Affiliated Faculty and Staff

Robert Balfanz is a Co-Director of the Everyone Graduates Center and research scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools, Johns Hopkins University. He is the Co-Director of the Talent Development Middle and High School Project, which is currently working with more than 100 high-poverty secondary schools to develop, implement and evaluate comprehensive whole school reforms. He has published widely on secondary school reform, high school dropouts, early warning systems and instructional interventions in high-poverty schools. Recent work includes Locating the Dropout Crisis, with co-author Nettie Legters, in which they identify the number and location of high schools with high dropout rates and What Your Community Can Do to End its Dropout Crisis. He is also co-author of Graduation Nation Guidebook. Dr. Balfanz is the first recipient of the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Everyone a Graduate Award.

Amie Bettencourt (Ph.D., Clinical Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University) is a Project Director at the Fund for Educational Excellence in partnership with the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing where she oversees a longitudinal study examining the impact of parents’ participation in the Chicago Parent Program in Baltimore City Schools on children’s school readiness and attendance in kindergarten and subsequent special education and remedial service use through third grade.  She is also a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Previously, Dr. Bettencourt served as a Program Evaluator in the Office of Achievement and Accountability for Baltimore City Schools where she directed administration and analyses of the district’s School Survey as well as conducted evaluations of district initiatives (e.g., summer learning).  Amie’s research interests focus on the prevention of problem behaviors in youth, with a particular focus on identifying malleable risk and protective factors associated with the development of problem behaviors, and examining the impact of evidence-based interventions on reducing or preventing the development of such behaviors within low-income populations.

Thurman L. Bridges (Ph.D., University of Maryland, College Park) is an Associate Professor of Teacher Education at Morgan State University.  He earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Teaching degree from the University of Virginia and his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, College Park in Curriculum and Instruction within the Minority and Urban Education graduate program.  His research explores the social context of urban education, Black male teacher identity and teacher education reform.  His recent work analyzes the social, educational and cultural experiences of Black male K–12 teachers who have been effective in addressing the academic and social needs of Black male youth, and how the practices and pedagogy translate to all teachers meeting the needs of vulnerable populations of students.  His publications address the motivations, beliefs and pedagogies of teachers of color, particularly in urban school settings, and seeks conceptualize and foreground teaching and learning practices that improve student engagement and performance in school.

Celeste Chavis (Ph.D. in Civil Engineering, University of California, Berkeley) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Transportation and Urban Infrastructure Studies at Morgan State University.  She is a licensed Professional Engineer in the State of Maryland and serves on Baltimore City’s Technical Advisory Board for Bikeshare.  Her research explores the intersection of transportation operations and planning, and equity in the United States and abroad. Recent work focuses on the impact of transit design and operation on student accessibility and absenteeism.  She has worked with several agencies including Baltimore City Department of Transportation, District Department of Transportation, IBM Africa and the Tanzanian government.  Dr. Chavis is a member of the Institute of Transportation Engineers and is a Secretary of the Paratransit Committee of the Transportation Research Board.

Curt Cronister (MS, Johns Hopkins University; BA, University of Notre Dame) is a seasoned data analyst with over eight years of experience in data management and analysis at Stanford and Northwestern, as well as for-profit companies like SunAmerica, Morningstar, and United Educators. Mr. Cronister has over 20 years’ experience organizing original data sources, developing associated data dictionaries and creating data collection, storage, retrieval and analytic systems.  He is also proficient using mapping software and is currently enrolled in the Master of Applied Science in Spatial Analysis to improve our use of neighborhood and community measures to add context to BERC’s ongoing research.

Marcia Davis (Ph.D., University of Maryland) is an Assistant Professor (Research) at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University and has been with the center since 2006. She has a doctorate in Educational Psychology and a master’s degree in Educational Measurement, Statistics, and Evaluation from the University of Maryland. She has been a Co-principal investigator on several large Institute of Education Sciences studies related to dropout prevention, adolescent literacy, and reading motivation. One of her recent projects, in collaboration with a team of research scientists and professors from University of Kansas and Northern Illinois University, is focused on the development of a computer adapted measure of adolescent reading motivation. Another recent project, also funded by the department of education, is examining the use of early warning indicator systems to locate and provide interventions for ninth grade students at risk for dropping out of high school.  Her BERC research has focused on examining the use of school libraries which aligns with her interest in reading motivation and comprehension.

