School turnaround in Texas’ A-F System : perceptions from district leaders of systems that lead to rapid and sustainable change in an urban school district

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Adams, Jason Mathew

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With the increased transparency and accountability of a single letter grade system used to represent a school’s overall effectiveness, school and district leaders are under increased pressure to quickly improve campus and district letter grades. It is important to understand how those influences impact the perceptions, responses, and actions of district central office leadership and staff. Although there is an abundant amount of research that reveals what successful schools have done to quickly improve student performance, evidence of how districts have intentionally structured their central offices and district-level structures to support campus-level turnaround is still limited. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate the organizational structures and support systems that school and district leaders perceive to have the greatest impact on turnaround efforts and sustained academic achievement in an A-F accountability system.

This study explored how one Texas school district positioned its central office to support school improvement efforts that led to improved letter grade ratings at its underperforming schools. This study expanded on current research, identifying specific district systems that positively impacted school turnaround efforts. This study uncovered the importance of removing the bureaucratic barriers that can impede improvement efforts that are often pushed down from central office. Findings of this study suggested that fostering a strong coherence between central office and campuses by investing in intermediary positions, along with clear and efficient means to communicate information and for campus leaders to request support, is pertinent to removing those bureaucratic barriers. Findings also suggested that collecting and analyzing evidence from district assessments allows central office staff to provide differentiated support based on campus needs. Moreover, a reinforced culture of ownership and a collective, “eyes on” approach with stakeholders at all levels of the organization held equally accountable for results, provided further examples of district practices that positively impact campus outcomes. And finally, this study revealed the importance of staff at all levels of the organization having a strong shared belief that all students can perform at equally high levels and that turnaround is possible.


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