Our work: Learning Differences and the Future of Special Education

Santa Clara Research Practice Learning Partnership

With powerful designs for ongoing learning and support, educators, researchers, schools, and districts can ensure that students with disabilities discover ways of learning that empower their well-being and knowledge-building. Together, the Santa Clara Unified School District and the Learning Differences Initiative are designing, developing, and learning together to realize their vision for an inclusive K-12 campus.

Professors Elizabeth Kozleski and Heidi Feldman meet with teachers at Agnew Elementary. Photo: Joe Young


The Learning Differences Initiative has joined forces with the Santa Clara Unified School District in a dynamic Research Practice Learning Partnership (RPLP). This innovative collaboration serves as a beacon of cooperation, facilitating the exchange of expertise between academia and a school district. Our shared goal is to propel both research and practical application forward, fostering an inclusive learning ecosystem that addresses the diverse needs of students. These needs span across various intersections, encompassing national origin, language diversity, cultural backgrounds, racial identities, physical abilities, sensory perceptions, intellectual capacities, and social-emotional well-being.

Stanford researchers from across disciplines are currently working with teachers, paraeducators, parents, and administrators to co-create new instructional methods, ask novel research questions, pilot and refine innovative solutions, and more effectively train educators in inclusive practices for the benefit of all learners.

Program leads

Headshot of Elizabeth Kozleski

Elizabeth Kozleski

Faculty Co-Director, Learning Differences Initiative

Headshot of Kathie Kanavel

Kathie Kanavel

Assistant Superintendent, Educational Services, Santa Clara Unified School District

Program collaborators

Nicole Henderson

Project Lead

Jason Yeatman

Associate Professor, Stanford Graduate School of Education, Stanford School of Medicine

Carrie Townley-Flores

Director of Research & Partnerships, Rapid Online Assessment of Reading (ROAR)

Heidi Feldman

Ballinger-Swindells Endowed Professor, Stanford School of Medicine

Chris Lemons

Associate Professor, Stanford Graduate School of Education

Lakshmi Balasubramanian

Lecturer & Sr. Researcher, Stanford Graduate School of Education

Sandra Velásquez

RPLP Liaison, Santa Clara Unified School District

Joe Young

Principal, Abram Agnew Elementary School

Dawnel Sonntag

Principal, Dolores Huerta Middle School

Vivian Rhone-Lay

Principal, Kathleen McDonald High School

Current collaborations

The Research Practice Learning Partnership takes place on a single site in Santa Clara Unified School District that includes an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school. Examples of collaborations at the Agnew campus complex include:

  • Abram Agnew Elementary School. Associate Professor Chris Lemons leads Para Pro Academy, a professional development program for paraeducators. In addition, behavioral pediatrics researchers from Stanford, including Dr. Heidi Feldman, are working with teachers, counselors, and school leaders to develop their reflective practices and better support social emotional learning for students and teachers through a collaborative community group.
  • Dolores Huerta Middle School. A group of teachers is collaboratively designing a guide for colleague-to-colleague classroom observation. The guide will support the teacher community in deepening their understanding and practice of inclusive designs for learning in the school’s particular context.
  • Kathleen MacDonald High School. An exploratory research project called Condor Career Cornerstone (C3) has been engaging teachers, learners, and families to co-design new college and career pathways for students.
  • Cross-site projects. Existing projects from the Graduate School of Education are expanding their presence at the Agnew campus complex. Starting in the 2024-25 school year, teacher candidates from the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) will be placed at all three schools. Associate Professor Jason Yeatman has also been piloting the Rapid Online Assessment of Reading (ROAR) at the sites to measure student literacy and inform new approaches to teaching language arts.
A classroom activity at Agnew Elementary during the Para Pro Academy. Photo: Lisa Chung