Setting a New Course: Understanding Districtwide Change Under a New Superintendent

School districts are searching out ways to address the achievement gap by launching system wide reform initiatives. There is a growing body of research indicating the need for a district wide approach to implementing change initiatives where the responsibility does not lie solely on school sites (McLaughlin & Talbert, 2003). In response to the increasing demands of the position, there has been a marked rise in the turnover rates of superintendents, and yet reform efforts rely heavily on the leadership provided by this position to lead a district in a new direction to address student success for all. Districts that have found success in positively impacting student achievement have implemented changes that provided opportunities for learning through meaningful professional development, collaboration within and across the system, and a redefining of leadership roles. Within the organizational landscape of a district, the superintendent, district leaders, and central office administrators are in a unique position of having the potential to play an integral role in the change process. They have access to many groups across the system, and can facilitate and support the learning required to successfully implement the change effort systemically. Sociocultural learning theory provides a lens to examine existing communities of practice and offers insight into the learning that occurs through the interactions that occur among work groups. These communities of practice offer a possible vehicle for the teaching and learning required to implement any given reform initiative. This research study seeks to identify how a new superintendent develops, diffuses, and enacts a systemic change effort across the district and the factors that support or constrain the required learning and the development of communities of practice during these initial phases.