Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Exploring leadership for excellence and equity in high performing middle schools
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Principals for social justice typically not only are concerned for the learning needs of all students, especially those who are traditionally marginalized, but they also have positively impacted their schools to such an extent that student achievement for all students has increased. In this context, there is no social justice without student achievement. Indeed, excellence and equity no longer have to be treated as mutually exclusive goals. This study focused on social justice leadership in middle schools because of the significance of the middle grades in preparing adolescents for success in the long-term. The purpose of this research was to explore, through a lens of academic emphasis, principal leadership practices, beliefs and policies in four high performing traditional calendar 6-8 public middle schools consistently recognized as North Carolina Schools of Distinction. The four middle schools were purposefully selected as two of them (small gap schools) were abnormally successful at narrowing the achievement gap between 2005-2009. The two other (large gap) schools had gaps that exceeded the state's average achievement gap between white/affluent students and minority/economically disadvantaged students for the same period. This study utilized a mixed method design. The qualitative phase (dominant method) of this study entailed semi-structured interviews with four principals, four assistant principals, and 16 teachers. The initial quantitative phase entailed the use of data to first identify successful high performing middle schools and second to conduct equity audits of both sets of middle schools so that the levels of achievement equity, teacher quality equity and programmatic equity could be examined, compared and contrasted. There were commonalities across demographics, teacher quality and programmatic equity between the LG and SG schools, yet wide discrepancies in achievement equity raised more questions than answers. However, this study uncovered descriptive and innovative policies and practices that other educational leaders who read this study will be able to reflect on and adopt, or avoid, in their own schools to facilitate more equitable schools characterized by increased student achievement and a positive school culture. Ultimately, the SG school principals favored a balanced approach, they were modest in demeanor, yet very resolute and consistent in communicating and implementing their policies, practices and beliefs.