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Welcome to the EPFP Alumni Blog! Here we highlight the work of EPFP alumni around the country by featuring guest blog posts about our three pillars: Policy, Leadership, and Networking. For more information or to report abuse of this feature, please contact the EPFP national program staff at

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Cross-Boundary Leader: Robert Feirsen

Posted By National Coordinator, Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Updated: Monday, August 13, 2018

Robert Feirsen (NY EPFP '13-14)


Career Path & Education Policy
Robert Feirsen is the Director of the School of Leadership and Technology Program at NYIT. He provides an academic background with a focus on technology for aspiring school leaders at many levels. The program is unique in the organic approach to technology and its use as a strategic mechanism for conducting the work of schools.  Feirsen previously served as Superintendent of Garden City (N.Y.) Public Schools for 12 years, and has administrative leadership experience at the deputy superintendent, and school principal levels.

Education Philosophy
Throughout my career, I had overseen many aspects of the education process. These experiences have allowed me to analyze and identify barriers to success in the education process. Funding is at the forefront of the education policy matter. We have traditionally underfunded public state education, and we have not figured out how to balance the Equity=Excellence equation. In the future, I hope to see a country that is able to actualize and make a commitment the vision of equity with excellence in education nationally.

Gaps in understanding from the high school to college level pose a threat to the success of both institutions. Although the two institutions act as a continuum, there are tremendous gaps in understanding of what each party does. Not only do the two institutions not share the same vocabulary, their understanding of the policies and best practice is vastly different. Good conversation and collaboration between each institution will help us reduce these barriers and result in positive change for all. 

We have made strides in the advancement of neuropsychology and information about how people learn, remember, and apply knowledge. But we have not mastered implications of these understandings at the daily instructional level.  The most critical questions in education are: How can we be sure that students learn, and what assessment tools are used for measuring what they learn? As educators, we are fulfilling our goal if we can ensure that students can apply what they are learning. 

EPFP Experience and Value
The EPFP experience was a pivotal moment in my career. As a school leader, the press of day-to-day events often prevented me from looking at the big picture issues in education policy, but EPFP widened my lens.  EPFP enabled me to step back and assess the overarching education climate and fine tune my approach. 

Upon completion of the program, I was able to bring the knowledge I gained from EPFP to my job. Specifically, during a conversation with the Board of Education I was able to give recommendations of best practices I learned at EPFP for addressing policy. As a result, we created a legislative affairs committee where we could work collaboratively with other districts that felt similar education needs. Overall, the knowledge I gained from EPFP has been funneled upward and has positively impacted the scope of the work of the Board of Education, to the benefit of my staff and student community. 

Networking and Leadership 
Networking is a great part of the program, and I am grateful for the experience and the connections I made during the Fellowship. Sharing knowledge is one of the most important parts of the work I do. When I work with great people, I am privileged to know that I can teach them something and that someday they will be able to apply what they learned in their careers. EPFP has also empowered me to reflect on my leadership style and become a leader who is strong yet gracious. Our work is people-centered and when dealing with people it’s important to be helpful, compassionate, and empathetic. The people we serve are not data points. Each person we serve has a story and journey and our goal is to add quality experiences to their lives. I found that there was much value in the program. The information provided, connections made, and speakers were most significant to my experience. EPFP has illuminated that nobody does anything alone. We rely on other people, and that’s a great thing because the more voices we can get into the mix, the stronger and better our decisions will be.


Tags:  alumni 

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From Policy Project to Statewide Task Force Leader

Posted By Sarah McCann, Monday, January 8, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, December 20, 2017

 Jenna Masone

CT EPFP 16-17

Principal, Wolfpit Elementary School & Legislative Task Force Co-Chair

As I sat in the EPFP seminar one fall evening in 2016, the Connecticut Chapter Facilitator, Leslie Abbatiello, relayed a story about a determined citizen who worked for seven years to pass legislation designating a state polka song.  It struck me as a triumphant example of the potential impact one citizen could have, and inspired me to consider what I might be able to accomplish to positively impact my community.  

