University's New Public Service Awards Highlight Faculty Outreach


Anne E. Bromley

Below is an excerpt from UVAToday, where the full story is published.

Two teams of researchers at the Curry School of Education and Human Development were honored with one of the newest University of Virginia awards.

UVA’s Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost created a new awards program to commend faculty for the contributions their public service makes to student learning, the advancement of scholarship and creative activity, and the University’s own public mission.

The first recipients were honored at a dinner Wednesday night.

The awards – modeled on the All-University Teaching Awards – recognize faculty members’ commitment to service and to sustaining community partnerships. The winning efforts also involve students who’ve worked on the various projects.

Vice Provost for Academic Outreach Louis Nelson, a professor of architectural history, selected and assisted the award committee, composed of faculty and community members.

“Faculty at the University of Virginia have been doing the hard work of public service for a very long time,” Nelson said. “The establishment of this new set of awards appropriately recognizes those faculty whose research and teaching is directed to community and public flourishing.

“We have long been a university that seeks to graduate citizen-leaders, and this series of awards recognizes those faculty who undertake the hard, but transformative work of teaching in real-world contexts through community partnerships. And we have long been a leading research university with a commitment to public well-being, and these awards recognize those faculty who do that work collaboratively across disciplines and with the eye to addressing real challenges that confront communities.”

Provost Awards for Collaborative Excellence in Public Service

Policy Partnerships: Daphna Bassok and Ben Castleman, Leadership, Foundations and Policy Department, Curry School of Education and Human Development; Luke Miller and Jim Wyckoff, Educational Policy program and EdPolicyWorks Research Center

EdPolicyWorks is a collaboration between the Curry School of Education and Human Development and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy that seeks to convene researchers from across the University and the state to focus on questions of educational policy and the competitiveness of the labor force in an era of globalization.

Community partner organizations: Virginia Community College System; Gov. Northam’s Workforce Development Office; Virginia Department of Education; D.C. Public Schools; Louisiana Department of Education; several Virginia school divisions, including Richmond City Public Schools

Summary: Faculty from the Curry and Batten schools are working to address socio-economic and racial achievement gaps among early childhood, K-12 and college-aged students. They collaborate with policymakers and state agencies in Virginia, the District of Columbia and Louisiana, providing guidance on where and how to make evidence-informed investments toward improving student learning outcomes. Researchers, with the assistance of students from undergraduate to doctoral levels, work on several different policy topics, including the quality of early learning environments, teacher retention, school quality and community college success.

Improving Early Childhood Education in Virginia: Jason Downer, professor in the Department of Human Services, director of the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, Curry School of Education and Human Development; Anita McGinty, professor of curriculum, instruction and special education, director of PALS, Curry School; Kathy Neesen, research scientist in the Department of Human Services, Curry School; Jessica Whittaker, research assistant professor in the Department of Leadership, Foundations and Policy, Curry School; Amanda Williford, research associate professor in the Department of Human Services, Curry School

Community partner organizations: Virginia Department of Education; Virginia school divisions, including Amherst County; Elevate Early Education; Virginia Early Childhood Foundation; Smart Beginnings network

Summary: In the field of early childhood education, the data is clear: an investment in the early years of life is one of the best investments we can make for our children and society. The return is life-long; children who experience effective early childhood programs are more likely to finish college, secure high-paying jobs and be healthier and happier later in life. And yet far too few children experience high-quality early childhood education from birth to age 8.

This team of Curry School faculty members reflects the collaboration of the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning and the PALS initiative in Curry’s Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education. The center is “an interdisciplinary research and development center whose core mission is to bring the best of developmental and education science together to inform application of best practices at scale.” The PALS program is a 20-year state and academic partnership which focuses on supporting young children’s literacy success through early screening and detection.

These researchers work with community partners at all levels to translate “what we know” from developmental and education science into the policy and practice of “what to do” within the field of early childhood education. 

Five key initiatives emphasize how collaborative engagement is improving the quality of early education through a coordinated focus on assessment, high-quality curriculum, educator supports and training in the Virginia early childhood education community and setting a path of improved educational experiences for Virginia’s youngest citizens.