Policies, Procedures, and Performance: A Critical Examination of K-12 School Boards and the Enactment of Racial Crisis Leadership
James Bridgeforth

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Southern California

Primary Discipline

Curriculum and Instruction
Recent recordings of contentious school board meetings demonstrate the growing frequency with which K-12 school board members publicly navigate racial crises. Examples of such crises shown in the media include teachers being photographed in blackface, racist social media posts, and intense debates regarding race and racism in curricula. Yet how many board members have been formally trained to lead a district through a racial crisis? This organizational disconnect is a critical area for research as board members are directly responsible for developing district policies in response to incidents of racism in schools. Guided by insights from the theory of the political spectacle along with critical theories of race and racism, my dissertation study employs elicitation interviews with school board members, focus groups with racially minoritized community members, and school board meeting records to better understand how school board members conceptualize and enact effective racial crisis leadership. This work also interrogates how board members? conceptions of solutions compare with those of communities of color in order to identify potential inconsistencies between what educational leaders believe is effective racial crisis leadership and what the communities most at risk of being harmed by racial crises would identify as effective racial crisis leadership. By better understanding how both K-12 school board members and racially minoritized communities conceptualize effective solutions to racial crises, I hope to develop inclusive approaches for racial crisis leadership that can ensure that the needs of the communities most often harmed by racial crises are centered in the policy development process.
About James Bridgeforth
James Bridgeforth is a Ph.D. candidate in the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. He is also a research associate at the USC Race and Equity Center and the USC Rossier Center on Education Policy, Equity, and Governance. His research agenda broadly engages in critical analyses of education policies and practices in K-12 schools. In particular, his dissertation project examines how K-12 school boards navigate the policy development process when addressing issues of race and racism within their districts. He specifically focuses on how those policies are conceptualized, which stakeholders are involved in their development, and the depths to which the proposed solutions are aligned with the expressed needs and desires of the communities of color that the educational leaders serve. James began his professional experience in education as a college admissions officer and later transitioned to a career in K-12 education as an elementary school teacher. He holds an M.Ed. in Educational Administration and Policy from the University of Georgia and a B.A. in Political Science and Sociology from Georgia College & State University. His scholarship has been published by the Journal of School Leadership, The Rural Educator, and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, in addition to media outlets such as Education Week, The Hechinger Report, and The Washington Post. Ultimately, his goal as a researcher is to use his work to disrupt and dismantle oppressive policies and practices, while working with communities of color to envision new and more racially just possibilities.

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