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.

Kristin Kane

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.

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.
Karen Shaffer

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).
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.
Lisa Bates headshot

Lisa Bates

Lisa Bates is a consultant on the Lead for Literacy Center. She has extensive experience supporting districts to build, implement, and sustain MTSS in the area of reading. She has trained numerous districts in topics such as developing solid core reading instruction, using assessments to drive instruction, intervention systems, data-based decision making, and teaming. She also coaches districts to develop the infrastructure and capacity to sustain their practices. Lisa holds a PhD in School Psychology from the University of Denver.  

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.
Cory Stai, M.ED.

Cory Stai, M.ED.

Cory Stai, M.ED., is a Senior Technical Assistance Consultant at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). His expertise includes literacy instruction and assessment, MTSS, and implementation science. In his previous role as the state literacy specialist for a state education agency, he oversaw the technical assistance and data collection for third grade reading proficiency and supported ELA standards implementation. He holds a master’s degree in literacy education from the University of Minnesota and was formerly a secondary ELA teacher, K–12 reading intervention specialist, and adjunct instructor.
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