Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Re-Centering the Central Office: Exploring the District Role in Building Skill and Will for High School Transformation
by Pak, Katherine, Ed.D., University of Pennsylvania, 2019, 255; 13857896
Abstract (Summary)

School turnaround policies have been in effect in the United States since at least the year 2002. Despite the longevity of this movement, very few schools and districts succeed in transforming persistently low performing organizations into consistently high performing ones. These turnaround policies are particularly daunting for high schools, which face numerous obstacles that make them more resistant to change compared to elementary or middle schools. The School District of Philadelphia (SDP), like other districts throughout the nation, has acknowledged their own limitations in understanding and addressing this high school transformation challenge. This dissertation study therefore seeks to contribute to SDP's high school strategy by investigating recent central office interventions in three high schools that were assigned to collaborate with an external turnaround partner, and in two high schools that were assigned to adopt the District's Turnaround Network model. This comparative case study approach was designed to not only surface how the District's interventions influenced growth in school leadership, teaching, and student learning capacities, but also, how the implementation of the turnaround policy influenced schools' willingness to embrace these skill-building endeavors. Data from over 150 interview and focus group participants, over 10 observational fieldnotes, and annual SDP teacher surveys all illustrate how the slow rate of high school progress may have been mediated by the technical, sociopolitical, and normative forces that mitigated the development of skill and will: despite an inherent willingness to turn their schools around, observations of the (1) technical capacity issues associated with the management of District-imitated high school initiatives, coupled with the (2) sociopolitical criticisms of the District's reform strategies, contributed to (3) compliance-based motivations to adopt the norms of the SDP's high school interventions. These experiences suggest the need for SDP leaders to launch high school transformation policies that inspire trust and motivation to invest in this process in order to overcome historical accumulations of sociopolitical and normative challenges to reform. In other words, the central office may need to engage in the political leadership work of anticipating and addressing the sociopolitical and normative interpretive processes with which school-based staff gauge the credibility of central office initiatives. Additionally, all five high schools in the study advocate for District leadership that balances their core desires for guidance and autonomy, and a central office framework for "guided autonomy" that considers the context, content, and process for high school change is offered at the conclusion of this study.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ravitch, Sharon M.
Commitee: Desimone, Laura M., Quinn, Rand
School: University of Pennsylvania
Department: Educational Leadership
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 80/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Educational leadership, Education Policy, Educational administration
Keywords: Capacity building, High school, School district, School turnaround
Publication Number: 13857896
ISBN: 978-1-392-21034-5
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