Staff

Center Director
 
Deputy Director
 
Technical Assistance Team
Sarah V. Arden, Ph.D.

Center Director

Dr. Stephanie Jackson, Managing Research Analyst, is the Director of the Center on Response to Intervention (RTI) at American Institutes for Research (AIR).1 Dr. Jackson is recognized for her educational leadership experience in schools, and her practical, realistic perspective that fosters the learning of all students, including students with disabilities. Dr. Jackson serves as the co-project director of the IDEA Part D Task Ordering Contract for the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), where she is responsible for assisting OSEP in communicating research-based knowledge for improving results for children with disabilities to multiple audiences. Dr. Jackson has also directed projects that assisted districts and schools in examining the alignment of curriculum, instruction, assessment, professional development, and management through multiple lenses of data collection. The process, which generated findings in concert with district and school participants, was designed to help districts and schools identify strengths, challenges, and action plans to overcome their individual barriers to improving outcomes for special populations.

Dr. Jackson has more than 30 years of experience in a variety of educational environments, including general and special education settings, magnet schools, charter schools, and higher education, where she worked as a general education and special education teacher, a special education administrator, an elementary school principal, and as the associate director of a research institute in a large, urban university. Dr. Jackson is the co-author of Safe, Supportive, and Successful Schools: Step by Step, which gives schools practical information for establishing safe and healthy educational environments.

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Deputy Director

Dr. Rebecca Zumeta Edmondsis a Principal Researcher at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), where she serves as the Deputy Director of the National Center on Intensive Intervention and as Project Director for an i3 Development Grant focused on intensive intervention in mathematics for students with disabilities. She also oversees services of the Response to Intervention Center at AIR, and serves as the Knowledge Utilization Coordinator for the National Center on Systemic Improvement.    

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Technical Assistance Team

Sarah V. Arden, Ph.D., Researcher at American Institutes for Research. At AIR, Sarah is working with the National Center for Intensive Intervention as a Technical Assistance Liaison for Missouri. Previously, Sarah was a project coordinator and field trainer for various teams within the Texas Center for Learning Disabilities, Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk, and Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language arts, which are housed within the University of Texas at Austin. Arden taught elementary special education for 6 years, worked as a consultant for the California Department of Education, and served as adjunct faculty at California State University, Fresno. Her research interests are in academic outcomes for students in need of intensive intervention, special education policy, and the conditions in which multi-tiered systems of support can be successfully implemented within middle and secondary school settings. She earned her Ph.D. in Special Education at the University of Texas at Austin. 

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Tessie Rose Bailey, Ph.D., Senior Technical Assistance Consultant, is a technical assistance provider for Center on RTI at AIR. Her responsibilities include supporting research, development, and technical assistance to states and districts in the area of RTI. She has extensive experience in RTI in a variety of capacities. She served as Co-coordinator of Technical Assistance for the National Center on Response to Intervention (NCRTI) and collaborated on the development of numerous national and state RTI/MTSS technical assistance resources. While a professor at Montana State University Billings (MSUB), she collaborated with local districts to develop a pre-service teacher preparation program in RTI/MTSS for which she was honored with the 2014 Montana State University Billings Faculty Excellence Award. She has coordinated several MTSS/RTI grants and contracts, including the facilitating a statewide MTSS Community of Practice, evaluating the efficacy of multi-tiered systems of supports (MTSS) implementation, developing model demonstration sites in progress monitoring, supporting RTI implementation in rural schools, and scaling up RTI/MTSS. As a result, she has provided direct MTSS/RTI support and professional development in 39 states. She completed her PhD at the University of Utah in special education and post-doctoral work in RTI/MTSS at Lehigh University’s Center for Promoting Research to Practice. 

