Julie Workman, a doctoral student at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, recently won the Research-in-Progress Award at the Mid-South Educational Research Association conference in New Orleans.
Workman is earning a doctorate through the U of A's online education leadership program while working as the Instructional Leadership and Learning Specialist at the Arch Ford Education Service Center in Plumerville.
She spent 22 years working in K-12 education as a classroom teacher, literacy coach, assistant principal and principal. She now works to support administrators and teachers as they implement best practices in their schools and classrooms through professional development and onsite support.
Workman earned the MSERA/MSERF Outstanding Research-In-Progress award after presenting her dissertation, "How Does Disproportionate Discipline Manifest in Rural Settings?" Her research examines the disproportionate rate of student disciplinary actions against African American students compared to white students in rural schools in Southeast Arkansas. Her dissertation noted that most of the research on this topic has focused on large urban or suburban schools, but considerably less research has been done in rural school communities.
"It was an honor for my research to be recognized by this award because of how important I believe this work is for students in rural schools in Arkansas," she said. "All students deserve the chance to receive a quality education, free from bias and limiting circumstances they may encounter in their schools."
Workman said as a former principal, her passion is to educate and encourage other administrators in their roles "to create systems of equity for all of their students by understanding how to examine their data through an equity lens, how to provide culturally-responsive support and training for their staff members and how to understand the impact of implicit bias on students."
Workman's dissertation chair, Kevin Brady, associate professor of educational leadership at the U of A, noted that Arkansas is one of 12 states where over half of the state's public K-12 school districts are classified as rural.
"Ms. Workman's sequential mixed methods design study plans to provide deeper insights and understandings to the complex issue of racial disproportionality in disciplinary, particularly exclusionary practices (i.e., out-of-school expulsions)," he noted in his letter recommending her for the award.
Brady said there are growing and justified concerns over the perceived inadequacy of many local school systems' responses to exclusionary disciplinary classroom practices and policies. He noted that in the existing research, students identified as most negatively affected by disproportionality in special education practices in today's schools tend to be lower income, African American and Native American children and youth with disabilities.
Implications of the study speak to a need for culturally responsive training as part of leadership identity formation as well as training for leaders in how to examine their discipline data through an equity lens, he said.
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