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January 23, 2017
BIE’s New Senior Director of Research & Evidence: Dr. Sally Kingston

by John Larmer
Editor in Chief

One of the Buck Institute’s goals in its new strategic plan is “Build a (BIE) evidence base for quality PBL.” There is already lots of research showing PBL works, but we need more, and particularly for our own model of PBL and how it is being implemented. We intend to collect and use this data, according to our strategic plan, “to identify highest impact PBL approaches, as well as bring more teachers and leaders into the PBL “tent” and support BIE’s claims of student impact with funders, clients and policy makers.”

To lead our effort to meet this goal, we created the position of senior director of research and evidence, and have now hired someone with an outstanding resume to do the job—Dr. Sally Kingston. We had a robust pool of candidates, but Sally stood out not only for her research background but her long-time experience in education.

A Varied Background
Sally has 30 years of experience teaching and leading programs that promote improved outcomes for all students, and particularly those farthest from opportunity. Her national work includes serving as senior education analyst for AEM (Applied Engineering Management Corporation) where she provided technical assistance to State education agencies and districts to support US Department of Education funded programs focused on equity, literacy, personalized learning, early childhood education, and evidence-based practices. She also was a principal consultant for McREL International and led the development of a national principal leadership professional development program and companion tools, based on meta-analytic research findings.

On the local level, Sally served as director of college bound programs in the Carpinteria Unified School District (CA), principal in the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD), and teacher in the SBUSD and Santa Ana Unified School Districts. As a principal, Sally designed and developed Harding University Partnership School, a laboratory school in partnership with the University of California Santa Barbara, and the Harding Early Years Program, a privately funded site-based integrated early learning and care program to support children from birth to age 12 and their families.

Sally holds various degrees from the University of California Santa Barbara, including an MA and PhD in Educational Leadership & Organizations. She has a BA in Spanish from Keene State College in New Hampshire, and speaks, reads, and writes Spanish fluently.

Our chief program officer Brandon Wiley announced her hiring by saying:
“Sally brings a unique background as a teacher, school leader and researcher. Her work more recently at AEM has exposed to her to a variety of national initiatives and research efforts, which will help inform our work as we look to scale our work to more states. She is passionate about PBL and excited to help us ground our work in research-based approaches, as well as helping us build a research base for the field that demonstrates the efficacy and impact PBL can have for students and teachers. In addition to her passion for our work, it was abundantly clear during the interview process that Sally is a dynamic team player who is willing to roll up her sleeves to do the work, but can balance it with a great sense of humor and ability to have fun. All traits we value as a team!”

Sally will work part of the time in BIE’s Novato, CA office but continue to live the “Santa Barbara lifestyle” that includes lots of time spent in the outdoors, and sailing. She also enjoys travel, reading, and writing (on which I look forward to collaborating!).

Kids who need the most deserve the best

When I talked with Sally about why she’s so passionate about Project Based Learning, she said it’s because “kids who need the most deserve the best”—and that’s PBL. She was drawn to BIE in part because of its goal to bring PBL to “students who are furthest from educational opportunity,” another key phrase in our strategic plan.

Sally first got into PBL when she was a principal of an elementary school where the teachers decided they wanted to adopt the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. They had visited an IB school in Pasadena, CA with a large low-income English Learner student population, and saw students’ project work displayed all over the campus. In IB, projects are called “units of inquiry” that are based on transglobal themes and include social action. The teachers noted that the students’ level of engagement was quite a contrast with the basal reader-dominated approach commonly used in schools with high numbers of English Learners.

Once her school began using PBL, Sally too was struck by how powerful it was for their low-income ELL students, giving them the kinds of experiences available to kids elsewhere. Instead of reading about archaeology, for example, she now saw students learning about archaeology by engaging in digs as part of a project about ancient Egypt. She saw how PBL could give her students “access to all that rich territory—it opens up so many doors.”


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