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Title:Evidence-use and role of the superintendent in leading for learning: a case study of a small Illinois rural school district
Author(s):Neal, Jean Marie
Director of Research:Hackmann, Donald G.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Hackmann, Donald G.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Welton, Anjalé D.; Kuchinke, K. Peter; Herrmann, Mary B.
Department / Program:Educ Policy, Orgzn & Leadrshp
Discipline:Educ Policy, Orgzn & Leadrshp
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):School Reform
Rural School District Leadership
Leadership for Learning
Abstract:Extensive research has been conducted on the role of school principals in promoting student learning, but there has been relatively little focus on the role of the central office administration, specifically the superintendent, as leaders for learning. The school district superintendent's office is often seen as a separate entity that is removed from everyday work in classrooms. Hough (2014) states that superintendents are often seen as too detached from the classroom to have any quantifiable impact on student academic performance; perhaps this assumption is due to the fact that the majority of the empirical evidence centers on the school level as the unit of study. Smith and O'Day (1991) explained that teachers and building leaders are the "initiators, designers, and directors of change efforts" (p. 235). However, the school superintendent, as the chief administrative officer of the school system, also has an important duty to facilitate, direct, and support classroom teaching and learning practices. This qualitative case study examined the practices of one exemplary Illinois rural school district that is engaged in a formalized evidence-use process as a lever for school reform. The school district superintendent’s leadership behaviors and practices were examined as he compiled, desegregated, and analyzed district data in collaboration with district and building personnel. The supposition of this study was the superintendent is uniquely positioned as the formally appointed head of the organization to lead and guide procedures and practices related to student learning. Gaining an understanding of the unique role of the rural superintendent while leading for learning included an examination of how evidence-use processes are structured and what systems and sub-units matter to evidence-use. Specifically, a focus of the study was the examination of the superintendent’s leadership choices and experiences while leading a district-wide reform process that centered on student learning, to gain an understanding of successful implementation strategies and potential obstacles in leading change, and to explore one promising lever—evidence-use—to increase student learning. The theoretical construct that informed this study is rooted in the Leadership for Learning Framework (Knapp et al., 2010) and is an appropriate lens for examining district improvement and leadership processes. The findings revealed the superintendent demonstrated behaviors and practices that facilitated and supported evidence-use process and subsequently the district engaged in practices that promoted professional, student, and systems learning. The findings revealed four themes that included the superintendent focused on learning, established high expectations for learning, modeled evidence as a medium for leading improvements, and "generated will" with stakeholders through the development of good relationships. Next, four key themes emerged from the data regarding what matters in effective evidence-use processes that included the district focusing on collaboration, building staff members' capacity as educators through meaningful professional development and leadership opportunities, establishing a mutually reliant information exchange relationship, and engaging in professional reflection. Finally, the findings revealed three key themes related to evidence-use barriers and constraints that inhibit effective evidence-use process that included: (a) optimal assessment conditions, (b) striking the right balance in testing, and (c) communicating findings in a productive manner. Implications from this study focused upon the superintendent facilitating Leadership for Learning action steps, distributing leadership, collaborating, and building capacity through the evidence-use processes to promote professional, student, and system learning. Recommendations for practice, policy and future research are presented to advance rural district leaders of learning utilization of one strategic lever of school reform—evidence-use processes focused upon improving student performance.
Issue Date:2016-04-13
Rights Information:Copyright 2016 Jean M. Neal
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-07-07
Date Deposited:2016-05

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