Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education/Leadership in Urban Schools

First Advisor

Wefan Yan

Second Advisor

Zeena Zakharia

Third Advisor

Christa Kelleher


Although current education reform models have been in place for over a decade, the number of U.S. public schools identified as underperforming continues to rise. While the federal government has imposed increasingly stringent achievement requirements, practical instruction on improving schools remains inadequate. Learning from principals represents a viable avenue for improving schools because effective principal leadership can enhance student performance.

This comparative case study explored the leadership practices of principals in schools identified as performing and underperforming in an urban school district in Massachusetts. Specifically, it examined the distributed leadership practices of school principals in relation to their support of academic learning. Such leadership traits and behaviors are essential for creating learning environments that enhance student performance and for training other principals of underperforming schools. The study utilized data from: interviews with principals and formal school leaders, observations of building leadership, grade-level and content team meetings, and documents analysis.

The findings suggest that family engagement and community partnerships are essential in urban public schools. When school leaders recognize the benefits of engaging parents and the community, they open doors to enriching their jobs and giving children opportunities to succeed. Additionally, although urban public schools incorporate accountability measurements to address challenges around improving student performance, school leaders are tasked with devising approaches to improving teaching and learning.

This study offers insights into the creation and support of distributed leadership in elementary schools. The findings suggest that the collaborative, trusting nature of teams plays a critical role in the success of distributed leadership in schools. The results also indicated that distributed leadership is strengthened by a school’s ability to be flexible and in schools where instructional leadership and grade-level and content teams are central to the organizational structure. Also, the teams’ ability to participate in decision making and prompt leadership development appear to be factors in successful distributed leadership. The findings also highlight the importance of developing and communicating a common vision for student learning. Building strong relationships with families and the community played a critical role in school success.


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