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17th Annual MERC Conference

Friday, October 16, 2020
VCU Academic Learning Commons

Call for proposals, podcast series, and registration portal coming soon.

Voices in public education: Elevating the perspectives of diverse stakeholders in educational research, policy, and practice

Public education is a dynamic system that coalesces multiple stakeholders who bring unique and critical perspectives. Last year, school divisions in the MERC region served over 162,000 students from urban, rural, and suburban communities. They learned from over 13,000 teachers, who supported their development along with administrators, counselors, social workers, and other faculty, staff, and school division leaders. Schools engaged with the families of those students so they could partner in the education of their children. Community partners offered their support and perspective for enhancing the experiences and outcomes of students in our region. Every day, schools throughout metropolitan Richmond engage a large and diverse constituency, offering ongoing challenges as well as opportunities.

Among its foundational principles, MERC believes in the importance of incorporating multiple perspectives into our research. This begins with the selection of our study topics by our Policy and Planning Council to reflect current and enduring issues for educators and students in our region. Our studies are informed by study teams made up of representatives from each of our partnering school divisions who ensure that the research reflects the needs and experiences of public schools in metropolitan Richmond. We believe that connecting faculty in the VCU School of Education with educators and school division leaders helps us understand each other better. It enhances the quality of the research and increases the potential for it to make a positive impact on school, youth, and community outcomes. 

Considering how many stakeholders are involved in public education as well as educational research, it is critical for us to consider how effectively we attend to their voices in how we approach our work and decision-making. To explore this, the 2020 MERC Conference will bring together stakeholders from educational research, policy, and practice around the concept of “voice.” We will showcase how local educators, school division leaders, and community-engaged researchers prioritize the perspectives of those at the heart of their work. The goals of the conference are:

1. To highlight the ways that educators in the MERC region prioritize diverse perspectives in their daily practices.

2. To explore how MERC school divisions incorporate the voices of educators, students, and their families in their decision-making.

3. To showcase community-engaged educational research that honors the perspectives of educators and students

4. To accentuate the role of student and educator advocacy work in advancing public schools.

5. To promote dialogue and collaboration between different stakeholder groups on critical and enduring issues in public education.




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 Assistant Director of Research and Evaluation

     JoAna Smith, Spanish Teacher - Midlothian High School

Andy Armstrong, Executive Director for Business Operations

Cindy Sinanian, Teacher - Elmont Elementary School

Brian Maltby, Disciplinary Hearing Review Officer

Christina Acquilina, Innovative Learning Coach - Shady Grove Elementary School

Drew Baker, Professional Development Specialist

Gwendolyn Price, Director of Research, Testing, and Evaluation

Lynn Clayton-Prince, Director of Special Education

Michelle Boulanger-Thompson, Occupational Therapist 

Kristen Brown, Mentorship Program and Equity Specialist