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N.C. Recovery Practitioners Network to aid research in public school districts

Peabody Hall, home to the School of Education, is pictured on Aug. 29, 2022.

The N.C. Recovery Practitioners Network, a partnership between the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and the UNC School of Education, among other institutions, hosted its first in-person workshop on Friday.

The network aims to support individual school districts across North Carolina as they advance their capacity for in-house research and evaluation.

The partnership also includes the N.C. Collaboratory, Harvard University, Georgetown University and 16 public school districts throughout the state.

Participating school districts identify a unique need in their district and are then paired with university researchers who are both experts in that specific field and geographically close to the district.

Jeni Corn, the director of research and evaluation at NCDPI, said the robust postsecondary education landscape in North Carolina provides a unique opportunity for local districts.

“We are very fortunate to have just a wealth of research resources all over North Carolina,” Corn said. “So really the purpose of this network is to kind of be like a matchmaker to connect districts who have a desire to address a problem that they're struggling with at the local level.”

Greer Arthur, the research director for the N.C. Collaboratory, said the partnerships that are being established between researchers and current practitioners are essential in creating research specific to each district’s needs. 

The mutual exchange of information and the involvement of practitioners is critical for making sure the research actually addresses the questions the districts need to answer, Arthur said.

Lauren Sartain, assistant professor in the UNC School of Education and co-leader of the network, said the geographical proximity to the district when thinking about individual partnerships is important considering the wide range of districts participating in the network.

Districts as far west as Cleveland County and as far east as Chowan County are participating.

“What we are hoping to facilitate is match the school district with local faculty members or research partners who are geographically close to the school district so they can know the school context really well,” she said. 

Chatham County Schools is one of the 16 districts participating in the program. Assistant superintendent for academic services and instructional support Amanda Moran said her district wanted to participate to increase its research capacity on a variety of topics. She said the district currently lacks a research department.

“So, tapping into the power of this network of individuals and practitioners will bring resources to us that we don't have the capacity on our own to do,” she said. 

During the network’s first in-person session on Friday, the participating districts met to begin discussing the infrastructure each district needs to work with research partners and brainstorm research topics.

Corn said many of the common concerns districts express interest in researching are phenomena that emerged after the COVID-19 pandemic — including chronic absenteeism, increases in student disciplinary actions and decreased educator recruitment and retention.

Throughout the program, participants will attend five workshops to further identify what topic they want to research and how they will proceed in that investigation. 

Sartain said that, at the end of the program, she hopes districts can walk away with a better understanding of the topic they chose to study and ways they can improve moving forward. 

“Hopefully we can work through helping them choose better practices and policies, improve student learning and school culture, make schools better places to learn and also to work,” she said. “And so that is what we are really focused on.”

@DTHCityState |

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