Rebuilding the Classroom: Ed.D. Student Addresses Educational Equity in Capstone Project

03-01-2019


by Ellie Walburg (B.S. ’17)

With an influential background in education and politics, Patrice Johnson (M.A. ’15) knew she wanted to make an impact in establishing educational equity for urban schools. With the practical skills and experience she's gained through her doctoral education, she's making her goals happen.

Johnson is in her final stage of earning the Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership and Development at Cornerstone University's Professional & Graduate Studies division. After completing her course work in late 2018, Johnson's focus has been on her capstone project, discussing educational inequity through an analysis of public policy within the context of critical race theory.

This topic of structural racism in urban education was her main motivation to pursue her doctoral education in the first place. Johnson attended Muskegon Heights Public Schools from elementary through high school, a school district that serves a predominantly African-American population.

After college, she served as councilwoman for Muskegon Heights during a time of emergency financial management policies, which involved a governor-appointed official to take control under a financial crisis. Johnson's current research topic seeks to address these policies and the lived experiences of local leaders right in her hometown community.

"I'm really passionate about this work because there's a gap in the literature in state intervention policies," she said. "We have not looked at how this policy has affected education for black and brown kids in the state. So that's what my research seeks to do."

Her persistence in discovering positive solutions is evident to those who journey with her in this endeavor. Dr. Graham McKeague, associate dean of human services at PGS and who serves as her dissertation chair, has witnessed her passion for her community. "Patrice is driven by her own sense of personal narrative and how she can make a difference in her community," he said. "Her work is always focused on helping others to overcome barriers and thrive in their local community. This sense of purpose has enabled Patrice to thrive in the program."

As Johnson dives deeper into her qualitative study, she acknowledges that the factors at work in educational inequity are numerous. "The issue with why schools are in financial trouble in the first place is so complex," she said, with contributing factors of things such as funding structures, schools of choice, management of resources and socioeconomic conditions.

"I've narrowed my focus down to what local leaders experience during emergency financial management and how they perceive the effectiveness of this policy in relation to solving a financial crisis and academic issues for a school district," she said.

The framework in which she addresses the effects of policies in urban schools is that of critical race theory, which she chose intentionally and acts as a key element of the Ed.D. program. "It also intersects theory and practice so not only will we identify issues around white privilege, racism or social economic disparity, but also how we can produce some type of practice that helps us alleviate those problems," she said.

With such passion and motivation fueling her work, Johnson is eager for her project to continue to have real-world implications. "With the knowledge I'll collect from the data, I'll hopefully inform the political agenda around helping schools remain fiscally solvent and academically strong," she said. "I'll have recommendations for leaders in school districts just like Muskegon Heights. My objective is to suggest long-term policy change in education."

This rebuilding of school districts is something that inspires her. "It's challenging right now to look at the current landscape, but I'm also inspired to change it, to use my work, my research as a catalyst for change in the coming years," she said. "How do we look at rebuilding Michigan's educational system in a way that we can ensure no matter where kids grow up they have equal access to education?"

Her experiences in her doctoral education have also advanced her leadership and development skills, particularly as she made a career step to executive director of Boys Hope Girls Hope of Detroit. "All those skills I've learned from the initial courses in the program about strategy and development are really playing a part in building the nonprofit that I lead and taking our work to the next level here in Detroit," she said.

Through her current career in Detroit and in her capstone project in developing school districts like Muskegon Heights, Johnson is transforming communities through vision and strategic leadership.

"Completing my doctorate is important to me because the final project can change my community," she said.

This level of determination and commitment to real-world change is something that is foundational to the Ed.D. program. "Oftentimes, leaders find themselves overwhelmed by the complexity and depth of a particular issue, and the Ed.D. program provides a way for leaders to examine what has previously been done to address the issue at hand, to consider new solutions and to apply a research-based approach in working toward a solution," McKeague said. "This is essential work and Patrice has embraced a complex issue of importance for our local communities and is seeking to use her own research and voice to address these needs."

Fueled by her momentum of moving through the process, Johnson has set a goal to complete her dissertation by her birthday in 2020.

Make a Change That Matters

Applications for the upcoming Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership and Development cohort are due March 11, 2019. To learn more about how the Ed.D. program can equip you to implement evidence-based practices to achieve measurable results in your workplace, request information today.

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