Faculty Spotlight —  Dr. Jerome A. Graham, Assistant of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies

University of Cincinnati professor Dr. Jerome A. Graham is an Assistant of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at UC’s School of Education. His research focuses broadly on the interaction of race and class in educational policy and practice using mixed-methods designs to evaluate the effects of education reforms that target minority and disadvantaged students and the mechanisms that drive such reforms.

Dr. Graham recently spoke with us regarding his thoughts on education at the University of Cincinnati Online as well as the research he is doing with K-12 school districts.

Q: Why did you choose to teach at UC’s School of Education?

When I first interviewed for this position honestly I didn’t have that much background, but I could gather the faculty members were very cool and seemingly genuine. The interview felt much more conversational. I could be me and just talk and that seemed to go well and I really liked it.

Then, I visited, met the students and more of the faculty and I began to feel more certain that this was a really good group, the research was interesting, and they brought voices and perspectives that were important to have. I also knew I could pursue the kind of research I wanted to do and be supported.

Q: What do you love most about teaching at UC/UCO?

I haven’t had the chance to be as fully immersed as I’d like to be but so far what I can tell from the students I have engaged with is that the college does a great job at fostering what feels like an inclusive environment. I’m teaching one class this semester and teaching mostly people who are aspiring to be principals, so I am learning alongside scholars who have a real commitment to equity and examining issues of social justice.

Q: What’s a current research project you’re most excited about?

There’s a project that I’m working on that looks at the intersection of mental health, criminal justice, and racial justice. We’re using student/counselor ratios to understand how these ratios associate with changes in juvenile crime rates.

I have a background in counseling psychology, so it’s been promising to see some of the positive results we’ve looked at in examining how school counselors can help drive reductions in crime.

Q: What is the importance of special education and principal leadership?

I think that it is incredibly important, particularly so now, with COVID and how virtual learning environments can layer additional barriers to show how we educate our special education population adequately.

Leaders need to know of resources available to them and must ensure  they remain in line with federal, school, and district policies regarding how to adequately educate students with additional needs. I’m learning from my school finance classes that there’s often things that some principals and school administrators don’t know about but if they did they could better serve their students. Everyone needs to know all the governing statutes for special education, especially now.

Q: How do you see the role of these leaders evolving?

I’ve been involved in a number of studies that look at the rollout of the most recent passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This law added more demands for leaders to be more involved and more into the education side of things as it pertains to schooling.

I’m seeing [leaders] become invested in more than just managing the buildings. It’s making them think about what we need to do to make sure our schools are set up for success, and to rely less on these programs. I like to incorporate how to help principals understand how to research the effectiveness of programs before they spend thousands of dollars on them.

Q: What do you think the School of Education will look like next year, and in five years?

I’m hoping as we gain a more diverse faculty it will trickle down to a more diverse student body as well. Beyond that, we’re making sure we have an inclusive environment that is inviting  to students from all backgrounds, and we’ll make progress in the short term as early as next year [and beyond].

Q: What do you think is the biggest gap in education today?

I would most likely point to the disparities in resources between schools. When you look at how racially segregated our schools are, we have this situation in most places where you have high concentrations of students from low-income backgrounds. We can’t expect to just fund those schools equally. We need to commit to making sure these schools have everything they need. If you are educating a student body where 90% is food insecure or doesn’t have housing stability, why would you not think they’re going to need more resources than a school whose students are more financially secure?

Q: How have digital technologies changed the way you teach, and the way students learn?

It provides an opportunity for everyone to engage at similar levels. There’s no pressure to raise your hand first to get to answer the question. Online education gives people who might not talk in class a chance to have their ideas heard and challenged.

The other improvement is that teachers can embed so much into the classes like links, additional reading materials, videos, etc.

Q: What has been your biggest accomplishment so far?

I have made a strong effort to be really engaged with my students beyond grading their assignments [by] trying to make sure they are doing well emotionally and mentally. I think that as students we get into this mindset of “I just gotta get through no matter what and do it with a smile.”

I [try to] remove some of that thinking and shed light on how they’re doing emotionally. We’ve had some very vulnerable conversations via Webex and email. I’m proud to have connected with my students and to see that I’ve been able to get those connections despite my online platform.

Q: What do you hope your students learn from you?

I hope my students learn to be gracious and to be kind. I’ve had some students come to me and tell me about how their families have been tragically impacted by COVID or other things, and asking if they can get extensions on deadlines due to their circumstances. It breaks your heart because some students feel the need to defend themselves when something tragic happens.

My first response is to be understanding and kind and I give my students the benefit of the doubt. I tell them to take care of their emotional state first, and we’ll take care of the academics later. I want them to know that as leaders/instructors/scholars, we need to model the change to be kind to yourself and others.

Q: What hobbies and activities do you enjoy?

I love bike riding. I love sports and I also play basketball and racquetball. I’ll give any sport a try; I try to stay active.

My wife and I have a daughter who is 2.5, a dog, and a brother who is a high school senior who lives with us. We love to eat and go to parks and I love trying new things and meeting new people.

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