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Virginia Buysse, Ph.D., is a Principal Researcher at AIR. She developed a program of research on Recognition & Response (R&R), an instructional system for pre-kindergarten early learning assessment, foundational instruction, and targeted interventions with funding from the U.S. Department of Education (Institute of Education Sciences) and the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation. She served as Co-PI on several national early childhood centers, including the National Professional Development Center on Inclusion (NPDCI), the Center to Mobilize Knowledge on Early Childhood (CONNECT), and the Center for Early Care and Education Research – Dual Language Learners (CECER-DLL). She also served on the National Research Council’s Committee on Early Childhood Education and the Workforce. She has served as an expert consultant on a number of federally funded projects, including those focused on progress monitoring and program evaluation in early childhood. She was past president of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) and was member of the technical experts panel that developed CEC’s Evidence-Based Standards for research in special education. She has authored four books and over 85 peer-reviewed journal articles on early childhood education and early intervention. With over 25 years of experience, she has expertise on a range of early childhood topics, including professional development and models of professional collaboration (coaching, consultation, communities of practice), program evaluation, tiered instruction, and assessment linked to instructional strategies for diverse learners. She received a doctorate in Early Education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Linda Cavazos, Ph.D., Senior Technical Assistance Consultant, is a technical assistance provider for Center on RTI at AIR. Her responsibilities include supporting research, development, and technical assistance to states and districts in the area of RTI/MTSS. She has over ten years experience in RTI in a variety of capacities including RTI research project director, RTI Literacy Coach, RTI master reading teacher, as well as various research projects related to RTI.  Currently, she provides technical assistance and professional development to districts in the US Virgin Islands and Texas on RTI/MTSS and English Language Learners (ELLs).  Prior to joining AIR, she served as research project coordinator of an OSEP funded grant at The University of Texas at Austin on developing model demonstration schools for RTI and ELLs. Dr. Cavazos has extensive experience using RTI/MTSS with ELLs and has focused on preparing teachers to effectively work with and support culturally and linguistically diverse learners with and without exceptionalities.  She serves as an adjunct professor at Concordia University Austin where she teaches graduate courses in the Differentiated Instruction and the Advanced Literacy programs. Dr. Cavazos holds a Ph.D. in Multicultural Special Education from the University of Texas at Austin. 

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Dr. Gail Chan, Senior Researcher, is a technical assistance liaison for Michigan for the National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII). Dr. Chan’s primary responsibilities include providing technical assistance to school districts, coaching support, training, coordination and product development for the Center. She has more than 15 years of experience working in psychology and special education across school, recreational, residential and academic settings. In addition to her work on NCII, Dr. Chan is also the project director of the Good Behavior Game (GBG) Service Line, a classroom-based prevention program. She works with districts and states to develop capacity for locales to implement and sustain GBG. She also has worked for two years as a classroom teacher for children with autism and emotional/behavioral disorders, as a behavioral consultant for families with children with special educational needs, and as an assistant director of education for children with a diagnosis of autism. She has completed a diploma in business management and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst at the doctorate level. Dr. Chan earned a doctorate in psychology from the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, a master’s degree in health and behavioral studies from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology and family studies from the University of British Columbia.

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Dr. Louis Danielson, Managing Director, is a senior advisor to the Center on RTI at AIR. Dr. Danielson is a national leader in the field of special education who has been involved in programs that improve results for students with disabilities for more than three decades, and he brings an unparalleled and unique depth of knowledge in both special education policy and research. Dr. Danielson earned a doctorate from Pennsylvania State University.  His career spans several roles in education, including secondary school science and mathematics teacher, school psychologist, and teacher at the university level. Until recently, Dr. Danielson held leadership roles in the U.S. Office for Special Education Programs and was responsible for the discretionary grants program, including technical assistance and dissemination, personnel preparation, technology, parent training priorities, and state improvement grants. He has served in numerous research and policy roles and has been involved in major school reform activities. Since joining AIR, he has served as center director to the NCII and led a National High School Center initiative on RTI. A frequent contributor to professional journals, Dr. Danielson has published extensively and is a frequent speaker at national conferences, international conferences, and events focusing on special education. His particular areas of interest include policy implementation and evaluation and scaling up of evidence-based practices.

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Dr. Allison Gruner Gandhi, Principal Research Analyst, has served as the coordinator for knowledge development for the Center on RTI at AIR and NCII since 2007. In this role, she manages the technical review and dissemination of information about evidence-based interventions, screening, and progress monitoring tools. In addition, Dr. Gandhi is the project director for a study funded by the Institute of Education Sciences that examines the validity of accommodations on large-scale reading assessments for students with disabilities. Dr. Gandhi also leads two evaluation projects for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, focused on multi-tiered systems of support and wraparound supports for students in low-performing schools. Dr. Gandhi has worked as task leader or project manager on a variety of research and evaluation projects for a variety of federal, state, and local clients, including the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs, the National Center for Education Statistics, and the Center for Mental Health Services, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Her primary area of expertise is K–12 special education policy, with an emphasis on inclusion and tiered systems of support. Dr. Gandhi earned a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University and a doctorate in education from Harvard University.

