School of Education Represented at the First-ever Virtual University Council for Educational Administration Conference


Baton Rouge - Representing LSU’s School of Education and the School’s Educational Leadership PhD program, Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell, PhD, ended the final days of the fall 2020 semester concentrating on research. Sulentic Dowell led a team of three scholars – two current graduate students and one recent graduate – as they presented an innovative session virtually at the 34th annual University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) conference. Like so many professional conferences held in the spring, summer, and fall of 2020, UCEA, the leading research entity for educational leadership, conducted their annual meeting in a virtual environment. As part of her role as a major professor, Sulentic Dowell perceives mentoring beginning researchers through the novel experience of presenting original research at a high-level research conference in a virtual format as part of her advising duties. 

Last spring, summer, and fall, many typical professional conferences switched to iterations of virtual conferences. “Presenting to a high-powered national audience in a virtual environment was demanding,” said Sulentic Dowell, “but investigating how these select school leaders were parsing their time and what issues consumed their thinking was important.” Sulentic Dowell further revealed, “as a field, educational leadership in the United States (US) was at a pivotal moment as the COVID-19 global pandemic, coupled with the resultant exposure of structural societal inequities such as embedded institutional racism, limited teacher preparation to teach remotely, and disclosure of how many students lacked access to remote learning, converged.” 

The pandemic provided a unique opportunity to conduct research for School of Education faculty and students, especially in terms of capitalizing on an historic time period and gathering data about conditions in schools during the pandemic shut-down, examining how campus leaders operated. At the UCEA conference, Sulentic Dowell’s collaborative session was titled, “Re/Thinking-Re/Building Educational Leadership in Pandemic Environments:  An Investigation of Principals’ Concerns and Use of Time.” The presentation explored three Louisiana educational leaders’ concerns and use of time in their respective PK-8 schools during the height of the unfolding pandemic, from the March 2020 nation-wide school shut down, through the Labor Day 2020 weekend. This case study is emblematic of educational leaders’ concerns and use of time nationally. The cases within the study focused on how educational leaders systematically recorded time demands and major concerns during this 25-week period. As a team, research members coded data, analyzed results, wrote up their results, and both participated in the virtual UCEA session and crafted a subsequent article, which is currently under review. 

One research team member, Claudette Jackson Perkins, PhD, (LSU ‘18), principal at Audubon Elementary School which serves grades PK-5 in the East Baton Rouge Public School System, claimed, “Despite recent disasters that have influenced, effected, and expanded educational leadership (Hurricane Katrina in 2005; the floods of Baton Rouge in 2016), South Louisiana principals and assistant principals, especially those who work with at-risk, vulnerable populations of children from poverty, were unequivocally impacted by the recent pandemic disaster.” 

Another research team member, educational leadership doctoral candidate, Angela Bradley, principal at Ella Dolhonde K-8 Elementary School in Jefferson Parish, affirmed, “as the spring 2020 semester ended, many south Louisiana educational leaders comprehended that the teachers under their direct supervision lacked preparation to teach online. Additionally, during this time, teachers were experiencing emotional distress from increased pressures, requiring educational leaders to deeply engage in what literature from the field identifies as ‘emotion work’.” 

Rounding out the team, doctoral candidate, Langley McClay, who is assistant principal at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Baton Rouge, provided, “many South Louisiana educational leaders realized the extent of how many students from poor communities of Color in urban environments lacked access to connectivity to take advantage of remote learning.” 

The trend in virtual conferencing appears to be continuing as many leading associations and professional organizations are issuing calls for virtual conference presentations. For example, the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Mentoring Institute, and the American Educational Research Association are all currently planning virtual meetings. 

Dr. Neil Mathews, director of the LSU School of Education, stated, “Dr. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell and her team of educational leaders have provided invaluable research at a time when educational leaders are searching for a way forward out of the pandemic. It is what I would call, ‘just in-time research’ that was shared with a virtual national audience. The LSU School of Education is proud of the team’s effort.”

Educational leadership programming in LSU’s School of Education encompasses an online Master’s Degree, an Educational Specialist Degree, a Certificate in Instructional Coaching, and a PhD in Educational leadership and research: P-12 educational leadership.