Rachel E. Durham (Ph.D., Sociology and Demography, Pennsylvania State University) is the Evaluation Director/Assistant Professor with the Baltimore Education Research Consortium. Dr. Durham’s published research has focused on immigrant children’s educational performance, oral language, early literacy and school readiness. She worked previously for BERC as a Research Scientist from 2007 to 2011, leading  studies concerning the pathways of Baltimore City Schools students and graduates.  From 2011 to 2013, she was a researcher at the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital in Vienna, Austria, where she conducted research on global educational expansion and methods at the intersection of education and demography, highlighting ways that educational metrics can be refined by adjusting for population dynamics.  Currently, her research at BERC is focused on college readiness, differential access to postsecondary education, community schools, attendance, and school engagement.

Simone Gibson (Ph.D., University of Maryland College Park, Curriculum and Instruction) has served as both a k-12 teacher and administrator as well as a teacher educator for the past 12 years.  Her recent research has focused on understanding ways of creating learning bridges between those non-dominant literacy habits (for students from historically marginalized communities) and those formal literacy practices emphasized in schools.  Additionally, she has focused on the preparation of pre-service teachers from Historically Black Colleges and Institutions.

Deborah Gross (DNSc, RN, Rush University) is the Leonard and Helen Stulman Endowed Professor in Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing in the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and holds joint appointments in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in the School of Medicine, and the Department of Mental Health in the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Prior to this, she was the Associate Dean for Research and Scholarship at Rush University College of Nursing where she and her colleagues developed the Chicago Parent Program, a 12-session video-guided group-based parenting program developed in collaboration with African American and Latino families. Her research focuses on promoting positive parent-child relationships and preventing behavior problems in preschool children from low-income communities, and she has published more than 100 articles, book chapters, and abstracts in this area. Currently, Dr. Gross is the principal investigator of a study focused on implementing the Chicago Parent Program in pre-kindergarten programs in Baltimore City Schools and examining the impact of parent participation in the Chicago Parent Program on children’s school readiness and attendance in kindergarten, and use of special education and remedial services through third grade.

Doug Mac Iver (Ph.D., University of Michigan) is a Principal Research Scientist and co-director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools, and author of more than 40 research articles, chapters, books, and monographs on student disengagement, motivation, learning and achievement in early adolescence and on comprehensive and district-wide approaches to improving low-performing schools. Mac Iver directs the Talent Development Middle Grades program (TDMG), a research and development team that helps middle schools in high poverty neighborhoods to engage students with rigorous curriculum and instruction, provides teachers with the support they need to develop deep content knowledge and effective instructional practices, and develops safe, nurturing and challenging learning environments. The TDMG model has been successfully implemented in scores of middle schools nationally and is recognized for publishing high-quality curriculum materials. Mac Iver has won awards for his applied research and development including a Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for Community Service from Johns Hopkins University and a Human Development Research Award from the American Educational Research Association.

Martha Abele Mac Iver (Ph.D. in Political Science, University of Michigan) is Associate Professor in the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University and a Research Scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools. She has focused her recent research on the effectiveness of numerous school and district educational interventions designed to improve student achievement and has more than two decades experience conducting mixed methods studies.  She has conducted numerous studies related to the Baltimore City Schools since 1996.  In pending proposals she is seeking to conduct research on engaging families in the transition from middle to high school and on professional development for teachers aimed at increasing high school student motivation and reducing ninth grade failure.  From 2009-11 she held a Senior Urban Education Research Fellowship from the Council of the Great City Schools, focusing on predictors of high school outcomes in Baltimore City.  She served as co-investigator on National Science Foundation ROLE grant to study the achievement effects of a decade of educational reforms in Philadelphia, and principal investigator on an analytical effort to provide useful information for data informed decision-making on the part of Colorado districts participating in an initiative aimed at cutting Colorado’s dropout rate.

Tami Kopischke Smith (Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, University of Virginia) is an Associate Professor in Goucher College’s Education Department. Her recent research on data-based decision making has focused on the ways in which teachers use multiple sources of data to inform instruction, how these practices are supported by district resources and structures, and which practices may contribute to improved student achievement in Title I schools. Previously, she was the Education Research Program Manager at the University of Maryland’s Center for Quality and Productivity where she worked with nine Maryland School District Superintendents. Her research (funded by the U.S. Department of Education) on the proficiency of their district- and school-level integrated management systems was used to provide recommendations to the districts and compared with student achievement outcomes and organizational values. As a teacher-researcher she has also studied the ways in which undergraduate student gain intercultural awareness and skills through campus life, course work, community-based learning, and study abroad experiences.

