How School Leaders Make and Enact Meaning: A Qualitative Study of Racial Discourse, Opportunity and “Humanity” in Community Schools
Gwen Baxley

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Wisconsin-Madison

Primary Discipline

Full-service community schools — community-school partnerships that emphasize community-driven, holistic and asset-based school ideals — are increasingly implemented across the nation as a means to assist school stakeholders in addressing racial disparities and countering deficit, dehumanizing narratives of minoritized groups, including Black children. Yet, little attention in educational research has been paid to: 1) how implementing this asset-based initiative complements, contradicts or shifts school stakeholders’ ideologies about black children and their experiences and 2) how this meaning-making shapes community school implementation. Through a critical case study of community school efforts in a Midwestern district, I examine the racial meaning-making among school leaders and stakeholders in a district experiencing heightened and persistent racial and structural inequities; I explore the everyday ways such meaning-making manifests in the norms, practices and ideals of community schooling. Such analysis is particularly merited given the expansion of and attention to full-service community schools across the nation with the reauthorization of ESSA.
About Gwen Baxley
Gwendolyn S. Baxley is a scholar in the department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Drawing on critical qualitative and quantitative methodologies, her research explores educational spaces in which Black youth and families survive, thrive and navigate and the role of race within these contexts. Baxley specifically investigates how school and community leaders cultivate nurturing, affirming spaces for Black youth as well as the structures, practices, ideologies that facilitate or hinder the development of such spaces. Her current research projects critically explore school-community-family initiatives, with an emphasis on historical and contemporary community schooling. Baxley’s research has been informed by her experience teaching within art-based out-of-school time contexts and more recently as an evaluator and consultant for numerous school-community-family partnerships. Baxley is a Barbara L. Jackson Scholar, David L. Clark Scholar and Wisconsin Collaborative Education Research Network Fellow.

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