As part of the ten month program, fellows were charged with completing a project.  Left intentionally vague for our group of accomplished professionals, there were no parameters, deadlines, or grades.  What was presented was a simple invitation to engage in public service as related to education.  Diverse perspectives and areas of interest led all of us in different directions.  As the Principal of Wolfpit Elementary School in Norwalk and an avid swimmer most of my life, I was interested in public policy as related to water safety awareness.  Preliminary research revealed the rates of unintentional drowning for children ages birth to eighteen have remained relatively stagnant both nationally and locally for decades.  Drowning continues to be a leading cause of death in children.  Of note is the disproportionate representation of African American and Hispanic children that comprise two-thirds of all deaths.  In addition, ninety percent of deaths of children on the autism spectrum are due to unintentional drowning.  

There has been relatively little legislative response or public policy in Connecticut pertaining to the general issue of water safety awareness.  Given the number of preventable deaths and their profound impact on families, I was inspired to take action.  Though I had never heard of a legislative policy brief before EPFP, a quick internet search provided several templates and in two snow days’ time it was written.  I connected with the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children, and Seniors.  The Executive Director read the policy brief and was enthusiastic about raising awareness at the state level.  As a non-partisan arm of the general assembly, the commission arranged for a round table discussion and press conference with legislators from both sides of the aisle.  I connected with several family foundations and state agencies, and invited additional participants.  We followed with a press conference to announce the Governor’s declaration of May as Water Safety Month across the state.  

The participants’ interest in and commitment to the issue at the round table discussion was clear and broad-based. As a result, the Commission used its statutory capacity to create the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children, and Seniors Water Safety Awareness Legislative Task Force.  At the annual board meeting, I was appointed Co-Chair of the Task Force and charged with appointing members, developing a draft set of deliverable objectives, developing a schedule of meetings, and producing a year end report.  The Task Force is comprised of individuals representing the House, the Senate, the Department of Education, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Office of Early Childhood, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Public Safety, the YMCA, the American Red Cross, the American Association of Pediatrics, the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, Stew Leonard III Children's Charities, and the Zac Foundation.    

The Task Force serves as a forum for water safety awareness experts and legislators to exchange their expertise, and to take meaningful action on behalf of children.  The members’ collective efforts are evolving into a statewide response with the goal of reducing the number of unintentional drownings and hospitalizations.  The path is forged and the process has begun.  What started as a fleeting idea evolved into public action in less than one year.  The EPFP experience provided the foundation, the context, and the tools for me to initiate what I hope to have a profound, positive impact on children and families.

Tags:  alumni  leader  principal  public service  water safety 

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Data Use Principles for Education Leaders

Posted By National Coordinator, Friday, December 1, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Jordan E. Horowitz, Vice President, Institute for Evidence-Based Change

Jordan Horowitz is responsible for developing and managing new initiatives in educational collaboration, research support and technology tools, and data use. He has extensive experience in applied research methods, program evaluation, educational partnerships and comprehensive school reform. He is an alum of CA EPFP ’92-93

 In our recent book from Harvard Education Press, Creating a Data-Informed Culture in Community Colleges: A New Model for Educators, my colleague Brad Phillips and I present a data use model for student success grounded in the latest research on how people and organizations process information. Educators have focused on increasing data literacy for a few decades now, with little movement on the needle for increasing student success. We argue that, with so many advances in understanding human neuroscience, judgment and decision-making, and organizational habits, educational institutions should capitalize on what we have learned about our ability to present information in ways that will maximize its use.

Educational leaders have a central role to fulfill in improving the use of information to support student success. There are many lessons to be gleaned from our book. I thought I’d present just five important ones here.

First, you know the old saw about the difference between data and information. Unfortunately, most people think they know what it means but we argue they do not. Unlike data, information is usable, useful, and actionable. To be usable, it must be in a format that is easily understood. The story must be clear. Figuring out what’s important in a table should not be like playing Where’s Waldo?. To be useful, it must link clearly to student success efforts. When we coach educational institutions we do not allow anything to be presented, “for information only.” Our rule is that everything must be presented for one of two reasons: (a) it is mandated for compliance reporting or (b) it is linked to student success efforts. The information must also be actionable; it should not be a dead end. All information should answer the question, “Are we being effective in our student success efforts?”

