All odds against them: the superintendent's leadership in rapid and sustained system improvement in small, rural, impoverished, school districts

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Labs, Bruce C.
This research is an examination of the instructional leadership practices of effective rural superintendents who oversee school districts in small, rural school districts in the most northern New England states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The study looked at the successful leadership practices of school district superintendents who have maintained a path of growth and improvement in districts that were small, rural and impoverished, however, they have overcome these limiting factors to show improvement in student achievement and instruction. The purpose of this study was to identify these successful leadership practices and to compare them to those identified in the meta-analysis done by Marzano and Waters in 2009. It is important to discover why these districts improved and identify factors that might account for their success as compared to other districts with similar demographics. There is value in studying the leadership in schools that have needed improvement and become successful and sustained their turnaround over time. Such information will provide a model school leaders can learn from and replicate in their own efforts in future school reform. A multiple case study approach utilized several steps to gather information from four cases selected using the model proposed in a case study done by Masumoto and Brown-Welty in 2009. This current study employed a multiple case study design using interviews with four superintendents, staff members (i.e., teachers and administrators and other educational professionals) at both the building level and at the district level during site visits to each school selected. Interviews were used as primary source data and were compared with documents related to the school district's work. Results indicate that the factors identified in prior research related to effective district leadership, collaborative goal setting, establishment of nonnegotiable goals for achievement and instruction, creation of school board alignment and support of goals, and the allocation of resources to support the goals for achievement and instruction were present in these successful turnaround rural districts (Marzano & Waters, 2009). In addition, the research identified two new factors, high expectations and climate and culture that appeared to play an important role in the improvement of the districts with increased student achievement despite their challenging demographics. Recommendations as a result of these findings for rural district leaders are discussed.