by Claire Miller
In Associate Professor Philo Hutcheson’s history of education class, College of Education doctoral student Tene Harris asked a simple question: When schools were desegregated in the 1960s, what happened to the African-American teachers?
This query became the focus of her dissertation and has allowed Harris the opportunity to explore the history of Burney-Harris High School, one of the first accredited African-American high schools in Georgia.
“My family moved to Athens, Ga., when I was nine years old and in my church, there were many former teachers and administrators who always spoke about ‘the great Burney-Harris High School.’ So this was my opportunity to research it,” said Harris, who this past fall interviewed several former students, teachers and administrators from Burney-Harris and reviewed Board of Education meeting minutes and issues of the Athens Banner-Herald. “Hearing these students from Burney-Harris, some of them 80 years old, recall their teachers and principals and the impact they made on them was incredible.”
Like Harris, Vanessa Siddle Walker, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Educational Studies at Emory University, has conducted research on African-American schools in the segregated South. Harris met Walker at a book signing, where she suggested Harris delve into the connections among African-American teachers in schools like Burney-Harris across the state.
“My research looks at the value of black schools, the networks they had and the displacement that happened upon desegregation,” Harris explained.
In addition to traveling to Athens and developing her dissertation, Harris volunteered as an educational policy advisor to a Congresswoman from Cobb County and was selected as a doctoral fellow for the Southern Regional Education Board. This fellowship offers her both financial support for her final year of dissertation work and a chance to connect with other doctoral students across the country.
“One of the things I like most about being a fellow is their annual institute, which was held back in October,” she said. “It’s the largest contingent of minority master’s and doctoral students in the nation. The camaraderie and the support you get there is wonderful.”
Harris graduated this month and hopes to find a way to combine her interest in working in higher education with her previous teaching experiences. Before going back to school to earn her doctorate, she spent four years teaching fifth grade in the Atlanta Public School System, and she believes her dissertation work has opened her eyes to the importance of a mutually-supportive relationship between colleges of education and area school systems.
“Ideally, I’d like to find a position in higher education that will allow me to form partnerships between institutions of higher education and local K-12 school systems,” she said. “This is a perfect hybrid position for me because I know the importance of having a network that encompasses both sets of educators working together.”
For more information about the Department of Educational Policy Studies, visit http://education.gsu.edu/eps/index.htm.