IDEPEL Graduate Explores Where Urban Education and Pink Sands Meet

Friday, April 21, 2017

by Kayla E. Lane '17

Before enrolling in SJU’s Interdisciplinary Doctorate of Educational Leadership Program (IDEPEL), Nyshawana Francis-Thompson was a special education teacher and liaison for the School District of Philadelphia. While the rewards of teaching ignited her passion to make a bigger impact in the lives of others, she credits the program for giving her the confidence and skills to achieve this goal.

“I evolved as a leader through each class, and I knew I was ready to lead at the macro level just after I finished my course work,” says Francis-Thompson. “The program gave me confidence in my technical research skills, helped to ground me in ethical principles, and also gave me a solid theoretical foundation in my field.”

In the midst of her studies, she married, had a baby, and researched her dissertation in Bermuda, her husband’s homeland, after talking to educators in the island’s public school system.

“I became intrigued by Bermuda’s efforts at education reforms,” says Francis-Thompson.

She notes that while most people think of Bermuda as a picturesque location with pink sandy beaches and a tropical climate, her dissertation, “Beyond the Pink Sand: Case Studies of Experiences of Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS) Implementation in the Bermuda Public School System” examines both the structural and educational hurdles the island must overcome.

“My research looks at an educational reform effort in Bermuda's educational system, MTSS, which is a systematic process of providing academic and behavioral supports to the students in their schools,” says Francis-Thompson. “I uncovered the contextual issues faced by smaller, under-resourced countries as they try to put in place large-scale educational reform efforts.”

Francis-Thompson’s adviser, Terrance Furin, Ph.D., coordinator of International Education Programs, says her work explores implementation and change designed to help students gain greater self-confidence and learn essential skills as they overcome learning challenges in the public-school system.

“In researching and writing it, Nyshawana explored the reality of change in a society and school system that lie below the surface that most people associate with tourist- rich Bermuda,” adds Furin.

According to Francis-Thompson, Bermuda’s underlying historical factors of colonization, racial discrimination, poverty, denial of liberties, and inequalities in educational opportunities pose a threat to the country’s democratic values.

“These factors have adverse effects on education,” she says. “For MTSS to be fully realized in Bermuda, they must not be tolerated.”

After completing her dissertation, Francis-Thompson sought to extend her influence in Bermuda by contacting its Commissioner of Education. She would like to serve as a consultant and assist with strategic planning for Bermuda's public education system.

Beyond Bermuda, her desire to make a difference in Philadelphia was realized when she accepted a new job as Director of Special Education for a network of neighborhood schools located in the School District of Philadelphia.

“I'm responsible for leading fifteen schools with 1,681 special education students across all disability categories,” says Francis-Thompson. “I also represent the School District in legal proceedings within my network and my most recent project involves advocating, developing and supporting a model to serve students with emotional disturbance disabilities in their schools.”

Francis-Thompson adds that the spirit of SJU’s Jesuit values became intrinsically linked to her desire to give back and serve the community.

“I truly believe in the magis, and I seek opportunities to face some of the most challenging issues from this perspective,” says Francis-Thompson. “The Jesuit principles that I learned and internalized at SJU give me an outlook on the barriers faced in urban public education as opportunities for me to be transformative and make a difference.”


Update: As of July 2018, Nyshawana Francis-Thompson is a Supervisor of Special Education in the Upper Darby school district, and an adjunct professor. 


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