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Region 8 CC Spotlight: Aracelis Gray and Amanda Trainor

Author: Amanda Trainor, Aracelis Gray Date: 12/23/2021 Category: Teachers & Leaders
young children participate in chemistry lesson

In the latest installment of a series on Region 8 CC staff, we profile our two Ohio state coordinators, Aracelis Gray and Amanda Trainor, this month. Both play important leadership roles in our comprehensive technical assistance and capacity-building efforts. Check our website  for previous profiles in this series.

Aracelis Gray has nearly two decades of experience in education and youth development with an extensive background in technical assistance and capacity building. She previously served as state coordinator for the Appalachian Regional Comprehensive Center, where she delivered and supported TA services in support of education reforms across the region. She also helped build the capacity of state education agencies (SEAs) to identify and select evidence-based practices for school improvement. She has delivered webinars, professional development sessions, and peer-to-peer exchanges to build SEA support for students, including those with literacy-based disabilities. A Director at ICF, she has managed a diverse portfolio of technical assistance, research, and evaluation projects. 

Amanda Trainor is a Research Associate at RMC Research with more than 10 years of experience in TA, education research, and program evaluation with a focus on helping educators use data and evidence-based practices to support school improvement. In Ohio, she provides TA on projects related to district and school continuous improvement through the Statewide System of Support and Ohio Improvement Process. Previously with the Northeast Comprehensive Center, she provided TA support to the Vermont Agency of Education to develop agency-wide standards for equitable review and allocation of state and federal funds. She also supported Vermont’s development of an equity lens tool for schools and districts to use with students, families, and the community.

Question: How did you get interested in education technical assistance and capacity-building?

Aracelis: Early in my professional career, I did a lot of work in support of implementation research. In my role as a researcher, I really enjoyed learning how programs are designed and implemented but I wanted to do more than just document what was happening on the ground and/or understand how programs work and for whom. I wanted to roll up my sleeves, bring ideas, information, and resources to the table to enable program staff to develop skills, overcome organizational or system challenges, and identify workable solutions. With this knowledge, I began to hone my skills in training, facilitation, and consultation. My first technical assistance engagement enabled me to leverage my knowledge of research and evaluation to build the capacity of child-serving organizations to understand and develop program logic models to guide their programming and evaluation. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to design and deliver capacity-building technical assistance in support of SEA teams and to provide leadership for several national technical assistance centers, including the Reform Support Network that assisted SEAs in implementing the Race to the Top grant program.

Amanda: As a former staffer at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, I was an SEA staff member who directly benefitted from technical assistance and capacity-building support from the comprehensive center myself. With that experience, I was excited to offer that same kind of help to people in roles like mine in other SEAs.  

Question: What education topics are you most passionate about today?

Aracelis: I’ve always been passionate about, and a staunch believer in, the role of education in reducing poverty and inequality. But education is one of many systems that should come together to address the multiple and myriad needs that surround students, their families, and communities. As such, I’m really interested and passionate about family and community engagement in education and the notion of building school-community partnerships that enable students to come to school prepared to learn, to have access to resources during and after school, and to provide families with information and tools to better support students. These partnerships are important for all students but particularly for the most vulnerable student populations. As a technical assistance provider, I want to understand the real and perceived barriers to authentic family and community engagement and school-community partnerships and bring the right resources to bear to help SEAs, districts, and schools overcome those barriers and build lasting, sustainable partnerships.

Amanda: Career and technical education is one of my great loves because it gives students a chance to see the practical application of academic content. Plus, it helps many young people start building a sense of professional identity, and often, allows them to earn credits or industry recognized credentials towards their college and/or career goals. Most of all, it’s just such a joy for me to visit CTE classrooms and see students working hands-on with something they love – whether it’s cooking, coding, health care, or any of the other skills or career pathways that captures their interest.

Question: What current Region 8 CC activities in Ohio should more people know about?

Aracelis: With support from the Region 8 CC, the Ohio Department of Education has developed a plan and is launching a Whole Child Network to support districts and schools in using Ohio’s Whole Child Framework to guide policies and practices that advance a whole child approach to education. The Network will: (1) capture and disseminate existing knowledge that supports a whole child approach to education, (2) identify promising practices, and (3) build relationships to support districts and schools in creating a comprehensive education system where each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. The Network will use a peer-to-peer delivery model in combination with support from content experts and access to information on promising practices, particularly those currently being used or considered by Ohio schools and districts. The Network is a wonderful opportunity to bring to light innovations at the district and school level to address the needs of all students and an important venue to raise awareness about how educators can best support students and their families, particularly in the midst of a pandemic.

Amanda: I’m particularly excited about the work my colleague Sarah Sayko is leading on building an interactive case study to document the challenges and successes of a rural Ohio school district in implementing literacy initiatives. The case study will highlight the district’s story and include related resources and tools that other schools and districts can use. I think the format could be successfully applied to many content areas, so I look forward to seeing how it unfolds and publishing it on the Region 8 CC website when ready.  

Question: The COVID-19 pandemic has upended a lot of norms in American education. In what ways do you think K-12 education will change in the next five years?

Aracelis: Technology resources are becoming much more embedded in the classroom, and I think this trend will continue to grow. But for technology to be used effectively, teachers will need access to the right resources – professional development, instructional coaching, etc., - and their skill development needs to start early in their careers, ideally as part of their own education and teacher prep.  Lastly, I would like to see more intentional efforts to connect schools to their communities and for schools to be seen as the hub of the community surrounded by other system partners.

Amanda: While remote learning isn’t the best option for many students, I hope that it will become a more widely used individualized learning tool for the students that it does serve well. For example, as part of an individualized plan for a student who needs an alternative pathway to graduation, or for a student with attendance challenges due to mental or physical health issues, a well-implemented remote learning option could be just what they need.   

Question: What else would you like educators in Region 8 to know about you?

Aracelis: People who know me would probably say that I ask a lot of questions, and it’s true! I have a natural curiosity. I don’t just want to know what happened. I also want to know more about how and why something occurred. This is the approach I take in my personal and professional interactions, and I hope it shines through in my commitment to the Region 8 CC’s work.  

Amanda: One of my favorite jobs was serving as an educator at the New England Aquarium in my hometown of Boston. Informal science education, especially when implemented at a fun and interactive location like a museum or aquarium, can be such a great way to get kids and adults interested in topics like biology, chemistry and physics – topics that not everyone finds easy to grasp in a classroom. Most people, though, find a quick lesson in fish anatomy pretty exciting when a shark is swimming right by their noses!