As THINK Together has grown and expanded exponentially since 2006, the commitment to data-driven decision making has also grown.
THINK Together is committed to engaging in both internal and external evaluation and research practices that inform and guide our actions toward continuous program improvement.
Jenel Lao, Ed.D., Executive Director of Research & Evaluation, is responsible for developing and implementing an organization-wide evaluation strategy. Her work supports both program improvement processes and reporting needs through the collection, examination and guided use of academic achievement data and survey feedback. Prior to joining THINK Together, she taught at both middle school and high school, and later managed a large, district-wide implementation of some of the state’s first after-school programs. Dr. Prenovost graduated with honors from the University of California, Davis, and earned a doctorate of education from the University of California, Irvine. Her research examined outcomes from some of the first after-school programs in California.
Tracy Bennett, Ph.D, Director of Action Research, oversees data collection, facilitates regular data reflection sessions, and promotes practical application of data-driven decisions in the field. Specifically, she communicates trends in evaluation data to field staff and facilitates discussions that lead to program-specific decisions that address the needs of the students served by THINK Together. Additionally, Tracy continually collaborates with THINK Together field staff and school administrators to create systems of alignment between programs and the schools they serve. She began her career as a program evaluator for the Center for Educational Partnerships (CFEP) at UC Irvine, working on several federal and state funded educational outreach grant programs including GEAR UP, Early Academic Outreach Program and 21st century After School Programs. She also was an independent research consultant for Santa Ana Unified School District. She received her Ph.D. in Education in June 2013 from UC Irvine School of Education with a specialization in Educational Policy and Social Context (EPSC). Her master’s research proposal centered on educational program evaluation. Tracy earned her B.A. in Criminology from UC Irvine in 2003, and an M.A. in Educational Policy and Research from the University of Michigan in 2004.
This Evaluation team facilitates the strategic development and collection of meaningful data that serve as measures of student progress and stakeholder satisfaction. In particular, in order to help determine the academic impact of each type of program, THINK collects academic performance data from its district partners, but also collects survey feedback from multiple stakeholders. In order to ensure staff put this data into action, the evaluation team engages staff in regular data reflection practices that guide them in using these outcomes to inform program development both as process and outcome measures.
Externally, THINK has developed a strong research partnership with the School of Education at UC, Irvine, under the leadership of the Department Chair and national afterschool expert Dr. Deborah Vandell that includes both external evaluation work as well as the establishment of a THINK Together Fellowship.
In 2008, THINK Together became a state-approved supplemental educational services provider in California and partnered with the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) to implement the High-Quality Supplemental Educational Services (SES) and 21st Century Community Learning Centers After-School Partnerships Demonstration program, one of just five projects awarded nationally. The projects served as models of how these two federally authorized afterschool initiatives can be coordinated so that a greater number of students enroll in, participate in, and complete academic after-school services that improve their achievement in reading and math. Throughout this three-year study, UC Irvine consistently found significant academic gains related to student attendance in THINK SES and other THINK programs.
In addition, THINK Together has a unique commitment to being research-driven and established the THINK Together Doctoral Fellowship with UC, Irvine in 2009. The Fellowship was awarded to Tracy Bennett, THINK Together’s Director of Action Research, who received her Ph.D. in June 2013. Under the advisement of respected afterschool expert Dr. Deborah Vandell, Tracy’s research examined the relationships between afterschool and school day alignment and standardized test scores. Tracy’s body of work will serve to inform the afterschool community about promising practices, as well as techniques and strategies that will help develop afterschool programs that can deliver high-quality programming and have a measurable impact on the academic success of students.
For a summary of her research, click here.