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About the National High School Center

Who We Are

The National High School Center was established in 2005 and serves as a central source of information and expertise on high school-related issues for all students, with a special focus on students with disabilities, students with limited proficiency in English, and students at risk of school failure. The National High School Center is housed at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) in Washington, DC, and is funded by a grant provided by the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Office of Special Education Programs.

Subcontractors include Learning Point Associates, MDRC, the National Center for Educational Achievement (NCEA), and WestEd.

About the American Institutes for Research

The American Institutes for Research is an independent, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research on important social issues and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity.

The National High School Center draws on AIR's experience operating national research and technical assistance centers, the knowledge its experts have gained by conducting large-scale evaluations of prominent high school improvement efforts, and the expertise of its School District Consulting Services team made up of nationally recognized former district superintendents.


Key Staff

Joseph R. Harris
Director, National High School Center

photo: Joe Harris smilingDr. Joseph R. Harris, Managing Research Analyst for the American Institutes for Research, has an extensive background in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) reform as both a practitioner and researcher/evaluator, and more than two decades of experience as an administrator and high school teacher in an urban public school environment. Since October 2006, he has served as the Director of the National High School Center, a national research and technical assistance center funded by the U.S. Department of Education to help regions and states address both regular and special education high school issues related to implementing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provisions.

For the previous 12 years, Dr. Harris served as the Project Manager for a major technical assistance contract, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in support of the Systemic Initiatives, a multi-year NSF effort designed to promote improved mathematics, science, and technology education in 100+ state, rural, and urban school districts and regional consortia. Dr. Harris also has lead several K-12 projects, ranging from the Math Science Program Evaluation Advisory Board to a differentiated compensation project for Springfield (MA) public schools. Dr. Harris has served as project leader on numerous consulting projects in areas such as program evaluation, student assessment, strategic planning, education policy, program equity, minority student achievement, and public/private partnerships that have focused on improved program operations and outcomes.

Prior to joining The McKenzie Group and AIR, Dr. Harris served as an administrator and teacher in the District of Columbia Public Schools. For more than a decade, he coordinated the development, implementation, and operation of an automated instructional management system and played a major role in the development and implementation of the district's five-year computer literacy plan.

Dr. Harris holds a B.A. in Mathematical Statistics from the University of Florida, an M.A. in Secondary Education from the Catholic University of America, and a Ph.D. in Education Policy from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Lou Danielson
Director of Research, National High School Center

Lou Danielson Louis Danielson, a national leader in the field of special education, has been involved in programs that improve results for students with disabilities for over three decades. He brings an unparalleled and unique depth of knowledge in both special education policy and research to his current position as Managing Director with the American Institutes for Research.

Dr. Danielson was awarded a doctorate of philosophy in education from Pennsylvania State University. His career spans several roles in education including secondary school science and mathematics teacher, school psychologist, and teaching 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.

A frequent contributor to professional journals, Dr. Danielson has published extensively in the literature 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.

Helen Duffy
Technical Assistance Liaison and High School Literacy Coordinator, National High School Center

Helen DuffyDr. Helen Duffy is a Senior Research Analyst with extensive experience providing technical assistance and designing and conducting large-scale evaluations in the areas of high school reform, adolescent literacy, writing instruction and teacher education. She serves as a Technical Assistance Liaison and content expert in adolescent literacy and tiered intervention frameworks for the National High School Center, a role she has filled since the Center’s inception. As a Technical Assistance Liaison for the National High School Center, Dr. Duffy provides information and expertise on high school improvement for the network of Regional Comprehensive Centers that support capacity-building of states across the nation to effectively implement the goals of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In addition, she led the qualitative data collection and analysis for the Early College High School Evaluation and currently is the project director for the Fresno-Long Beach District Learning Partnership documentation and leads the federally-funded evaluation of the Long Beach School Leadership Project. Prior to joining the American Institutes for Research (AIR), Dr. Duffy was a high school teacher, teacher educator and Director of the Committee on Teacher Education for the National Academy of Education.

