Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Executive Ed.D. in Education Leadership Management and Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Daniel Gutmore, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elaine Walker, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jennifer Whitson Ed.D.


Underperforming schools, Turnaround schools, 21 Leadership Responsibilities, Title I


The quest to transform failing urban and high-poverty schools in America has been a slippery uphill battle since the banner of war was raised against the many schools serving impoverished children. As battle rages, a few are schools leading their students, teachers, parents, and community to victory by turning their once-failing schools into institutions of academic excellence. However, the shouts of victory and strategic planning that led to their success have been overlooked or relegated to mere happenstance. As these successful schools claim unchartered territories of success, a quick glance at the battlefield reveals the reality that the battle is not yet over, as the education of millions of children lies in waste: causalities of failing schools.

Research has long concluded that effective schools are led by effective leaders (Dow & Oakley, 1992; Edmonds, 1979; Hallinger, 2003; Marzano, Waters, & McNulty, 2005; Weber, 1971). Despite the vast knowledge pertaining to leadership skills that tend to increase student outcomes, failing schools remain, siphoning the potential of millions of children across the America. This study examines and illuminates the theoretical leadership skills outlined in Marzano et al.’s (2005) 21 leadership responsibilities and how successful elementary turnaround principals practically employed these leadership responsibilities to turn their once-underperforming schools around. A qualitative phenomenological case study approach was used to explore the “lived experience” of three elementary turnaround principals and the perception of their teachers pertaining to their leadership practices as they undertook the turnaround process. The findings revealed that the principals relied heavily on second-order leadership responsibilities in the turnaround process. Specifically, the leadership responsibilities expressed by principals and in the perception of their teachers as being employed to adjust the trajectory of their once-underperforming schools involved the following: focus, involvement in and knowledge of curriculum and instructions, order, communication, ideals/ beliefs, relationships and monitoring/ evaluation.

The findings from this study support previous research and add insight to the practical application of theoretical leadership approaches in the urban and high-poverty context. As the “war” to improve failing schools continues, local school districts, state education agencies, and the federal government must level the battlefield by systematizing turnaround efforts in failing schools through strategic professional development for principals. These systemic measures will lead to turnaround efforts and create opportunities for collaboration among turnaround principals within and outside of the school district, as well as partnerships with colleges and universities to strengthen or include authentic coursework and internships that mirror the realities of principals in urban or high-poverty schools considered to be failing.