About Us

The Lead for Literacy Center, operated by Boston University’s Wheelock College of Education and Human Development with funding from the United States Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, is a partnership among literacy experts, education leaders, university researchers, and technical assistance providers from the University of Oregon and American Institutes for Research.

Our mission is to provide technical assistance to school and district leaders that builds their capacity to facilitate improved teacher implementation of evidence-based literacy practices for educating students with, or at risk for, literacy-related disabilities.

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Meet our Team

Hank Fien Ph.D

Hank Fien, Ph.D.

Hank Fien, Ph.D., is the Director of Lead for Literacy (L4L) and is a Professor in the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University (BU). He also directs the BU TEACH research center at BU. His research is focused on the areas of early reading and early mathematics interventions for diverse learners in school settings. Dr. Fien’s most recent work is focused on scaling up evidence based practices in schools and to better understand the ecological factors that support or hinder the use of evidence.

Abby Foley

Abby Foley, M.Ed., PMP

Abby Foley, M.Ed., PMP, Deputy Director of the Lead for Literacy Center, is a Senior Researcher at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). In this role, she manages and delivers research-based training and technical assistance (TA) across three Office of Special Education projects, including L4L, the National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII), and the Collaboration for Effective Educator Effectiveness, Accountability, and Reform Center (CEEDAR Center). Her areas of expertise include literacy, special education, and multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS). Foley is a former special education teacher, and earned her master’s degree in special education from George Mason University.

Nancy J. Nelson Fien, Ph.D.

Nancy J. Nelson Fien, Ph.D.

Nancy J. Nelson Fien, Ph.D., is Co-Principal Investigator of the Lead for Literacy Center. She is an Assistant Professor of Special Education in Boston University’s Wheelock College of Education and Human Development. Dr. Nelson has more than a decade of experience leading federally funded research projects and providing technical assistance to state and local education agencies. Dr. Nelson’s work focuses on developing and evaluating reading and math interventions for students with or at risk for learning disabilities, the use of assessment in school settings, and the implementation of multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS). She is a nationally certified school psychologist and a former middle and high school special education teacher.

Lana Santoro, Ph.D.

Lana Santoro, Ph.D.

Lana Edwards Santoro, Ph.D., is Co-Principal Investigator of the Lead for Literacy Center. She is a Research Professor with the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University. Dr. Santoro focuses on projects related to professional learning, technical assistance, and instructional intervention for students with literacy-related disabilities. Her research emphasizes literacy instruction for struggling readers and writers with a specific interest in supporting student development of oral and written language skills, vocabulary, and comprehension. She is also a former special education teacher.

Allison Gandhi, Ed.D.

Allison Gandhi, Ed.D.

Allison Gruner Gandhi, Ed.D., Co-Principal Investigator of the Lead for Literacy Center, is a Vice President in the Human Services Program at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Dr. Gandhi has extensive knowledge about special education policy and practice, especially around identifying and communicating about evidence-based practices to support improved outcomes for students with disabilities. Dr. Gandhi has published and presented extensively on the topic of multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) and evidence-based practices in special education. She received her master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University and a doctoral degree in education policy from Harvard University.

Carol Dissen

Carol Dissen

Carol Dissen is the Leader of Professional Development and Technical Assistance for the Lead for Literacy Center, and supports implementation of literacy grants and technical assistance projects at the Center on Teaching and Learning at the University of Oregon. Carol’s work focuses on curriculum development, delivering professional development workshops, and providing in-building coaching and model lessons to support evidence-based practices to educators. Carol’s most recent work focuses on building strong Tier I and Tier II systems of instruction, intensification of interventions for non-responders, and building strong literacy leadership to support an effective Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS). She is a former elementary school educator.

Brian Gearin, Ph.D

Brian Gearin, Ph.D

Brian Gearin, Ph.D is the Leader of the Dissemination Team for the Lead for Literacy Center. Brian is a research associate at the University of Oregon’s Center on Teaching and Learning. He is interested in reading development, and policies and products that aim to support student literacy acquisition. Brian was previously a high school English teacher in Delaware.
Stephanie Jackson, Ph.D

Stephanie Jackson, Ph.D.

Stephanie Jackson, Ph.D., Senior Advisor for the Lead for Literacy Center and Managing Research Analyst at American Institutes for Research (AIR), directs policy, technical assistance, and evaluation projects for Federal, and state policymakers. 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. She has been recognized for her educational leadership in schools and her practical and realistic perspective to foster the learning of all students, including students with disabilities. Prior to joining AIR, Dr. Jackson worked as a general education and special education teacher, a special education administrator, an elementary school principal, and associate director of a research institute in a large, urban university.

