Collaborative partnerships are the underpinning of all of Westat’s working relationships, but the partnerships it forms with foundations have some special features, says Joy Frechtling, Ph.D., a Vice President in Westat’s Education Studies Group: “With foundations, we share an intellectual partnership and a mutual sharing of expertise. They impart their deep knowledge about a particular topic, and we help them develop the best ways to address their questions.
“Because they have specific mission-oriented goals, foundations bring a unique passion and a deep commitment to solving those needs,” continues Dr. Frechtling. “Their commitment to a goal is ignited by an excitement to understand what works and what doesn’t about an initiative or program. That’s where our expertise in evaluations and technical assistance comes in.
“We begin our work by asking precise questions to gain clarity about their goals; and as thought partners, we consider various ideas, debate them, and look at alternatives,” she notes. “We do this all the while ensuring a collaborative relationship.”
Dr. Frechtling adds that the nature of tasks also differs with foundations: “It is more developmental and evolutionary, which stems from their excitement to explore other avenues to address the issue at hand.”
To support this fluidity, Westat’s ease in adapting to change is set into motion. “We have always been able to quickly adjust to changing needs by first asking the right questions and listening to the answers,” Dr. Frechtling explains. “We are equipped with a wide range of tools to draw on in conducting mixed-methods research tailored to a specific set of objectives and provide the varied reporting and messaging that best serves the foundation.”
For several years, Dr. Frechtling has served as the project director for an impact evaluation of the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools (VILS) program. VILS provides tablets and other digital devices (and 24/7 connectivity) to teachers and students in underrepresented schools to increase personalized learning. With professional development, teachers can optimally integrate the technology into their instructional program. Westat’s evaluation, says Dr. Frechtling, showed VILS had a tremendously positive effect on teachers’ ability to communicate with students and deliver personalized instruction to both the general student population and special needs students. Evidence of this successful impact was great news for the client and reinforced the value its mission to extend digital learning to all.
“What I like best about working with foundations,” she adds, “is their passion to make improvements. It’s very energizing!”
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