Laura Owen (Ph.D., Counselor Education and Supervision, Oregon State University) is an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University.  Prior to finishing her Ph.D. (2012), Laura was a high school counselor, district school counseling supervisor, and a writer and co-principal investigator on two US Department of Education Elementary and Secondary School Counseling grants.  Laura’s dissertation (funded by the Gates Foundation) was a joint project with Stanford and Harvard Universities and looked at the U.S. Department of Education FAFSA Completion Pilot Project to examine the influence of school counselor outreach on FAFSA completion and college enrollment.  In 2012, she worked with several large urban school districts across the US to evaluate the impact of individualized outreach from professional school counseling staff (who offered support on summer-specific college-going tasks) on student’s on time college matriculation.  Her current research looks at the influence of customized and personalized text messages on FAFSA completion and college enrollment decisions. She is a passionate advocate for increasing equity and access for all students and is a sought after speaker for regional and national school counseling groups. Laura is the current president of the Maryland School Counselor Association and serves as a reviewer for the American School Counselor Association Recognized ASCA Model Program (RAMP) awards.

Carolyn Parker (Ph.D.,Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Maryland College Park) is the Director of the Master of Arts in Teaching Program at American University. Dr. Parker’s current research focus is twofold, focusing on teacher education and issues of equity and access in STEM education. Most recently, Dr. Parker was a principal investigator of a 7.4 million dollar National Science Foundation Math-Science Partnership award, STEM Achievement in Baltimore Elementary Schools (SABES). The SABES project served nine high poverty Baltimore City elementary schools by improving STEM curriculum and instruction. The project included research focused on the development and delivery of rigorous curriculum supported by intensive and sustained teacher professional development that included in-school coaching, peer classroom visits and content intensive STEM Academies In addition to the school day component, the project offered a STEM-focused, out-of school day program where students completed engineering-focused projects relevant to local communities. Dr. Parker’s has authored numerous book chapters, technical reports, and peer-reviewed papers. Her work appears in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Science Education, and Cultural Studies in Science Education.

Wendy Pichardo (MS, Johns Hopkins University) is a database developer and designer with over 20 years’ experience managing data systems for education and research. This experience includes work at the Bloomberg School of Health, Johns Hopkins Medical School, as well as the University of Maryland, Goucher College, Stevenson University and Mount St. Joseph University. Having extensive experience in research studies she is skilled at data manipulation and wrangling that is documented in the form of code books, E-R diagrams and procedure manuals that support ongoing research at BERC. Currently, she is enrolled in the Master of Applied Science in Spatial Analysis through Johns Hopkins University.

Jessica Shiller (PhD, Urban Education, New York University) is an Associate Professor in the College of Education at Towson University where she has been a graduate program advisor for the program in instructional leadership and is now assisting with the implementation of urban education initiatives. Her research and teaching has been focused on urban school reform policy and practice, culturally relevant instruction, teacher student relationship-building practices, and civic education. She is the author of many publications, but her most recent is a book on how the demographics of suburban schools are changing to resemble those of urban schools, The New Reality for Suburban Schools (Peter Lang, 2015). Currently, she is engaged with the community schools initiative in Baltimore as a supervisor to student interns and as a consultant to schools implementing restorative practices through the University of Maryland School of Social Work. She serves on the advisory board of Loyola University’s Center for Innovation in Urban Education, the steering committee for Forest Park High School, and is working with a state-wide advocacy group to see community schools expand statewide. Prior to coming to Towson, she worked in New York City as a high school teacher, a coach to new teachers, and as a university professor at the City University of New York.

Steven Sheldon (Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, Michigan State University) is a Research Scientist with the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships and an Associate Professor in The Johns Hopkins University School of Education.  His research focuses on the predictors and impact of family involvement in children’s motivation and achievement, as well as the development and impact of family and community involvement programs in schools.  He is co-author of the books, Principals Matter: A Guide to School, Family, and Community Partnerships (Sanders & Sheldon, 2009) and School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Your Handbook for Action (Epstein, et al., 2009). He teaches and coordinates the School of Education’s graduate certificate program for Leadership on School, Family, and Community Collaborations.

Founding Faculty

Stephen B. Plank (Ph.D. in Sociology, University of Chicago), is a Managing Researcher at the American Institutes of Research (AIR), and prior to joining AIR, Dr. Plank was director of research and evaluation at the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). CNCS is the federal agency that administers AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and the Social Innovation Fund.  Dr. Plank also holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematical methods in the social sciences, and sociology, from Northwestern University (1990). His published education research includes Finding One’s Place: Teaching Styles and Peer Relations in Diverse Classrooms (Teachers College Press, 2000), and articles in the American Educational Research JournalTeachers College Record, Journal of Vocational Education ResearchSociology of Education, and American Journal of Education. Much of his past and current research focuses on solutions to the problem of high school dropout (including associations with career and technical education), predictors of successful transitions to college, and school climate.