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Abigail Foley, Research Associate, provides technical assistance and professional development to states and school districts in the areas of special education, MTSS, and RTI. She is a professional development specialist in the Response to Intervention Personnel Development Project for the New York City region. Mrs. Foley contributes content expertise and product development to the Arkansas RTI Personnel Development Project. She also provides technical assistance in the areas of teacher preparation and reform to the Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability, and Reform (CEEDAR) Center. Mrs. Foley has professional experience conducting trainings, presentations, meetings, and on-site visits focused on multi-tiered interventions and evidence-based practices. Prior to AIR, Mrs. Foley worked as an elementary Special Education teacher in the District of Columbia. She earned her M.Ed. in Special Education from George Mason University in 2012 and her B.A. in History from Bates College in 2010.  

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Lindsey Hayes, Research Associate, supports projects in the areas of educator quality and special education. She provides research, evaluation, and technical assistance support for the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, the CEEDAR Center, and NCII. Prior to joining AIR, Ms. Hayes worked as a special education coordinator for Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy in Washington, DC. Ms. Hayes began her career as a special educator teaching inclusion mathematics and science in two public charter high schools, both in the District of Columbia. Her professional interests include teacher and leader evaluation systems and improving special education interventions for secondary students. She earned a master of education degree in special education from George Mason University.

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Dia Jackson, Ed.D., Researcher at American Institutes for Research,  provides leadership and technical assistance on a number of state and district RTI projects.  Dr. Jackson’s area of expertise includes teacher education and professional development to improve outcomes for students with disabilities and students who struggle. Dr. Jackson leads the Arkansas Response to Intervention Project, where she helps to build state and local capacity for RTI implementation by providing research-based professional development, presentations, webinars, resources and tools.  Through work with the U.S. Virgin Islands, New York, and the CEEDAR Center, Dr. Jackson also provides technical assistance at the higher education, state, district, and local-level to support educators in their efforts to effectively implement RTI and evidence-based practices to improve outcomes for all students.  Dr. Jackson has nine years of special education teaching experience in Montgomery County Public Schools, MD in both inclusive and self-contained settings.  Dr. Jackson earned a BA in Psychology and masters in Teaching Special Education from the University of Virginia and her Doctorate in Applied Neuroscience in Special Education from the George Washington University.

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Elaine McNulty Knight, M. Ed., is an educational leader with over 35 years in education as a teacher, learning, assessment and diagnostic specialist and district level Special Education Administrator, PreK-12. Her expertise includes application of research-based innovative practices to program design to meet the needs of all students. She has extensive experience in all aspects of RTI/MTSS implementation, strategic planning, inclusive practices, school improvement, assessment, and intervention strategies.Currently, Ms. McNulty-Knight is a Senior Consultant for American Institutes for Research in the Special Education Practice Area. Before joining AIR, Ms. McNulty-Knight worked for four years as the RTI Response to Instruction and School Improvement Coach for the New Hampshire Department of Education (NHDOE) where she facilitated and guided the RTI Professional Learning Community, focused on aligning the RTI work with other NHDOE initiatives, coordinated the development of an RTI Implementation Guidance document and provided training and technical assistance to districts throughout the state. Ms. McNulty-Knight earned an M.Ed in special education from the University of New Hampshire and a bachelor’s degree in social work from Merrimack College.

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Laura Berry Kuchle, Ph.D., Researcher at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), is currently working with the National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII), the Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability, and Reform (CEEDAR Center), and the National Center for Systemic Improvement (NCSI). For these Centers, she supports technical assistance and evaluation activities. She also directs a state pilot program evaluation project. Dr. Kuchle holds B.A.s in Spanish and Psychology from the University of Kentucky, and earned her M.Ed. and Ph.D. in School Psychology from the University of Cincinnati. Her training emphasized applied behavior analysis, Response to Intervention, data-based team problem solving, and systems change and reform. For her dissertation and internship, she focused on culturally responsive practices and services for English language learners. Prior to joining AIR, she worked as a school psychologist in Ohio public schools.

