Caught In The Middle: Sustaining A Non-Traditional Public-School In A Traditional Public- School District

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr Dissatisfaction with the current state of the nation’s public schools continues to reveal itself through repeated efforts to transform the traditional, long-standing core elements known as the “grammar of schooling” (Tyack & Tobin, 1994). Generational rhetoric on the failed state of traditional public education and a drive for equitable outcomes for all students serve as guideposts for many school reform efforts. It is the need to reveal the systems and structures supporting changes to the traditional architecture of schools that has inspired me to conduct this research. This dissertation explores how a nontraditional high school, nested within a traditional district, supports and sustains its nontraditional model. Through a case study approach this research utilized interviews with administrative and teaching staff and an analysis of key documents, policies, and practices. Central to this study was an examination of the school’s core values and the practices of competency-based education (CBE) that served to shape and influence the school’s direction and nontraditional model. Emergent themes from this research were analyzed through the lens of Fullan and Quinn’s (2016) Coherence Framework and their four identified drivers for systems improvement. Findings illustrate that school structures which intentionally foster relationships and build opportunities for teacher collaboration contribute to the long-term sustainability of school reform and help influence and shape a school’s direction. Furthermore, clarity of expectations for teaching and learning, when outlined in a school’s mission and vision statement, can serve as guideposts for long-term sustainability. Guidance and support with respect the CBE model was especially important. Lastly, these findings underscore the importance of site leadership in maintaining balance between the needs of the school and the district as essential to sustaining the school’s nontraditional approach. By identifying factors and conditions serving to sustain the school’s nontraditional approach, the findings of this study can assist others who seek to change the traditional architecture of schooling currently dominates most schools.