Second, know that different information is needed by different folks. Administrators typically focus on the big goals such as graduation rates, persistence to degree, or transition to the next stage in a student’s life (middle to high school, high school to postsecondary education or employment, two-year college to four-year university or career, etc.). These are lagging indicators, which cannot be influenced directly. Once you have this information about a group or cohort of students, they are already out the door. Faculty and program staff, on the other hand, focus on leading indicators. Leading indicators are actionable and lead to your lagging indicators. Examples of leading indicators are course success rates, formative test results, attendance, and term to term persistence. When presented with this information, subpopulations of students can be identified for supports and decisions can be made whether to modify an intervention to improve success, scale it up from an initial pilot, or abandon it for something potentially more impactful.

Third, reduce the amount of information disseminated. When we work with educational institutions we’re typically introduced to volumes of tables and charts. New student information systems come preloaded with canned reports on all kinds of metrics. However, just because it’s available doesn’t mean it’s necessary. Go back to the first lesson, above. All of this data causes confusion and doesn’t tell the actionable story. Educators should not have to be analysts. Find out the metrics—the leading indicators—your faculty and staff need to decide if they’re being successful and what changes they need to make. Then give it to them. We advocate for focusing on what matters rather than providing everyone on campus with an overwhelming amount of data that, ultimately, is useless to them because they do not know what information is the most important.

Fourth, focus on high-impact, research-based, scalable interventions—whether they’re student supports, policies, professional development, or others. While there are a number of high-impact, research-based interventions, the actual intervention needs to be aligned with the challenge presented. If a college has an issue with course completion, for example, a First Year Experience program can help a little, but it is really designed to help students “do college” and mostly affects term-to-term persistence. If a high school is struggling to increase success among English learners, don’t choose a support program that is geared to the general student population. Avoid implementing too many interventions at small scale; what we call the ornaments on a tree approach. Go for one or at most two big bets.

Fifth, hold folks accountable for their leading indicators. Start with a logic model that clearly describes what you plan to do and why you expect it to make a difference. Your logic model should identify the lagging indicators or big goals, typically referred to as logic model outcomes. Backward map to the leading indicators you intend to track and which, if accomplished, ensure your lagging indicators will be achieved. In a logic model these leading indicators are typically are referred to as outputs. Then hold folks accountable for these leading indicators. Holding faculty accountable for graduation rates is frustrating because they cannot directly influence that indicator. But holding them accountable for course success rates (students demonstrating proficiency) is within their control. They can use formative assessments to identify which students require extra supports. High school faculty can identify students with chronic absenteeism to implement related interventions.

Being a good data use leader means enabling focus by reducing the amount of information available, ensuring the information is easily understood and supports action, and holding folks accountable for indicators within their power to change. When it comes to using data to support student success, less is definitely more.

You can learn more about the Institute for Evidence-Based Change at

Jordan Horowitz's recent book, Creating a Data-Informed Culture in Community Colleges: A New Model for Educators, is featured in our EPFP alumni book corner

Tags:  community college  data  leadership 

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Cross-Boundary Leader: Eve Odiorne Sullivan (MA EPFP '12-13)

Posted By Sarah McCann, Monday, November 13, 2017
Updated: Thursday, October 19, 2017

Eve Sullivan is the Founder and Executive Director of Parents Forum and author of Where the Heart Listens


Parents Forum and Parent Peer Support

I founded Parents Forum with the purpose of raising individuals’ emotional awareness and improving their communications skills. I believe that our efforts to develop positive ways of expressing feelings and managing our internal and interpersonal conflicts are the core of good parenting and healthy family life.


We don't receive a lot of solid preparation or orientation for being a parent. There’s preparation for childbirth, which happens whether you are prepared or not. Once you have the baby, a lot of parenting training has been, and still is, focused on practical skills: what you need to know how to do. Now, though, there is growing emphasis on social and emotional learning (SEL) in a child’s early development and how parents’ support for this enhances children’s intellectual achievement. It is great that SEL aspects of early childhood development are in the spotlight, but the focus is still on the child and on how parents can help their children.


The focus needs to shift toward parents. When parents are encouraged to seek help for themselves they can make positive changes that cascade to benefit the child and other family members.


Parents Forum grew out of my experiences getting help at a time when my kids were going through some typical adolescent experiences, that is, misbehaving! Some of it was pretty extreme, and I am thankful for the therapeutic community that helped my family, now two decades ago. I learned so much from the experience that I wanted to take it, teach it and now give it away. The key question is “How can one parent help another without putting that parent down?” I want Parents Forum resources and workshops to be accessible and available to other parents, but it’s a hard sell because raising children is so personal.


