player and one as an assistant coach.

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Don Barfield

Don Barfield is a trusted advisor, serving on the National Academy of Sciences: Scientific Principles in Educational Research Committee, California Department of Education: Academic Performance Index Technical Design Group, and the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study Board of Directors. Barfield has more than 20 years of experience in executive leadership of educational organizations (public, nonprofit, and for profit)—including Far West Laboratory (now WestEd), San Francisco Unified School District, and Harcourt Assessment—and 15 years of Regional Laboratory experience. He has received 27 research grants and contracts. He has managed the development of multiple assessment products and has experience in web-based professional development programs.

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Kathleen Barfield

Kathleen Barfield oversees administrative functions at Edvance Research and provides leadership for scaling its products and services for educators at all levels. Barfield has chaired the National Center for Educational Statistics task force on electronic record transfer, managed large-scale development efforts to build student record systems, and developed solutions for district and state reporting needs. She has provided technology leadership for organizations including the California Department of Education, WestEd, Oracle, and Harcourt Assessment. 

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Sandra Chapman

Dr. Sandra Chapman is the chief director of the Center for Brain Health, distinguished professor in brain health, and professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at The University of Texas at Dallas. Chapman is a core member of the National Institutes of Health in selecting the central data elements for nationwide clinical trials in acquired brain injury. Her research background is in novel approaches to prevent mental decline and maximize frontal lobe function after brain injuries and diseases and to strengthen healthy brain development across the lifespan. 

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Jacquelyn Gamino

Dr. Jacquelyn Gamino is the director of the Middle School Brain Years Initiative at the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas at Dallas. Gamino played a key role in developing the center’s adolescent Strategic Memory and Reasoning Training (SMART) program and is the principal creator of SMART Camp, an intensive 2-week program that trains executive function and higher-order cognitive skills in adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Her research background is in children with traumatic brain injury, attention deficit disorder, typically developing adolescents, training of higher-order cognitive skills in all age groups, learning, reasoning, higher-order cognition, executive function, traumatic brain injury, adolescents, and memory. 

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Reid Lyon

Dr. Reid Lyon is president and CEO of Synergistic Education Solutions, distinguished professor of education leadership and policy at Southern Methodist University, and distinguished scientist with the Center for Brain Health School of Brain and Behavior Sciences at The University of Texas at Dallas. Lyon has served as a research psychologist, the chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and as an advisor on education research and policies to President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. His research background is in learning disabilities, special education, reading development, reading disorders, early childhood development, cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, school readiness, and evidence-based teacher education. 

Photo of Deborah Reed

Deborah Reed

Dr. Deborah K. Reed is Director of Iowa Reading Research Center. Reed earned her Ph.D. in special education at the University of Texas at Austin. She spent the first 10 years of her career as a English language arts and reading teacher and preK-12 reading specialist. Since 2003, she has been active in the field as a researcher and technical assistance provider. Most recently, Dr. Reed has served as an assistant professor at Florida State University and the Florida Center for Reading Research. She has developed numerous instructional materials and professional development programs on evidence-based literacy practices, particularly for middle and high school students. Dr. Reed was awarded the Council for Learning Disabilities’ 2010 Outstanding Researcher of the Year award, served as the chair of that organization’s Research Committee from 2012-2015, and is now the Vice President. She has over 25 peer reviewed journal articles and serves on the editorial boards of Learning Disability Quarterly, Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, and the Elementary School Journal. Her current research interests include appropriate uses of reading data in instructional decision making, addressing the literacy demands of science classes, and providing reading instruction in correctional settings.

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Tanya Santangelo

Dr. Tanya Santangelo is an associate professor of special education at Arcadia University. Santangelo's current collaborative research endeavors include an examination of the validity and generalizability of writing assessment data, a series of comprehensive meta-analyses of the spelling and handwriting intervention literature, and an exploration of differentiated instruction in higher education. She is the author of numerous scholarly publications, former associate editor of Reading & Writing Quarterly, former editorial assistant for The Journal of Educational Psychology, and recipient of the American Educational Research Association’s Outstanding Student Research Award. With Carol Tomlinson, she recently authored a multimedia professional development resource kit titled Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Response to Intervention: From Theory to Practice. Her prior experience also includes nearly 10 years of teaching in diverse elementary and middle schools.

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Beverly Weiser

Dr. Beverly Weiser is a research assistant professor at Southern Methodist University in the Department of Teaching and Learning, teaching master-level education graduate classes on assessment and differentiated learning, educational research, reading and writing in the content areas, and literacy and mathematical instruction and acquisition. Weiser also works at the Institute of Evidenced-Based Education at Southern Methodist University on education intervention grants for struggling students, completing statistical analyses, coaching teachers and school leaders, and disseminating grant and other research projects’ findings through manuscripts, books, professional development, and presentations. Her research interests include effective teaching; learning disabilities; reading, spelling, writing, and math differentiated instruction; effective coaching and professional development; improving teacher content knowledge and instruction; school leadership; and increasing student engagement, learning, and performance.

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Sarah Fishstrom

Sarah Fishstrom is a Graduate Research Assistant at MCPER and doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin. Fishstrom is Nationally Board Certified as an Exceptional Needs Specialist with a focus on mild to moderate disabilities. Fishstrom earned her master's degree from Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus in education with a concentration in students with disabilities and undergraduate degree from The University of Michigan. Prior to working at MCPER, she was a reading specialist and special education teacher at a Title I middle school in New York City. Her research interests include teacher support and professional development, reading interventions, and trauma prevention.

Photo of Veronica Miller

Veronica Miller

Veronica L. Miller is an analyst at MCPER. Miller earned a master's degree from The University of Texas at Austin in special education with a concentration in mild-to-moderate disabilities and diversity and an undergraduate degree from The University of North Texas. Prior to working at MCPER, she was a reading specialist and special education teacher at a Title I middle school. Her research interests include teacher support and professional development, reading interventions, and academic interventions for students with autism.