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Teri A. Marx, Ph.D., Researcher at the American Institutes for Research, provides technical assistance at the state and local level for the National Center on Intensive Intervention and the Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability, and Reform (CEEDAR) Center. Her professional training focuses on how practitioners can implement and sustain initiatives including multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS). Dr. Marx also provides training focused on how practitioners can integrate academic and behavioral interventions for students with the most intensive needs. Prior to joining AIR, she worked as a school social worker in the state of Illinois, and supported with her schools’ implementation of MTSS. Dr. Marx holds a B.A. in English Literature from North Central College, a M.S.W. in school social work from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a Ph.D. in Special Education from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). At UNLV, Dr. Marx also taught undergraduate and graduate level courses related to multicultural perspectives and legal aspects of special education.  

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Gena Nelson, M.A., Researcher at AIR. Her primary responsibilities include developing resources and providing technical assistance to support the implementation of RTI at the state, district, and school level. She currently contributes content expertise and product development for state and district projects aimed at improving outcomes for students with disabilities who receive intensive supports in mathematics. Prior to her current work, she taught high school math and special education for 2 years and served as project coordinator for a grant designed to develop mathematics screening and progress monitoring tools. She has professional experience developing interventions in mathematics and providing training and coaching to staff related to assessment-use and instructional practices. Her research interests include mathematics learning difficulties and disabilities, elementary and middle school mathematics interventions, and data-use practices in schools. She earned her M.A. in School Psychology from the University of Minnesota in 2014 and expects to earn her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology with an emphasis Special Education in 2017. 

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Jill M. Pentimonti. Ph.D., Researcher at American Institutes for Research. At AIR, Jill serves as a content specialist for the dissemination of evidence based practices under the National Center on Systemic Improvement (NCSI). Jill also serves as Principal Investigator on a measurement grant from Institutes for Education Sciences (IES), ‘The Development and Validation of the Systematic Assessment of Book Reading.’ Previously, Jill was a Research Scientist at The Ohio State University (OSU). At OSU she was employed by the Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy where she worked as Co-Investigator on a large scale randomized control trial examining the impacts associated with implementing an early literacy program in early childhood special education classrooms. She also served as Co-Investigator on a longitudinal study of 1,200 children focused on reading comprehension development. Additionally, Jill has taught university coursework at OSU for both pre- and in-service teachers in graduate education programs. Prior to her experience at AIR and at OSU, Dr. Pentimonti worked as a Kindergarten teacher in the Chicago Public School system and a Pre-Kindergarten teacher in Washington D.C. at an early childhood center for hearing impaired children. Jill earned a doctorate in Reading and Literacy in Early and Middle Childhood from The Ohio State University. 

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Amy Peterson, Researcher, is the co-coordinator for leadership and coordination for NCII and provides technical assistance and communications support for the Center on RTI at AIR. She has been a member of the Center since 2010, and she has assisted with the development of a range of products and training modules, conducted trainings, webinars, and presentations on the essential components of RTI and RTI implementation, and supported the development and management of the Center’s website and communications. She also has experience conducting trainings and presentations focused on fidelity of implementation, intensive interventions, tools to support students with print-based disabilities, and early warning systems. Prior to joining AIR, Ms. Peterson worked at the National Association for the Education of Young Children in the Office of Applied Research. She graduated from St. Lawrence University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in education studies, and earned her master’s degree in education policy from The George Washington University.

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Kathleen L. Pfannenstiel, Ph.D., Researcher at American Institutes for Research (AIR), provides technical assistance and professional development to states and school districts.  Currently, she serves as the mathematics content specialist for the National Center on Systemic Improvement (NCSI), and assists in training and reviewing mathematics curriculum for an Investing in Innovation and Improvement development grant to support the implementation of intensive interventions in mathematics for students with disabilities. Prior to joining AIR, she was a project coordinator for numerous RTI mathematics intervention grants at the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risks housed within the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Pfannenstiel has public school experience teaching elementary through high school special education. She has also been an adjunct professor at Southwestern University and Texas State University and a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin teaching both undergraduate and graduate level courses in the area of special education.

