Geiser, Jill S., Jamie Brett Chisum, Anna Carollo Cross, and Charles Alexander Grandson IV. “Turning Around Schools”. EdD, Boston College, 2014. http://hdl.handle.net/2345/3814.
This single case study examines how stakeholders of a local education agency (LEA) understand and implement state turnaround policy for its chronically underperforming schools. While there is ample research on how to improve chronically underperforming schools, that research becomes limited when looking at turnaround implementation actions that are in response to policy mandates. This qualitative study uses the theory frame of policy sense-making to identify how implementers come to understand turnaround policy and to explore how that sense-making impacts their implementation decisions. Focusing on school leaders as turnaround policy implementers, this research considers how school leaders come to understand their work of turning around a chronically underperforming school in the context of responding to policy mandates. Research findings, which emerged from Interviews, observations, and policy analysis, reveal that school leaders in this LEA are engaged in sense-making of turnaround policy and practice, which informs their decisions about how to implement turnaround. School leaders begin by asking questions about the policy requirements which center on decisions about how to organize staff and utilize resources. Yet, findings show that their sense-making goes beyond policy requirements to other areas of turnaround work. Namely, they also make sense of the data, which plays a prevalent role in turnaround in that it informs how school leaders diagnose the school's strengths and weaknesses. School leaders then consider the leadership practices that would effectively raise achievement in the school. Findings also show that how school leaders make sense of these areas is influenced by their communication with other stakeholders, their background knowledge and experience in turnaround, and the context of the school. These findings lead to the recommendations to increase communication that focuses on facilitation of sense-making, to communicate a transparent process about how decisions about resource distribution are made across the LEA, to build capacity around data analysis throughout the LEA, and to communicate a vision of turnaround leadership for the LEA.