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Title:A principal interest: leading for learning in high school consolidation
Author(s):Thurman, Lance
Director of Research:Hackmann, Donald G.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Hackmann, Donald G.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Johnston-Parsons, Marilyn A.; Welton, Anjale D.; Sloat, Linda
Department / Program:Ed Organization and Leadership
Discipline:Ed Organization and Leadership
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):school consolidation
Abstract:The growing body of research on school consolidation does not detail the role of the high school principal. This revelatory case study examined a principal in an Illinois high school during the first year of consolidation. Furthermore, this study is informed by two separate bodies of literature. The first relates to school district consolidation. The second body of literature framing this study emanates from the leadership for learning literature. Ultimately, understanding any influence the principal exerts on student learning within the context of school district consolidation is of notable interest to legislators, state education officials, local community residents, and school administrators confronted with the reality of school consolidation. Using a case study design, I drew upon interview, observation, and document review to analyze the data from this revelatory case. Four research questions framed this study: (a) how does the high school principal maintain a focus on student learning in the first year of a school district consolidation; (b) what factors facilitate or support the principal’s ability to maintain a focus on student learning; (c) what factors inhibit or are barriers to the principal’s ability to maintain a focus on student learning; and (d) does leadership for learning as a conceptual framework inform the principal’s practice and focus on student learning in the first year of a school district consolidation? I examined the influence of school consolidation on the principal’s ability to maintain the school’s focus on student learning in a newly consolidated high school. To guide my data collection and analysis, I utilized a conceptual framework developed by Knapp, Copland, Ford et al. (2003), leadership for learning, which based on five areas that learning-focused leaders address: (a) establishing a focus on learning; (b) building professional communities that take learning seriously; (c) engaging external environments that matter for learning; (d) acting strategically and collaboratively along pathways of activity aimed at different aspects of student, professional, and system learning; and (e) creating coherence. The primary conceptual underpinning of this study is aimed at better understanding the nature of successful educational leadership and how it influences student learning. The findings emanating from this study initially indicated a relative absence of a focus on student learning, because the immediate context mandated that the principal focus on the managerial/structural components of opening the merged high school. Ultimately, the principal became more involved with learning-focused leadership and more strategic with her actions. However, the principal did not maintain a focus on leadership for learning and ultimately did not believe she was fully successful in functioning as a learning leader. The data confirmed she was ultimately not fully successful in this area of leadership. The factors that facilitated a focus on student learning were found in the areas of effective leadership practices, acting strategically, and implementing distributed leadership. Problematic governance practices, ineffective communication practices, and the influence of the development of the school’s culture on the principal’s focus on student learning were identified as barriers to a focus on student learning. Although research suggests that a leadership for learning framework may be relevant and applicable for student learning in the context of consolidation, the findings from this case study indicated an initial absence of a strategic process or framework to focus on student learning or curriculum and instruction issues. Three themes emerged from this dissertation: (a) the influence of school governance issues, (b) strategic communication as a core leadership practice for principals interested in improving student learning, and (c) the importance of creating a positive school culture. Perhaps the most significant findings illustrate how these three primary themes contributed to the success or acted as barriers to student learning during the school consolidation process. Clearly the findings of this study depict certain benefits and describe potential barriers to a high school principal’s ability to focus on student learning during the first year of school district consolidation. Obviously, all educational research is influenced by the context, and this facto was most certainly the case for school consolidation as well. School district consolidation continues to be an area of policy interest to state legislators in the state of Illinois. This study provided several insights into the influence of school consolidation on the building principal’s focus on student learning in this Illinois high school. The findings of this study raise a number of implications with regard to how building principals and school districts may consider the influence of consolidation on their students’ learning. This study provides nearly a dozen recommendations for policy and practice before advancing three additional areas for future research.
Issue Date:2012-05-22
Rights Information:Copyright 2012 Lance Thurman
Date Available in IDEALS:2012-05-22
Date Deposited:2012-05

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