Meet Kessa Roberts

Kessa Roberts, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr. Roberts is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Education Policy and Leadership department in the Simmons School of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University (SMU). She holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.S. in Psychology and a Certification in School Psychology from Millersville University, and a B.A. in Psychology from The Templeton Honors College at Eastern University. Prior to her doctoral studies, Dr. Roberts was a school psychologist in several high-needs school districts in Pennsylvania.

Dr. Roberts’ research on education policy implementation often employs qualitative methods and focuses on the social context of education policy and practice. Her research agenda contains three strands: school-family-community partnerships, student homelessness, and education leadership, particularly in the face of natural disasters and other crises. Across all three strands of her research agenda, Dr. Roberts’ work prioritizes ameliorating educational inequity and often focuses on high-needs rural and urban contexts.

Dr. Roberts, along with Dr. Alexandra Pavlakis and Dr. Meredith Richards, Assistant Professor and Associate Professor, respectively, in the Education Policy and Leadership department, recently received a Spencer Foundation grant to examine how COVID-19, amidst ongoing recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey, is impacting student homelessness in Houston, Texas. This mixed methods research employs a novel geospatial qualitative approach to examine the ways in which school- and district-level personnel and community service providers support students and families experiencing homelessness.

For more information on her research, teaching, and service please see:


Link to SMU website:

Meet Meredith Richards

Meredith Richards, PhD                                

Associate Professor

Dr. Richards is an Associate Professor of Education Policy and Leadership in the Simmons School of Education and Human Development. She received her Ph.D. in Educational Policy from the University of Texas at Austin and was an IES Post-doctoral Fellow in Education Policy and Methods at the University of Pennsylvania. She also holds a B.A. in Cognitive Science from the University of Virginia, a M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from George Mason University. At SMU, she is responsible for teaching doctoral coursework in educational research methods.

Dr. Richards’ research seeks to understand the underlying causes of educational inequities and explore the effects of a wide range of educational policies—such as school choice, accountability, and student assignment policies—on equity and stratification in schools. In particular, her work situates policies in their metropolitan and geographic contexts, focusing on the role that educational boundaries play in facilitating social stratification and segregation. In addressing these substantive issues, she seeks to develop and apply diverse quantitative methods to the study of education. Beyond documenting the consequences of educational policies, Dr. Richards seeks to provide actionable research that helps policymakers design effective policies, particularly those that balance the imperative for equity in schools with other educational demands.

In her dissertation, Dr. Richards used geospatial techniques to investigate how educational boundaries have been “gerrymandered” and the consequences of this gerrymandering for equity in schools, for which received the American Educational Research Association Division L Dissertation of the Year Award, Runner Up. Complementing her work on educational boundary gerrymandering, Dr. Richards recently released a study examining the effects of “fragmenting” school district boundaries, including both traditional and charter schools, on changes in segregation over time.

Dr. Richards was recently awarded a Spencer grant to examine urban school closures, attending to both the causes of school closures and the impact of closures on the educational experiences of non-white and socioeconomically disadvantaged students. In addition, she is conducting work on the suburbanization of segregation, the effect of magnet schools on student attendance patterns, and the effects of income inequality on educational attainment and achievement.

Dr. Richards’ research has been published in venues such as the American Educational Research JournalReview of Educational ResearchTeachers College Record, and the Peabody Journal of Education.


Link to SMU website:

Meet Alexandra Pavlakis

Alexandra Pavlakis, PhD                 

Assistant Professor

Dr. Pavlakis is an Assistant Professor in the Education Policy and Leadership department at Southern Methodist University (SMU). She holds a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a MSc. in Social Policy & Planning from the London School of Economics and Political Science, a MSc. in Teaching from Pace University through New York City Teaching Fellows Program, and a B.A. in History from Brown University. Prior to her doctoral studies, Dr. Pavlakis was a New York City high school social studies teacher and a research and policy analyst. At SMU, she teaches leadership and qualitative methods courses on the doctoral and master’s level.

Her research agenda addresses the social contexts of education. In particular, she examines how student and families’ broader life contexts intersect with educational institutions, actors, policies, and practices to shape their schooling experiences. Her work falls into three distinct but overlapping research strands: 1) educational leadership and community change, 2) family-school-community engagement, and 3) policy and diversity in student homelessness. While her third strand explicitly addresses student homelessness, across all three, she focuses primarily on the contexts of economic disadvantage, poverty, homelessness, and housing instability.

Her recent work can be found in outlets such as Educational ResearcherUrban EducationTeachers College RecordThe International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education (QSE)The Urban Review, and other outlets.

For more information on her research and teaching please see:

Link to SMU website: