Magnolia 2018 Staff Retreat

For this year’s annual staff retreat, the Magnolia Consulting team gathered at a beautiful lake house nestled along Lake Anna in Central Virginia. The theme of this year’s retreat was “Work Smarter, Not Harder,” with the intention of coming together to refine Magnolia’s mission, values, and goals as we continue to move forward in cultivating learning and positive change.

Our retreat involved a great deal of strategic and tactical planning. An external consultant helped guide our team through a series of sessions that involved revisiting our company mission and vision, identifying our personal and company core values, and from this, developing clear goals to work toward. Through stimulating discussion among team members, we worked our way through “SOAR,” which stands for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results. Our team found this strengths-based strategic planning approach to be extremely insightful and productive. To think about how we can work in alignment with our strengths and aspirations we discussed current and possible new lines of work. It was an engaging dialogue that concluded in a collective agreement to build our expertise, connections, and focus in community college and workforce development, girls and woman’s education, infographic design for evaluation and research, and capacity building for our clients.

Through our core values of Abundance, Cultivation, Excellence, Integrity, Utilization-Focused and Results-Oriented, Heart-Centered, and Service, we look forward to increasing our own capacity to continue our mission of providing innovative and customized evaluation and research services that improve individual and organizational capacity for positive change.

 

Crafting a Powerful Message: Steps to Develop an Impactful Infographic

In late February we visited Columbia, South Carolina to deliver our Introduction to Infographics and Strategies for Use in Evaluation workshop at Children’s Trust of South Carolina. Children’s Trust is a statewide nonprofit focused on strengthening families and leading communities to prevent child abuse and neglect. Children’s Trust uses infographics to share statewide data with policy makers and legislators in a visually compelling and succinct way. The workshop audience included participants from several different agencies who provided unique perspectives on data visualization and different ways to “tell the story” using an infographic.

We used this workshop as an opportunity to debut a new resource for creating infographics, a worksheet titled, “Crafting a Powerful Message.” The goal of this worksheet is to serve as a guide in developing an infographic’s audience, purpose, and message. The worksheet provides several examples, as well as a framework to assist you when creating your own infographic. Clearly and intentionally defining these three elements is a critical first step in developing an infographic, and makes the process of creating an infographic much easier! To read more about these first three steps in our 10 Steps to Creating an Infographic, check out a blog post from Stephanie Wilkerson here. Crafting a Powerful Message and several other resources for creating infographics can be found on our website here. We hope you find these resources useful as you begin creating your own infographics.

School Employee Sexual Misconduct Study Finds K-12 School Districts Fail to Implement Key Elements of Title IX

Charlottesville, VA (Oct. 31, 2017) — An estimated one in ten K–12 students—about 4.5 million children—will experience sexual abuse at the hands of a school employee at some point in their education, according to one study. Yet, a recent Department of Justice–sponsored study conducted by Magnolia Consulting, a Charlottesville-based education research firm, suggests that K–12 school districts might not fully implement federal guidance for preventing and responding to school employee sexual misconduct, even after an incident is reported.

School employee sexual misconduct is covered by Title IX of the educational amendments of 1972, the law most widely known for addressing gender equity in sports. However, the provisions of Title IX reach much further, prohibiting sexual discrimination and sexual harassment of any kind in educational institutions that receive federal funds. Title IX guidance, created by the Department of Education to support schools in implementing the law, requires that school districts have clear, written policies and procedures regarding school employee sexual misconduct; those policies and procedures, the guidance says, should include training to help staff, students, and parents recognize unacceptable behavior and other prevention measures, as well as processes to ensure a quick and effective response to complaints. Under the law, institutions that do not comply with these policy requirements—including K–­12 schools and school districts—can be liable for civil damages if school employees engage in sexual misconduct involving students.

The Magnolia Consulting study focused on implementation of the key elements of Title IX guidance in school districts that had experienced incidents of school employee sexual misconduct. Researchers found that, although school districts reported improvements to some policies and procedures, as well as improvements in awareness, communication, and district leadership, various challenges—including an incomplete understanding of the full requirements of Title IX and the associated guidance—continued to hamper districts’ efforts to comply with Title IX guidance. Representatives from all participating districts reported being unclear about what exactly Title IX requirements were and how they should be implemented. In addition, participants reported various challenges in implementing key elements of Title IX, including difficulty finding model policies, budget limitations, low parent engagement, fear of the consequences of reporting, and poor responses from criminal justice and child welfare agencies when incidents were reported.

According to Magnolia Consulting Senior Researcher Billie-Jo Grant, the principal investigator for the study, poor implementation of policy and prevention efforts may have negative consequences for both prevention and investigation of incidents, leading to long-term effects for victims. “The results of this study show us that more work needs to be done to guide and monitor the implementation of Title IX guidance and keep our students safe at school,” Grant says. “Title IX is only as effective as its implementation by school districts—staff, parents, and students are our eyes and ears for identifying and reporting these cases.”

The report concludes with several recommendations for addressing implementation challenges. School district leaders, researchers say, should review their district’s Title IX policies and implementation efforts, with support from federal and state departments of education, who need to develop model policies, establish accountability measures, and provide high-quality, low-cost training. Sexual misconduct training curricula should be included both in teacher training and in school employee orientation programs and training should be repeated periodically. Finally, policymakers and legislators need to issue parameters to guide education leaders in developing policies and advocate for evaluation, accountability, and funding for research. Researchers can analyze prevalence data to determine whether policies are working and contribute to prevention by analyzing the characteristics of both offenders and particularly vulnerable students.

