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Kara Finnigan Awarded Spencer Foundation Grant to Study Chicago Schools

Kara FinniganKara S. Finnigan, associate professor and director of educational policy at the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester, has received a $463,000 grant from the Spencer Foundation to examine how formal and informal relationships among school district leaders support and constrain improvement.
Finnigan, a principal investigator on the study, is collaborating with principal investigator Alan J. Daly, associate professor at the University of California at San Diego, to target the role of social networks in organizational learning in Chicago public high schools. The project is impressive in its scope as Chicago is the third largest school district in the United States educating over 400,000 students. 
"We hope to answer critical questions about organizational learning and the way that resources, such as innovation, knowledge, and research-based practices, are shared within a district," said Finnigan of the three-year project. “While our work is especially critical for educators across the country who continue to face challenges in bringing about improvements in their lowest-performing schools, attending not just to the technical aspects but also to the relational aspects of reform is imperative for any school district undergoing change.”
Using social network and interview data, the researchers will study the interactions between and among leaders at the school site, central office, and intermediary organizations in Chicago. This work adds to their growing work that suggests the importance of social relationships in the work of school and district reform.
Finnigan's and Daly's previous research suggests that attention to the underlying social relationships in a district and, in particular, the flow of knowledge and practices between schools and central offices can determine the depth and spread of change efforts. "District leaders at the school and central office need to have opportunities to share knowledge and jointly develop strategies for improvement," she said.
Finnigan joined the Warner School in 2003 and teaches in its educational leadership program. She directs the doctoral and master's programs in educational policy. Her courses focus on educational policy and politics, sociology of education, and research methods.
This grant from the Spencer Foundation will expand upon the five-year study underway by Finnigan and Daly in the Rochester City School District in N.Y. and San Diego Unified School District in Calif. funded by the William T. Grant Foundation.
The Spencer Foundation was established in 1962 and investigates ways in which education can be improved around the world. Since 1971, the foundation has awarded approximately $250 million in grants.
About the Warner School of Education
Founded in 1958, the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education offers master’s and doctoral degree programs in teaching and curriculum, school leadership, higher education, educational policy, counseling, human development, and health professions education. The Warner School of Education offers a new accelerated option for its EdD programs that allows eligible students to earn a doctorate in education in as few as three years part time while holding a professional job in the same field. The Warner School of Education is recognized both regionally and nationally for its tradition of preparing practitioners and researchers to become leaders and agents of change in schools, universities, and community agencies; generating and disseminating research; and actively participating in education reform.
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Tags: education policy, educational leadership, Kara Finnigan, research