PhD in Public Policy

Kim O'Donnell '20

Kim O'Donnell '20Career 

Current position:  Assistant Superintendent, Westbrook School Department

Position during PhD studies:  Elementary Principal

Kim earned her undergraduate degree in Elementary Education from the University of Southern Maine. Furthering her education, she graduated in 1995 with a master’s degree in Exceptionality from the University of Southern Maine.

Starting as a primary teacher in Sanford and then Scarborough, Kim has served in a number of roles during her career. She has taught grades K-6 and worked as a specialized reading and math instructor. Obtaining her principal certification in 2000, she began her career as an assistant principal for the Bonny Eagle School District, eventually transitioning to a full principalship in 2014. Kimberly has been recognized a Nationally Distinguished Assistant Principal. In July of 2020, Kim accepted the position of Assistant Superintendent for the Westbrook School Department.

Dissertation

Title:  Examining School Administrators' Beliefs & Perceptions Regarding Transgender Students

Abstract:  As societal acceptance of the LGBT population continues to improve, more and more young people are identifying as part of that subgroup, especially transgender youth. Schools today are presented with the challenge of creating a safe and supportive environment for these students (Mugisha, 2015). Administrators play a key role in defining the culture and climate of their schools. The purpose of this study was to understand what deficits exist in administrator understandings of the nuances of transgender identity and how they perceive their role in supporting transgender students through the development and application of policies and procedures in their setting.

The findings of this study indicate that although administrators have some generalized understandings, (a) their knowledge base is limited regarding this marginalized population; (b) coursework and certification requirements have little depth regarding transgender students and the LGBT population overall; (c) administrator responses to issues regarding transgender youth are largely reactive; (d) administrators believe transgender students are harassed and bullied more often than their cisgender counterparts; (e) administrators would benefit from additional supports in how to deal with the unique issues faced by this population; (f) policies and procedures, despite state and federal laws, are either not understood, are not available or not seen as applicable when considering this population.

Given these findings, active steps are needed to ensure this very marginalized group of students are given safe and equitable access to our schools. Administrative certification coursework and preparation must become more inclusive of the LGBT population and schools/districts must consider developing trans-inclusive policies and procedures.