Chad Duhon
Project Manager and School Improvement Coordinator, National High School Center

Chad DuhonChad Duhon, a Research Analyst at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), serves as the Project Manager and School Improvement Coordinator for the National High School Center. Previously, Mr. Duhon served as the Research Team Leader for the Center and led the systematic review of research on policies, programs, interventions, and practices in high schools. At AIR, Mr. Duhon also leads the U.S. News & World Report’s high school rankings project. He has also worked on Reading First Annual Performance Report data collection and reporting efforts for the U.S. Department of Education and the evaluation of the Gates Millennium Scholars Program project. Prior to joining AIR, Mr. Duhon worked at Gallaudet University and as a teacher in the District of Columbia Public Schools.

Mr. Duhon holds a B.A. in Policy Studies from Syracuse University and an M.A. in Education Policy Studies from The George Washington University School of Education and Human Development.

Jessica Heppen
Early Warning System and Dropout Prevention Coordinator, National High School Center

Jessica HeppenJessica Heppen is a Principal Research Analyst at AIR who has led a number of large projects related to data use, dropout prevention, and technology in both urban and rural secondary schools. As a leader on the National High School Center, Dr. Heppen has published articles and practical tools regarding the U.S. dropout problem, establishing early warning systems (EWS), and improving low-performing high schools. In 2010, she was awarded two grants from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) to study the efficacy of two different approaches to supporting at-risk high school students. One grant is focused on the effects of online credit recovery in Algebra I in the Chicago Public Schools, and the other is testing the effects of the Check & Connect dropout prevention program on at-risk general education students in the San Diego Unified School District. Other studies led by Dr. Heppen include a large-scale random assignment study testing the effects of offering an online Algebra I course to broaden access to eighth graders in rural secondary schools, funded by IES through the Regional Education Laboratory—Northeast and Islands, and a study of data use for instructional improvement in urban districts funded by the Gates Foundation, conducted in collaboration with the Council of the Great City Schools.

Dr. Heppen holds a Ph.D. in social psychology from Rutgers University, where she taught courses in social psychology and quantitative methods. Prior to working at AIR, Dr. Heppen conducted evaluation studies of educational technology interventions in New York City secondary schools.

Yael Kidron
Research Team Leader, National High School Center

Yael KidronDr. Yael Kidron is a Senior Research Analyst at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). She specializes in research synthesis, meta-analysis, research methodology, survey development, and translating research to practitioner-friendly tools for practice implementation. In addition to leading the National High School Center’s Research Team, she is the Co-Project Director of the U.S. Department of Education Doing What Works initiative (sub-contract to WestEd), and part of the technical review and support team for i3 grantees. Previously, Dr. Kidron served as the Deputy Project Director of the IES’ What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), the Project Director of the evaluation of New York City Achievement, Reporting, and Innovation System (ARIS), the Project Director of the evaluation of the Florida Literacy and Reading Initiative (FLaRE), and the Project Director of the City Year Conceptual Project. As part of her experience in conducting research syntheses, Dr. Kidron has led the research review for the Scaffolded Inquiry project for the NYC Department of Education, the Character Education WWC topic review, and the research reviews of the Comprehensive School Reform Quality Center (CSRQ). Dr. Kidron was also a reviewer for the Building Engineering and Science Talent (BEST) systematic research review.

Dr. Kidron has a Ph.D. in psychology from Israel’s University of Haifa and conducted her post-doctoral work at Stanford University.

Maggie Monrad
Communications Team Leader, National High School Center

Maggie MonradMaggie Monrad, a Communications Specialist at the American Institutes for Research, serves as the Communications Team Leader for the National High School Center. She develops and executes local and national outreach campaigns to build awareness among educators, researchers, policymakers, media, and community members about evidence-based educational strategies and best practices within K-12 education, with a particular focus on high school improvement. She has authored, co-authored, and edited several National High School Center documents, including Approaches to Dropout Prevention: Heeding Early Warning Signs with Appropriate Interventions and Easing the Transition to High School: Research and Best Practices Designed to Support High School Learning, and her research interests include the areas of dropout prevention, education technology, and art education. Ms. Monrad is also a part of AIR’s corporate communications team and heads its social media efforts in addition to assisting with strategic planning, website management, research, writing, and project outreach support.

