Clarksville, TN – Austin Peay State University (APSU) assistant professor of education Dr. Laura Barnett spent 16 years as a middle school principal, and every summer she tried to anticipate the challenges for the school year ahead.
This summer – the summer of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic – administrators have plenty to worry about, but Barnett doesn’t want them overlooking the other big issue that will affect their students and teachers this fall – the racial unrest sweeping across the country.
“As a principal, I would be as concerned as being ready to deal with this issue when schools open as with COVID-19,” she said. “If I were still an administrator, I’d say, ‘I’ve got to be prepared for this.’”
Barnett oversees the Austin Peay State University Eriksson College of Education’s Aspiring Assistant Principal Program (AAPP) – an innovative, job-embedded program that allows participants to work in their fields while earning a Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in Educational Leadership Studies.
In January, the Tennessee Department of Education awarded the college a $600,000 grant to develop the program, which began this summer with 67 students from East Tennessee and West Tennessee.
“One of the things we felt was really important in reimagining this course work was we wanted to deal with things happening in real life, not just use a textbook,” Barnett said. “So, when this began to happen in society, we wanted to ask our students how they would be ready in the fall to handle this. What would they say to parents and the community?”
In designing AAPN, APSU has worked closely with New Leaders, a leading national non-profit organization committed to racial justice through the development of transformational school leaders. Thanks to this collaboration, the program recently hosted a special Zoom panel discussion on racial equality.
The July 2nd event followed a guiding question – How do schools fundamentally need to change? The discussion began with a “conversation around what an administrator in a public school needs to be doing and thinking about as we consider returning to school in the fall and being responsive and supportive of the students and families,” Barnett said.
During the event, AAPP students discussed their concerns with Millard House, director of the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System; Dr. Diarese George, founder and executive director of the Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance; Dr. Marcus Matthews, author of “Urban ACEs: How to Reach and Teach Students Traumatized by Adverse Childhood Experiences,” and Dr. James Thompson, APSU assistant professor of education.
“People are going to show up to school this fall with very strong opinions,” Barnett said. “I want our students to walk back into their schools ready to have a conversation. You’ve got to think about, legally and ethically, what can you do in a school.”
“This is an intentional effort by our College to prepare future leaders for the issues they will face as they attempt to lead our schools,” Dr. Prentice Chandler, dean of the APSU Eriksson College of Education, said. “We are fortunate to have such great leaders and partners in the Clarksville community to share their insights and wisdom with our students.”