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The next MERC Conference will take place on Thursday, June 29th, 2023. The call for submissions will be posted here in the fall of 2022. Subscribe to our stakeholder listserv to stay up to date on all information about our conference. 


Click below to access session materials and podcast episodes from the 2021 MERC Conference.




Public schools will be forever altered by the events of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic forced a rapid transition to remote learning, abruptly shifting priorities to meal distribution, online teaching modalities, and providing access to reliable computing devices and high-speed internet. Concurrently, international marches for racial justice commanded deeper reflection in our education systems on longstanding inequities across student enrollment, discipline, and learning outcomes. In response to these events, educational researchers have sharpened their attention on issues of equity and pursued insights into how the pandemic has impacted all who are involved in public education.

The challenges of last year commanded rapid adaptation and evolution for stakeholders across public education. So what comes next?

The 2021 Conference of the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium will bring together stakeholders invested in educational research, policy, and practice to explore how public schools have changed this past year and where they should go from here. Together, we will explore issues and ideas that reimagine the promise of public education in a new era. The goals of the 2021 MERC Conference are:

To provide space for diverse perspectives to discuss
immediate and enduring issues in public education

To reflect on the successes and challenges of the past year, including lessons learned
and best practices in virtual schooling

To build community among educational stakeholders throughout metropolitan Richmond

To support regular interactions where respect, empathy, and
commitment are demonstrated between stakeholders

To collectively reflect on the promise of public education in a new era




What is the promise of public education?

In connection with the theme of our 2021 MERC Conference, our "Promise of Public Education" podcast series brings together researchers and educational stakeholders from the MERC region to explore prominent facet in public education "in a new era." 


Abstract · The Promise of Public Education: Teaching in a New Era

Jesse Senechal (MERC Director, VCU SOE) spoke with Deanna Fierro (Math Teacher at Tuckahoe Middle School in Henrico), Patricia Woodberry (Gifted and Talented Teacher in Richmond), Stacie Taylor (Teacher, Bell Creek Middle School in Hanover), and Terry Dozier (former Director of the Center for Teacher Leadership and Richmond Teacher Residency in the VCU SOE).


Abstract · The Promise of Public Education: Student Services in a New Era

David Naff (MERC Associate Director, VCU SOE) spoke with James Carrigan (School Social Work Supervisor in Hanover), Erica Daniels (School Counselor at Vernon Johns Middle School in Petersburg), Donna Dockery (Director of Clinical Practice and an Associate Professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education, VCU SOE), Alex Peskin (Junior at Goochland High School in Goochland), Shenita Williams (School Social Worker in Henrico), and Lauren Wynne (Coordinator of Counseling Services in Chesterfield).


Abstract · The Promise of Public Education: School Leadership in a New Era

 Brian Maltby (Disciplinary Hearing Review Officer in Hanover) spoke with Monica Murray (Principal of John Marshall HS in Richmond), Christopher Martinez (Principal of Patrick Henry HS in Hanover), Robert Lowerre (Director of Maggie Walker Governor's School), and Jon Becker (Associate Professor of Educational Leadership in the VCU SOE).


Abstract · The Promise of Public Education: High School in a New Era

JoAna Smith (Dean of Students, L.C. Bird HS in Chesterfield) spoke with Caleb Kenney (class of 2021 graduate from Douglas Freeman HS in Henrico), Milagros Torres (Sophomore at L.C. Bird HS in Chesterfield), Mischa Roeung (Senior at Mechanicsville HS in Hanover), and George Hewan (Assistant Principal at Woodson HS in Fairfax).


Abstract · Promise of Public Education: Digital Equity in a New Era

 David Naff (MERC Associate Director, VCU SOE) spoke with Jon Becker (Associate Professor of Educational Leadership, VCU SOE), Matt Caratachea (Coordinator of Technology Integration and Innovation for Goochland), Andrew Harris (MERC Research and Evaluation Assistant, VCU SOE), and Joy Washington (School Librarian at Cool Spring Primary School in King William).


Abstract · The Promise of Public Education: Special Education in a New Era

Michelle Thompson (Occupational Therapist, Richmond) spoke with Tonya Epps (Elementary Intensive Support Self-Contained Teacher, Richmond), Kathryn Smith (Director of Exceptional Education, Henrico), and Serra De Arment (Assistant Professor of Special Education, VCU SOE)


Abstract · The Promise of Public Education: College in a New Era

Jose Alcaine (Director of Research Services, VCU SOE) spoke with Sera Lee (Graduate Student at VCU), Paige Elizabeth (Sophomore at VCU), and Sofia Alcaine (Sophomore at CNU)



The 2020 MERC Conference featured 20 breakout sessions with over 110 diverse perspectives across educational practice, policy, and research. Click to access resources and recordings from the sessions.

The spring and summer of 2020 have drastically changed the landscape of public education. A global pandemic caused schools to rapidly shift to online learning. Urgent calls for racial justice have resonated with stakeholders across metropolitan Richmond, just as they have across the country and the world. When students return to school this fall, in any format, it will be to a different educational climate than the one they abruptly left in the spring. In a time of physical distancing, it is more important than ever to find ways to connect across critical issues facing our students and educators. In that spirit, the 2020 Conference of the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium will be held online with a renewed emphasis on collaboration across educational research, practice, and policy. Sessions will each center around prominent questions in our current sociopolitical context. Our goal is to provide space for people to connect, learn, and strategize together so we can all be equipped to meet the rapidly evolving needs of students and educators throughout metropolitan Richmond.




16th Annual MERC Conference










The MERC Conference Planning Committee is comprised of representatives from the VCU School of Education as well as each of the seven MERC school divisions. 

VCU School of Education Committee Members

Sandy Ting, Graduate Student - Curriculum, Culture, and Change

Hannah Sions - MERC Research Assistant

Zoey Lu, Graduate Student - Research, Assessment, and Evaluation

Jesse Senechal, MERC Director

David Naff, MERC Associate Director

 Jenna Darby, Research and Evaluation Specialist

Andy Armstrong, Assistant Superintendent for Business Operations

Cindy Sinanian, Teacher - Elmont Elementary School

Brian Maltby, Disciplinary Hearing Review Officer

JoAna Smith, Assistant Principal - Highland Springs High School

Gwendolyn Price, Director of Research, Testing, and Evaluation

Michelle Boulanger-Thompson, Occupational Therapist 

Kristen Brown, Mentorship Program and Equity Specialist