Penn GSE Partnership

Research Team

Abigail Gray

Dr. Abigail Gray is the Principal Investigator of Shared Solutions at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Gray currently serves as a Stoneleigh Fellow and Senior Researcher at the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Through her Stoneleigh Fellowship, Abigail is working with the School District of Philadelphia on a research-practice partnership to improve school climate. Her current and recent federally funded projects total more than $7 million dollars, and include an efficacy study of an integrated literacy and science curriculum in Philadelphia kindergarten classrooms (funder: U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences) and two mixed-methods studies of school climate and discipline in Philadelphia schools (funder: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice). Previously, she was Co-Principal Investigator for the i3 evaluation of the scale-up of Reading Recovery (2016).

She has worked as a middle school teacher and school leader in the School District of Philadelphia, where she gained experience overseeing process-improvement projects. Gray holds a Ph.D. in Education Policy from the University of Pennsylvania, where she was an Institute of Education Sciences Pre-Doctoral Training Fellow, and where she currently teaches mixed-methods and other research methods courses. She is a certified reviewer of group design studies for the U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse.


Joy Lesnick

Dr. Joy Lesnick is Co-Principal Investigator of Shared Solutions. She is the Director of Research, Policy, and Practice at the SDP. In this role, Lesnick oversees the staff and projects in the Office of Research and Evaluation including overseeing the review of all external requests to conduct research in the District.

The Office of Research and Evaluation is one of three offices in the Evaluation, Research, and Accountability (ERA) Division, which leads the District’s use of data and evidence to improve outcomes for students. This is achieved through the annual School Progress Report; Qlik-BAM, a suite of interactive dashboards; ongoing program evaluations and research; the comprehensive planning process; and professional development and technical assistance offered to leadership, Assistant Superintendents, and Principals.

Prior to joining the District, Lesnick spent six years at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration, where she was the program officer for the What Works Clearinghouse, the Associate Commissioner for the Knowledge Utilization Division in the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), and Acting Commissioner of NCEE. She previously worked at the University of Chicago Consortium for School Research and Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.


Laura M. Desimone

Dr. Laura M. Desimone, Associate Dean for Research at the University of Delaware, was Principal Investigator of Shared Solutions at Penn GSE from 2014-2018. She currently leads Shared Solutions projects at the University of Delaware. Her research focuses on policy effects on teaching and learning in the core academic subjects, and policy implementation. Dr. Desimone holds a Bachelor of Arts from Wesleyan University, a Master of Public Administration from the American University, and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in public policy. She joined the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 2007 as an associate professor, and was promoted to professor in 2015. Before that, she served on the faculty at Vanderbilt University, worked as a senior research scientist at the American Institutes for Research, and was a post-doctoral research associate at Yale University's Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy. She also was a researcher at RAND in Washington, D.C., and at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Her work has been funded by the National Academy of Education/Spencer postdoctoral program, the National Science Foundation, and the Institute for Education Sciences. Her work has been published in a variety of journals including the American Education Research Association, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Review of Education Research, Teachers College Record, the Journal of Teacher Education, and the Elementary School Journal.


Tonya Wolford

Dr. Tonya Wolford was Co-Principal Investigator of Shared Solutions from 2014-2017. She is currently Chief of Evaluation, Research, and Accountability at the SDP. Wolford has extensive experience both conducting mixed-methods school evaluations and considering results of these evaluations in shaping school improvement efforts. Her expertise lies in bridging research and practice. She has managed substantial research projects, and negotiated and executed data-sharing agreements. Prior to assuming her current role, Wolford worked in research and evaluation at the District for eight years, starting as a Senior Research Associate and moving up to Deputy, Research, Evaluation and Academic Partnerships. Prior to joining the District, she was an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina, where she taught courses in Spanish and English language, linguistics and translation. She previously worked at the University of Pennsylvania conducting research on the effect of non-standard English dialects on reading in elementary school. Wolford began her career in journalism and then medical education, spending many years working on K-12 medical education pipeline programs for underrepresented minorities.

Wolford is a graduate of the University of Maryland, where she earned a B.S. in Journalism, and the University of Houston, where she earned a Master’s in Second Language Education and a Doctorate in Spanish Linguistics.

Wolford is vice-chair of the governing board for the Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic (RELMA). She also serves on the steering committee for the National Network of Education Researc/h-Practice Partnerships at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, Rice University.

Other Key Personnel

Adrienne Reitano, Senior Associate, The School District of Philadelphia Office of Research and Evaluation

Katie Pak and Adam Edgerton, doctoral students at Penn GSE

Former Shared Solutions Personnel

Shared Solutions acknowledges the critical contributions of David Kowalski, former survey statistician at the SDP, Andrew C. Porter, former Dean of Penn GSE, Kirsten Hill, former project coordinator of Shared Solutions at Penn GSE, as well as the efforts of Horatio Blackman and Gernissia Cherfrere.