Cross-Boundary Leadership

My vision is, ultimately, cross-sector: I believe that all schools, faith communities and workplaces -- and youth sports organizations, too -- should routinely offer courses for parents. There should be classes for parents at every important stage that their child goes through and at every life transition they experience themselves. Both peer-led and professionally led programs can teach parents about developmental stages and age-appropriate expectations for their children’s behavior. Being an effective parent for a teenager is different from being an effective parent for a kindergartener, after all.


A cross-boundary leader needs to be willing to talk to and reach out to all kinds of people, and I like doing that. One example might be the prison workshops Parents Forum gave for several years. Of the men in the program, at MCI-Norfolk in Massachusetts, most had lost direct contact with their children, but they still carried their family experiences in their hearts. They welcomed the opportunity that we offered to share and, to some extent, heal their past suffering.


If we want to effectively access resources or share our own, we have to be willing to talk to all kinds of people. Be willing to strike up a conversation. I like the retail aspect of the work I do, helping just one parent in the moment, and I believe this is important. I learn something from each interaction about how – and sometimes about how not – to help someone else.


Parents’ needs change, and their skills need to change as well along the way. We need to normalize participation in such programs, so that parents say “Well, wait a minute, I need an orientation on how to be and what to do as a parent of a pre-teen or teen,” etc. Parenting education is still in its early stages, but we need to normalize both provision of and participation in parenting education programs.


Leadership Lessons Learned

Keep on keeping on and don’t be afraid to take that one next step. The one after will become apparent. Be ready to ask for help and to correct course when needed. I certainly did not anticipate, at the start, Parents Forum’s 25th anniversary this year. While we have only a few dollars in the bank -- I thought we would be bigger by now -- I’m very happy with the progress we have made and recognition we have achieved.


Developments in the past months have been significant for Parents Forum. We have a pilot group going in Winthrop and are working with pediatricians and with the superintendent of schools. I see that we need to aim higher in seeking community involvement. As important as grassroots work is, community leaders in various sectors need to be involved in advocacy for parenting education.


EPFP Experience and Value

EPFP was important for me professionally because I hadn’t done any graduate study since my Harvard MAT at the beginning of my teaching career. The program gave me a chance to re-engage with educators. I have done other programs and had teaching experiences that were not so rewarding as EPFP. A main advantage was being in a cohort of people from different fields. Our group included a nutritionist, principals, and an elected school committee member, as well as classroom teachers. EPFP gave me a welcome opportunity to connect or re-connect with people in the larger school community. To be in a cohort with other teachers was very useful for my professional goals as a parenting educator and a writer.


EPFP is relevant today because it is both accessible and focused. The program format gave me a chance to talk with a diverse group of people. Although I am ‘a one-issue candidate’ and was always beating the drum for parent engagement, I think that the others in the group appreciated the perspectives I brought to our discussions.


Parenting education is relatively new as a profession: teachers and administrators seldom hear from people in this field. I had the sense from my EPFP cohort that they welcomed the chance to step back from their daily experiences and connect about something real. What is more basic to the success of our common educational endeavors than students’ family experiences? Parents are the people who prepare young people for school and for life. When parents do a good job at home, teachers have a much greater chance of success in the classroom.


Additional Resources by Eve Sullivan

 Attached Thumbnails:

Tags:  alumni  parents  SEL 

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Cross-Boundary Leader: Ellie Wilson (MN EPFP '13-14)

Posted By Sarah McCann, Monday, October 9, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Ellie Wilson is an Education Specialist and Research Coordinator at the Institute on Community Integration located in the University of Minnesota. In this role she works on policy and program initiatives that support people with disabilities. She previously served as the Director of Education for the Autism Society of Minnesota, a state-based nonprofit organization committed to education, support, and advocacy designed to enhance the lives of those affected by autism from birth through retirement. She oversaw programming, training, and general education for individuals with special needs, their families, and community members. Wilson has more than ten years of experience working with children with special needs in various settings.


