Dr. Brenda L. Walker
BY ROGER CLENDENING, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Dr. Brenda L. Walker, a professor of Exceptional Student Education at the University of South Florida, began her tenure as the Interim Associate Dean for the College of Education at USF St. Petersburg earlier this month.
Walker, a professor since 2002, is the founding director of USF’s CAROUSEL Center (Center for Action Research and Effective Leadership) launched in 2001 to shape a national urban education agenda by engaging in culturally responsive action research and professional development to improve academic outcomes for urban children and young adults.
In 1995, Walker, then an assistant professor in the USF’s Department of Special Education, developed Project PILOT (Preparing Innovative Leaders of Tomorrow), the first of several initiatives that prepared African-American men for urban special education teaching careers.
As a result of that initiative, 31 African-American men have graduated and are teaching children with special needs.
Walker’s appointment now presents unique challenges because USF, with campuses in Tampa, Sarasota and St. Petersburg, is consolidating its operations into one accrediting institution by July 1, 2020, pursuant to the Florida Excellence in Higher Education law enacted in 2018.
After consolidation, there is likely to be only one College of Education at the university, and as of now, they don’t know if Walker’s position will hold or what her title might be.
“My position is really to shepherd this College of Education through the consolidation phases,” Walker said, admitting that she’s excited about the opportunity. She’s spent the last 28 years at the Tampa campus.
Her stellar academic credentials leading to her new position includes a Juris Doctorate from the Stetson University College of Law and a doctorate in education with a focus on behavior disorders and learning disabilities from the University of Kansas at Lawrence. She also holds both a master’s degree in education and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Central Michigan University.
Walker, a groundbreaking scholar activist from Saginaw, Mich., who grew up in the projects — an experience she said helps define and shape who she is beyond the degrees — has focused much of her research and practice on the schooling and academic achievement of African-American children.
She co-authored a constructive behavior management textbook and has several book chapters and papers on schooling issues related to black children. Walker’s scholarship also centers on the disciplinary practices to which African-American learners are “disproportionately” subjected, issues around ethics, power and privilege, and strategies for black students with academic gifts and talents.
Her work has included dozens of presentations and workshops for teachers, administrators and family members on enhancing African-American student success by affirming their individual and cultural differences and developing culturally responsive pedagogy.
Walker definitely feels there is a need for more black male teachers in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties and hopes to have a chance to review her grant-making experience and the creation of the 1991 Project Pilot program to explore the possibilities for a comparable program at USFSP.
She’s very excited about being in St. Petersburg because of the “so-called failure factories schools” that the Federal Department of Education maintains have not provided African-American children with effective, equitable educational services.
“I’ve actually done some work at Azalea Middle School with teachers on being culturally responsive,” Walker stated.