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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.

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, 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., 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 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 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 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.

Kristin Kane

Kristin Kane is the Dissemination Lead for the Lead for Literacy Center. As a Research Scientist at Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University, she also leads the Family Engagement and co leads the Targeted Technical Assistance strands of work at the National Center for Improving Literacy. Kristin has dedicated the last twelve years to advocacy and awareness, with a focus on family engagement and the intersection of public school, special education, and dyslexia. This includes her time as a family engagement specialist with the Virginia’s Center for Parent Training and Information, PEATC. Her work includes contributions at both the federal and state policy level related to dyslexia and literacy laws. Kristin is a founding member of the Decoding Dyslexia Virginia, a grassroots movement, and director of the nonprofit Friends of Decoding Dyslexia Virginia.

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 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.

Karen Shaffer

Karen Shaffer is a Technical Assistance Coach for the Lead for Literacy Center. Additionally, she uses her twenty plus years of educational experience in her role as a Research Scientist at Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University to support various literacy projects. Her work consists of collaborating with literacy experts and university researchers to assist educators, leadership, and educational agencies to integrate current research, evidence-based practices, and professional development to improve educator efficacy and increase student literacy outcomes. She is a certified School Administrator (PreK - 12), Elementary Teacher (K - 6), Secondary English Language Arts teacher (7 - 12), and Secondary Social Studies teacher (7 - 12).