Ms. Monrad holds a B.A. in Art History from Duke University, and an M.A. in Art History from the Pennsylvania State University.

Mindee O’Cummings
Technical Assistance Liaison and Special Education Coordinator, National High School Center

Mindee O'CummingsMindee O'Cummings, a Research Analyst at AIR, has worked in the field of education for over 13 years. Her experiences include teaching in special and general education settings; working as a school-based technology coordinator; serving as an elementary and middle school vice-principal; conducting research and program evaluations; providing technical assistance to educators, researchers, and developers; and working with families whose children have disabilities.

Dr. O'Cummings currently serves as Special Education Coordinator and a Technical Assistance Liaison for the National High School Center, and supports Regional Comprehensive Centers and state education agencies in their effort to improve high schools. She also serves as a Task Leader for the National Evaluation and Technical Assistance Center for the Education of Children and Youth Who Are Neglected, Delinquent or At-Risk (NDTAC), and previously served as the Deputy Director for the Linking Assessment, Policy, and Practice in Children's Mental Health, for the Child, Adolescent and Family Branch of the Center for Mental Health Services at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services; the Project Director for the National Educational Technology Trends Study (NETTS), for the Policy and Program Studies Service at the U.S. Department of Education; and an Advisor for the National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI), a contract with the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education. As a Technical Assistance Liaison for the Elementary and Middle Schools Technical Assistance Center (EMSTAC), she assisted with the implementation of research-based practices to improve educational outcomes for children with disabilities. In both her current positions, Dr. O'Cummings has been able to blend her professional expertise with her personal passion of preventing students from dropping out of school through national conference presentations and the co-authoring of an Early Warning System tool that enables schools to use readily available data to identify students with a high likelihood of dropping out.

Dr. O'Cummings holds a B.S. and M.S. in Special Education from the University of New Mexico and a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Arizona State University. She has also served as adjunct faculty at both Arizona State University and George Mason University where she has taught classes in the areas of education and research methodologies.

Jenny Scala
Technical Assistance Liaison and High School Tiered Interventions Coordinator, National High School Center

Photo: Jennifer ScalaMs. Jenny Scala, a Research Analyst for AIR, serves as a Technical Assistance Liaison for the National High School Center. She has provided technical assistance to states, districts and schools for 10 years. Her experience includes assisting state education agency staff create 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 has also worked with districts to provide volunteers training aligned to district curriculum, and has provided social/emotional programs to both middle and high school students.

Ms. Scala holds a B.S. in Learning and Organizational Change from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Susan Bowles Therriault
Technical Assistance Liaison and Collaborative Projects Coordinator, National High School Center

Susan Bowles TherriaultDr. Susan Bowles Therriault, a Senior Researcher at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), serves as a technical assistance liaison and the Collaborative Projects Coordinator for the National High School Center. As the liaison to five regions covering 22 states, Dr. Therriault provides real-time technical assistance by way of research syntheses, policy analysis and product development to regions and states.Dr. Therriault is also a key member of the Center’s early warning system team and is the primary author of the Center’s Early Warning System Implementation Guide, and also co-developed the Center’s Early Warning System Tool v2.0.

In addition to her National High School Center work, Dr. Therriault has conducted research on: turning around low-performing schools, federal and state policy focused on state accountability and support systems, state implementation of Title I, practices and strategies in high achieving charter schools, school and district leadership, and comprehensive school reform models for middle and high schools.

Dr. Therriault has worked at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) for over five years and has been a researcher and technical assistance provider in the field of education policy aimed at improving outcomes from disadvantaged youth for over 15 years. Dr. Therriault holds and M.Ed. and Ed.D. in Education Policy and Leadership from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She serves as a member at-large of the Massachusetts School and District Accountability and Support Advisory Board and is the vice chair of the local school board.