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Jennifer D. Pierce, Ph.D., Senior Technical Assistance Consultant at American Institutes for Research with 13 years of experience working in public and private school settings as a teacher, coach, and administrator.  Jennifer also has four years of experience working in higher education as a researcher and instructor.  At AIR, Jennifer works with the National Center for Systemic Improvement (NCSI) and the New York State Education Department (NYSED) RTI project to provide support to states, districts, and local-level educators in their efforts to effectively implement evidence-based practices (EBPs).  Her primary areas of interest are in effective professional development and coaching models to reduce the research-to-practice gap; implementation science, including frameworks across fields and factors associated with sustained use of EBPs; and, the application of multi-tiered systems of support across general education and special education, including Response to Intervention (RTI) and schoolwide positive behavior interventions supports (SWPBIS).  Dr. Pierce earned a Ph.D. in special education from the University of Washington, Seattle, a master’s in general education from Pacific Lutheran University, and a bachelor’s degree in English and Psychology from the University of Washington, Seattle.

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Dr. Stacia J. Rush, Senior Researcher, joined AIR in 2005. Dr. Rush served as a technical assistance liaison with the Mid-South Regional Resource Center and assisted with developing products and presentations for the Access Center. Dr. Rush also served as team leader on the instructional strategies team for the Access Center’s Knowledge Bank and on the information sharing communities team. In addition, Dr. Rush has served as a technical assistance liaison on the National High School Center, as technical assistance task leader on the NCRTI, and as a training coordinator on the National Center on Student Progress Monitoring. As senior research analyst, Dr. Rush served as the deputy director of the New York Special Education Curriculum Audit project, acting as director of the individual school audits task. She has also participated in the Say Yes to Education project in Syracuse, New York, providing training and technical assistance to elementary and secondary schools as they scale up implementation of differentiated instruction; served as coordinator of the North Rockland Central School District Curriculum Audit; and she was the site visit coordinator for the quality review of special education service delivery in District of Columbia Public Schools and Charter Schools. Dr. Rush is currently a technical assistance liaison on the CEEDAR Center, and a technical assistance liaison on the Great Lakes Regional Comprehensive Center, serving as project lead in Indiana. Dr. Rush earned her doctorate in curriculum and instruction from North Carolina State University, where she participated in a program evaluation involving the acquisition and transfer of study skills and learning strategies by middle school students.

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Jenny Scala, Researcher, is a technical assistance provider for the Center on RTI at AIR. In addition, Ms. Scala served as a technical assistance liaison for the National High School Center and she coordinated a joint initiative with the High School Center, the NCRTI, and the Center on Instruction that focused on tiered interventions in high schools. Ms. Scala has provided technical assistance to states, districts, and schools for more than 10 years. Her experience includes assisting state education agency staff in creating new strategies for supporting underperforming districts and schools; assisting states in addressing issues related to high school redesign; aligning teacher certification and licensure requirements to include evidence-based practices; and creating statewide frameworks focused on improving adolescent literacy outcomes. She also has worked with districts to provide training aligned to district curriculum, and she has provided social/emotional programs to both middle and high school students. Ms. Scala holds a master’s degree in education policy and management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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Melodee Walker, Ph.D., has conducted research related to learning disabilities with a focus on best practices for remediating reading difficulties and promoting the alignment of research with prevailing practice. She provides technical assistance support to schools implementing RTI/MTSS frameworks and has assisted with the development of online modules about the essential components of multi-tiered frameworks. She has coauthored several publications on topics including reading, observation studies, RTI, and supporting ELs with reading difficulties. Dr. Walker also has 11 years of experience as a special education teacher and reading specialist in both public and private school settings where she planned and implemented multigrade and individual-level instruction. Dr. Walker earned a doctorate in Special Education from the University of Texas at Austin, with a concentration in learning disabilities and behavior disorders. She also has a master’s degree in Learning Disabilities from Calvin College and a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with a Reading Endorsement from the University of Northern Iowa.

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1 The Center on RTI at AIR was the National Center on Response to Intervention (NCRTI) from 2007-2012.