Leveraging Resources for Learning Improvement Agendas: The Role of Educational Service Agencies and Local Communities
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Rural America is rapidly becoming more diverse, yet rural communities remain different from their urban and suburban counterparts. Despite several decades of economic hardship in rural areas, rural schools are under researched by scholars and under prioritized by policymakers. Therefore, this study was designed to better understand how school and district leaders in rural contexts are meeting contemporary challenges while strengthening equitable teaching and learning opportunities for rural students. While exploring learning-focused leadership at the local level, this study also investigates the relationship between regional agencies and local districts to better understand the role of educational service agencies in regional learning improvement efforts and the role of the state in supporting a network of educational service agencies. This study draws upon interviews with 16 educational service agency administrators from across three of Washington state’s nine regions and interviews with 15 principals and superintendents leading eight schools across seven districts in these regions. Policy coherence and leadership for learning improvement frameworks are employed to investigate the development of regional learning improvement agendas within the educational service agency regions and the learning improvement and resource allocation practices of local school and district leaders. This study contributes to two areas of research. First, findings suggest that, in addition to creating economies of scale by coordinating supports for rural districts, educational service agencies can also play a pivotal role in fostering policy coherence for teaching and learning priorities and the development of regional learning improvement agendas. Additionally, this study explores the dimensions of learning improvement work in rural schools demonstrating a general upward trend in standardized test scores. The findings explore the ways in which rural school and district leaders engage communities in teaching and learning efforts. In doing so, rural school and district leaders leverage their highly visible roles as community leaders and the important roles students play in rural communities to establish formal and informal resource pathways that support student learning. Nested within these contexts are the political implications school and district leaders face when pursuing equity-focused learning improvement agendas in tight-knit communities, and this study explores school and district leaders’ use of partnerships and community engagement to navigate these dynamics. Study findings lead to several policy considerations for investing in local and state-supported infrastructure that empowers learning-focused leadership in rural schools. Additionally, this study signals implications for differentiated educational leadership preparation programs that prepare rural school and district leaders for careers in rural contexts.
- Education - Seattle