Jess Surles

Jess Surles

Jess Surles is a Technical Assistance Coach for the Lead for Literacy Center. As a Research Scientist at Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University, she partners with literacy experts and university researchers to integrate current research and professional development for educators, leadership, and educational agencies. Her work includes curriculum development, supporting educators in implementation of evidence-based literacy practices, and establishing effective schoolwide reading systems. Jess also has experience as a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA), Title I Reading Specialist, instructor of English Language Learners, and classroom teacher.
Ursula Hill, Ed.D.

Ursula Hill, Ed.D.

Ursula Hill, Ed.D., Technical Assistance Coach for the Lead for Literacy Center, has more than 22 years of experience in public education as a as a school administrator, special educator, professional development trainer, and leadership coach with substantial knowledge and experience working with low-performing schools, Title I, school change initiatives, data analysis, and Special Education. In addition to her work on the lead for Literacy Center, Dr. Hill serves as the South Carolina State Manager for AIR's Southeast Comprehensive Center (SECC) as well as supports other states within the SECC network. Additionally, Dr. Hill has served as an Onsite Coordinator (lead partner services), Leadership Coach, and Special Education Instructional Coach assisting school improvement efforts. Dr. Hill earned degrees from Virginia Union University, the University of Virginia, and received the Doctor of Education degree from The George Washington University.

Paul Steinle, Ph.D.

Paul Steinle, Ph.D.

Paul Steinle is a Researcher at the American Institutes for Research. His primary responsibilities include supporting states, districts, and schools with MTSS implementation and providing technical assistance in literacy to teachers and administrators. Dr. Steinle also develops training materials for professional development. He has extensive experience in academic interventions for students with reading difficulties. Steinle holds a PhD in Special Education from the University of Texas at Austin and was formerly a special education teacher in Chicago Public Schools.
Nicol Christie

Nicol Christie

Nicol Christie is a literacy specialist at the American Institutes for Research with more than 20 years of experience providing technical assistance to K-12 educators and leaders. Her passion is professional development and growing educator efficacy. Ms. Christie has led numerous literacy-based projects where she contributed to curriculum design and alignment efforts. She is a certified K-8 teacher and holds a master’s degree in Curriculum, Instruction and Technology from Temple University.
Erin Clancy

Erin Clancy

Erin Clancy is a Technical Assistance Consultant at the American Institutes for Research. Her professional interests include enhancing Tier I/universal supports and services, instructional and systems coaching, and supporting equitable education systems that recognize and respond to individuality. Ms. Clancy has over 15 years of experience supporting and training teachers, establishing MTSS systems, and working with students in typical classroom settings as well and hospitals and alternative settings. She holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Texas and is working towards a doctoral degree at the University of Maryland.
David Fainstein

David Fainstein

David Fainstein is a doctoral candidate in the School Psychology program at the University of Oregon and works as a graduate employee at the Center on Teaching and Learning. He has experience working as a special education assistant and school psychologist in British Columbia, Canada, and has more recently served on projects in Oregon as an interventionist and data coach. Most recently, David secured a doctoral fellowship to research teacher coaching factors that improve student outcomes. His expanding research line includes the impact of coaching as professional development in an educational context, assessment for early identification of children at-risk for experiencing academic difficulty, and implementation science.
Kim Griggs

Kimberly Griggs

Kim Griggs is the software developer and user interface designer for the Lead for Literacy Center and a member of the Dissemination Team. As a Senior Research Assistant at the University of Oregon, Kim serves as the Digital Content Coordinator and Software Engineer for the Center on Teaching and Learning (CTL) on many federally funded projects. Kim has a master's degree in Computer and Information Science from the University of Oregon.
Sofia Bowman

Sofia Bowman

Sofia Bowman is a Communications Assistant at the American Institutes for Research. She leads social media and is a member of the dissemination team. Ms. Bowman also assists with outreach and social media for other projects at AIR and has worked with literacy organizations in past years, helping tutor both adults and children. Sofia received her Bachelor of Arts in History with a minor in Psychology from The College of William and Mary.
Anna Ingram

Anna Ingram

Anna Ingram provides Administrative Support to the Lead for Literacy Center. Anna has a BA in English and Creative Writing from West Virginia University and has worked for the Center on Teaching and Learning at the University of Oregon as part of the administrative staff since 2004. She splits her time between Centers and the CTL Clinic which offers tutoring to elementary age students struggling with reading or math. Anna is also the parent of a child who struggles with dyslexia, and has a vested interest in evidence-based instruction for children struggling with reading.

Our Partners

OSEP Ideas that Work
Boston University
University of Oregon
American Institute for Research
WETA Public Television and Radio
National Association of Elementary School Principals