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Ed.D. in Educational Leadership student Kaki Blackburn named 2023 David L. Clark Scholar

Doctoral student Kaki Blackburn

Since beginning her career in education and teaching in public schools across the U.S., Katherine “Kaki” Blackburn has been focused on improving systems to provide resources to the schools and students who need them the most.

“As a teacher, I found that I was having to spend a lot of time and energy getting resources for my kids that should have been systematically provided,” said Blackburn, a student in the UNC School of Education’s Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program.

Blackburn, a multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) and data facilitator in Durham Public Schools, enrolled in the UNC School of Education’s Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program in 2020 expressly to better understand equitable funding in public schools. Her scholarship to date has earned her recognition as a 2023 David L. Clark Scholar by the University Council for Educational Administration.

Blackburn will join fellow scholars for the David L. Clark National Graduate Student Research Seminar in Educational Administration & Policy, which brings together emerging educational administration and policy scholars and noted researchers for presentations, discussion, and professional growth. The seminar will be held at the beginning of the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association held April 13-16 in Chicago.

Organizers of the seminar seek to recognize outstanding doctoral students preparing for careers in PK-12 educational leadership and administration, or who are seeking to pursue careers in PK-16 education policy research.

“I am excited to collaborate and have more people think about and talk about [my research],” said Blackburn.

Blackburn’s research explores an area of public school funding often overlooked: funding from individuals and private entities, outside of typical streams. It’s a funding stream that’s unregulated and one that has been studied very little.

Her interest in the topic was piqued while on a jog past a neighborhood school located in a more affluent part of Oakland, Calif.

“There was one of those thermometer posters outside of the school,” she said. “It was a fundraising effort, raising money from parents, and it was a $100,000 goal.”

“I remember thinking, ‘$100,000?! They can’t raise that much money.’”

At her school, which she described as underserved, they held only one fundraiser each year, a fall festival. One year, she helped raise $350 for her grade level, a success by most accounts.

“But to see that goal of 100,000, that was a whole staff member,” Blackburn said.

She continued running past the other school, which surpassed its $100,000 goal in two weeks.

“That school is a little more than a mile away, in the same district,” she said. “It was mindboggling to me, the disparity.”

Her hope is to better understand this funding stream and find new ways to equitably distribute resources.

Eric Houck, Ph.D., an associate professor and expert in school finance, advises Blackburn’s research.

Prior to pursuing her doctoral studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, Blackburn worked as a teacher in Arkansas, California, and Durham Public Schools. She holds a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from Brown University and a Bachelor of Arts from George Mason University, where she studied government and international politics.

The David L. Clark National Graduate Student Research Seminar in Educational Administration & Policy honors the life and work of David L. Clark, who was the Kenan Professor of Educational Administration at the School of Education before his death in 1998.

Clark devoted a career to the study of educational administration, seeking ways to create more humane, caring educational environments.