Disability and Quality of Services

At the Institute on Community Integration we’re thinking about the quality of life and therefore the quality of services that people receive in the community. Within ICI, the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Home and Community Based Services Outcome Measurement (RRTC-OM) focuses on how we think about the quality of services that are provided to people with disabilities, in their homes and in their work places. Many of these services are funded by government dollars, so there is a lot of public interest in the quality of their life. Past measures tended to focus on money spent on services, staffing ratio, and the movement of people from institutions to the community. It has become increasingly important to demonstrate the effectiveness of the services for persons with disabilities. You do think about personal outcomes, but the other part of quality is what happens in the aggregate and how we look at the quality of systems. There are a lot of issues that we talk about in disability policy that exactly mirror issues that we addressed in EPFP. For example, equity, policy transparency, and allocation of services. At ICI we talk a lot about system performance, such as funding and how we use data and data management to support policy.

RRTC-OM is funded by the National Institute for Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitative Research. Over the next five years the center’s job is to think about how we as a broad community define quality of life and then how we measure it. Even though I live in Minnesota and think about local issues, the center works nationally. Measuring quality is an interesting field that was new to me, but ties to my EPFP experience.

I jumped from a small but well-respected nonprofit organization to ICI. I loved that job and I continue to support their work, but I couldn’t turn down this opportunity to work with different leaders in the field of disability policy – whether that’s education, legal, human rights, or health policy. I’m still at the beginning of my career, so to work with these colleagues and develop a national network means a lot. EPFP had that same interdisciplinary and national lens so I think about it all the time.  


EPFP Experience

I came into EPFP because of another alum who went through the Minnesota program a few years before me. She described the program as being a place to surround yourself with intellectual conversation with well-rounded individuals. I felt that being involved in this type of group would inform the type of impact I wanted to make on the policy and communities I work with. It was a privilege to sit around a table with people who have such thoughtful perspectives and intelligence to contribute to the conversation.

What is so valuable about the EPFP process is that even though the core and fundamental ideas of the program were in education policies (which is important and tied to disability policy), when we were having our sessions in MN and in DC, we didn’t only approach a single policy but an approach to highly networked interdisciplinary collaborative efforts to all types of policy change. The natural effect is that even as you work in different areas, you can apply those experiences and lessons very broadly and I think that is unique to the professional programs out there.

Networking was also a big part of my EPFP experience. The Minnesota coordinators do an excellent job of connecting Fellows to people with all kinds of perspectives and careers, and it’s really inspiring to recognize all of those important players in your field. I come to DC all the time and I feel there are EPFP graduates everywhere.


Leadership Lessons Learned

The deeper I get into this work, the more I realize that leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Instead, it’s more about effective coordination of the teams around you. I also think networking is one of the most important skills of a good leader. Successful leaders need to be inclined toward connecting and cooperating with as many potential or realized stakeholders as possible. While working among multiple stakeholders can also pose its own challenges, it leads to slow and steady progress and sustainability.

The most important lesson is the importance of laying groundwork early for strong relationships with those that could be allies in policy improvement and reform. Having the strong relationships early will make it a lot easier to try to plan out partnerships in the future. Sometimes you realize part way into a project or research that you can bring on a partner that would be effective or engage a new stakeholder. One thing I love about ICI is they’ve done a great job of creating a national advisory team before the research even began. It is the smartest way to do it, I can’t imagine doing it another way.


Cross-Boundary Leadership and Challenges

There is no single context in which policy is important to individuals and families with autism or other disabilities; they must navigate through housing, law enforcement, education, and employment sectors as does everyone. This naturally makes my work cross-boundary because we’re always working in so many contexts. The disability sector is unique because it crosses both disciplinary and partisan lines, which allows us the opportunity to engage people from across all spectrums who have a stake in this work.

The more work that I do advocating for local, state, and federal policy, one thing has become crystal clear to me. It is important and necessary to look at policy from an interdisciplinary, cross-leadership perspective. There is no way the hard work people do can advance to policy improvement and reform without the cooperation of folks from all types of fields. Even the work I am doing now, I am regularly in contact with all kinds of supporters who come from all kinds of fields. It is a challenge and a privilege to be able to work across that many disciplines with the same policy goal, but it is imperative to our success for anything we want to promote as our research progresses.

One of the biggest challenges is the juggling that comes with interdisciplinary cooperation and collaboration. Though that’s the way to succeed it also sometimes means that you have to consider the priorities and needs of people who are coming from different policy angles – for example, budgets, unifying message, infrastructure concerns. It can be difficult to create something that captures the priorities across all of those disciplines. But when you can do it effectively and collaboratively, even in the toughest political climate, you have a shot at making positive change. 

Tags:  alumni  disability  leadership  research 

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