Magnolia Consulting President Stephanie Wilkerson, who was the co-principal investigator for the study, said, “We see weekly headlines reporting cases of school employees sexually abusing students, and yet there is no national dialogue about what should be done to prevent it. This study emphasizes districts’ need for more effective communication, support, and accountability from federal and state leaders on implementing Title IX elements intended to help prevent school employee sexual misconduct. The protection of students from sexual predators in schools should be an issue we’re talking about; we hope this research study serves as a starting point for that conversation.”

“A Case Study of K–12 School Employee Sexual Misconduct: Lessons Learned from Title IX Policy Implementation” was executed as part of the National Institute of Justice Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, a federal program that awarded $69 million in grants to study the causes and consequences of school violence. Researchers collected data from 92 participants (41 interviews and 10 focus groups), as well as a review of documentation and policies, in five geographically and demographically diverse districts. All five districts experienced an incident of school employee sexual misconduct in 2014; the data were collected in 2016–2017.

The project was supported by Award No. 2015-CK-BX-0009, awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.

For more information, resources, and to read the full report, please visit our Publications and Reporting page.

Questions? Contact Billie-Jo Grant, Ph.D., 805-550-9132 and bgrant@magnoliaconsulting.org

Reflections on Eclipse 2017

In January 2016, Magnolia Consulting began working with the National Solar Observatory to evaluate the NASA- and NSF-funded Citizen CATE Experiment, which prepared citizen scientists across the path of totality to capture images of the solar corona during the August 2017 solar eclipse. Beth, one of our evaluators, was on the ground with a Citizen CATE team on August 21 and wrote the following account of her experience.

 

The Citizen CATE project had teams placed along the path of totality from Oregon to South Carolina. Each team had one of the project’s 68 identical telescopes, which were equipped with cameras and software to take images of the sun during the eclipse. As part of our evaluation of the project, I was one of the thousands of people who descended on Madras, Oregon—one of the best viewing spots in the country—on August 21st.

The Citizen CATE team had set up in the parking lot of the Erickson Aircraft Collection, a museum of World War II aircraft. As the moon made first contact with the sun, the citizen scientists prepared to record their images. The preparations were vital because each Citizen CATE team had only one chance to record the eclipse. The nervous excitement of the Madras team was palpable in the moments leading up to totality.

After all the preparations, the moment came. A citizen scientist announced totality, and after a short cheer, the earth became eerily quiet and the sky turned brilliant purple and orange, resembling twilight at 10:20 in the morning. The recording began, and the citizen scientists reverently stood alongside the rest of the crowd as the earth felt a serene stillness. My observations halted at this point. The power of the phenomenon took precedence, and for those two minutes and two seconds, there was no evaluation, there were no scientists, there were no crowds of people, there was only the moon and the sun as they danced across the sky. Nature was the ultimate observation as time seemed to stand still.

As the sun began to emerge again, the stillness was broken. The citizen scientists went back into action, and the crowd resumed its cheers. Awoken from nature’s trance, I noticed so many things that had been going on around me. Skydivers were drifting closer to earth after having the best seats in the house. A couple was hugging after a very well-timed marriage proposal was made and accepted. And importantly, a camera had been silently recording the sun’s corona during totality.

The pressure was on at this point—had the citizen scientists succeeded? Had they captured the images? In the moments following totality, one citizen scientist said that he had observed the camera stopping, for no apparent reason, at 103 seconds instead of recording for the full 123 seconds. More nerve-racking still, the team struggled to find the data on their computer for a few intense moments. Once it was found, the team breathed a sigh of relief, completed the checklist to back up the data, and successfully uploaded the images.

While the team is still not sure why the camera stopped or whether researchers will feel that the cirrus clouds impacted the quality of the data, the images I was privy to were breathtaking and the experience was amazing. Now I’m ready for the 2024 eclipse!

AEA Summer Institute: Introduction to Infographics

This month, we presented Introduction to Infographics at the American Evaluation Association’s 2017 Summer Institute in Atlanta, Georgia. As one of 35 professional development workshops geared toward evaluation professionals, this workshop focused on how to use infographics to communicate evaluation findings in an effective and engaging way. In our experience, lengthy written reports often go unread and unused. As an alternative, infographics can be a powerful visual tool to communicate evaluation findings in an easily accessible way. This workshop was an opportunity to share what we’ve learned about infographics along the way with other evaluators who are interested in using infographics to disseminate information.

As part of our workshop, participants were introduced to our Checklist for Reviewing Infographics as a tool for guiding the infographic design and review process. We demonstrated practical, easy-to-use resources and tools for creating an infographic, including an overview of software and websites, icon collections, and stock photo websites. Finally, our workshop participants went through our 10 Steps to Creating an Infographic and took a stab at creating their own infographic. We were impressed by our participants’ willingness to dive into the process, and many were on track to developing inspiring and creative infographics.

Based on the feedback we received, we know our workshop participants learned a lot, and so did we! Specifically, we are now working to integrate more resources for ensuring that infographics are accessible to those with visual disabilities. We also plan to translate our resources into Spanish in order to reach a wider audience. We hope that workshop participants will join our Magnolia Infographics LinkedIn community as a way to continue to share questions, ideas, and examples of infographics.

We are thrilled that we were able to share our knowledge with other evaluators, and we look forward to future collaboration about how infographics can be used in evaluation. Check out some photos of the Summer Institute workshop in action, and feel free to visit our Tools and Resources page for more information on the various tools mentioned here.