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Title:Central office leadership for learning in an Illinois school district: Building collective capacity to improve achievement for all students
Author(s):Gordon, Karen Lee
Director of Research:Hackmann, Donald G.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Hackmann, Donald G.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Burbules, Nicholas; McCarthey, Sarah; Sloat, Linda
Department / Program:Educ Policy, Orgzn & Leadrshp
Discipline:Ed Organization and Leadership
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):District Leadership, Central Office Leadership, Leadership for Learning, Student Achievement
Abstract:District leaders are challenged by the demand to increase overall student performance. The 2015 reauthorization, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), continues to require an improvement of instructional effectiveness for all students to close achievement gaps. As our nation’s public school enrollments grow more diverse, the persistent academic performance gap for students of low-income levels and special student populations of English language learners and students with disabilities is a continued reality that challenges district leaders in Illinois. District leaders are expected to improve student outcomes through an emphasis on standards- based instruction and assessments that can predict the success of all students. Many Illinois superintendents and district leaders operate independently, without direct state assistance, to initiate efforts or establish partnerships to build district capacity to meet the challenge of improving the achievement of all students. Research in the last decade has focused on the correlation between central office leadership practices and student achievement with special attention to how the superintendent works with the central office administrators in partnership to build the capacity of school leaders and faculty to improve student outcomes. This case study examined the leadership of one Illinois school district to understand the critical work of an exemplary public school district superintendent and few central office leaders to build district capacity. Using the conceptual framework of leadership for learning, two research questions structured the study: (a) what do the superintendent and central office leaders of an exemplary district identify as key elements in improving the organizational learning and academic performance of all students; and (b) what leadership for learning activities and practices do the superintendent and central office leaders of an exemplary district demonstrate to develop the collective organizational capacity to increase academic performance of all students. The district selected for the study was based on an enrollment of 1,000-2,500 students. A district of medium size allowed to investigate the broader role of the superintendent with the limited central office leadership team as learning leaders. The findings from the study revealed three key leadership elements identified by the superintendent and central office leaders: (a) a shared focus on learning, (b) effective and collaborative communication, and (c) results-focused accountability. The central office leaders demonstrated leadership actions and behaviors supporting the leadership for learning research. The beliefs and actions of the superintendent, assistant superintendent, and the two central office leaders were aligned with the five principles of leadership for learning: (a) establishing a focus or vision of the organization on learning; (b) building professional communities that value learning; (c) allocating resources and external partnerships that build the organizational capacity to foster student learning; (d) sharing leadership to develop a collective and common knowledge and competencies across the organization; and (e) creating coherent, connected and aligned systems to support a focus on learning (Knapp, Honig et al., 2014). The superintendent was the motivating factor and the conductor behind the leadership for learning throughout the district, facilitating a collective vision and direction for the organization with all stakeholders. The learning-focused partnership between executive-level central office administrators and school principals and leaders demonstrate the collective work to improve adult and student learning. Findings from this study can provide guidance to central office leaders in other school districts as they strive to improve student learning and increase the collective leadership to build the capacity of their organization. More specifically, this study provided insight into how central office and school leaders work together to build teaching and assessment literacy and utilize evidence-based decision making to improve the learning of all students. Communication and professional learning communities was identified as an important practice to support the collective capacity for learning improvement within the organization. The central office leaders created a system of coherence in the organization. The shared work and commitment of the superintendent and central office leaders in this study is an example of a learning- focused organization. Decreasing the disparity in performance between learners is a continued challenge. Leadership for learning principles promote a focus on student learning, professional learning communities, shared leadership, and a coherent and aligned system focused on learning to develop the capacity of the district to improve the achievement of all students.
Issue Date:2018-04-18
Rights Information:Copyright 2018 Karen L. Gordon
Date Available in IDEALS:2018-09-04
Date Deposited:2018-05

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